Book Review: “Dry Land” by Jennifer Anne Seidler

Book Title: Dry Land

Author: Jennifer Anne Seidler

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5

 

I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and well executed, and the length was just right. I generally don’t read a lot of SciFi so this was a bit of a gamble for me, and one I’m glad to report has paid off. I’ve read some Asimov, and of course the Star Wars books, but otherwise I prefer to watch SciFi, simply because I’m not scientifically minded and some authors of this genre can get pretty heavy with jargon which makes it awkward to read for the laymen amongst us. Thankfully Jennifer Anne Seidler isn’t one of them, and everything was explained in a concise and easy to follow style that didn’t have me stopping every few paragraphs to look something up. This left me blissfully to enjoy the story and characters as they should be, so that alone deserves a big kudos in my humble opinion.

The story revolves around astronaut Ted “Shakespeare” Hardison, who is part of a team going up to the moon indefinitely for a terraforming project. It’s hinted at pretty early on that the Earth is in bad shape, almost post-apocalyptic, particularly in America. We find out that Ted has played a very large role in the project, specifically designing the technology needed, and that his work is one of the two great loves of his life.

His other great paramour is his wife, Colby. She’s an intriguing character, and from the get-go you realise there’s something different about her, which is soon revealed to be that she isn’t entirely human – she’s an android. Because Ted doesn’t know when or even if he will be returning to Earth, the opening scene is the two of them saying goodbye and signing their divorce papers. Even with the relatively short appearance Colby makes at the beginning of the book, their relationship is a powerful one. As a reader I felt an immediate sense of how hard it was for them to part from one another, which in turn gave me an instantaneous connection to Ted, and an insight to his character and motivations.

I always enjoy a story where I feel sympathy for the protagonist, and more so when I don’t have to wait around for that. I was invested in Ted by the end of the prologue, and despite her brief appearance, Colby too. Despite that Dry Land isn’t exactly a romance, I found myself hoping they would be reunited again soon, a wish that was granted in a squiffy sort of way by the end of chapter one.

The writing was clean and easy to follow, the characters were deep, and the plot was unique and interesting. It’s definitely worth taking a chance over.

You can find out more about Jennifer Anne Seidler at her facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/drylandnovella

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[Digression To Innocence]

“Wait for me!” I shout, laughter lilting my voice as I stoop to remove my heels so I can keep better pace with the others. They all run ahead, singing and joking as we make our way through the deserted high street towards the main square. After a brief struggle, my feet are finally free, and heedless of the rough, cold pavement, I begin to run too.

The street lights burn bright orange, and the shop windows are a cool white, making the town look surreal, a mixture of shadow and light. Soon I catch up, re-joining the noise and revelry of the others, and linking arms, we briefly attempt to can-can. We stumble and supporting each other we manage to remain upright, all laughing from the very pits of our souls at the sheer fun of it.

“Ah!” someone to my left gasps, grabbing my arm and shaking me in her excitement, “I can see the square!”

We all race the rest of the way down the hill, whooping like gleeful children, and some small part of my mind registers that I’m no longer holding my shoes…

The entrance to the club flashes enticingly, the heavy base from the music within vibrates through our bones even from here, luring us ever closer. The florescent coat of the Bouncer hurts my eyes for a moment, and so I look away, my blurry vision fixing quickly on the large ornamental fountain in the town square.

I hear my friends calling me to hurry up, but something about the fountain looks wrong, and I can’t seem to put my finger on quite what. As my vision sharpens and becomes accustomed to the darkness, I am suddenly jolted by the realisation of what I’m seeing, and a slow, mischievous grin spreads across my face.

I look sideways at my waiting friends, and gesture to the large stone structure before me, my smile growing ever larger, laughter once more bubbling up within me. “Look! Someone’s put bubble bath in the fountain!”

I turn back to face the white, frothy mound, a childlike glee pulling my bare feet slowly towards its sparkling purity. The faint summer breeze rushes across the open square, pulling at the glittering foam until a few small pieces separate and float towards me. I hold out my hands and catch some, looking down at the soft, weightless treasure, before blowing it from my hold as I might have done with a seeding dandelion when I was small.

