Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper – Book Review

January 7, 2014

210331I’d heard of Susan Cooper before but had never read any of her books. They were on my “To read, maybe someday, if I remember, who knows” list but hadn’t gotten to them yet.

Last month S.M. Carrière asked me to join Silver Stag Entertainment as a contributor. All I had to do was sit with other people and discuss movies and books. That’s how I joined The Nights of the Round Table.

The first book was Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper. If you hadn’t guessed yet.

You can join the NotRT bookclub on Goodreads, and watch the review on Youtube.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my posts Part 1 and Part 2.

Characters

I liked

I really enjoyed the ominous and creepy villain but wished we’d been properly introduced to him earlier on. I also enjoyed Barney who was the only fleshed out character in the book.

I also enjoyed that the main characters spoke to each other, as if they were siblings. It’s a fine line between friends and siblings but the banter is a little different and Cooper nailed it.

I didn’t like

I felt that for the size of the book, there were too many characters that didn’t get fleshed out. The parents were basicly set pieces.

Other than the scene where the Uncle lays out what’s going on, I found he was more or less useless. He was so useful that the author needed to pull a Gandalf and have him disappear.

For characters, I give it 2 out of 5

Writing Style

I liked

The language in this book was wonderful. It wasn’t dumbed down or over explained. I also liked the weaving of Arthurian myth into the story. It was a very simple book and didn’t pretend to be anything more.

I didn’t like

I felt she spent too much time describing how they solve the puzzle and not enough explaining the puzzle.

I give it 4 out of 5.

Story

I liked

I liked the second half of the books, action. It was quick and well-paced. Again I think a little trimming of characters might have helped the pace.

I didn’t like

The beginning was just so slow and I kept thinking certain people were more important than others. It was a little frustrating that the Author introduced characters and possible stories and then didn’t follow through.

I give the story 3 out of 5

Fun

I liked

It was light and easy to read. The language was nice and it was an Arthurian Quest. It was written to be fun and that’s what it was. I also really like the part at the end with the Uncles name.

I didn’t like

How slow it was to begin or that the majority of characters aren’t fleshed out as much as they should have been.

It shows that the author made the characters interesting if one of my major complaints is that she didn’t let me see more of them.

I give it 4 out of 5 for fun

Overall

It’s an interesting book that holds a lot of nostalgic value for people who read it as children. Since I read it as an adult I can see the flaws in the over-simplicity of the story.

Final score is 65%

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Ethan Cadfael: The Battle Prince by S.M. Carrière

December 17, 2013

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I’ve known S.M. Carrière for a little over a year now I should have read one of her books earlier.

Ethan Cadfael: The Battle Prince is an otherworld novel in line with Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Fairy series by O.R. Melling, or Jack of Kinrowan by Charles De Lint.

It borrows heavily from Welsh and Irish mythology to make a well-rounded and fascinating world.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my posts Part 1 and Part 2.

Characters

I liked

There were a lot of characters in this novel but it didn’t distract from the main characters’ story arcs. I really enjoyed watching Ethan’s development from listless jock to Battle Prince. It was so well done that until I thought about it I didn’t see it happening.

I also liked the unabashedly strong and intelligent women in this book. It’s not easy to write a female warrior without falling into stereotypes. S.M. did it extremely well.

I didn’t like

There were a lot of characters and a few of the secondary ones felt like they had interesting stories to tell but never really got the chance to develop. O

There were two that bothered me the most. First was a character called Mitch, who was friends with Ethan. Their seemed to be more to the character and his odd submissiveness but his story ended with a handshake and a nod.

The other was a character called Joseph who was introduced around two thirds into the book. He was interesting and worked as an emotional foil for Ethan but felt like he didn’t need to be there.

The role that Joseph ended up playing in the end of the book was what I expected of Mitch after a step character arc.

For characters, I give it 3 out of 5

Writing Style

I liked

The ease with which S.M. weaves mythology into her story is impressive and she manages to avoid info dumping by giving us tiny details throughout.

I particularly liked her use of vocabulary, in many otherworld novels or urban fantasies, the other keeps a very standard language akin to a hardboiled detective style. S.M. keeps the book’s voice in a tongue-in-cheek fantasy style that works perfectly with the story.

One of the strengths in this book is S.M.’s ability to write convincing dialogue. Each character has a unique voice that rings true and it makes it easier to follow which characters are which.

I was definitely taken back to a time I lived with three other guys during university.

I didn’t like

On TV, in movies, and in books I find great pride when I understand the language that the main characters don’t. However, when the opposite happens and I don’t understand, I feel kinda dumb. This book has a healthy dose of Welsh and Irish throughout. At times the conversations are long. Never do they last more than half a page but it still frustrated me.

One the other side of the coin, the author did put a translation for all these scenes at the back of the book. If I had noticed I wouldn’t have minded. I think the translations might have been better as footnotes.

I give it 3 out of 5.

Story

I liked

The story was a standard otherworld story but inversed. Instead of a regular everyday person falling into another world, a Queen fell into ours. I liked the inversion and I liked how well the character handled herself, it’s easy to think she’d panic and go nuts but she dealt pretty well.

Typically this story end after the character returns, or chooses not to return, to their own world, quite often with plot points dangling, and irritating me. The story reached that point and then proceeded to give us some extra action and extra story.

I didn’t like

The story was well crafted and other than the Mitch thing, there were only a few things that frustrated me. I felt that it was a little too neat at the end. I felt like too many people got what they deserved and all was right with the world. It rang true but it also felt like the author didn’t want to wright a sequel and made sure she didn’t have to.

I give the story 4 out of 5

Fun

I liked

The book was entertaining throughout. S.M. really knows how to keep your interest. Even through the parts that should have been slow, it was still fascinating.

I also liked the extremely subtle inclusion of herself. A character talks a lot about her roommate and I’m fairly certain that roommate is the author.

I didn’t like

This book was fun through and through. If I were to give it a fault it would be that it was a little too addictive.

I give it 5 out of 5 for fun

Overall

Ethan Cadfael: The Battle Prince is the perfect otherworld novel, with enough twist and turns to keep an aficionado of the genre happy. I’d happily recommend this as a “gateway drug” to fantasy novels.

The author weaves convincing character arcs with mythology and wonderful storytelling.

I highly recommend getting this book and devouring it. It’ll leave a smile on your face.

Final score is 75%


I’ll Meet You Yesterday by Tom Barlow – Book Review

December 3, 2013

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I met Mr Barlow at Can-Con (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature). I unintentionally bought the first copy of his book. He was very nice and signed it for us. I later saw him speak at a panel on mystery writing.

When I bought the book I didn’t read the back right away. I read the title and said, “I want it”. I stupidly thought it was a time travel story. It isn’t but that’s ok, it was a great read.

He is published by the awesome people at Bundoran Press

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my posts Part 1 and Part 2.

Characters

I liked

This wasn’t a large book, and I appreciated that there weren’t too many characters. I easily confuse characters with similar names or roles.

Not in this book. Each character was well fleshed out and had the weight of implied history behind them. Other than one tiny exception, none of the characters did anything stupid.

I genuinely felt for the characters.

I didn’t like

As much as I know in my mind that characters thrive through challenge. It’s hard to watch them get hurt. The characters made the best of a bad situation and came out stronger but it made me sad.

I guess none of that is a criticism. It works to build pathos and character development.

For characters, I give it 4 out of 5

Writing Style

I liked

Maybe it’s that I don’t read enough mystery but I’ve never come across a writing style like Barlow’s. Some books exhaust me with stress but suck me in. Others don’t suck me in but aren’t stressful. I’d always thought the stress and the interest were a necessary pair. Barlow proved that it wasn’t.

He has a relaxed beauty to his writing. I was still worried for the characters but I never felt stressed or pressed. Everything was smooth and calm. Like the perfect sip of coffee.

I didn’t like

I can’t think about anything I didn’t like about the style.

I give it 5 out of 5.

Story

I liked

The story was a near future science fiction, mystery, love story, with strong elements of a road trip in the middle. It was a refreshing mix of styles.

The story wasn’t complicated. It didn’t feel cluttered and had me wondering what would happen next. It was beautifully crafted and made me feel certain that the author knew where he was going.

I didn’t like

The world wasn’t a nice place. It was also a little too plausible. Neither of them bad things but throughout, I wondered if it was necessary. They added a little background and a few of the plot devices but other than that I could have seen this work in the 1930’s or even modern day.

I give the story 4 out of 5

Fun

I liked

Any time a character does something stupid, like buying drugs, I usually feel like throwing the book away but in this book it just had me mentally yelling at the character. That shows me that the book was too good to get angry at and I enjoyed it the way I enjoy a good cop show that doesn’t telegraph the ending.

I didn’t like

I found the ending a little quick. I would have liked to see a little more but I also see why it ended where it ended.

