fbpx

Category Archives: Reviews

Cover Red Rising

Red Rising

Category : Recommendation , Reviews

4 out of 5 stars

By The Numbers YA Dystopa

Red Rising is the first in sci-fi series by Pierce Brown published by Random House. It’s a fun read but it’s really by the numbers dystopian fiction.

You’ve got the super smart handsome protagonist being raised in poverty/obscurity. Then they discover that everything they knew about the world was totally wrong; the rich people are super rich and don’t care about the poor people. And the rich people are rich because they exploit the poor people with lies and fear.

Then made up to look like a richie rich and gets sent of to summer murder camp where all the rich kids murderize each other.

Of course, he meets a nice girl. They kinda fall in love sorta thing but they’re not 100% on it.

He wins the murder games but it’s just a set up for the even bigger murder games in the next book.

Oh, it all takes place on a terraformed Mars. But the murder games is old school sticks, stones, and aggression. ‘Cause you can’t be a rich jerk that exploits the working class unless you’ve strangled someone?

I dunno.

Why 4 Stars instead of 5?

Because I’m not that into murder camp books. They’re kinda fun. I like to see rich people murder each other just as much as the next economically exploited proletariat. But. A lot of it is forced to move the story along to get to murder camp. There’s a whole section about the family and the original love interest that is super rushed. The conversion to the wild-eyed revoltionary was also too fast.

Clearly, this is cut short to get the protagonist into murder camp, because that’s where most of the story takes place.

But…

I really feel that the novel suffers for it. I think it would be okay to spend some more time at home. Get to know the family a bit more. You know?

So, if you’re into the Hunger Games model of dystopian fiction, you should pick this up.

It’s got named cliques. It’s got poor people being exploited. It’s got rich people with kids. It’s got rich kids murdering each other. It’s got an unbelievably handsome and talented protagonist that’s super good at everything but he’s got this 1 flaw that actually helps him in the end.

So, if you love books about dystopian murder camp for teens, you’re gonna love Red Rising.


Game of Thrones HBO Logo

Game of Thrones

Category : blog , Reviews

Okay.  So. Game of Thrones.

It’s finally over.  6  amazing seasons and 2 really good ones.

I can understand that a lot of people found the ending to be…less than satisfying.  I think it would be really easy to feel short changed by the sudden ending for some of the characters. 

Why?

Because Game of Thrones is still an epic fantasy and there are certain tropes that you have to abide by. And one of those is that the Dark Lord is defeated at the end.

I’m not talking about the Night King.  I’m talking about Daenerys Stormborn of the Houe Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, The rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdomes and Protector of the Realm, Queen of Dragonstone, Queen of Mareen, Khaleesi fo the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, regent of the realm and  the Queen of Ash.

She was always the threat that was going to end the world.

But let me get back to tropes.  I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy over the years. There’s always a dark lord. There’s always disparate human (and other races) forces that don’t want to work together. The dark lord is always coming from the east or the south. They’ve always got a great big huge scary army and monsters.

There’s always a noble lord from the north or the west. He’s always doing the right thing. Despite being a feudal lord, he totally believes in truth and justice.  And he’s super humble. He’s probably got a prophecy or Great Destiny going on too.

He unites the disparate kingdoms of the good people. They join together for an epic battle against darkness. Then there’s a big fight between Prince Good Guy and the Dark Lord.

And Martin sets all of that up.

There’s the North.  We have the crazy ice zombie Other’s out there. They’re led by the Night King.

Then there’s Ned. He always does the right thing. Except one time he did the wrong thing and cheated on his wife. But right after that he does the right thing and brings that bastard home to raise with his other kids.

For the first book, Ned is the man. He’s hitting all the beats for the Noble Prince who will unite the human kingdoms and defeat the evil ice zombies from beyond the wall.

And then he gets his head cut off.

That’s when Martin tells you that everything you think you know about epic fantasy needs to get tossed out the window. None of what you expect to happen is going to happen.

We watched Daenrys go from a scared girl being used as a bargaining piece to the leader of the Dothroki. From there she moved up to leveling cities and taking over whole sections of Essos.

Every step of the way, when she would be stopped or denied what she wanted, Daenrys would say that she was going to take what belonged to her, because it was her right, and she would burn and kill anyone who stood in her way.

Which is exactly what she did in every season.

The great trick that Martin pulled was that for book after book/ season after season, we watched the rise of a Dark Lord and cheered for her every step of the way. We agreed that those bad people over there needed to be torched, killed, or brutally crucified.

the Queen of Ashes

But it was always there. She was always a conqueror, not a ruler. She would kick over a city, take it over, and then rule based on whim. And whe it got complicated and messy, she peaced out to kick over another anthill on her way to Westeros.

