Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Deadly Rx & Rx Alibi by Renee Horowitz

I previously reviewed the first book in this little series, and gave it my highest recommendation. I am slightly less enthused about these later two in the RX Murder series by Renee Horowitz. The main character's happenstance involvement in the first book was clever and original. But with two more murders, it's straining credibility a little---like that famed television cozy, Murder She Wrote, where sleepy Cabot Cove was rife with murderers, one wonders how a middle-aged pharmacist manages to find herself in trouble so often. And Horowitz has other characters frequently bring this up and comment on Ruthie's unsuitability as an amateur detective.

And she's not very good at it either---there are no clues which would allow a reader following along to solve the crime before the characters do, and the finales both rely a little too strongly on coincidence and stupidity on the part of both the sleuth and the killer. By book 3, I was skimming to get to the end, and I only got that far because I wanted to see if Ruthie and Michael wound up together (although I should have guessed in this regard---it's a fairly formula story and we know how these things tend to go...)

So, my high praise for book 1 notwithstanding, I give my thumbs down to the latter books. Okay reads at the bargain-basement sale price I paid, but not ones I would necessarily recommend to others.

Update (6/15/2001) Both books are now available at Smashwords: Deadly RX and RX Alibi.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review: Rx for Murder by Renee Horowitz

I got all three novels in this series during a recent sale at Fictionwise on multiformat (aka DRM-free) titles, most from smaller or internet-only publishers. I am trying to read more of this 'indie' stuff, and it's easier on the pocketbook too---I got nearly two dozen books for about thirty bucks, and if this first read is any indication, I am in for some fun reading. Rx for Murder is definitely a commercial-calibre book, and it's proof that there are some good bargains to be had in e-land if one is willing to do some exploring and stray from the best-seller list.

Ruthie Kantor Morris is a middle-aged pharmacist who turns detective when one of her customers dies under mysterious circumstances. A former flame comes back into her life when his daughter, the wife of the dead guy, falls under suspicion, and Ruthie gets recruited into some pharmacological sleuthing to help ferret out what happened to the old guy.

The author's note seems to indicate that Ms. Horowitz herself is a pharmacist, and she vividly (and accurately) paints that world for the reader. The pharmacist as a detective is a clever twist on a genre well-worn with policemen and lawyers and private eyes. It was also nice to see a well-rounded Jewish character in mainstream fiction; that's rare, and while Horowitz certainly does not belabour it by any stretch, Ruthie's faith is explored a little in the romance subplot, and adds some much-needed depth in what would otherwise be a fairly plot-driven book.

Update (6/15/2011) The book is now available at Smashwords too!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

This book is number 9 in a series about various women with supernatural powers. Some characters get at minimum brief mentions in books revolving around others, but each story is pretty much stand-alone and can be read independently. This book differs from others in the series in that its protagonist is a regular person with no super-powers---and I'm not sure that character choice was the wisest one to make.

Robyn Peltier is a recently widowed publicist who is drowning her grief by working for a Paris Hilton type starlet named Portia Kane. When Portia gets murdered while out on the town with Robyn, Robyn gets caught up in a power struggle between a supernatural commune and a bunch of other people. Fortunately, her best friend happens to be a half-demon with a werewolf boyfriend.

The problem for me was that much of the appeal in the other books was watching a woman with super-powers dealing with the super-powers directly: Elena in 'Bitten' learns to control her werewolf powers and deal with the special challenges of being the only female werewolf in her 'pack.' Savannah in Dime Store Magic is only a teenager and her powers are still emerging. And Robyn? She's human. She has a brief moment of shock when she learns that demons are real, then seems to decide she'd rather not know and leaves Hope to deal with the demon stuff in the few chapters not involving her. It doesn't quite work for me.

I also found that this story dealt much more with supernatural 'politics' than the other books did. The main villain, Adele, is trying to leave the cult-like 'kumpania' who employs her and helps her manage her powers. And then there is the 'cabal' with whom she negotiates, and the 'council' to which Hope and Karl belong to. It started to bog the story down, and frankly, I didn't care that much. Armstrong is better when she focuses on the characters, then on the story---not so much on the world-building.

