2017 YITB Review

0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

 

This is the smallest update/year in review I have ever done, and I want to take a minute to apologise to loyal readers of the blog.  It would seem that my bloggers have been in a pretty constant state of flux over the past year with lots of changes (some good, some not so good) and we’ve just let reviewing books slide by the wayside.

I am actually ashamed to say that I only managed to read about half a dozen books last year.  But this year seems better.  Things are leveling out.  I’ve made a list of the things that really matter in my life and I’m going to be doing a big push at the blog.

 

Thus, this year’s list is small but mighty.

The top Book in the Bag Books of 2017:

  • Go To Sleep, Little Farm – Mary Lyn Ray
  • Mix It Up – Herve Tullet
  • Owls Don’t Blink – A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)
  • Desert Solitare – Edward Abbey
  • Lexicon – Max Barry
  • Idolators of Cthulhu – H David Blalock

Book Review – Beyond Redemption

Title: Beyond Redemption
Author: Michael R. Fletcher
Format: Paperback
Written: 2015

A dark and twisted fantasy story, Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher is one of the rare stories that succeeds at creating a gritty fantasy world while still giving us an intriguing story. It is a world full of Geisteskranken, men and women whose delusions and psychoses twist into reality, and the theocratic government that would use them for their own malicious intent.

Fletcher’s world is one driven by faith and corruption, calling to question the very nature of belief, religion, and power, and which drives which. It is the story of a young boy, destined to Ascend and become the God of a new religion, founded by the malignant High Priest Konig–a man who is quickly losing his grip on reality as the story progresses. However, the actions of a Slaver Geisteskranken and a gang of degenerates–an aging warrior, a kleptomaniac, and the self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman alive–throw Konig’s careful plan into chaos.

Fletcher’s world is a truly intriguing one, and his view of religion and it’s use in Beyond Redemption, combined with the delusions and magic of the Geisteskranken, make for a thought-provoking story with an unexpected ending. It is a story about perseverance and determination in the face of terror and the crushing weight of a broken, dystopian world, which drags the reader along through the grimness if for no reason other than to see how it could possibly end.

The story does starts at a painfully slow pace, with a waterfall of information dumped on the reader to establish this world, the characters, the faith, and the Geisteskranken. The pacing issues continue throughout the book, with some chapters whisking by with high action and intensity and others trudging through waist-deep mud, which, combined with cliched characters and increasingly bizarre Geisteskranken make it hard for the reader to stay immersed in the story.

The story itself is a gripping one, and one that will continue to pull you back each time you put the book down. If you are looking for an original fantasy story, it’s worth the read. Overall I would give it three out of five stars.

 

Book Review – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Author: Thomas Sweterlitsch
Format: Paperback
Written: 2014

Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a truly haunting take on the near future, as it is one that strikes as not only bleak and disconnected, but also truly possible. It’s the story of John Dominic Blaxton, a poet who lost everything when an explosion destroyed the city of Pittsburgh, claiming the lives of millions, including his wife and unborn child. Yet John continues to live in Pittsburgh–emotionally, at least–through a fully immersive virtual reconstruction of the city called The Archive, which taps into a visitor’s memories and video records of the cities to recreate their lost city.

When he’s not reliving every recorded moment with his wife in an endless cycle of desperation and despair, Dominic works as an Archivist, investigating cold cases within the virtual Pittsburgh for insurance companies. However, his latest cold case involves the murder of a woman whose very existence is somehow being deleted from the Archive. Dominic’s obsession with uncovering the truth behind the woman’s fate takes him down a path that begins to blur the line between physical and virtual reality, as he digs deeper into the illusions and the remnant threads of his own sanity.

Sweterlitsch tells the story beautifully, using his own intimate knowledge of Pittsburgh to paint the city in such a grounded, intricate way that the reader easily finds themselves immersed in the Archive. His use of Dominic as a narrator, tapping into his grief and despair, and his persistent instability, adds the factors of an unreliable narrator to the mystery, leaving the reader at times questioning what is really missing from the Archive and what is truly just the delusions of Dominic’s detached obsession with solving the mystery of the lost girl.

This story also provides a great reflection of technology itself and how we use it today. The Archive serves not only as a great plot device but also as a mirror on our own dependence on digital interaction, the escapist mentality of digital culture, and our need to constantly relive the past. Sweterlitsch not only paints a detailed science fiction landscape, but does so while yearning for a more analog age, with real human interaction in a tangible world.

Overall, Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an immersive, thought provoking, and very fun read. I would give it four out of five stars, and would recommend fans of the science fiction or mystery genre give it a good read.

Book In The Bag’s Best Books of 2013

0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

I can’t believe we’ve been an active blog for so long!  Book in the Bag started in the autumn of 2012, and so this is our second New Year post we’ve made.

In the first year, we had visitors from all 6 continents [seriously, Antarctica, why aren’t penguins reading our blog??] and 51 different countries.    Since then – well, y’all have been as busy as we have.  Do you know we’ve had over FOURTEEN THOUSAND hits on our blog so far?  That’s roughly a thousand a month since the blog started!    Or, as wordpress has so lovingly informed us, it would take five sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House to house the same number of people that have visited BitB in 2013!    And from 114 countries!  That’s more than half the world.

I know a little of our consistency has dropped at the end of this year, but that’s just because we’re human.  We’ve had a few curve balls thrown at us, but we’re feeling better, our lives have settled down (well, one of us had a baby, so I’m not sure how settled that really is), and we’re rearin’ to go.

