Monthly Archives: April 2014

Cleaning out the short stories from my ‘Taking Care of my Own’ challenge shelf

I collected all the books that I own, written by people I ‘know’ into one place with the intent of spending the next month reading them. In doing so, I noticed a couple are actually novellas, novellettes, or short stories. So, I’m taking this opportunity to sit down and systematically work through anything less than 100 pages all at one time.

I’ll be honest up front, and I’ve said this before, I’m not a huge fan of short stories in general. I’m a bit mystified how I always seem to have so many on my Kindle. I think they breed. Anyhow, following are reviews of 6 very different stories, grouped for no more reason than that they matched an external criteria. Enjoy

When You Were PixelsOh my goodness! Oh my goodness, fan girl swoon! I loved this sooo much. (Honestly, I’m not just saying that. I really loved it.) It was the feel of it, more than anything else. Yes, I could wonder how Antho could see a proficient assassin as even remotely fragile. I do. But I don’t really have to understand where self-destructive, self-sacrificing, obsessive love comes from to believe it. Emotions are slippery things and sometimes they have a mind of their own, especially the emotions of already damaged people. (And aren’t we all just a bit damaged, in the end?)

The open, all out on the table, completely exposed autobiographical letter style of the story is extremely effective in stirring emotions. I wanted very badly to see Antho and HIM to find some peace, but know it can’t be.

Apparently this is a stand-alone short for a series that doesn’t exist yet. I will DEFINITELY be reading it all when it does. A full five stars for this one.

The Phoenix CycleWould someone tell what the heck I just read, because I sure don’t know. It’s set in some mysterious dystopian future (no cause of the decline of civilisation is provided) and predominantly focuses on a mysterious character named Steve (no defining characteristics are provided) and his even more mysterious girlfriend, Leslie. So, essentially an unknown man, in an unknown future, fights some unknown social oppression, comes to some unknown decision, which then lead to some unknown consequences. Ummmm….

It’s my understanding that this is a small piece of a larger work. I had forgotten this when I sat down to read it. (To be fair, I’m fairly sure the author did mention it in his email.) If I had remembered, I probably would never have picked it up. I detest the trend of publishing teasers marketed as complete pieces of work. It pisses me off to realise too late that I’ve just invested time in a mere piece of something.

What’s more, and I’m really not trying to be mean here, I get the impression from the blurb (and the author’s ascertain that this somehow ties into a graduate thesis) that this whole series is being developed as some sort of university assignment. It feels like it too. From the synopsis:

The revolution is headed by the forgotten inmates of Alcatraz. These inmates are actually powerful philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Camus, Gandhi and others. Together they will take on The General (who is based off of The Marquis de Sade. A rather dark philosopher.) and a populace that struggles to care about anything other than themselves.

We’re name dropping here. We’re ensuring that the reader (professor) knows we’ve done our research. We’re creating artificial gravitas for ourselves. This sense of self-importance wasn’t just apparent in the write-up, but carried through the book too. It showed up in the way the vague inferences (and HEAVY descriptions) suggested that the reader should know what was going on, and if only they too were just a bit smarter, they would.  When really, there simply wasn’t enough solid information provided to allow understanding to develop. Plenty of others love this story; so maybe despite all my education I’m really not up to sophist par. It’s off-putting. Or at least it is to me.

The writing is technically fine. There is a palpable atmosphere to the story and as a longer piece, the world could be interesting. But on it’s own, this is just an anchorless, random (and largely undefined) series of events that mean nothing to the reader.

The Rock Star in the Mirror

Ms. Cathcart and I aren’t technically ‘friends’ so this doesn’t technically qualify for the challenge. But we’ve interacted a number of times in the forums and such. Since I’m reading shorts today, I figured I might as well throw it in.

I thought this was an interesting little story chronicling one young man’s attempt to find himself, when he wasn’t even originally aware that he was lost. An obsession with David Bowie, once removed, is just such a random way to go about it. I especially liked that the HEA isn’t one that brings all the happy people together. Joe had to face the consequences of his actions, but was still happy with the end result. It did seem to wrap up unexpectedly quickly, but it’s well-written and worth the time to read.

Dead Doughboy WalkingI suppose this was all right, just not really my thing. I was well written and self-contained, which is all I really ask of a short story. You get a fairly firm grasp of both Cecil and Horace’s personalities, though I have to admit I’m not sure if Cecil started out quite as evil as he ended up or if he became that way in the course of the story. The synopsis would suggest he started that way. All in all, for the right reader, probably a real win. For me, I can appreciate that it’s mechanically sound and makes sense, but can’t say I particularly enjoyed it.

Kiss and Spell

This was all right I suppose. In a way it was a sweet little romance and the sex was hot, though I’ve never been a fan of the courser language in soft sex scenes. By all means, call it  a cock, cunt or pussy if it’s a dirty fuck and all, but if two people are supposed to be making sweet, gentle love the same words feel horribly out of place.

I do have one major complaint, though. It bothered me that Marissa was a sexually liberated woman who happened to like being in control in the bedroom, but she spends most of the book being ashamed of this and trying to change herself. Why can’t she just be a sexually aggressive woman who knows what she likes? Promiscuous girls can be good too. Why does this have to be portrayed as wrong?  What’s more, she eventually found someone to happily submit to. So, the whole subtext appears to be that her initial behaviour was somehow unnatural and by accepting  the “natural” monogamous, submissive role all is well with the world. Bah! What a waste.

Wheels and DealsThis looks to be an interesting start to something bigger. It introduces a lot of interesting characters, but never returns to any of them after moving on. How they all tie together remains a mystery. The writing is sharp and quite readable. It’s also well edited. But what I like most about it was it’s grittiness. Not everyone is pretty or noble or even clean. There are drug addicts, violence, and sex devoid of love or even affection. Characters have ulterior motives and sinister intents. However, this is in no way a stand-alone piece.

Review of Voodoo Love and the Curse of Jean Lafitte’s Treasure, by Victoria Richards

Voodoo LoveI grabbed a copy of Victotia Richard‘s Voodoo Love from the Amazon free list. It is also review number three in my Taking Care of my Own challenge.

Description from Goodreads:
Elizabeth knows what adventure is about or at least she would if her memory would ever come back to her. She’s been told that two years ago she was chased by a greedy thug, Diego Martes, who believed she knew the location to a pirate treasure cursed by voodoo and hidden deep in the sultry bayous of Louisiana. During the process of escaping, Elizabeth’s lover and assassin for hire, Juan Carlos Montoya, drowned trying to save her. Though she now lives in a government arranged marriage to a cop in the small town of Barataria Bay, Elizabeth is still trying to remember the past, remember the danger, and most of all remember Juan Carlos, the dead Latino dreamboat who dragged her into the mess in the first place.

When Elizabeth’s idyllic new life is interrupted by a ghostly visit from a still sexy Juan, she finds herself once again plunged into unwanted intrigue. With his help, her memory of the past begins to come back, along with her memories of their nights of passion. Together they must outwit an insane villain, Diego and go back to where Jean Lafitte’s cursed pirate treasure is hidden in order to lift a deadly voodoo curse that threatens to end their love forever.

Review: **slightly spoilerish**
Pirates of the Caribbean anyone?—More specifically aspects of Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End. Elizabeth and Juan could be modern versions of, well, Elizabeth and Will. Euralie could be Tia Dalma. Jean Laffitte makes a credible Davey Jones and The Dead Man’s Ferry could be The Flying Dutchman. There’s even a cursed treasure that enslaves it’s possessors. All we’re really missing is the monkey.

I realise some of this is a case of using the same source myths as inspiration and also probably an unavoidable case of being influenced by what’s around you. I mean, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has become huge. It was everywhere for a while. But there are A LOT of similarities. The ship is even in need of a new captain. Sound familiar? Honestly, with the exception of being set in modern times and a change of most of the names I might be tempted to call this fan fiction…fun fan fiction, but still fan fiction.

Enough about that, moving on. This is a fun romp through the Bayou. Elizabeth is a fun, strong willed heroine who manages to find herself in a whole heap of trouble. Juan is her love interest. Normally I’d call him our hero, but honestly he’s in and out and the reader never gets to know him well enough to qualify for a main character tag, in my opinion. He’s a bit of a place holder, really.

I enjoyed the read, but I was confused about a couple things. Why didn’t Eddie just shoot Diego at any of the numerous opportunities he had, for example? Why was his identity as an agent kept secret from Elizabeth? It doesn’t seem necessary. Why would Jean, or maybe Maria, ever even have made a map to their treasure in the first place? They obviously didn’t need it.

I also couldn’t quite stomach the schmaltzy ending. I appreciate a happy ending and all but this was jut a little too…too, “Oh Juan, I love you soooo much” sort of over the top, borderline cheesy, feel good, true love inspired sap that moves from HEA to…to…to schmaltz. Not a fan, me.

For the most part, I thought the writing was fine. The name Elizabeth was said far, far too often to feel natural though. This wasn’t a habit that was used for everyone, but when speaking to Elizabeth, everyone seemed to need to say her name.  I got sick of it after a while. But that was my only real complaint other than the strange episode thing.

Why was broken into episodes? I read the compilation, so it doesn’t really effect me, but I could technically review each of them separately, I read them all. But I simply I don’t understand this whole episodic trend. How does one rate three middle chapters of a book for example, without consideration for preceding or following chapters?

Final say? I enjoyed it. It was a fun read. But that’s about it. Then again, all a reader sometimes wants is a little light fluff to pass the time.

Review of Dark Legacy: The End of the Kai (Dark Legacy Cycle 0.5), by Domenico Italo Composto-Hart

Dark LegacyDomenico Italo Composto-Harts Dark Legacy is free at both Amazon and Lulu. This is the second review in my month-long challenge to read only authors I ‘know.’

Description from Goodreads:
The End of the Kai of the Dark Legacy Cycle details the violent end of the Kai Order – an ancient, spiritual guild of warrior guardians and priestesses who have sworn their lives to protect the Oracle Queen of Atlantis – at the hands of Maniok, the being referred to as the “Great Evil” in the age-old Song of the Oracle King.

It is a chronicle of Arkan, the last Kai guardian, and his desperate attempt to save the life of his priestess who carries his unborn son, and his escape from Atlantis.

Review:
I find myself in an odd position here. I picked this book up in good faith, but found that it isn’t what I thought it was. I would say, ‘what it presents itself to be,’ but I’m not willing to allot the blame. So, I’m going with not what I thought.

You see I’ve just discovered that Dark Legacy: The End of the Kai is in fact a brief prequel and then the first three chapters of the book Dark Legacy: Trinity, which is book one of the series.

I hate this kind of thing. I just want to be able to pick up a book and know it’s the book, not part of it or an addition to it, or a snippet of something else. If I wanted to read Trinity I’d have picked it up, not a separately bound (well, digitally bound) portion of it. Seriously people! When did this become OK?

So, at 30%, when The End of Kai ended and Trinity was to begin, I bailed. I’m not about to knowingly start a book that I don’t have the end to. In fact, I resent that the author set me up to be in just that position. It feels like a manipulation and a way to trick readers into buying something. (Granted, The End of Kai is free, so it wouldn’t be a second purchase.) I’m not saying it is a manipulation, just that it feels like one.

So please take note. This review is for the first 30% (~50 pages) of this ‘book’ only. Anything after that would be a different book, or part of one and I neither read it nor am reviewing it. I’m not calling it a DNF, because I finished the prequel. But I didn’t read the last 70% of the file.

I found the writing here, while technically fine, pretentious. Or rather, if I was willing to stretch grammar close to it’s breaking point, portentous. The word really is an adjective meaning, of/like a portent and a portent is a sign or warning that something, especially something momentous or calamitous, is likely to happen. So, grammatically it doesn’t really mean what I’m about to use it for.

But anyone who reads a lot of sci-fi or fantasy will be familiar with the heavy, atmosphere-building tone frequently used during passages of prophecy or symbolically significant events. This whole book reads like that…like it’s a portent, like it has meaning beyond the words on it’s pages, like it considers itself more than it is.

I think it’s because it’s a prequel and designed to be a lead-in to book one. If I’m honest, I’m always a little uncomfortable with prequels. I’m never entirely sure when I’m supposed to read them, before the first novel or after the series as a bonus. Plus, I’ve found that when written after the main book(s) they tend to skimp on details, assuming the reader is already familiar with the world and/or characters.

I can’t accuse this book of that. I thought the world was well defined (and really intriguing). But that’s about all it is. There are no mentionable characters, really. This isn’t a story of it’s own, so much as a, ‘hey look, this happened. Don’t you want to know what happens next?’ The book starts with some random street urchin that plays no significant role other than providing a POV, then we see the world through the eyes of a crow (yes, a crow), meet some dying religiosos, a Darth Vador-like bad guy who has some past relation to a couple of fleeing lovers (none of which we learn). We meet them. That’s all. We pass them by while moving on to bigger, better things. Nothing more.

Now, the writing is lyrical and pretty. And while it worked for 50 or so pages, much more of it would have started to grind on my nerves. It felt very tense. Where does this leave me? It’s well written, an interesting world and what is probably an interesting story…but also almost none of that is enough to make me happy with The End of Kai. It’s not enough on its own and I’m pretty irked by its mere existence. So, not on my recommended list unless you go in planning to read the series.