Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: Alien Murders by Stephen Goldin

Alien Murders by Stephen Goldin is a well-written set of two mystery novellas with sci-fi trappings. Deborah Rabinowitz is a literary broker who negotiates rights for Earth literature to alien cultures. In the course of this job, she becomes involved in the two cases presented in this short book. In the first, she is mid-teleconference with an alien on another world, when he is murdered in front of her. Since she only inhabited his virtual world, she did not see what happened in his real one. But as the only 'witness' she cannot help but be involved.

In the second story, she assists a friend who was accused of murdering an alien she had been collaborating with on a cookbook. The twist is that this alien world has a major taboo about public eating, so both the friend and her unfortunate collaborator are branded as moral corrupts, and this complicates Deborah's defense of her friend.

The near-future world of Deborah was well-drawn. The technology and world-creation was subtly woven in and not oppressive and the traits of the aliens were interesting. One of my favourite little throwaways was the part where Deborah must virtually visit a world where status is represented by the height of your body. The 'body rental' agency has to ask numerous questions to determine Deborah's status so they can loan her the appropriate-sized form for her visit. A subplot involving Deborah's directing an amateur Shakespeare production was also nicely implemented.

A few small quibbles; a nicer cover design would not be remiss, and although the book itself was free of errors, there is a distracting typo in the Smashwords blurb that might turn away potential readers. And the first few pages were a little confusing; Goldin over-plays Deborah's 'attitude' just a little and I very nearly shut the book on him. I am glad I stuck with it, though. As a mystery fan who doesn't generally enjoy a ton of sci-fi, this book struck just the right balance for me. I wish there had been more stories. A sequel, especially a novel-length one with a single story, would very definitely interest me and I have added this to my Indie Favourites List.

I rate this book a 4/5 and definitely recommend it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Desert Places by Blake Crouch

Desert Places is a gripping, well-paced quick read. It's been plugged---deservedly, I think---by The Almighty Konrath, among others and I read it straight through in one sitting.

The plot centers around thriller writer Andrew Thomas, who one day receives a shocking letter:

"Greetings. There is a body buried on your property, covered in your blood. The unfortunate young lady's name is Rita Jones. In her jeans pocket you'll find a slip of paper with a phone number on it. Call that number. If I have not heard from you by 8:00 p.m., the police will receive an anonymous call. I'll tell them where Rita Jones is buried on your property, how you killed her, and where the murder weapon can be found in your house (I do believe a paring knife is missing from your kitchen.) I strongly advise against going to the police, as I am always watching you."

Things progress from there to a battle of wits, among other battles, between Andrew and the murderer of the unfortunate lady, who has a connection to him I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that it certainly held my attention!

Parts of the book were very graphic, which might be an issue for some people. But if you like this sort of novel, I think this is an excellent specimen. The characterizations were nicely done (the killer's behaviour is 'explained' for those who seek such things, but the killer himself is ambivalent when this explanation is offered to him). I found that the main character was not as sympathetic to me by the end as he was when we started, and I think I was supposed to feel that way.

My one quibble? I had some formatting complaints. There were numerous sections of interior monologue which were not marked off by quotations or by italic formatting, as per standard. I found it distracting to have them inserted into bits of dialogue or distraction and not be marked off somehow. There were at least two other sections were italics were used, so the author clearly knows how to use them from a technical 'formatting of the book' standpoint. I have to assume that his decision not to use them elsewhere was a stylistic one, and it didn't work for me.

So, minus half a point for that. I am giving this a 3.5/5, but it would have been a solid 4 otherwise, and that's the highest mark I give a genre book. If you like cat-and-mouse suspense, and you have a tolerance for a little gore here and there, this is a book that'll keep you up to finish reading. Recommended.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fun With Statistics

Just for some pre-long-weekend fun, some stats to entertain you :)

I currently have 283 ebooks tagged in Delicious. This represents full-length books only; if I count magazines and other ephemera, my total 'ebooks read' are 348.

Of those 283 books, 51 of them have been tagged a 'favourite.'
  • 11 of these are commercial DRM'd titles
  • 17 of them are indie DRM-free titles from Smashwords and Fictionwise
  • 19 of them are classics in the public domain
There are currently 57 ebooks listed in the Indie eBook Hall of Fame. These are books which are available DRM-free and have received at least three positive reviews from independent bloggers.

