Monday, December 5, 2011

In Love's Territory by Lucy Evanson

Well, this was kind of a surprise.  The cover is a bit plain, the title is a little hokey and it takes a while to get started, but In Love's Territory turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.  We have a no spoilers policy on the blog, but this is a fish-out-of-water story centering around a rich girl whose family picks up and moves from the East Coast to Wisconsin in the 1850s.  She finds herself falling in love with Edward, a rich businessman, while half-Lakota Sioux farmhand Sam finds himself falling for her.  Kind of a cliched setup?  Maybe, but Evanson lifts the story from something we've all heard before into a really good full-length novel (over 80 thousand words).

I loved the dialogue, the characterization and the apparent historical accuracy--I'm actually not a stickler about that, but after checking a few references in the book, it looks like the author did her homework.  The interplay between the characters was particularly well done; you get clearly defined people in your mind, not cardboard cutouts.  Her writing is clear and poetic in places, and I have to admit that in the last couple of chapters I had tears in my eyes and my heart in my throat. 

Is this a perfect book?  Not quite--I mentioned a few quibbles at the beginning, but overall I consider my time extremely well spent.  This is a "sweet" romance, so if you're looking for graphic content then this won't be for you, but I didn't miss it here.

So there you have it--our very first five-star review, just in the nick of time for the end of the year!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Overbite by Joseph Allen

Nutshell:  Joseph Allen puts a refreshing spin on the paranormal genre, making vampires and werewolves more--dare I say it--human.  Some sex, some action, and nice characterization make for an enjoyable read in this novella.  Four stars.

Review: So after a long break I took up yet another entry in the seriously undead genre of vampire stories.  Overbite's product description pulled me in:

Aurelia believed in the line about living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse.

Well, except for the dying young part. As for the good-looking corpse, she was all set.

Life as a modern vampire has its perks: raves, espresso bars, and, of course, online shoe shopping. But for Aurelia, a bite of the wrong guy could plant the seeds of her own destruction—and John Burke is that guy. Now, to save her not-quite-life, she has to find Burke and uncover his secret before she literally fades into oblivion.

The story was at times amusing and even (at least for me) surprisingly touching.  I enjoyed the dialogue and the ending also provided a good setup for the following novella, which is not out yet.  One of the things that I liked most was that Allen apparently didn't feel constrained by the typical stereotypes of the genre, allowing him to kind of make his own rules for the paranormal world.  That allowed for a more interesting story than I was expecting, frankly.  Overall I thought it was very nicely done.

Rating: Nicely composed but in a somewhat tired genre, Overbite will probably reward existing vampire fans and may even make a few new ones.  This one's a keeper.  Four stars.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eye of the Beholder by Ruth Ann Nordin

So I wasn't expecting much from this book, but the price was right (.99) and the premise sounded somewhat interesting (a homely woman answers an ad seeking a mail order bride; upon seeing her, the man who placed the ad refuses to marry her, so she ends up marrying another man in the same town).  Author Ruth Ann Nordin seems to polarize her readers, based on the many 5-star reviews balanced by a few 1-stars, so I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out that Nordin hits on the single most important key to successful writing: it's the story, stupid!  Her writing is plain.  I mean vanilla would seem spicy next to Nordin's prose.  As her critics point out, her historical characters speak as if they were alive today, using modern idioms with wild abandon.  And there are certain places where we're asked to suspend disbelief more than one rightly should.  However--and this is a big however--she has crafted a sweet, original story that appeals to many romance fans.  I can see why she's earned all those five-star reviews and a sizable fan base.

For me, the distractions (like the aforementioned dialogue and sometimes wooden prose) do make the book suffer a bit, but I was left with an overwhelmingly favorable impression of the book due to the sweet story that Nordin created.  If you're looking for a fun clean read, this could be just the book for you.  Four stars.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

The eBook on eBooks by Aaron Patterson

Nutshell:  Kindle bestselling author Aaron Patterson cashes in on his success with this crappy little waste of three bucks.  One star.

Review:  This exceedingly slim volume contains absolutely nothing you can't glean from any succesful indie writer's blog.  Konrath's, for example.  If you're serious about indie publishing, then you've already learned everything in this ridiculous excuse for a book.  Patterson had the opportunity to really write an interesting--perhaps even inspiring--story, but instead whipped this paper-thin thing off in an afternoon, apparently.  A couple of things stick out:  do you really need a book that defines an e-book for you (meaning literally points out that an e-book is an electronic book, not a book in print) not once, but twice?!  If you haven't figured that out, then you probably are going to have a pretty short career as an indie author.  Second, despite the exhortation to get your books professionally converted so that they look good, you would think that Patterson's own book would have page breaks in the proper places and wouldn't have the odd "Table of Contents" fragment at the end.  Or is it just me who would think that?

Rating:  One star.  Seems like a cynical way to make money off the hopes of indie authors, and really a waste of money.  It would be a waste of time too, but it only took ten minutes to read, so I can't complain about that too much.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Venice Vampyr by Tina Folsom

Hi everybody, LJ here.  For some reason Will decided to pass on the review of the vampire romance book.  Big surprise! J  OK, anyway, here’s the scoop:  This is an older book in indie terms—things move pretty fast for some self-publishers, and apparently Tina Folsom kicks them out pretty fast.  Venice Vampyr was apparently published only back in December 2010 and she’s already on number three in the series.  So is this erotic paranormal romance for you?  And what does that mean anyway?
Well, more than anything else, it means hair-raising language.  I’m talking the most explicit, down and dirty language you can imagine.  Or even stronger than that!
But let’s start things with the story.  We don’t do spoilers here at BHBR, but it’s not much of a reveal to say that the story gets started when a human woman saves a vampire from drowning.  How does he want to thank her?  With sweet, sweet lovin’, and here’s where that naughty language comes in.  The author doesn’t hold back at all with her descriptions or language, and you’ll feel like you’re watching a porn film when reading this book.  Strangely, although I understand why Folsom’s books have been selling if they’re all like this one, I found the language really jarring.  I’m no prude, believe me [Note from Will:  I can attest to that; LJ is not a prude], but with the elegant backdrop of Venice for this book, it’s a bit much to hear dialogue that could have been lifted from the script of “MILF Gang Bang Vol. 4”.
Even that could have been overcome if the book were just better.  But outside of the undeniably arousing sex scenes, the rest of the book is just boring.  Folsom tried to spice it up—so to speak—by inserting photos of Venice that she took herself, but it only showed that she should stick to writing and avoid photography. 
In the end, I’ll put it like this—I guess I don’t mind having read it, but I found it disappointing both as a romance as well as erotica.  I don’t recommend Venice Vampyr for most readers and I’m going to give it two stars.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Virtue by Amanda Hocking

Nutshell:  Amanda Hocking's "fairy tale" follows Lux and Lily as they try to safely navigate a world in which good and evil are literally battling around them.  Some problems with the text may make adults less enthusiastic, but this book will undoubtedly be devoured by her fans.  Four stars.

Review:  Hocking seems to have successfully walked the fine line between literature which appeals to girls and that which appeals to boys, creating in Virtue a book which should captivate both.

In line with our no spoilers policy, I'm not going into much detail about the plot, but this tale of the struggle of good versus evil nicely balances romantic elements with magic, action and adventure.  The world Hocking has created is nicely detailed with small touches that are sometimes reminiscent of the work of J.K. Rowling and which help the reader easily envision the goings-on.  Although the characterization of Lux and Lily at first seemed flat, once the reader learns more about who the characters are--or rather, who they represent--you could argue that the characterization is sufficient.

Hocking's writing is clear and simple--almost curiously simple sometimes--and appropriate for the age group she's aiming for with this work (Virtue is recommended for readers 14 and up, according to the product description.

An adult reader, however, may find it difficult to remain engaged with the plot given the many errors scattered throughout the work.  Most of them involve wrong words flying under the radar of the spell check function, but which should have been caught by whoever assisted Hocking with the editing--things like the use of aide instead of aid, illicit instead of elicit, and so on.  I was amused, however, by one particular slip.  Note to Hocking's editors:  decanter and cantor don't mean the same thing.  Once a cantor is full of wine, you don't want it back.

Still, these are minor problems overall, and considering the intended age group, many of them won't be noticed at all.  In the end, I suspect that Virtue will please Hocking's fans and may earn her some new ones. 

Rating:  Four stars.  In spite of the problems with the text, this is an entertaining book that will appeal to both boys and girls.  Virtue is a recommended buy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Anathema by Megg Jensen

Nutshell:  When Reychel, a lifelong slave, is rescued from her life of servitude on her fifteenth birthday, it's the start of a journey that will eventually reveal the important role that she'll play in the future of her people.  Megg Jensen has created an engaging, richly detailed read.  4 stars.

Review: With Anathema, Megg Jensen has created a richly detailed, interesting world that drew me in almost immediately (the whole business with the coin didn't really work for me, so it was a bit wobbly at the start, but that's probably just me).  As I've written before, I'm a sucker for fantasy to begin with, so the bar is set pretty low.  However, Jensen has just done such a nice job with her book that I think she'll win over lots of fans regardless of their literary preferences.  The story is engaging, the details allow you to easily imagine the world the characters inhabit, and although some aspects feel a bit familiar, the twists and turns in the story are interesting and unexpected.  This is one of those books that will leave you thinking about the characters well after you finish reading.

Is this a perfect book?  No.  I have some minor issues with a few things--there are some small typographical and continuity errors scattered throughout that should have been caught by her beta readers, the language is sometimes jarringly modern and several scenes seem underdeveloped.  However, overall those are small problems, and they didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the book. 

Rating:  4 stars and a recommended buy.  This is well worth your time and money, and keep your eyes open for more from Megg Jensen in the future!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Saving Rachel by John Locke

Nutshell:  A computer whiz who specializes in hiding other people's money finds himself targeted and two women--his mistress and his wife--are used as leverage to get him to cough up the codes the bad guys need to access billions of dollars.  This is a really crappy book.  One star.

Review:  I do admire John Locke.  He has repeatedly said that his aim was to dominate the 99-cent ebook market, and he appears to have hit his goal repeatedly.  As he has proclaimed in various places, every seven seconds of every day, a John Locke book is bought.  However, if his other books are of the same caliber as Saving Rachel, then I'm stumped as to how that happened since he appears to have nearly no ability as a writer.

The entire book seems to have been written in shorthand:  instead of characterization, we get brand names thrown around.  Exposition is provided in long stretches of dialogue, as if Locke were too lazy to develop a story and instead just had the characters explain how reasonable the book's multiple implausibilities really are.  We're somehow supposed to care about the main character, who is having an affair with a beautiful blonde (as he claims, "I just banged Karen Vogel") yet somehow also really loves his wife Rachel.  Or maybe we're not supposed to care, in which case Locke succeeded. 

I would never denigrate anybody for getting people to read, and I still admire Locke for that.  It's just too bad that he's not a better writer.  If you're tired of the intellectual effort required by Mack Bolan books, then this is for you.  Otherwise, go to Taco Bell and spend your 99 cents on a bean burrito.  The guy who squirts refried beans into a tortilla, sprinkles cheese on it and wraps it up will display greater craftsmanship than Locke does here, and trust me, you'll feel better after the burrito.

Rating:  A solid one star.  This is not a book for serious readers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Playing the Game by Simon Gould

Nutshell:  A crazed serial killer stalks pretty young college students in Los Angeles while an LAPD detective tries to catch him before he kills again.  A fast-paced thriller exhibiting nothing you haven't seen before.  Two stars.

Review:  So let's see...have we got the hard-boiled cop and his partner?  Check.  A crazed serial killer with a silly nickname toying with the cops?  Check.  A lawmaker belonging to a powerful, shadowy group that invisibly pulls the strings while staying above the law?  Check.  Yep, we've got all the cliches we need!

What should have been an entertaining romp wore out its welcome early, due to the many, many echoes of stories you've undoubtedly heard before.  It doesn't help things that Gould explicitly has a character refer to the main character (Detective Patton) and his partner as Riggs and Murtaugh, from the Lethal Weapon films--although it certainly does illuminate the inspiration for Gould.  We're also treated to dialogue à la Tarentino (two guys arguing over the merits of joining the rebels or the Empire in Star Wars), and so on and so on.  Of course, we're all inspired by others, but when there's so little originality displayed, it does get tiresome.

Gould's style is often clunky, as displayed in this dialogue--remember, this is something a character is actually saying aloud:  "We needed to ensure that we knew exactly where whoever was carrying out these actions was going to be once the actions were completed.  We can't run the risk of employing anyone to carry out these actions then being picked up somewhere down the line on an unrelated charge and having us as leverage to plead out a lesser charge."

It also doesn't help that the book is full of distractions.  These range from the many uses of British terms--"boot" instead of "trunk", "lift" instead of "elevator", "post" instead of mail, "takeaway" instead of (presumably) "takeout"; none of these would be used by the American characters in the book.  It makes me wonder why he didn't just place the action in London (oh yeah, they never filmed a Lethal Weapon movie there).  The apparent lack of copy editing was also maddening, repeatedly kicking me out of the story, although I did enjoy the line Gould wrote about Obi-wan Kenobi wandering around the "dessert".

I confess, I was tempted to stop reading after the part in which a cop knocks a door off its hinges with one kick, since we had evidently passed into fantasy land there.  However--and this is a big however--I kept reading.  Gould has some severe issues but he clearly gets some things right--the pacing is terrific and although the hooks are tired, they are often effective; I found myself wanting to read more in spite of myself.  If he were to use fresher ingredients, he'd come up with a pretty tasty concoction.  I'll be watching for his next offering.

The formatting of the text was fine, but the beginning was rough.  While I normally enjoy a story that throws you right into the action, I guess for Gould that means skipping the cover and title page and literally beginning with the first chapter.  I read this on Kindle for PC for 99 cents.

Rating:  A solid two stars.  Die-hard fans of the genre will probably enjoy it, but for fair-weather fans, it might not be worth the effort.  Keep watching Gould, however.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Forgotten Echo by Jen Wylie

Nutshell:  Jen Wylie starts out with an interesting concept--a young woman shot in a parking lot finds herself saved by an Immortal and converted into an Echo (a being existing outside what we would call the real world)--but fails to develop it in any detail.  The hints of a larger story swirl around but fail to materialize.  Two stars.

Review:  First of all, I am a whore for fantasy.  Set up any story with magical otherworldy beings and I'll go home with it.  But this incredibly short story--I read it in less than half an hour--seems to be merely an outline, a summary in place of a story.  The story races along but with no detail, and characterization is thrown by the wayside.  Here's basically how Cassy thinks throughout: "I hate my Immortal! I'm going to find my Immortal! Why hasn't he called me?  I'm scared he'll call me!  I'm angry at him!  I want to protect him!".  It should have been called The Bipolar Echo.  The entire thing just seemed high-schoolish.

This cost me 99 cents and I read it on Kindle for PC.  The formatting was perfect, and I noted no editing errors within.  The author's section at the end was a nice touch.

Rating: I wish I could recommend this book, but there are too many other, better books out there, even for a buck.  Two stars.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Belvoir by S.A. Huggins

Nutshell:  As the shadows of the Civil War grow around the town of Belvoir, the Randolph plantation finds itself besieged by a danger of another kind:  a serial killer who is targeting the plantation's slaves.  A naturally interesting backdrop, however, struggles to overcome the slow pace and multitude of errors.  Three stars.

Review:  Oh, Belvoir.  I really wanted to love you; the product description had me expecting a thrilling...uh, thriller in the vein of The Mentalist.  A crazed serial killer targeting the slaves on a Southern plantation as the Civil War threatens to wash over the area?  Sounds fascinating!

We have a "no spoilers" policy here at BHBR, so I'm not going to give away much detail about the plot.  However, Huggins has created a vivid microcosm on the Randolph farm--the action takes place and revolves around the farm and its surroundings--which appears to be the result of a lot of research.  I could easily imagine myself wandering around the place, and the melding of a serial killer tale with a Civil War backdrop seemed like a natural winner.

The concept is fresh and original--or, at least, it seemed that way to me, and I was prepared for an exciting read.  Unfortunately, the book has some issues.  The pacing, to begin with, is slow.  We're talking glacial here.  Reading should not be such hard work, but this was a book I kept setting aside because I was tired of waiting for something to happen.  This appears to be her debut novel, and Huggins is a talented writer--there are some really beautiful turns of phrase in the book--but it could have been tightened up quite a bit.  There are also a few anachronisms--in 1863, I doubt both that somebody would be described as having "his words stuck on repeat" and that a woman would fall from a "tractor". 

Huggins also makes many, many errors that should have been cleaned up along the way:  "peaked" instead of "peeked", "agar" instead of "ajar", "canons" instead of "cannons", and others.  Describing cold air, she writes that it steals a man's "warmth and breadth".  Wow, now that's cold!  Don't even get me started on the cough that turns into a couch.

This edition was perfectly formatted; I read this on Kindle for PC, purchased for 99 cents.

Rating:  I'm gonna have to give this three stars.  I really feel as if I'd been reading the first draft--the errors were rife and distracting, and the pacing was too slow to maintain my interest.  However, Huggins appears to be a good writer and I still believe that the story could be fascinating.  I only wish that the care she'd taken to format her work had also shown up in her editing process.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011