Book Review: Beware the Wild

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

This book pulled me and didn’t let me go, much like mud in the swamp at the heart of the story. Sterling Saucier (pronounced SO-shur) was a great character. I felt her worries, her sense of urgency, her confusion as she tried to hold on to the memory of her brother and deal with a whole new set of memories, of a sister, which shouldn’t have been in her mind. She struggles against feelings for this sister, all while knowing that she shouldn’t have these memories of her.

Sterling’s mission seems clear – get her brother back from the swamp, set things right again. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. All magic comes with a price, and the magic of the Shine is no exception. Sterling has to find a way to get Phin back without losing herself, or anyone else, to the Shine. She has to deal with a town that denies the existence of the Shine, that fears the swamp and fences it away without ever daring to talk about or even think about why. There’s power in memory, power in fear, and power in where things (and people) are from. Sterling has to figure out how to work with all of that in her efforts to save her brother, and the one thing she can’t evade is the cost of the Shine.

Sterling has a cast of other great characters around her. There’s Candy, her best friend and the undeniable leader of the group; there’s Heath, who understands what she’s dealing with; and though he isn’t there, her memories of Phin make feel her attachment to him. Even Lenora May turns out to be more complicated than she seems at first. The only character who really falls flat is Abigail. We’re told she’s black and Lesbian, but we don’t get any real sense of her a person. It feels like she’s there to check some box and that’s it.

All in all this was a great read and I look forward to meeting the author at Midwest Writers Workshop later this year!

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Book Review: The Icarus Hunt

Five out of five stars on Goodreads

As I got closer and closer to the end of this book, I became more and more torn. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, but at the same time I didn’t want the book to end. I loved the world Zahn created, loved the characters of Jordan and Ixil (and Pix and Pax) and I didn’t want to leave them. I went to Zahn’s Goodreads page, hoping he had written more with these guys, but he hasn’t, so I knew when I reached the end, that would be it (except for re-reads).
Zahn plunks you down in a wholly-crafted world of space travel, bars on far-off planets with disreputable mixes of humans and aliens, space craft hauling cargo, and a mix of humans and aliens crewing them. It’s a familiar world – lots of sci-fi novels take place in similar ones – but it’s great atmosphere. We learn more about the politics of this world as the story goes on, just as we should (those play a key role in the action). We don’t get bogged down in the science part – Zahn doesn’t lose sight that this is fiction. This is a good old fashioned space opera and thus it is our characters who matter most. Zahn creates good ones, ones you like and enjoy rooting for (or against).
Jordan McKell might remind you a bit of Han Solo. He’s a spaceship pilot, former military now turned smuggler, but there’s more to him than that. Ixil is his partner, an Iguana-faced alien with two symbiotic critters, similar to ferrets, that perch on his shoulders when they aren’t being sent off to scout or stand guard (or when they haven’t spotted some good food nearby).
Ixil and Jordan have each others’ backs, and that is good because they’re part of a crew of strangers hauling, taking a bizarre spacecraft from a far-flung world to Earth. Their boss failed to show for lift-off, their cargo hold is sealed so they don’t know what they’re hauling, and at their first maintenance stop their mechanic is killed in what may or may not have been an accident. Add to the mix a criminal underworld boss, another mysterious man of power, and a race of aliens who control most shipping who are showing a great deal of interest in the ship, and it’s going to be all Jordan and Ixil can manage to fulfill their contract to deliver the Icarus to Earth while staying alive. It makes for a great page-turner and a fun read!

Book Review: Woof, by Spencer Quinn

I loved the idea of a novel written from a dog’s POV but wasn’t sure how well it could be done. Spencer Quinn nails it in Woof. The story is told from the perspective of Bowser, a mutt adopted by Birdie and her Grammy as a belated birthday gift for Birdie. Bowser has had a rough life, but being a dog, he doesn’t dwell on it. As he puts it, his mind doesn’t go backwards. He’s also very smell-focused, as you’d expect from a dog. He faithfully reports on human conversations, even when he admittedly doesn’t necessarily understand them, and he falls asleep when things get dull (from his POV). Still, he tells us enough for us to grasp what’s going on (better than he does) and play along at solving the mystery.

Bowser himself isn’t much concerned with the mystery, except in how it impacts his new human, Birdie Gaux. He views things on instinct, emotion, and smell. He loves Birdie almost immediately and his mind quickly moves from wanting freedom to run about to wanting to stick close to this “off the charts” kid. He picks up on feelings so even when Grammy is talking mean, he knows she’s got a good heart and that she cares. He’s dead on about who is trustworthy and who isn’t, even when he doesn’t quite understand the concepts. His way of looking at the world is delightful, from his thoughts on the importance of having a tail (“It helps to have a tail to tell you when a good idea comes along.”) to his response on a particular idiom (“Quiet as mice? You heard that one from humans. Didn’t they know mice were in fact kind of noisy?”). In Bowser, Quinn has created a unique and fun protagonist, with a charming view of the world.  I hope we’ll have many more Bowser and Birdie stories to enjoy!  I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Dare to Dream by Carys Jones

Carys was kind enough to send me a copy of the Kindle edition of this book to review.

In Dare to Dream we meet Maggie Trafford, a 14-year-old girl in a smallish city in England who is plagued by disturbing dreams.  The book is done in two parts, with the first part being a slower read than the second.

Maggie’s world is quickly established: she’s one of five children, with no father in the picture, and an unemployed mother who is not doing much mothering that I can see. With the exception of Maggie, the children are selfish, uninterested in bettering themselves, and obnoxious. It’s hard to feel much for them, or to feel that Maggie has much connection with any of them.  Her mother is just as self-absorbed as Maggie’s sisters, and so beaten down by her disappointments that she’s given up on trying to improve either her life or the lives of her children.