There are 124 books currently listed in the eBacklist Collection. These are books which were formerly published in print by a mainstream publisher and are being re-released independently by their own authors as the rights have reverted back to them. All of the listed books are DRM-free as well. And I know there are more out there! Authors with eligible listings are invited to check out the submission instructions here.

So, what do these statistics mean for you?


Good news! You can get a ton of content which is free of DRM (and hence can be converted easily for use on any of your devices) and in some cases free of cost as well. You could read for years off some of these links!
  • If you trust my judgment, you can start with my indie and public domain favourites. That's 36 books right there, and I have personally read and vetted every one of them.
  • If you'd rather a group blogger's consensus, the Indie eBook Hall of Fame awaits you.
  • If the stamp of approval from a mainstream, traditional publisher is important to you but you still want to avoid DRM, check out the Ebacklist Collection.
  • If you avail yourself of all three options, you'll have over 300 books to choose from which have all been vetted and reviewed by someone---yet are DRM-free!

Good news! I offer you some self-promo opportunities, even if you write outside the genres I review or write inside those genres but don't wish to submit your book to me.
  • If your book has received three reviews by independent bloggers (i.e. not Amazon reviews, paid-for reviews, Goodreads reviews or those appearing on PR or aggregation sites) then you can submit your information for inclusion in the Indie eBook Hall of Fame. Note that there may be a delay in getting your book posted, as I do all the work myself and have to verify and enter each book manually!
  • If you are an author whose book was published once upon a time by a real paper publisher, you can submit your book to the Ebacklist Collection. You don't need to wait for me to add the listing; you can do it yourself. I urge you to please read and follow the submission guidelines carefully, however. I do moderate the entries, and incomplete information (such as forgetting to indicate where it was once published) or excessive/incorrect tagging takes me more time than you'd imagine to correct, and leaves me less time for reviewing and other worthy pursuits!
Have fun browsing this growing index of great DRM-free books!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: The Redemption of Mr. Sturlubok by Rudolf Kerkhoven & Daniel Pitts

The Redemption of Mr. Sturlubok is the second choose your own adventure ebook by Kerkhoven and Pitts; I previously reviewed their other title and found it fun, but a bit on the farcical side. This new entry is more of the same, but the farce is a little more credible this time. Mr. Sturlobok is a school principal, and his position of authority relative to the janitor of the previous book is more credible a comic hero-slash-villain. I also work in a school myself, so I found some of the school-related details resonating with me more than they might have otherwise.

A book like this is not read for its literary merit. The authors are witty and the book is a lot of fun, but this is definitely a book-toy, and if you understand that going in, you'll definitely enjoy it more. It's like those people who panned the live-action Scooby Do movies because they tried to evaluate them as serious films instead of the screen candy they were intended to be. If you want a serious film, don't watch Scooby Do. If you want a serious book, look elsewhere.

An interactive story like this must be a huge amount of work to put together. The authors were careful, and I caught no mistakes. To be careful and to make it fun to boot is no small feat. If you are in the mood for some light, comic book-play, this is the title for you. One complaint: I had to double-check the spelling on the title several times int he process of downloading, reviewing and bookmarking this title. A small complaint, but even so :) 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sample Review: Hazel Wetherby and the Elixir of Love by Bill Defelis

Hazel Wetherby and the Elixir of Love is a YA novel that was pitched to me as 'Nancy Drew meets Men in Black.' It sounded adorable. Hazel seemed like a spunky heroine, and the fairly straightforward mystery (parents go missing, bad guys are involved) seemed like we'd get a simple narrative with some good character moments.

The book was highly reviewed on both Amazon and Smashwords. All of those reviews said that it was a great story for kids. I have to agree with that assessment---it would be good for kids. For this adult reader, it missed the mark a little, I'm afraid.

Defelis writes well and the story seems polished and well-edited. But he jumps around a lot between several groups of characters, and I found that a little distracting at first. And my suspension of disbelief meter was working overtime here. Hazel manages to do such things as rent an office building and hire a housekeeper on her own, for instance. And she decides to be a detective to find her parents, then basically sits around waiting for a 'client' rather than going out and actually detecting. When she does get clues about her parents, they pretty much fall into her lap by dumb luck.

A younger reader might be less bothered by such details. As for myself, I probably could have finished this book and mildly enjoyed it. But I just have so much else on my to-read list right now. If a book is only okay, I just don't have the time.

Verdict: did the sample make me want to read more?
No, but it was a close one. If I didn't have so much else to read, I might have finished. This would be a better book for the younger reader for whom it is intended.