I'll keep an eye out for others in the series, but I am not sure this particular installment did it for me, and I regret that I paid for it, especially at such an inflated hard-back price. Armstrong is going on my 'get it from the library' list. We'll see if subsequent installments get her off of it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review: Devil May Ride by Wendy Roberts

I previously reviewed the prior title in Wendy Roberts' intriguing series about a woman who is a professional crime scene cleaner. I enjoyed the characters and the premise, but felt that its central mystery did not have high enough stakes.

Well, crime scene cleaner/ghost whisperer Sadie Novack is back, and this book is so much better than the first one. The central 'ghost mystery' involves a meth-head biker and his satanist girlfriend, and Roberts manages to weave in various threads including Sadie's impending aunt-hood and the death of her brother six years ago, introduced in the prior title. There is also a reporter causing trouble, and Sadie also much juggle a new employee, and a budding romance with her old one.

All in all, I found this mystery to be a well-written page-turner, and I would heartily recommend it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Review: Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

This book is the latest in a prolific series revolving around a near-future New York and its top cop, Eve Dallas, who is married to a billionaire tycoon with his fingers in all sorts of pies. I admire the consistently high quality of this series---Roarke is so rich and powerful, and so besotted with Eve, that as they settle into want-for-nothing domestic bliss, it's harder to up the stakes and make things matter. It's a little too easy, given Roarke's connections and access to pretty much whatever he wants, to use him as a crutch, and while this sort of thing has happened more as the series progresses, Roberts does still find ways to mix it up.

In this volume, the dead guy is a con man posing as a priest, and this stirs up all sorts of philosophical issues for the non-religious Eve. She is fascinated by the faith exhibited by numerous characters as the investigation progresses, and is equally fascinated by the ways they use this faith to justify and/or excuse their behaviour. She also finds herself (and her partner) dealing with the emotional ramifications of a murder victim who was not such an innocent himself. Both she and Roarke are more introspective in this adventure than in others, pondering, given their own backgrounds, why some people Overcome and some do not.

This was not the most action-packed and adventure-filled outing, and we barely saw some minor characters that I know readers enjoy (Mavis, for example, is due for a big part soon!) But I find this series to be consistently excellent and was looking forward to reading the latest story. I wouldn't pay hard-cover prices, though. My library routinely offers such books in non-reservable three-day 'fast read' loans, so for me, this was a race between 'happen to spot it at library' and 'e-book goes on sale.' Lucky for those who are profiting from this title, the e-book happened to go on sale first, but it could have just as easily gone the other way!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: A Really Bad Hair Day: The Return of Magic Plague by Rob Preece

I became aware of both A Really Bad Hair Day and its author (who runs a website called Books for a Buck) through his posts on Teleread, and I like what he's doing---getting full-length, affordable (usually under $4) novels by new authors out there in DRM-free formats for everyone to enjoy. Most of his website's catalogue is available at Fictonwise, and it was there that I picked up this book by the head honcho himself.

The novel is about a spunky young lawyer named Erin who discovers one morning that snakes are growing out of her hair. That turns out to be the tip of the iceberg in an epidemic of people who seem to be picking up supernatural traits for no apparent reason. As struggles mount between the transformed and non-transformed, she picks up a sexy professor boyfriend who is studying the goings-on, and a case involving a magically-altered type which might make or break her legal career.

This is a fun, light read---nothing too heavy or profound, but a very enjoyable little story. Erin maintains a sense of humour throughout the story, and the characters are well-drawn and interesting. The romance is nicely played---Erin's doubt as to whether the professor is getting off more on scientific curiosity than on her specifically was realistic and very humanizing.

