Thursday, June 25, 2015

Let's dust this thing off

Hi there!

I've been poking back around on here and realized that I last posted almost a year and a half ago, right before NaNoWriMo took over my life for a little while. I bounce back from that every year, but this time a good distraction appeared-- my existing editing work with Spencer Hill really stepped up, freelance clients popped up everywhere, and this blog took a backseat to writing detailed stuff for authors.

But book reviews have been calling my name recently after I had great luck with several books a in a row, two of my biggest projects are off with the almighty superheroes who do the layout work, and I'd like to see what I have time to write again these days. The break has really brought home what I do and don't miss.

The long reviews were draining me a little-- sometimes I had great points for what worked that I really wanted to talk about and the shortcomings were a struggle, and sometimes the book was so awful that I had four easy paragraphs of issues and almost nothing nice to say. With my old format, I felt compelled to hold things to the same length for each category in the interest of fairness unless the book was over four stars or barely scraping one, but I think it led to some clunky posts.

I do miss the "this is why this works and what other bit doesn't" approach, but for some books it's just one thing that kept me riveted and the only thing I really want to talk about. Going forward, the goal is more free-form reviews at a schedule of more like "when I feel like it, but maybe twice a month" and some posts about the inside aspects of editing. The past few years have taught me a lot about tightening up my critique and jumping blind into styles and genres I didn't feel comfortable editing before, and I'd love to dig into that.

If you have questions about how to ask for what your book needs, editorial pet peeves, or anything in that vein, drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter @redpenreviews.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders

Rating: 2 stars
Length: Lengthy and detailed (446 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: July 2, 2013 from 47 North
Premise: The world has ended, and a new one covered in snow has risen to take its place--humanity has fractured into rival factions that war with each other as well as the Martians. The mysterious Founders, who live in a city surrounded by the deadly mustard gas, have kidnapped several faction leaders in the middle of negotiations. Romulus Buckle, captain of the Pneumatic Zeppelin, has set out on a rescue mission to save them or die trying.
Warnings: deaths in battle, maybe xenophobia. This one is pretty tame.
Recommendation: If you're hard up for new steampunk or different spins on steampunk setting, this could be fun for you. If not, the dialogue and scattered character introductions make it difficult to stay engaged. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Take a close look at the cover on this one if you pick up a copy in person, and then another look after you finish the book; it's extraordinarily detailed.
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Fast and snappy (381 pages)
Publication: April 24, 2012 from Angry Robot Books
Premise: Miriam Black has been drifting across the country for years, trying to run from her visions. Whenever she touches people, she sees how they're going to die, and seeing that dozens of times a day has taken her close to the edge of madness. When she sees that a truck driver is going to die in thirty days while he calls her name, she's forced to decide whether she wants to fight a losing battle against fate again.
Warnings: sex with very dubious consent, gore, torture, dismemberment/mutilation, violent miscarriage
Recommendation: If you're looking for something dark and sharp-edged without an ounce of glamour, this may be exactly your cup of tea. The secondary characters don't always live up to Miriam's strength of presence, but it's a fun quick read.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Way of Kings

I reviewed The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson's young adult debut, for YA Summer a few months ago. I normally try not to do the same author twice in a year, but Misanthrope and Smartypants have been swearing up and down that this one is great for months, so I finally caved....and am very glad I did.

Not to be confused with The Way of Shadows, which is both half as long and half as interesting.

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Well into "imposing tome" territory (1258 pages)
Publication: August 31, 2010 from Tor Books
Premise: The world of Roshar is controlled by the highstorms that destroy the landscape even as they bring light and magic and by the long-forgotten secrets that place everyone in danger.
Warnings: battlefield gore
Recommendation: If you have the resolve for 1200-odd pages and don't mind a slightly slow start, give this one a try. It looks like this might be able to pull off a cast-of-thousands epic fantasy without slowing to a crawl-- the action is glorious, the world manages to be alien but comprehensible, and Brandon Sanderson has a deft touch for writing about ideals without becoming trite. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Night Circus

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Long and leisurely (516 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 13, 2011 from Doubleday
Premise: Two young magicians were bound into a competition they didn't understand as children. As adults, Celia and Marco find that the staging ground of their competition is a circus constructed of marvels in black and white. They draw people into their game, both
Warnings: child abuse as magical training
Recommendation: If you're looking for something dreamlike and beautiful, this may be your cup of tea, but it's only fair to also mention that action scenes as such don't happen in this book. It's slow and elegant and puzzling, but trying too hard to make it fit with logical sense is something of a doomed effort.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Love Minus Eighty