I have no idea what’s in store for BitB for 2014, but I really do want to take a minute to thank YOU, the loyal readers who check us out week after week.  Where are you finding us?  How are you hearing about the blog, and what is bringing you here?  Leave us a comment and give us feedback.  We love hearing comments from our readers, I promise.

And now, onto the books.  As you know, Book in the Bag features regular posts from our panel of reviewers.  We all bring with us different backgrounds, experiences, tastes, etc.  The first time I did this, it seemed like the only books we liked were in German or were geared towards kids under eight.  This year, it might be a little different – hell, it might surprise even us.

To be considered a top book of 2013, the book had to be given a five out of five review from someone on our panel of important people (ie, our staff reviewers).  The books are:

  • Theft of Swords – Michael J. Sullivan
  • A Brother’s Price – Wen Spencer
  • Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Phoenix – AJ Scudiere
  • Star Wars Twilight vol 1. – John Ostrander
  • The Secret Race – Tyler Hamilton & David Coyle
  • Star Wars Twilight vol 3.  – John Ostrander
  • The Last Thing I Remember – Andrew Klavan
  • After Visiting Friends – Michael Hainey
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  • Star Wars Twilight vol 4. – John Ostrander
  • When I Get Bigger – Mercer Mayer
  • The Midwife – Jennifer Worth
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  • Urgent 2nd Class – Nick Bantock
  • Anna and the Dragon – Jill Domschot
  • Vampires don’t Sparkle – Michael West (ed)
  • Me and My Dragon – David Biedrzycki
  • The What’s Happening To My Body Book for Girls – Lynda Madras and Area Madras
  • The What’s Happening To My Body Book for Boys – Lynda Madras and Area Madras
  • No Plot, No Problem! – Chris Baty
  • And Tango Makes Three – Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • It’s Perfectly Normal – Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberly
  • My Friend Dahmer – Derf Backderf
  • How To Tell if Your Cat is Plotting To Kill You – Matthew Inman
  • Fancy Nancy’s Favorite Fancy Words
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

 

 

What will we like in 2014?  Guess you’ll have to keep following us to find out.

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

Book Review–Self-Published Book By Any Author

Title: The Doctor’s Dilemma
Author: Victoria M. Johnson
Format: Electronic
Written: 2012
Published: 2012

 

This started out as a review for the 1-star book I read this week, but given the high number of self-published authors out there, I figured I’d make this one special.  This is a review not primarily for the readers of the world but for the people who hope to earn their readership.

The last two books I reviewed here were so knock-it-out-of-the-park awesome that I figured I had to show the the cloud from both sides now.

I bought Ms. Johnson’s novel because I’ve been doing a lot of heavy reading and was looking for a snack; a light, predictable romance that was fun and escapist.   Lest you think I’m one of those fusty literary snobs I need you to understand that there are few things I enjoy more than a light snack read where you can escape into a world of money, love, intrigue.  I was weaned on Jane Eyre and that has programmed me for life when it comes to loving romantic stories.   There’s no way I’m going to give every romance novel–category romance or general market–a low rating for being “just romance”.

I went into this book wanting to love it.  I am nutso for stories about doctors and nurses and hospital goings-on.  This had it all; a doctor and a nurse in an exotic locale falling in love.   Then we get to the  Cantina Scene, which is where Johnson blew it.   The monster in her Cantina wasn’t some ugly fellow with a death sentence in 12 systems.  It’s worse:  horrific editing.

The couple walk into the local cantina where the owner Carmen takes their order.  Both the doctor and nurse ask for Chicken Enchildas, then they sit down and start in on an expository conversation.  A few paragraphs later, Carmen brings out flour tortillas and fajita toppings.  A couple of paragraphs after that the nurse takes a bite of her burrito.

Either this book wasn’t edited or the person who did the editing  was as drunk as a fiddler’s bitch when  he or she read through the manuscript.   Those are the only reasons that people in a story would order one thing, have another food brought to their table instead and then eat yet a third thing that was neither what they ordered nor what was brought to their table.

I love self-published books.  My favourite books of the last 6 months were self-published. (Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song and the Riyria Chronicles by Michael J. Sullivan)  Just so we’re clear on that.

But here’s the thing: If you’re self-publishing a novel–as Ms. Johnson did–getting readers is going to be more difficult because you’ve got to put all the marketing work in by yourself that publishers do for the books they acquire.  It’s a lot of work getting someone convinced to pay for and then read your work.  If you don’t have the novel professionally edited, you will squander huge opportunities.   Had Ms. Johnson put the work into having this book properly edited, chances are I would have enjoyed it enough to read the next thing she publishes.   Instead, she’s lost me on not only this book but anything else she ever produces. 

A poorly edited work will punish all the books in your career.  As cliche as it sounds, you only have one chance to make a first impression on your readers.  So if you’re writing a book you want to self-publish, if you’re shopping a self-published book now, if you have one already available take the time and financial investment to have your work edited.

At this point it’s likely  obvious that I give The Doctor’s Dilemma   only 1 bookworm.   But more than that I want everyone out there to please take these words to heart.

Editing is essential to the success of any self-published work.   Or ,to borrow a saying from my father’s profession, any writer that has himself as his editor has a fool for a client.  bookworm

%d bloggers like this: