Tuesday, September 22, 2015

REVIEW: An Heir to Thorns and Steel

Title: An  Heir to Thorns and Steel
Author: MCA Hogarth
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
ISBN 978-0989263146
Point of Sale: Amazon 
Reviewed by: Psyche

MCA Hogarth has a refreshingly idiosyncratic take on fantasy and this book is no exception. Morgan Locke is a university student in a fantasy realm that feels broadly Victorian but with radical difference in areas like the role of religion and the degree to which magic and mythological races turn out to be real.

Locke has suffered a debilitating  lifelong illness that is getting even worse.  Some bizarre guests arrive to spin a wild tale that he is a prince from a distant land.  This leads the hapless Locke through a serious of adventures where he acquires both allies and enemies and the stakes get very high indeed.

While this is the first part of a trilogy and I enjoyed it, I feel strangely unmotivated to read the later parts.  If you are embarking on a Hogarth book for the first time my recommendation would be to start with the more nuanced Mindhealers sci fi series or the almost-a-classic-already Spots the Space Marine.


Friday, August 14, 2015

A Question of Book Reviewing Ethics: What Say You?

POD People requests that authors interested in having a book reviewed send a query email, not a copy of the book. This is not something we do just to make authors' lives more difficult.  This site has more than one reviewer so if the the query piques a reviewer's interest the book needs to be sent directly to the interested reviewer.  Sending an e-book to our main address just maximizes the chance of it being lost, spam-blocked, or otherwise going astray. Of course people do it anyway. No biggie.

In recent weeks, however, several authors have gone one step further and sent us a Kindle gift certificate for the book they want reviewed.  These queries are not forwarded to our reviewers.  I had hoped that if they were not accepted the author might get their money back (because even when sent by the author, these gift certificates are not free).

Images_of_Money / Foter / CC BY
 However, Amazon Customer Service have informed me:

"Amazon.com gift cards don't have expiration dates. You can use your gift card whenever it's most convenient for you. Though the seller will not be credited back, once gift card is applied in your account, it will be saved as an available gift card balance in your Amazon account."

So if the author is simply throwing the money away, is there any reason I should not just take the transferable gift certificate and run?  I would not do it just because it feels wrong, but whether I don't claim the gift certificate, or claim it and spend it on a box of pumpkin spice-flavored peeps instead, the author is out the same amount of money. So should it really matter to them?

In any case, then I came across this thread.  Based on what these Kindle users describe my advice to any author that sent a kindle gift certificate to the podpeep email account is to contact Amazon and ask for a refund.  That is the only way you will recoup your pointless expenditure.

TL;DR version: do not send us Kindle gift cards of books you want reviewed. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

REVIEW: Three Great Lies

Title: Three Great Lies
Author: Vanessa MacLellan
Genre: archaeological fiction
Price: $5.99 (ebook) $16 (trade paperback)
Publisher: Hadley Rille Books
ISBN 978-0989263146
Point of Sale: Amazon 
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

In the tradition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court comes the debut novel of author Vanessa MacLellan, Three Great Lies.  At the start of the story, American tourist Jeannette Walker, traveling in Egypt, decides to go off the beaten path to see a newly-discovered and thus unspoiled ancient tomb.  Thanks to unknown powers, Jeannette is transported to a time when the tomb was fairly new, that of Old Kingdom Egypt.  Fortunately, the same powers that transport Jeannette allow her to understand and speak the local language.

But that’s about the only good thing going for Jeannette.  The tomb’s occupant, a mummy, wants her to find his ba or soul.  There’s a cat-headed girl, freshly booted out of her litter, sent to “help” Jeannette, and Jeannette’s managed to come afoul of the Slave Master of Thebes.  She scoots out of town and heads upriver (which in Egypt is south) and tries to get her bearings.

MacLellan spent a lot of time researching ancient Egypt, and it shows.  The everyday lives and wardrobe (or lack of same) of the locals is painted in great detail.  We discover that beer was very important to Egyptians, and at the time they made beer by fermenting bread in water, which means you needed a straw to drink your beer!

In Mark Twain’s book, the title character used his knowledge of science to get out of trouble.  Here, Jeannette’s modern knowledge is of little help.  What is of help is her persistence and willingness to adapt to local customs.  Jeannette’s curiosity helps, as it allows her to solve a local mystery and get right with the Slave Master, who is what passes for law in Thebes.

I found Three Great Lies a fascinating book, and well worth the reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

REVIEW: Justice Calling: The 20-Sided Sorceress Book 1

Title: Justice Calling: The 20-Sided Sorceress Book 1
Author: Annie Bellet
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Price: $0.99 (ebook) / $8.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Doomed Muse Press
ISBN:  978-1500629724
Point of Sale: various via author’s website  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I first heard of Annie Bellet via this year’s Hugo brouhaha.  Ms. Bellet had a short story nominated, but, in her words, tired of being “both a conscripted player and also a ball” she withdrew from consideration.  Out of frankly appreciation, I bought Book 1 of her 20-sides Sorceress series.  It’s a good book. 

Jade Crow, narrator, heroine and sorceress of the title, is enjoying a quiet life in (fictional) Wylde, Idaho, gateway to “The Frank” (Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness).  Jade, who’s of Indian descent, runs a game shop there, serving the local population of fae and college kids who populate the town.  She’s also hiding out from her ex-lover, a man who personally saw Julius Ceasar get stabbed, and who wants to kill her and eat her heart.  (That’s how sorcerers get more magic.) 

Then a hunky blonde man walks in and says Jade is a murderer.  Oh, and he’s a Justice – the fae’s police, judge and executioner all in one.  Thus ends Chapter 1, and starts a very entertaining if alas too-brief romp in Bellet’s entertaining world.  Jade finds herself forced to make a decision – stay and help or run – and do so quickly. 

Justice Calling is really a novella – only 121 pages – but terribly entertaining.  Jade Crow is very modern, and speaks fluent Geek, as do her characters.  I found Jade’s predicament believable, as were both her and the other characters responses to same.  Jade has some very useful magical powers, but she’s not invincible, and neither is anybody else.  This was really an entertaining romp, and at least in the paper edition, there are two chapters from Book 2 of the series – which I ordered immediately.  


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

REVIEW: Freedom at Feronia (Asteroid Police Book 2)

Title: Freedom at Feronia (Asteroid Police Book 2)
Author: Richard Penn
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $10.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
ISBN:  978-1500830663
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I first heard of Richard Penn via another reviewer, who made an off-hand comment about Penn’s second book, Freedom at Feronia.  I reviewed Book 1 earlier, so here’s Book 2, which is a close sequel.

In Book 1, our heroine Lisa ends up with her very own spaceship, or at least the core for one.  After some not-terribly-interesting discussions, she decides to take it out with a crew to Feronia, a real asteroid, there to undertake a commission for the Asteroid Belt Police.

In Penn’s universe, space travel is awfully slow, which causes the plot of this book to drag.  Eventually, our heroes make it to Feronia, which consists of two stations, a ground-based one and an orbital one.  The two halves are in the midst of a cold war, largely because the ground station has been overtaken by a group of American libertarians from Tulsa, who are doing all sorts of quasi-libertarian / religious hijinks.  Lisa’s problem is to end the hijinks with her crew of six police in a way such that she can leave without fighting returning.

One of my criticisms of libertarians in general is that they don’t seem to understand how humans work.  Much the same can be said of the author, Penn.  He comes up with an innovative solution to the problem, which only works if people are much less stubborn than they usually are.  Considering that these colonists are true believers (or they wouldn’t be there) I found that hard to buy.

I wish I could say that the breathless prose and other stylistic points salvaged the story for me.  They don’t.  The prose is workmanlike at best, and the dialog clunky.  I also felt that the POV shifted around a lot for no apparent reason.  About the best I can say for Freedom at Feronia is that it provides a more solid ending than that of the first book.  I would really consider both books as one novel for purposes of plot.

Interesting concept, not well-executed.