I'm going to stop harping on typos and formatting errors in my reviews, as I have found those in every e-book I've read so far, even those from major publishers. So with that aside, I give my recommendation for this one. Great value, fun story, enjoyable characters and that small hint of quirky spark that I always enjoy in an otherwise genre story. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: The Remains of the Dead by Wendy Roberts

This book, attracted my by its subtitle: the first of the 'ghost dusters' mysteries. I am a sucker for puns and clever concepts, and this novel's gimmick is the profession of protagonist Sadie Novack: she's a professional cleaner who specializes in cleaning up after crimes. Also, she sees dead people.

The tale begins with Our Intrepid Heroine and her crusty-but-softie-underneath partner cleaning a house following a murder-suicide which appears cut and dry. However, the dead wife appears to Sadie and implies her husband Did Not Do It, so Sadie starts poking around. From this point onward, it was a fairly straightforward 'poke around for clues, get into trouble, get out of trouble, poke around for more clues' kind of story, and there is nothing wrong with that, I guess. It kept me for the most part interested. It kept me reading. Sadie's backstory was nicely done, and her Big Issue gets just resolved enough to not be a central plot point forever, but it remains a little open-ended to allow for future exploration too. But Wendy Roberts is no Nora Roberts, and at times the book did feel a tiny bit formulaic. And there was a revelation in the epilogue that was just beyond ridiculous.

Still, it's a fairly solid read. She may get me for the sequel if the price is right, but I am expecting a little more next time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The book is about a boy called Bod, who is orphaned as an infant and left to grow up in a graveyard, where he is raised by his mysterious guardian, Silas, and a revolving series of ghosts. That's pretty much it---the book is decently written, but this is its one flaw, that at times it favours 'developing atmosphere' at the expense of 'developing plot.' The suspense factor of its one major plot point could have been strengthened had Gaiman thought to develop it substantially before the last third of the book! It is to Gaiman's credit that the atmosphere (i.e. the depiction of life in the graveyard) was reasonably interesting. But a little more 'plot' would have not have been amiss.

This small quibble aside, the book was a fun, quick read. I don't know that I would recommend it as its current exorbitant price, but if Gaiman interests you and you catch it at another sale (or a permanently lowered price once the paperback hits the market) than by all means, grab this. It's a decent read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Misc: My E-Book Starter Kit

A game came up on a message board I frequent, where the following question was posed: let's say that you were some famous celebrity promoting the cause of literacy, and as a prize in a charity fund-raiser, you were asked to donate a library of up to 25 beloved books, hand-picked by you. What would you choose? I thought I would take this into the e-realm and see what sort of starter kit I could come up with for an e-book newcomer if I were putting together for them a little package of great reads. And I am even including links to all the titles on my list (and to freebies, where one exists!) so if anyone wants to take me up on this, they can download at will. My list is a mix of classics, contemporary literature and light sci-fi/mystery usually with a somewhat quirky or fun, but decidedly mainstream leaning. Ready? In no particular order...
  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (free)
  2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  3. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (free)
  5. The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
  6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  7. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  8. Wicked by Gregory MaGuire
  9. Three Plums in One by Janet Evanovich
  10. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (free)
  11. 1984 by George Orwell (free)
  12. Overclocked by Corey Doctorow (free)
  13. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb aka Nora Roberts
  14. City at World's End by Edmond Hamilton (free)
  15. Story of my Life by Helen Keller (free)
  16. Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (free)
  17. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (free)
  18. The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories by Mark Twain (free)
  19. The Golden Treasury edited by Francis Turner Palgrave (free)
  20. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (free)
  21. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  22. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  23. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (free)
  24. The Stand by Stephen King
  25. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam by Edward Fitzgerald (free)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Review: 3rd World Products, Book 1 by Ed Howdershelt

3rd World Products, Book 1 is a book by one of those indie-internet authors, and in spite of some somewhat pompous internet message board posts, one of the better ones. A multi-pack of all his books, at substantial discount, is available from the author's website, but if you are like me and you prefer the eReader format, you'll have to wait for a sale at Fictionwise if you want the whole kit.

I'm currently on the second one. The first one impressed me enough to seek out his other titles, even if it has to be one at a time and without the bundle discount. The plot concerns a man (also named Ed, like the author) who is a former 'intelligence agent.' He gets drawn back into his old life when a spaceship shows up.