She was always going to set out to conquer the world with Fire & Blood. It always was an Epic Fantasy story, just not being told the way we expected it to be told.

And in Epic Fantasy, the Dark Lord always loses.

Always.


Cover for book

Raven Stratagem

Category : Reviews

4 out of 5 stars

It’s a fun good book but…

it loses something that the first one had. I dunno what it is, but there’s something missing from this one that the first one had in spades. 

Also, there’s a thing that this book brings up that was not in the first one.

The idea that the gender of the body was different than the gender of the person. Specifically, one character remarks that he has a woman’s body and that other officers mock them about it. Another character makes a remark that it’s not that uncommon to see trans people. 

Which is a good detail for a world but holy crap, it seems like that should have come up sooner in the first book. 

Because the first book showed that this is a society of gender equality. That the POV character was a female had no bearing in the decision by her superior officers in her suitability for the job. And having trans people be a source of scorn in a genderless world seems weird. Like that’s an important detail that should be explored. 

Except it’s not. It’s casually mentioned a few times in the earlier chapters and then poof. It’s a detail that gets lost. 

But like I said, it’s a good book. Just not as good as the first one. 


cover image for Fortune's Pawn

The Paradox Series

cover image for Fortune's Pawn

First book in Rachel Bach’s Paradox series

3 stars out of 5

I liked it well enough

 

 

 

Okay,  so up front I want to say that I’m giving the 3 star rating to the series as a whole, not the first book.

Lemme break this down: as I said on my Goodreads review for Fortune’s Pawn that I’ve read a lot of books that claim to be Star Wars + Star Craft = Awesome.  All of these have sucked.  All of them.

Except for Fortune’s Pawn. It is a mash up of Star Wars and Star Craft. There’s a space marine in power armor. She’s bad ass! She kicks, punches, stabs, or shoots her way out of every problem.  Devi is a fantastic “jarhead” protagonist.

Although she wouldn’t use that term. In the book there’s the SkullHead term that I think is supposed to replace that, but let’s be honest here, Devi is a jarhead. As a soldier, I use that term for Devi out of respect. She’s a great character.

There’s a well built romance between her and the shy/cool/aloof ship’s cool. He’s got a dark secret that she wants to uncover!

Oh, and there’s the Force. Although it’s not called The Force, and it’s not an all-mystical power out making decisions for everyone. But it’s the Force. There’s a space religion setup around it. No Jedi, thankfully, but yeah, it’s The Force.

The second book in the series is really good too! There’s a lot of twists about who you thought the bad guys and the good guys where. Lotsa ups and downs.  You find out the cool/aloof guy’s dark secret (his name is Rupert).

Anyway, Rupert does a thing at the end of the first book. It’s not cool. I’m not gonna spoil it, but it’s part of the ending reversal. It’s the sort of thing that ends relationships permanently.

In my opinion, it’s an unforgivable thing that he does.

Anyway, of course Devi finds the truth. She punches, shoots, stabs, and kicks her way out of trouble to snatch victory from the literal jaws of defeat.  And the book ends with Devi and Rupert (the cool aloof dark secret guy) locked in a small ship together.

In Book 3, Heaven’s Queen, the story takes a real crap turn. It’s like Rachel had a “star crossed lovers” checklist and she was going down the list to check off each point.  Like Romance Novel style check list of isolating the pair in a nice setting, they clean up and walk around in shirts/no shirts. Then a jealous old flame shows up.

It was so forced and annoying that I started skimming pages to get past that stuff to the rest of the story- which was still really interesting.

The Devi/Rupert romance really really dragged the book down and really lowered my enjoyment of the series as a whole. I thought she should have shot Ruppert in the head, along with the other two responsible for the Bad Thing that happened at the end of book 1.

So. Overall, I give the series 3 stars.  The first book gets 5 stars! The second book gets 4 stars. And the third gets 1.

Do I still recommend the series?  Yeah. I still do. Other than that forced relationship with Devi & Rupert, it’s a great story that I really enjoyed.


The Art of the Con cover

The Art of the Con: How to Think Like a Real Hustler and Avoid Being Scammed

The Art of the Con cover

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

A little history on why I’m suddenly reading books about Con Artists.  I had an idea for an urban fantasy series but instead of a standard detective like I’ve been writing with my Jack Story series, I decided to do something more fun; urban fantasy in a Sting/Ocean’s Eleven setting.