Rating: 3 stars
Length: On the long side (403 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 11, 2013 from Orbit Books
Premise: In the year 2133, people are connected to each other constantly via systems that bring them all the information they could ever want and then some. They also flee the fear of death by buying cryonic insurance, which ensures that their corpses will be frozen and others will have the option to revive them in the future. It's a narrow chance, but some women are offered an uncomfortable and different way out.
Warnings: implied sexual coercion, coerced marriage as indentured servitude
Recommendation: The interpersonal relationships are all over the map, but no one gets either a perfectly happy ending or a simple helping of just desserts. I suspect that the novella was better, but this was an intriguing read.

Spoilers for about the first fifty pages of the book, but the point I'm discussing tends to make it into any detailed summary text. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sixty-one Nails

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Hefty with detail (519 pages)
Publication: November 2009 in the UK; August 31, 2010 in America from Angry Robot Books
Premise: Niall Petersen is living an altogether ordinary life until he almost dies in a tube station. When he dazedly tells a strange woman who calls herself Blackbird that he's from London and not "the other lands," he wakes up to stream of things he can't quite believe: most importantly, he's descended from the Feyre and has to start running before members of the Seventh Court hunt him down and kill him. He's thrown into a new world only a breath away from the one he's always known, and he may even learn to appreciate it if he can live past next week.
Warnings: magical horror (nothing too graphic)
Recommendation: If you're looking for more magic in London or have a soft spot for Fae types, this may be your thing. It doesn't carry as much tension as it could with the exposition-heavy pacing, but for the most part it's an enjoyable read. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shifty Magic

I received a free review copy of the book from Judy Teel, the author, in exchange for an honest review; she was gracious about how long it took to produce the review, and I'm excited to be working from my first author-provided copy.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Compact (252 pages)
Publication: May 21, 2013 from Golden Angel Books
Premise: Addison Kittner has been struggling to make ends meet starting out as a PI/bounty hunder when she stumbles into a case far above her normal pay grade. She finds herself caught between the vampires, the Weres, the FBI, and darker forces that she's only beginning to understand....all while trying to grasp her own identity.
Warnings: gore, sexual harassment
Recommendation: While a few genuinely interesting moments set Addison apart, for the most part Shifty Magic doesn't have much that you can't find somewhere else. It samples from urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and YA-- the pieces work fairly well on their own, but they don't always blend.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Rating: 3 stars
Length: A touch dense (431 pages)
Publication: June 4, 2013 from Poisoned Pen Press
Premise: Medea, princess of Colchis, has been raised to the worship of Hekate and loves the goddess's dark mysteries, even though other ways of life draw her interest. When Jason comes to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, she must struggle to choose the right course amid tangled loyalties. Her life becomes a myth even as she lives it, wrapping her truth in fear and mysteries
Warnings: rape, attempted rape (incestuous in one instance), gore, mutilation, murder of children
Recommendation: The premise really isn't bad, and if you like ancient Greek mythology or overt examination of gender roles, this may be your thing. It's light on fantasy, but that helps humanize Medea; the problem is that it sticks closely enough to earlier material to be choppy, not giving any individual scene enough time to develop.

Spoilers for things that are in the Euripides play of the same name. If you're looking to be surprised by material that is literally thousands of years old, you don't want to bother with this book in the first place. There are also spoilers for a big non-Euripides romance in the red pen section, but it's obvious almost immediately how that's going to go. Note: some of these spellings may not be ones you've seen before, but they match the instances in the book. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dreams and Shadows

Rating: 3 stars
Length: On the long side of average (464 pages)
Publication: February 26, 2013 from Harper Voyager
Premise: Ewan Thatcher and Colby Stevens both found themselves in the Limestone Kingdom when they were children and became friends immediately. Their meeting should have just been an adventure, but when Ewan is in danger, Colby tries to save him and finds himself irrevocably changed. Both of them are living out half-lives as adults in Austin years later when they find themselves facing dangers that they'd thought long forgotten.
Warnings: gore, graphic suicide, emotional abuse and attempted blood sacrifice of children
Recommendation: If you're desperate for fairies in America, you might enjoy this one, but it doesn't really seem to take off until the climactic final battle. There's so much promise in the tone and setting and narrative circles, but then it just gets too choppy to maintain that flow. 

Minor spoilers for Colby in adulthood and an edge of a hint about the conclusion of the book, but nothing that isn't common in summary text or other reviews.