From this basic premise, Howdershelt spins an entertaining yarn full of space aliens who are sexy, amusing and entrepreneurial. I coveted the Amaran spaceship gadget which has every movie or television show ever made, and while I am not sure I am in the market for a hovercraft, the talking on-board computer (who appears as a major character in at least one of the sequels) would be a handy thing indeed. Spy Ed is pretty unflappable, and his low-key reactions to what he sees keep the at times outlandish subject matter grounded for the reader. This is not 'eternal literature for the ages' but it *is* a light and entertaining read.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Review: Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

I purchased this novel by Jodi Picoult during a recent 50% off sale at Fictionwise. I enjoyed it immensely. I have read other books by Picoult, and this was definitely on par with her other works in terms of quality and readability.

The story concerns Ellie Hathaway, a high-powered lawyer who escapes to her childhood vacation spot following a devastating trial and some issues on the homefront. While staying with her aunt, she becomes unwittingly involved in a trial involving an Amish girl who may or may not have murdered her newborn baby.

Katie, the Amish girl, is not initially the most sympathetic character, but there are some twists that make her more relateable. The Amish world is nicely drawn and clearly well-researched, and Picoult tries to make this family seem like real people and not just cliches. In some cases, this does not quite succeed---the father, for example, never develops much of a character beyond 'the strict Amish father.' But Picoult gives the family an intriguing backstory, and the theme of lost children (and what that means to various characters) is nicely woven in throughout the book.

Ellie's own issues about love and babies and family also factor into the story. The ex-boyfriend makes few appearances, but is not developed as fully as he could have been. A few flashbacks of their life together would not have been amiss. Of course, as is typical in this type of chick-lit, Ellie does develop a romance during the story, and it's nicely done. Everyone pretty much gets the ending they deserve, and it was certainly a page-turner! I was eager to find out how it ended.

There was a few formatting mistakes in the e-book I purchased from Fictionwise, and this bothered me a little considering that the book goes for pretty much the full retail price. If they are going to charge 'real book' prices, then they need to make sure the e-edition is properly edited. I don't think such mistakes are unique to this title, but I do think it's something Fictionwise needs to perhaps address at some point. Some examples included random hyphenations of some words, and the appearance of the author's name in the text at a few random points. The book was definitely still read-able though! It just rankled some to buy a 'real' book from an established non-amateur author and have such issues cropping up in a presumably well-edited text.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to someone who enjoys this genre or this author. I enjoyed it immensely and found it a satisfying and well-told story.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Review: Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I got this during Fictionwise's recent big sale, after enjoying the first book in this series. I liked this one too, but it didn't quite have the same magic for me as that first one did. Dexter's 'shtick'---referring to himself in the third person using clever alliterative phrases, constantly referencing his lack of humanity etc.---wore a little thin after the first fifty pages, and there were some pacing issues that detracted a little from an otherwise solid work.

The plot revolves around a former army crony of Sergeant Doakes, who went bad, did time, and is now seeking vengeance on those he feels have wronged him. Dexter is delighted to learn of the Doakes connection, because the good sarge never liked him and has been following him around trying to learn what he's up to. So when he senses an opportunity to get some leverage, he gets himself involved in the case.

The intrepid crime-solving team of Dexter, Deborah et al know almost at once who the criminal is, which detracts from the suspense a little. Deborah's budding relationship with the federal agent brought in to nail this guy is less suspenseful than it should be because, as first person narrator, Dexter does not witness most of it, so for the reader, it happens 'off-screen.' And an interesting side plot involving the girlfriend Rita's children sets up an intriguing future plotline, but is not played out to much effect in this outing.

The book is okay, but certainly okay enough to justify its fairly high cost for an e-book. I'd library this one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review: Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman

This is #22 in an ongoing series of which I am a long-time reader. I have to say, the series is showing its age. Alex Delaware, the psychologist who helps the LAPD solve crimes, has scaled back the clinical work which in past novels was the connection which drew him into the cases. So all he's dealing with in this story is a random killing of a not very sympathetic party girl, and a decades-old cold case which might have been more interesting as a present-day procedural than as a fait-accompli from long ago.

