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.