I give it 5 out of 5 for fun

Overall

I struggled to find things I didn’t like about this book. It was just so good that I couldn’t put it down.

I eagerly await more from Tom Barlow and recommend you get this book and read it, as soon as possible.

Final score is 90%


The Shining by Stephen King – Book Review

November 18, 2013

Stephen King is a fantastic author, a man that truly understands his characters and how to scare his audience. He’s best known for his horror but has written some amazing science fiction, fantasy, and heartwarming works.

The Shining is probably one of his best known works due to the Kubric movie adaptation.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my posts Part 1 and Part 2.

Characters

I liked

There are five main characters in the book and we see a glimpse into each one but we mostly see the development of the Torrence Family. All in excruciating detail. They each feel real and like friends going through a terrible time.

I didn’t like

If you haven’t seen the movie or tv adaptation, you still know how this will end. It’s a large shadow of inevitability. It was amazingly done but the slow decent into madness was almost painful as a reader. I understand that was the goal but it was difficult to read and made me want to stop.

For characters, I give it 5 out of 5

Writing Style

I liked

King has an amazing way of swinging from exist descriptions to crude turns of phrase. Often he even mixes them. When we saw from Jack’s (the father) point of view, it was often filled with clichéd thoughts or crude turns of phrase. Almost as if King was trying to tell us that Jack as a writer wasn’t as good as he believed.

In contrast when we followed Danny (the son) his thoughts were poetic and beautiful. In the way that kids’ minds often are. Showing him to be the real hero.

I didn’t like

Often things were repeated from different viewpoints in what felt needless. The repetition served to remind us what was going to happen and why but it felt like it was overdone. That said it was written for an audience 35 years ago that might not have been as savvy with genre concepts.

I give it 3 out of 5.

Story

I liked

The story was set in one location for most of the book. Despite the stagnation in place, there is always a feeling that something is happening and that we are going somewhere with the story.

All the events are foreshadowed. Everything is structured and the book doesn’t pull any punches in scariness or character pain.

I didn’t like

The moments of joy are all at the beginning and a little at the end. This isn’t a happy story. It doesn’t pretend to be.

I give the story 4 out of 5

Fun

I liked

I loved the characters and the writing. It’s a true classic in horror literature. It was overall very well done.

I didn’t like

I knew what would happen and I didn’t like it. It made reading harder than it should have. Less the fault of the author and more the fault of the reader.

I give it 2 out of 5 for fun

Overall

The book is very different than the movies. Make sure to check your preconceptions at the door.

This isn’t the best Stephen King novel I’ve read but that’s not saying it’s bad. It’s an amazing book. If you like horror and don’t mind a sad book, it’s more than worth the read.

Final score is 70%


Quickies: Book Reviews for December 2012 to March 2013

June 26, 2013

I read a lot of books while I was writing my last novel and I didn’t get a chance to write reviews. Here are the quickie reviews for each of the books I read.

The Colorado Kid – Stephen King

Characters: 5/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 3/5

Fun: 3/5

Overall: Great book that proves you can have an interesting story without it resolving. Not recommended for those of you who really don’t like loose ends.

75%

WWW Series – Robert J. Sawyer (Wake, Watch, and Wonder)

Characters: 5/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 4/5

Fun: 5/5

Overall: This isn’t just an amazing sci-fi series; it’s a beautiful story and an educational experience. I highly recommend it. Easily my favourite Sawyer book so far.

90%

 Doctor Who: The Angel’s Kiss – Justin Richards

Characters: 3/5

Writing Style: 3/5

Story: 3/5

Fun: 4/5

Overall: Fun little book. If you like the new series of Doctor Who and like River Song, you’ll enjoy this book. The plot is predictable and River is a little overdone but it was fun.

65%

Doctor Who 50th anniversary Books

A Big Hand for the Doctor – Eoin Colfer

Doctor Who: The Nameless City – Michael Scott

Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny – Marcus Sedgwick

Characters: 4/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 3/5

Fun: 4/5

Overall: These novelettes are written by people who truly understand the doctor’s they’re writing. I feel like I’m reading a Doctor Who, mini special. That being said, they’d be a little confusing for someone who doesn’t know the Doctor in question.

75%

Over my Dead Body – Teresa Wilde

Characters: 4/5

Writing Style: 3/5

Story: 4/5

Fun: 4/5

Overall: I found this on Kobo on sale for 97 cents and I regret no having paid more. This was a great story filled with a great world and wonderful characters.