The Detective Sturgis character has gotten more interesting, which is nice, but even he is getting a bit stale. Success in a previous novel has elevated him to untouchable 'do whatever I want and work on whatever cases I want' status within the LAPD. Couple that with the only potentially compelling plot in the book being a cold case, and there is no immediacy, nothing to lose, nothing really at stake here.

I miss seeing Alex do therapy. I miss the work with children which was his specialty. Kellerman's writing was good enough to keep me reading for the most part, but by the last third of the book, I was just waiting for it to be over.

I give this one a C- and I am not particularly motivated to buy future installments, even int he relatively cheaper e-form. He's going on my library list. Only time will tell if he stays there or gets demoted further.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Review: Modem Operandi by T.K. Sheils

Modem Operandi by Terry (T.K). Sheils is book my sister recommended to me at Fictionwise. It is a mutliformat title, meaning you can download it in a variety of file types, unencumbered by DRM, and the author seems to be very e-book friendly. The plot at first glance sounded interesting: a guy gets killed in a weird way, and his uncle, a 'paranormal investigator' with limited psychic abilities, gets called in by the dead guy's girlfriend to help investigate. I like mysteries, and what sci-fi tastes I ave tend toward the 'people with superpowers' type of story as opposed to aliens or elves, so this was a perfect e-read for me.

The mystery was reasonably engaging. The mystery leads the intrepid duo (who, in typical genre fashion, fall into bed together almost immediately) on a merry chase through Mayan mythology on the ancient side, and the mechanics of email on the modern side. There are plenty of doses of comedic humour (an over-the-top police liaison, a cabbie who draws his own conclusions) and some decent, if somewhat sudden light romance. It was fun, but it wasn't spectacular.

Still, there is a place in my reading life for this sort of harmless and fairly disposable light mystery, and I enjoyed the time I spent with this book. I remember getting it for a dollar or two cheaper than the price I'm seeing now. If you like this sort of thing and there is a sale going on, you could do worse.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I was all set to review a 'not available at' indie title when I went looking for the link on Fictionwise only to find it no longer for sale! The one peril of e, I suppose: you snooze, you lose! So you're getting this review instead, of a very commercial book available far and wide at bricks-and-mortar book stores everywhere. Still, there IS a lesson in this purchase for those interested in the politics of e-reading and what motivates buyer decisions. This is a bit above the price range I normally prefer for e-books, but I was hearing buzz, feeling interested, and there was a sale so they snagged me on the instant gratification impulse buy!

I should mention as well that there is a TV show associated with this book series. My understanding is that the books came first, and among fans of the actual story, there are the inevitable factions of 'those who prefer the books' and 'those who prefer the television.' A message board friend of mine who has experience with both said that the show is making some interesting choices with the storyline of which she approves, and that the format of a weekly tv show offers scope for a different kind of story-telling. I'm sure this is true. I rented the first disk of season 1 after I finished the book, and didn't care for it much. I guess I already had pictures of the characters in my head, and not all of the ones on-screen were the way I imagined them. I thought one character in particular came off much stupider on tv, and I think, as far as this story goes, I'll be in the 'prefer the books' camp.

The story revolves around Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police department. He is extremely up-front with the reader that he is a sociopath and that, while he is skilled at pretending to care, he doesn't actually. He became skilled, in fact, because his foster father (himself a cop) recognized Dexter for what he was and taught him to channel his predilection for violence thusly: to remember, whenever he feels certain urges, that there are plenty of people out there who actually deserve to die.

Dexter's well-organized life is upturned when a serial killer turns up who has remarkably similar methods to those of our sociopathic 'hero.' Further complicating the pursuit is his foster sister Deborah---the only person who 'loves' Dexter. She's a low-level cop trying to win her way into a posting to homicide, and sees this case as her maybe big break. She asks Dexter to help her, and he must juggle his desire to stay on the fringes with the problem of what to do about Deborah because, while he claims he does not 'love' her, he would not like anything bad to happen to her either!