Maggie’s best friend is Dawn. We are told that they’ve been best friends since they were about 8, but the friendship never feels that deep to me. Dawn comes across as vapid and self-absorbed most of the time. Maggie’s envy of her friend’s family’s better socio-economic adds to the feeling that this isn’t much of a friendship, no matter how many times we are told otherwise. In fact, the relationships in the story all suffer from too much telling and not enough showing in the writing.

The premise is intriguing. Maggie’s nightmares show the end of the world. They are vivid and creepy, especially once Maggie actually begins to be harmed while in the nightmares. No one believes her when she tells them that these are more than nightmares but Maggie grows increasingly certain that they are prophecies and that they need to be acted upon. Finally she does take action, bringing along Dawn and a boy from school named Andy (who has a crush on her that she’s unaware of). The book’s pace picks up a bit when the teens finally take action.  This is part 2 of the book, their journey to find safety from whatever or whoever is destroying the world.

Maggie vacillates between confidence and nearly crippling self-doubt, which can be irritating but I kept reminding myself that this character was supposed to be a 14-year-old girl and such swings are a normal part of being a teenager. The same vacillations plagued Andy and Dawn. The book ends in such a way that I assume a sequel or perhaps even a series is in the works.

This book gets three stars because, in spite of some clunky writing in places (here’s an example: “She perched herself on the end and gazed over at Mrs. Grimes who herself sat in a matching arm chair.”), I am intrigued by the premise and curious about what will happen next.

Getting to Know Me

I saw this list of questions on Kathy Palm’s blog and though I’m not officially part of the blog-hop, I like the questions and thought it would be fun to answer them.  So here we go!

1.  What’s your least favorite book?

This is a tough one, because I am inclined favorably toward books.  It takes a lot for me to really dislike one.  But I’d have to say the book I least enjoyed reading from my school days was Crime and Punishment.  I think it was a bit over my head at the time, and it’s Russian and thus generally depressing.  Honorable mentions would go to Agatha Christie’s works, because I find her characters two-dimensional and her “cheats” of having the detective be the killer or not share all of his knowledge even when we’re supposed to be in his head really honk me off.

2.  What’s your favorite book from childhood?

Again, it’s hard to pick just one.  So here are a few that really stand out to me (as in, I can’t think of my childhood without also thinking of these books):

the original Nancy Drew mysteries – this was the first series I binge read.  I remember getting these from my school library and reading them at lunchtime (yeah, I was that kid).  I loved Nancy.  She had her own car and got to go in secret passages and overcome dangers and solve mysteries.  She had a supportive dad and a really nice housekeeper/mother figure, cool best friends and even a boyfriend.  She was awesome.  I wanted to be her.

The Hideaway – two kids run away from home and wind up in a cabin in the woods, taking care of themselves for the summer with no grown-ups, and they do it quite well.  I read and re-read this one.  I loved it.

The Anne of Green Gables series.  How could you not love Anne with an “e”, Gilbert, and all of their children (we will not talk about the last book because the death of a certain character still makes me tear up).

3.  What author(s) inspired you to become a writer?

Strangely, this is the most difficult question to answer.  I don’t know that any one author inspired me to write.  As far back as I can remember I was telling stories.  When I was a kid all my stuffed animals had personalities and my brother and I created elaborate dramas for them.  I think that comes more from my mother than from any author – she is the one who tells the family stories.  She also read to me a lot.  Then, in elementary school we did Young Author’s Conference one year and I got to write my own story.  That’s what really made the connection of story-telling leading to book creation for me, and it’s been something I wanted to do ever since.

4.  How do you feel about ebooks?

I don’t see the love of e-books being something exclusive from the love of books and reading.  We’ve turned our family room into the library in my house and it is full of books.  Between my husband and I there are also multiple Kindles in use in our house and I love them as well.   I can’t understand people who want to bash on e-readers any more than I could understand someone who’d want to bash on books.  What matters is that people read, not what platform they choose to use (and if it takes a gadget to get a kid turned on to the joy of reading, then use the gadget!).

5.  Are you a compulsive reader or do you take your time getting through a story?

I am a compulsive reader.  There are certainly books that I wish would never end, but my compulsive need to know what happens next will override any thoughts of lingering.

6.  Which book(s) have you re-read the most?

The original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, and Harry Potter.  There is something so comforting and wonderful about the worlds of those books that I want to revisit them, and something so engaging about the characters that I love to spend time with them even if I already know what’s going to happen next.

7.  If you could live in any world depicted in a book, what would it be?

I’d love to live in the world of Harry Potter.  I also would love to visit (and maybe stay) the steampunk world Kenneth Oppel created for his Matt Cruse series (Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber).

8.  If you could kiss any book character, who would it be?

Ian Rutledge from Charles Todd‘s series, because the poor man needs some TLC!

9.  Do you communicate with your favorite authors on Twitter?

Not on Twitter, but I’m Facebook friends with a few and we do communicate that way.  I’ve been fortunate enough to volunteer with Magna Cum Murder for several years and have had the chance to meet many authors that way.  In some cases those meetings are what led to me reading their work (and in a few cases I’m more fond of them as a person than I am as a writer).

10.  If you could have dinner with four literary characters, who would you choose?

It’s really tough to limit myself to just four choices!

Nero Wolfe (because we’d not only have good conversation but excellent food)
Amelia Peabody (because watching her spar with Wolfe would be funny)
Armand Gamache (because we’d need a peace-maker at the table, and he’s a genuinely lovely man whose company I’d enjoy)
Albert Campion (because maybe with the other three at the table we’d be able to pry loose a few of his secrets)

And there you have it!