Before I know it, I am standing on the edge of the fountain, the snowy mountain wobbling like jelly with every faint puff of wind. My friends are soon stood with me, and we all clutch each other’s hands, smiling and giggling like six-year-olds, eyes glowing with joy and simple pleasure as we count, “One! Two! …THREE!”

We jump.

Book Review: “Hard Luck” by M.A. Ray

Book title: Hard Luck (Volume 1, Saga of Menyoral)

Author: M.A. Ray

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

 

It’s been a while since I last sat down to read a high fantasy book, and Hard Luck doesn’t disappoint. It has everything I look for in this genre: Magic, colourful characters, first rate world-building, and a nice gritty undertone that adds a sense of realness despite, well… the elves, if you see what I mean.

The story is set in Rothganar, a place that you are pulled into immediately as the opening scene unfolds in mysticism and a spell gone horribly wrong. The consequences of this short prelude mean very little at first, but you still feel a sense of loss despite that, something I think points to some very skilled writing. Four pages into the book, and I was already emotionally invested.

It stands to reason that in eliciting this sort of response in a new reader, the protagonist is also someone you find yourself immediately attached to. My sympathy for Dingus began from the moment I read his rather unfortunate name, and only swelled further as the full horror of his life became clear. The way the author deals with the prejudice Dingus faces is unapologetic and with such integrity that it brought a lump to my throat, and immediately had me firmly backing her protagonist to the hilt. In a show of yet more skilful writing, the fact that the situation makes you want to jump into the pages of the book and beat the living daylights out of Dingus’ antagonists also makes you immediately cheer for the first appearance of Vandis, a travelling knight who does just that.

Their relationship is one the best I’ve read in a long time, and as Vandis takes Dingus under his proverbial wing, the progression of both characters as the story moves along is masterful. When they are later joined by Kessa, yet another stray with a horrific backstory, the three of them bounce so well against one another that they all come to life in a way I haven’t been privileged to read in quite some time. Their dialogue is spot on, each with a very clear voice and tone, and not ever forced throughout.

On that note, I wanted to address something I’ve seen criticised quite seriously in other reviews, and that is the swearing. Yes, there is a fair amount of cussing throughout, and mostly from Vandis. Vandis is a crusty old knight who quite happily drops the f-bomb, and personally I think it adds to his character that he does so. It would be bizarre for someone of his background and disposition to say “good heavens” or “whoopsie daisy” or whatever, and I don’t really understand why in this day and age, with writers like George Martin sprinkling the dreaded “C U Next Tuesday” like glitter, (So disgust. Much rude. Wow.) that anyone would be offended by such a thing.

No one seems bothered by any of the quite vivid violence in the book, or the allusions the paedophilia for that matter, which is surely far more disturbing? These things mentioned, I also don’t understand why anyone would think the swearing is the only reason this book isn’t suitable for children, but apparently that’s just me.

This is not a children’s book. That much is evident before you even finish the prologue to be honest, but as to the parents looking down their noses at this excellent book because of the swearing, I’m afraid I have bad news: If you think your teenager doesn’t swear, you’re living in a fantasy world even more expansive than Rathganar, and that’s truly a grand feat of imagination.

That said, what I do think is important to point out is aside from Vandis’ characterisation, the swearing is there for another quite excellent reason. At the beginning of the book, Dingus is seriously downtrodden, and quite literally at that. He is understandably afraid and nervous, and very meek around others. By the end of the book, however, he is cussing right along with Vandis, and actually at him at one point, laughing and speaking his mind with an ease and comfort that shows the outward signs of his mental healing.

If cussing offends you, that’s just fine. We’re all different – personally I’m very offended by beetroot, and I’ve yet to find anyone else who shares my deep revulsion for it – and that’s just fine. What isn’t fine is trash talking an excellent author for your own quirks, and implying that their differing use of language to yours shows some kind of want of skill or talent.

The book is far and away one of my favourite reads in the genre for quite some time now, and I can’t wait to jump back into the story for more of these fantastically written and intricate characters. The Saga of Menyoral has another three books currently available for consumption, and I would very strongly encourage anyone who enjoys bold, brassy fantasy to go and check them out, as well as the author herself, who can be located on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/marayauthor

Book Review: “Extraordinary” by K.M. Herkes

Book title: Extraordinary (Rough Passages Volume 1)

Author: KM Herkes

Genre: Dark/Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

 

At the risk of making a cheesy cliché, Extraordinary by KM Herkes really was an extraordinary book. (I’m not sorry!)

It’s quite dark, but beautifully so, the style of prose like a curling mist with the occasional sharp edge concealed and cutting the reader unexpectedly. I felt an air of “nightmare” through the whole thing, and while it isn’t a horror, it gave me a huge sympathy for the protagonist throughout.

Valerie Wade has come out of an abusive marriage, trying to raise two children, look after her disabled and bigoted mother, while holding down multiple jobs. As though this wasn’t enough, she also has a genetic disorder which threatens all she holds dear with the possibility of an untimely death. Despite all these tribulations, Valerie remains an optimistic protagonist, one who seems very much like she wants to believe the world is much better than she’s seen so far, and always looking for the positives of her life. She is forgiving and wants to please, and I think it’s these crucial characteristics that keep the story from descending into horror.

I felt a great sense of connection to Valerie throughout, and kept hoping right along with her that things would get better. She was believable, and as it becomes increasingly apparent through the story that her disorder could mean more than just death, the first-rate world building has dragged you into the story before you even realise what’s happened.

There’s a little subtle social commentary throughout, which I loved, regarding prejudice and, of course, abuse and the many forms it takes in people’s lives. I was sorry when I reached the end, and far too quickly, but as this is the first in a series and there are another two currently in print, I’m looking forward to experiencing more from this talented author.

Along with the “Rough Passages” series, KM Herkes has also written “Stories of the Restoration” of which I have the first book currently waiting on my e-reader, and along with a bubbling facebook page, a fantastic website which I recommend you go check out: http://storysculpting.blogspot.co.uk/

[RECYCLE]

Once upon a time there was a pretty young bunny.

I have already made myself a liar. Do you know that writers make things up? Well, they do. That’s what writers do most of the day, really. So when I tell you that once upon a time there was a pretty young bunny, you should know that isn’t at all the fact of the matter.

Truth be told this bunny was not pretty by the high standards of society, she was not all that young, either, and she was not even a bunny. What she was, actually, was pretty by her own standards, in her eyes and her laugh and her ability to make other people feel good about themselves. She was twenty-nine, so not quite as young as she used to be, but still young enough that she might get away with it if nobody looked too hard. She was a person, a human sort of person, with an odd, long-standing pet name bestowed upon her whilst on a camping trip some years previously.

Now this matter has been cleared up, we can proceed with the story, with you, the reader, in a much better position to see things progress with clarity.

This pretty young bunny quite enjoyed coffee. Ah, now you see why I had to explain the true nature of the character, don’t you? Coffee is not generally associated with bunnies, at least not the rabbit kind, and I would hate to be responsible for someone giving a pet heart failure after feeding them something they really ought not.

She was quite fussy about her coffee, and also not in possession of a great deal of financial backing. I’m sure by now you have guessed that this particular bunny who is not a bunny was a writing sort of bunny, and not, in fact, paid for that skill at all. For this reason, it was rare that she could enjoy a coffee out by herself, made in her favourite way, and from her favourite place that wasn’t a far off, coffee growing country that she may or may not visit at some point in her lifetime.

She savoured the delicious beverage, battling off the autumn blues she was prone to on grey, blustery days, just early enough in the morning that the sun hadn’t quite risen. She walked through the public gardens of her hometown, the salt of the nearby sea mingling with the pungency of bonfires and leaf mould. The wind was brisk, and as she enjoyed her treat she held it in both hands like a treasure, keeping her fingers warm as she went.

Soon, the coffee was gone.

These things happen, for all we wish they wouldn’t, and the pretty young bunny felt sorry that there could not be such a thing as endless cups, whilst simultaneously knowing that the truth of pleasure is that it is made more special by its fleeting nature. This was mostly to do with her being a writing sort of bunny, and waxing a little too poetical about simple things that no one truly cared about.

She took the empty cup to the nearest bin to throw it away in a responsible manner, as most people do not, only to be met by a puzzlement. What sort of puzzlement, you ask? Well, the very worst kind. The kind where you have very little information to go on and must use your own common sense.

Writers do not, generally speaking, have too much common sense. I realise this is an unkind, sweeping statement, but I fear we are all so caught up in our heads that sometimes we forget about the real world and how it works. This particular pretty young bunny had very little common sense to speak of, and often found herself in trouble because of it.

This conundrum, was that the bin had two sides. One side said, in bold, gold lettering, “CANS. BOTTLES. PLASTIC.”

Whilst the other, no less impressively, stated, “PAPER. CARD. LITTER.”

Now the pretty young bunny thought for only a moment, out in public and afraid of being humiliated by a trash receptacle, before deciding her best course of action was to put her cup in the second side. She knew, of course, in the deep recesses of her mind, not otherwise occupied by dragons, dwarves and functional female armour, that she should really have taken the lid from the coffee cup and put it in the first side, but she allowed her embarrassment to overpower her and failed to recycle efficiently.

No sooner had she put her hand into the opening of the bin to drop the coffee cup, did a sharp, cold hand grab her wrist. She did not have time to cry out, to shout for help, or even struggle. She was caught, and immediately yanked down, deep down into the depths of the litter bin. She was subsequently never heard from again, save for the occasional, bizarre bit of writing that would be posted up on the back of napkins or old envelopes, but quite possibly should have been treated as trash in any case.

The end.

Book Review: “Taming Shadows” by Fiona Skye

Book Title: Taming Shadows

Author: Fiona Skye

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

Taming Shadows was such an excellent read, I pretty much devoured it over the course of one day because I simply couldn’t put it down.

The story follows the progress of Riley O’Rourke, a reporter from fairly humble beginnings, who is thrust into the spotlight when the human world is made forcibly aware of the existence the supernatural beings they have unknowingly been living alongside throughout history. Her role in the story initially is as the face of the transition (referred to as “the Night of Revelations” throughout) and as a well-known “Critter” – someone with the ability to shift into that of an animal. Her own form, and shared sub-conscience, is a large jungle cat who is very cleverly always present and integrated into Riley’s character, and in the few instances we read from her perspective I could see Riley was just as much present in Jaguar’s own mind. The symbiotic relationship between them is well written and clever, and while complex in its entirely, not at all difficult for me to understand as a reader.

Riley becomes quickly embroiled in sidhe politics after she is visited by both faery queens and forced to pick a side in the impending war for her own self-preservation. I was incredibly thrilled by the use of old and lesser used magical beings, and the insight to the Winter Court and Summer Court of the faeries. You don’t see it all that often, so it was refreshing. There’s also a brilliant spectrum of other supernatural creatures, including vampires, witches and more besides, and a clever and succinct social structure for how they all manage to co-exist, something that a lot of writers can waffle on about and still not manage to make believable.

I’m always pleased when a book manages to pass the Bechdel Test, but Taming Shadows does it within the first chapter, and repeatedly throughout. Riley herself is a fantastic character, a strong, clever, and easy to like career woman, who is made all the more believable by her flaws and uncertainties, as much as her witty humour and irreverence. I found myself cheering her on as the story progressed, and sympathising with her easily as she faced off against both fairy queens and her own insecurities. There is a strong female presence within the story, something I always love in any book I read, and even the side-characters are a glittering and diverse array of personalities that I found myself eager to learn more about as I went.

The writing itself was beautifully crafted, with a great pace and tone, the descriptions lending themselves easily to the story so that I could see everything and everyone clearly in my mind as I progressed. The world Fiona has created is a believable one, despite the supernatural elements, which is something I find impressive by itself. Sometimes urban fantasy can be a little heavy handed in the merging of the two worlds –reality and fantasy- but not so here. At no point did I find myself questioning any of the logic in the situations the characters found themselves in, or wondering how certain things worked out, which is a treat for me as I tend to pick things like that apart as I read.