I was surprised at how winsome a character Dexter turned out to be. His attempts to justify his badassness when actual emotion came his way (for example, his 'methinks the man doth protest too much' circumlocutions about his feelings for Deborah) were amusing. And Lindsay is skilled at making you care for him. The flashback scene where his foster father first introduces the 'code of Harry' by which he lives his life was downright chilling. And I thought the central conceit---he can't help what he is, so if he must kill anyway, to only kill bad guys---was extremely clever. It's rare to find an original idea in genre fiction these days!

This was an extremely entertaining book and Dexter's 'voice' as a narrator was both witty and consistent. The supporting characters were all equally well turned out, and I am definitely curious to see what happens in Book 2! I am definitely planning to stay on the lookout for further work by this author! If you are a mystery fan, this is a great read.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Admin: Some FAQ's Answered

I am gratified and blown away by the huge response to this blog so far! It's motivated me to post my first review already. I've had some questions I want to answer. Then you can expect another review this weekend!

Q: Will you still be posting links to free books?

A: Yes, absolutely! I do have a backlog right now of books I have paid for, though. I'll want to read through some of those first, before I go trolling for more freebies. But yes, I do enjoy the classics and am always on the lookout for more Creative Commons licensed titles.

Q: I am an author/publisher. Can I send you a review copy of my book? Will you review it?

Yes, you can send it (preferably in eReader or Word/Text format) and I will happily review it. I will, however, disclose in the review that I obtained the book for free. And I can't promise that the review will be to your liking. I'm honest about both the good and the bad when I review. If something didn't work for me, I'll say so.

Alternatively, if you are a vendor/publisher and you are interested in being reviewed here, let me know if you have a policy on review copies, and I'll keep it in mind when I am looking for new material.

Q: Will you post an ad for my book?

No. If you send me a generic email that says 'hey, my book just came out and it is on sale here' I will probably ignore it. My intent with this blog is to provide real critique and information for customers, not to advertise. If you want me to genuinely review your book, see above.

Q: I run an ebook website. Will you promote it for me?

Again, I don't 'promote' but I 'review.' If you think your site might interest me, you are welcome to send it my way, but I make no promises that I'll post about it, or that you'll like what I say if I do. Sites that involve 'registering' or 'creating an account' in order to use them are less likely to catch my interest, but I do enjoy hearing about other blogs and boards.

Q: I wonder if I have any books I can recommend to you. What sorts of genres do you read?

I'm all over the place. Most often, I read mystery/suspense type of things, with a smattering of non-fiction and mainstream novels. I don't generally read formula romance sci-fi---I don't have a rule against them, per se, and do at times enjoy certain novels. But those are not generally my 'thing' and the ones I do enjoy tend to be more mainstream in their presentation. I do enjoy the paranormal stuff, though---psychics, ghosts, aliens, people with magical powers etc. Those can be great fun. Mainstream, but quirky often works well for me. Or, sci-fi based in a world that is almost (but not quite) like ours.

Q: Who are some authors you enjoy?

Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Connie Willis, Mary Doria Russell, John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Sue Grafton, older Patricia Cornwell, Kelley Armstrong, Janet Evanovich, Stephen White, JK Rowling, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Ondaatje. Alexander McCall Smith, J.A. Jance, M.C. Beaton, Jodi Picoult, Gail Bowen...

Q: What's on your to-read list?

My recent as-yet-unread Fictionwise purchases include:
  • Thee Plums in One by Janet Evanovich
  • I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson
  • Dirty Blonde by Lisa Scottoline
  • Death Perception by Victoria Laurie
  • The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  • Eragon by Christopher Paolini
  • Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman
  • Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick
  • The Remains of the Dead by Wendy Roberts
  • Blind Faith by Colin Harvey
  • A Strange Valley by Darrell Bain
I'll try to prioritize my reviews on books which are not for sale at Amazon and do not have reviews available elsewhere.

Q: Who do you work for?