Which meant two things;
1) I had to watch Ocean’s Eleven and the Sting pretty much on constant loop. (skip Ocean’s 12 and 13.)
2) I needed to learn a lot about cons, con men, and how that all operated.

So, for Step 1 I bought the Sting and Ocean’s Eleven.  Great movies. Pulling off a heist or con is all in the setup and finding the motivation in their character. Like in the Sting they’re pulling the con in order to get revenge on a mob boss that ordered a hit on Luther, a venerated older con man. Played by James Earl Jones’ father, btw.

In Ocean’s Eleven, we don’t find out Danny’s motivation until we’re well into the 2nd act. If the movie has a writing flaw, it’s that one.  Oh, they set it up from the very first scene and sort of allude to it in conversation but it should be clearly sooner.

But it’s still a dang good heist movie.

The second- I needed to find books on con artists, cons, and the psychology of cons and the people who pull them.

I found this book: The Art of the Con; how to think like a real hustler and avoid being scammed.

And I have to say, it’s really good. It’s written by R. Paul Wilson, a man who has studied confidence games his entire life, and has produced, started in, and written TV shows about cons.

He breaks down the various types of cons from the short con that happens when someone walks up to you, to the mid game where you’re hooked into a situation, and the “big game” cons that take thousands of dollars from people.

Not only does he break some of them down, he runs the reader through how he pulled those exact scams on his various shows.

He even gets into the thinking of a con artist. In his view, and I would have to agree with it, that all con artists are motivated singularly by the desire for money.  They’re after the money, and they’re ready to do and say whatever it takes to get it. They’ll sacrafice everything- even their relationships- to get more money.  And they’ll blame you for letting them get away with it.

He also says that he’ll get into why people fall for the cons, but I feel like he’s less successful here.  This is why I rate it 4 stars out of 5.  He suggests rather than categorically states, that people fall for cons because they’re stupid or greedy, but because manipulated by social expectations and by the con artists.

I agree with all of those, but I also think that a fair number of people think they’re smarter than the con that they’re faced with. Like, take 3 Card Monty.  You can see that the game is rigged just by watching it for 3 seconds. But it’s easy to think everyone else is a sucker and we’re the one person who can pull this one out.

But overall, this is a really good book to read up on cons, how they work, and how the people who pull them think. If you’re looking for a book like that, I recommend this one.


book cover

Out of the Shadows

Category : blog , Book , Recommendation , Reviews

 

As an American, I enjoy reading stories from non-American authors.  I really like the subtle and small differences in the usage of English slang like Take Away instead of Take Out.  Ashlee’s style is both eloquent and a smooth read.

Normally I don’t like a book that starts with one character that is “in the know” then switches to an “innocent” character who is discovering the world. I feel more comfortable as a reader when we start with the innocent and stay there. That’s just me.  Ashlee is an excellent writer, so even though that very thing happens here, I didn’t mind it and kept rolling with the story.

If I have any quibble with the story, it’s how the supernatural world fits into the normal world. It kind of felt to me like a supernatural world where everything was “out of the closet” but they’re not.  Frankly, it’s a minor quibble.  If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll glide right past it for an enjoyable read.


Book Cover

Dark Sacrifice

Category : blog , Book , Recommendation , Reviews

3 star rating

Dark Sacrifice is the third book in the Hidden Heritage series. I haven’t read a paranormal romance in a while and when the opportunity to read this book came up, I went for it.

Overall, it was a good read. The premise is interesting- it reminded me of Howl’s Moving Castle but more of an older/adult take on it. Not “ADULT” though.

The point that really drew me out of the story is that the characters often talked about exactly what they wanted to talk about. Which seems like a weird complaint, but think of that first scene in the Princess Bride with Wesley and Buttercup, right? She makes a demand and he says “As You Wish,” and we all know what they’re really saying to each other. There’s isn’t any of that here, and I think it really brings the work down.

I was provided a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.


Brick

By now you’ve probably seen Director Rian Johnson’s movie Rogue One.  Yeah, I agree, it’s amazing. Especially the last few minutes with that Vader in the Hall scene.  Bad ass Vader is back!

But have  you seen Rian Johnson’s first film Brick?  

It’s one of my favorite films from the early 2000’s.  It’s a neonoir style mystery set in high school.  Of course it’s a story that revolves around greed, sex, and murder.  Like all good noir and high school stories should.