All in all, it’s a pretty fantastic read and well deserving of the full five stars. I found nothing about it I didn’t like, and I really think that anyone who enjoys fantasy and bad-ass ladies should definitely go and read it. I also think it’s worth mentioning that if you are a fan of “The Hollows” series by Kim Harrison, you would definitely like this. 

Book two, Silver Shackles, will be released sometime this summer, and I suggest you go and have a look at Fiona’s website for further details about her other works, too: http://fiona-skye.com/

[Talking In Circles]

I like tea. All types, all brands, all brews. If I’m out shopping and I see something I haven’t tried yet, I have to buy it. My favourite is Jasmine Green, but I mostly drink English Breakfast. I tell people I have two sugars, but I secretly want three. Whatever is going on, tea makes me feel better. If I’m tired I make tea, if I’m ill I make tea, if I’m sad I make tea, if I’m bored I make tea and if there’s an awkward silence in conversation, I make tea.

I like to talk. I’ll talk about anything with anybody. I’m not afraid to make small talk with strangers, or have a deep debate with anyone with a point to make. I like mindless chatter. I like eloquent discourse. Stupid or intelligent. Funny or serious. Speaking or listening. The flow of conversation and the use of words is like second nature to me. I will listen to another’s problems with interest and compassion, and if I’m able, I will offer up advice. I don’t like to switch situations. I’ll tell people of my silly problems, but not my important ones.

I don’t like silence. Silence makes me uncomfortable. When there is no sound, and I’m sat alone in my empty flat, I find myself thinking just a little too hard, and becoming afraid of the dark corners of my mind. I do like peace and quiet, however. I don’t need to hear incessant bustle to be at peace; the sound of the wind, the ocean, the rain on my window are all types of quietness that I enjoy, but utter and complete silence terrifies me.

I like music. Music is beauty; pure and simple. There is very little music I can’t find enjoyment in, and unlike so many, I don’t have any specific genres that I stick to. You name it, I’ll listen. Of course, there are specific songs I don’t really like, and even certain singers, but I will always listen. I have very little musical talent, as much as I’d like to learn, and so I have massive respect for people who can play.

I like to sing. I sing all the time, and it makes me happy. I expect I sound awful, but it’s the only instrument at my disposal, and even when I mess up notes, it makes me laugh. When I can’t sing, I hum, and when I can’t hum, I find small ways to dance. Even if all I can do is tap my foot or my fingers because I’m on a bus, I will. I can’t whistle.

I don’t like whistling. I don’t know why, really, but somehow the sound irritates me. When I hear someone whistling, I become annoyed, and quite quickly, too. I don’t suppose I’ll ever really know the cause, but somehow I feel like it’s the most artificial noise I’ve ever heard. It’s fake happiness, or at least, that’s how I interpret it on a subconscious level.

I like to be happy. Laughter is good for the soul, and I will go out of my way to find something funny in a normal situation, to the point where I very rarely take anything too seriously anymore. That particular mentality has got me into trouble on more than one occasion, mostly for laughing at what is deemed ‘an inappropriate moment’ and being fully incapable of suppressing it. Many people I know consider this to be my worst habit, but I disagree. Can you think of any feeling better in the world than wanting to laugh so badly that you just can’t contain it? I can’t. I don’t laugh at everything; I do have some morals, I promise, but there is so much blatant stupidity in the world, I feel that if I don’t laugh, I just might cry.

I don’t like to cry. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable, which in turn makes me angry. It was never acceptable to cry when I was a child, and it was never acceptable to talk about all the bad things that happened back then. I’ve carried this with me into adulthood, and I expect it will stay with me until I die. Don’t cry. Crying is for babies. Forget it happened. Move on. Don’t dwell on the past. You can’t do anything about it. Don’t cry. It could be worse. Have some tea, you’ll feel better.

I like tea.