Although I am a former journalist who has written for a variety of major and minor markets, I left that field two years ago and work as an elementary school French teacher. I love my job! But if you're asking 'are you a shill for Fictionwise/Amazon/X Author/X Website?' then NO! I do some occasional volunteer contributions for the Teleread blog, but that is the extent of my 'journalism' right now. I buy my e-books, same as you. When I don't---either because the book is free in general, or because I obtain a review copy (which has already happened with one title) I will tell you so. But as I said above, I can't be bought. If you send me a review copy of a book and I don't like it, I'll say so in my review!

That's it for now! Other questions? Leave me a comment and I will save them up for the next post.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Review: Interworld by Neil Gaiman

This is one of Neil Gaiman's earlier works, a YA novel written in collaboration with Michael Reaves. I first discovered Neil Gaiman through his other big collaboration, Good Omens, co-written with Terry Pratchett. I had not particularly cared for either of these authors singly prior to reading that book. Together, I enjoyed them immensely. My history with Gaiman since then has been hit or miss: some of them I liked (Neverwhere) and some I did not (American Gods). Seeing as how I enjoyed his last collaboration, I thought I might enjoy this one.

The story is about a boy named Joey Harker who discovers that he has the ability to travel between parallel worlds. He winds up boot-camping in this sort of bootcamp world populated by other versions of himself, all of whom are affiliated with one of two factions warring for control of the galaxy.

I found the concept of 'multiple versions of himself' really interesting when I read the story summary, but I am not sure the authors quite pull it off. We get a few glimpses---not every 'Joey Harker' is human, for instance. But I would have liked to see more about the interpersonal aspects of this type of situation. If one accepts the premise set out in the story that each world is a result of the divergent decisions an individual might make at critical junctures, it would have been cool to compare two Joeys at the point where they verge off---for example, the Joey who decides to join the cause, meeting up with a Joey who is otherwise the same as he is, but decided *not* to and then gets pulled back in anyway. That would have been more interesting to me than 'variants on the name Joey with slight rearrangements of distinguishing physical characteristics.'

I liked the way the authors portrayed their hero as a fallible kid who tries, makes mistakes and tries to learn from them. The character growth leading up to the inevitable 'big showdown' was nicely played. But I found most of the other characters a little hackneyed and under-developed. We never did find out just where one of them found the big stick up his you know what! It felt to me like perhaps parts of this book were setting up for a sequel which never materialized.

I give them points for the concept, which was creative. But this is one of Gaiman's earliest works, and it shows. There are some nice action sequences, and a likable hero. But there was also a lot of hack, a lot of over-explaining (page after page about the mechanics of how a certain spacesuit works, for example) and in the end, a not entirely clear motivation for how we got ourselves into this in the first place.

Ultimately, I would perhaps recommend this as a library read if you are already a Gaiman fan. But he's done better, and I'm not sure this is purchase-worthy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Misc: Review of E-Book Websites

This post will provide you with a quick round-up of the book sites I visit on a regular basis. Do you have a favourite I didn't mention? Leave me a comment!

Manybooks: This is by far my favourite website for acquiring new e-book content. It allows you to download every title in your choice of formats, and has content guides such as thematic reading lists, reader reviews, RSS feeds for new additions in your favourite categories, and special collections where related titles are all compiled together. It originally was primarily a prettier way to browse the Project Gutenberg collection, but it recently has been expanding its offerings to Creative Commons-licensed texts and a growing collectio of pulp fiction. It also has an iTouch/iPhone-friendly browsing mode, which will allow you to very quickly and easily search for and download new titles from within the free eReader app, available at the iTunes App Store.