It’s primarily inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s Glass Key and Red Harvest. If you haven’t read either of those, go pick them up. They’re great.  Red Harvest was the inspiration for the Kurosawa classic Yojimbo and the American film Last Man Standing.  It’s also inspired by the now classic anime Cowboy Bebop.

Which you should definitely  see. Bebop is an amazing series. It’s so good, I even own the sound track on CD.  And I don’t buy soundracks.

One of the things that I like the most about Brick is the command of the noir-style language. It’s something I’m very conscious of when I write a Jack story. It’s amazing how well the patios blends with being in High School.  I mean, it opens up with the protagonist Brandon looking for his ex-girlfriend Emma. He keeps asking everyone who she’s eating lunch with now.  Which totally sounds like a noir slang for who she’s spending time with BUT since this is High School, it really does mean he’s asking who she’s sitting with during their lunch break.

It stars a Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, as I mentioned, it’s written and directed by Rian Johnson.  If you like hard boiled action, noir patter, and some action you’ll probably like Brick.

If you don’t like any of those things…I wouldn’t watch it.

TTy’all Later!

~W.H. Lock

 


Under a curse

Category : blog , Book , Recommendation , Reviews

So, I go through this cycle when I start a new project.  I think of it as my very own personal creators curse.

  • Step 1 is “Wow, this is a really good idea!”
  • Step 2 is “This is just so much fun! I love this idea.
  • Step 3 is “Huh. Hm. Well. This is a good idea. Well, I mean, I like it. But…”
  • Step 4 is “OMG, why do I even think I can do this! This is the WORST IDEA EVER!”
  • Step 5 is “Okay, I’ll just finish this draft and that’s it. No more.”
  • STep 6 is “Well, this isn’t so bad. I mean, with a little work…”
  • Step 7 is “You know, this is actually pretty good. Not amazing, but…yeah…”
  • Step 8 is “I AM SO SICK OF LOOKING AT THIS THING! Whatever! It’s done! I don’t care!”

Right now, I am firmly in Step 4.  The “creative doldrums” usually hits me in the outline stage. And I’m right in the middle of the outline stage. About two weeks ago or so, I really loved this idea.  Now that I’m working it out, I’m less enamored.  I know from experience that I go through this every time. What it takes to get out of this slump is to keep working on it.

I just gotta power through it.

If I switch to working on a different project, I will end up in the same place with that new project. So, I know it’s best to keep working on this project.

There’s a lot to be learned every time you complete a book. You get better at creating sell-able ideas. You get better at writing.  You get better at finishing. Being able to finish writing a book is an incredible valuable skill. There are an endless amount of books that have been started and never finished.

No one buys an unfinished book.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to go finish.

TTy’allLater.
~W.H.


Obsidian Son (The Temple Chronicles #1)

Category : blog , Book , Recommendation , Reviews

3 star rating

3 out of 5 stars

 

cover image

#1 Nate Temple series

I’d be remiss if I criticized this book for having an unlikable protagonist.  My protagonist, Jack Story, is designed to be unlikable.  However, I do have to say that the protagonist in Obsidian Son is unsympathetic.

A lot of people think that you have to make your protagonist likable for the audience to root for them.  You don’t.  Two examples right off the top of my head are the MCU’s Tony Stark and Mel Gibson in Payback.

Tony, despite how charming RDJ’s performance is, is not likable. He’s rude. He’s a jerk to his friends. He only keeps people around based on how useful they are for him. His treatment of women is deplorable.

Mel’s character in Payback is a straight up bank robber. There’s nothing likable about this guy.

But we root for both of them, finding them sympathetic, because they do what we consider to be “the right thing.”  Sure, Tony is all those things I said he was, but at the end of the day he straps on the Iron Man suit and goes up against the forces of darkness.  Mel’s character just wants his cut of the money from the bank he robbed. Not all of it, just what’s due to him.

Things we think we would do in that same situation.  Thus we find them sympathetic.

This isn’t the case with Nate Temple. He’s got a Batman Origin, his parents were murdered. He’s a billionaire. He’s got magic at his disposal. But unlike Batman, he doesn’t do the sort of things we think we would do in that situation.

Imagine if you had magical power and essentially unlimited money.  Now add in the certain knowledge that your parents had been murdered. How would you spend your days?

Hunting down your parent’s murderer or would you run around collecting rare books for clients?

Exactly. Nate  doesn’t do that. He isn’t Batman. He is living his life as if no tragedy had touched him. And has a rare book store.

But there are some good things about the story. The use of the Minotaur from Greek myths is fun. The bookstore sisters are interesting. The action is fun. But I found Nate to be unsympathetic.