Project Gutenberg: This is the largest internet collection, and their very noble goal is to digitize, in plain text readable by any platform, basically every single work they can find which has lapsed into the public domain. As the United States has become increasingly, and in my opinion, unreasonably stupid about the length of copyright terms, they have also set up satellite websites in Australia, Canada, and Europe, where they post works of specific interest in those regions, as well as general works which are not yet 'available' in the US but are fair game in these other, more sensible (for now) regions. I've found the Gutenberg family of sites to be unparalleled in the sheer quantity of their offerings. You could read for decades off these, and you would be surprised at what's in the public domain these days---it's not just Shakespeare and the Bible! But I've also found that these sites can be hard to browse and are not as fun to use unless you know exactly what you're looking for. Even a one-sentence summary for some of this stuff would be helpful, especially for more obscure titles which the volunteers at Gutenberg have rescued from total oblivion. There are some real treasures in here, but you've got to know where to look and have some idea of *what* to look for.

Fictionwise: This is the site I use when I want to purchase a new, current book. They have a weekly newsletter that goes out with special deals. My favourite is the '100% Micropay' deal---you buy a title at full price and they refund the lot of it to you in store credit. If you planned to purchase other stuff anyway, it's a great way to get a free book out of it. What I like to do is buy a big, flashy best-seller, then use the credit to buy some of the indie stuff, which tends to be fairly inexpensive. My one flashy purchase can get me five or six great novels from some of these up and coming types. The indie titles tend to be available in 'multiformat' where one has a choice of download formats and can download purchases in any (or all) of these file types. The more best-sellery types tend to be available only in 'secure' formats. I usually purchase these in secure eReader as it can be read on most (but not all) of my devices and is the least obtrusive DRM scheme there is---no restrictions on how many times or to how many devices one may download their book, but it requires input of your credit card number in order to unlock the book the first time you open it. So, while you *can* share your books, you won't want to, as you would be sharing your credit card number too! But if you do buy a new device down the road, you can download your books again, and the eReader format has been around for awhile, so I feel secure that these purchases will be readable for a good, long time. The site also has a wish list feature, which is handy, and a somewhat weak 'user rating' for each book. They do not have a reader reviews feature though, for reasons which I understand (although I disagree wit them). But that was one of my reasons for starting this blog!

eReader: eReader was recently acquired by Fictionwise, and while I have not, nor do I plan to, buy from their on-line store (I am already attached to Fictionwise) they do make the eReader software, which I use (with great enjoyment) on my iPod Touch. The program is fast, elegant and a joy to use. I can download directly within the program from sites like Manybooks, or from my Fictionwise bookshelf. The software is free, too!

Mobile Read: This is a very active e-book forum where people discuss all things hardware, software and what to read. Many of the users also post whatever free books they have which they have pre-formatted for their various devices. So you can download free books from one part of the forum, then go to another part to talk about them! It's also a good place to look out for news about the latest gizmos and gadgets.

Teleread: I am a regular contributor to this blog, which covers the technical aspects of e-reading as well as the political and social ones. The quality of analysis at this blog can be very high, and there are some high-profile people who actually work in publishing who post there regularly. I'm very proud of my affiliation with them, and will continue to post analysis and opinion articles there on a regular basis. As a wrap-up to this review, I will post some links below to the best of the articles I've written for them:

Admin: Welcome!

After several years blogging about free music and ebooks on-line, I am expanding! I have been bitten by the e-book bug in a big way, and wanted to create a forum for writing reviews. But I'm trying to streamline my on-line life a little, so it didn't make sense to create another bog just for that! My decision? I'm combining the works into one new uber-blog where I can post about ALL things digital media: ebooks, music, videos, web sites, blogs and anything else I find, both free and otherwise. I hope you'll add me to your daily stops. As you get to know my tastes, I hope you'll also start suggesting things!

In case you missed some of the goodies at my former blog, here are some links to the best of the free content I've unearthed on-line so far.
  • Music (50 songs and counting...)
  • E-books (48 and counting...)
I'll be using tags to mark my posts (e.g. music, e-book, video, website etc.) so if you are coming from one of my other internet haunts, you'll know how to find the posts which interest you. As far as stuff I haven't blogged about before, I am especially interested in reviewing some of the multiformat titles at Fictionwise, which are generally from smaller presses and don't have much information about them available elsewhere (Fictionwise does not have a reader reviews mechanism). So I hope you'll join me! This'll be fun.