75%

Assimilation Squared – Scott Tipton, David Tipton, and Tony Lee

Characters: 2/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 3/5

Fun: 3/5

Overall: As much as I wanted to love this series they were just ok. I found the portrayal of the Doctor to be spot on but the Star Trek TNG crew to be lack luster. It was a quick read but if it wasn’t my two favourite geek properties I wouldn’t have bought these.

60%

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Characters: 4/5

Writing Style: 3/5

Story: 3/5

Fun: 3/5

Overall: By far my least favourite of the Sherlock Holmes collections. It truly felt like Doyle was tired of Holmes and had to prove that his beloved character was flawed and not as great as we thought. And then he kills him off with no foreshadowing.

65%

Doctor Who: Summer Falls – Amelia Williams

Characters: 3/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 4/5

Fun: 5/5

Overall: This book was shown in an episode of Doctor Who and was “written” by one of the characters who are no longer on the show. It has some surprises for fans but the book is strong and stands on its own. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy or science fiction.

80%

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

Characters: 3/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 4/5

Fun: 3/5

Overall: This is a classic and the archetype for carnival horror, but I don’t think its Bradbury’s best book. I enjoyed parts of it but it felt like a short story dragged too long. It had some fantastic ideas but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a huge Bradbury fan.

70%

Devil in the Smoke – Justin Richards

Characters: 4/5

Writing Style: 4/5

Story: 4/5

Fun: 5/5

Overall: Another Doctor Who novel but this one is unlike any of the others. It was brilliantly written, every character spot on, and the story was so much fun. I could only wish that this author would write a series with these characters.

85%


Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero – Book Review

June 24, 2013

Michell Plested wrote a book about a boy who wants to be a superhero. It’s easy to read and beautifully written.

This is one of the novels nominated for this year’s Aurora Awards.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my posts Part 1 and Part 2.

Characters

I liked

Writing from a child’s perspective is difficult. It’s tempting to try and write the way a child would speak, or what we think a child speaks. Plested didn’t fall into this trap he used a vocabulary and writing style that was elevated but accessible. The greatest strength of this novel is how authentic it feels. Mik is believable as a character because of his thought process, logic, and reference points.

I didn’t like

If I have one complaint about the book, it is its lack of fleshing out all the characters. I feel I understood his parents, and a few of his teachers but it was hard for me to fully understand the other secondary characters. I would have liked to know more about them. Especially the librarian.

For characters, I give it 4 out of 5

Writing Style

I liked

The book was structured around a series of events that form  Mik’s personality and show his quest to be a hero. With that structure, it felt like a series of short stories about the same character. Despite its modular feel I never lost interest. I was impressed how well the author wove the stories together.

I didn’t like

There was a certain frustration I had while reading. I kept trying to decide if this was speculative fiction or just a coming of age story. It was never clear until one particular point and when that point arrived I had already decided the opposite and I found this a little jarring.

I give it 4 out of 5.

Story

I liked

The biggest pet peeve I have with YA writing is the stereotype that parents are not only the enemy but stupid. It happens more often in Horror, or urban-fantasy but it happens a lot in superhero stories too. Plested took this stereotype and stripped it down to its simplest form. That being that parents aren’t stupid but they are biased, and fallible. It also helps that Mik tries to protect his parents and often has to worry about them figuring him out. Never does he treat them as a villain but as an obstacle.

The story flows well and the general suspense of whether he really is going to get powers is written perfectly. There was a point of the book that I just stopped worrying about it and let things happen.

Several Story points weren’t finished, which is fine considering he’s writing a sequel.

I didn’t like

The problems with a modular style is separating the stories in the readers head. Everyone is looking for Chekhov’s gun and we’ve been trained by the stories we grew up with that things come back. So when characters that seem important don’t come back it’s disconcerting.

I give the story 4 out of 5

Fun

I liked

This book was a fast and fun read. I felt drawn into the story and the character. I enjoyed it all the way through.

I didn’t like

The worst thing about this book was that it ended.

I greatly anticipate the sequel.

I give it 5 out of 5 for fun

Overall

I highly recommend this to anyone who likes superheroes, coming of age stories, or reading.

Final score is 85%


Pirate Cinema – Book Review

June 13, 2013

Cory Doctorow writes a near future dystopia where laws like SOPA were passed and actually enforced. Copyright violation, even for non-commercial use, is punishable by having you household cut off from the internet and even hard jail time.

This is one of the novels nominated for this year’s Aurora Awards.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my posts Part 1 and Part 2.

Characters

The book is written in the first person. The main character, Trent McCauley is obsessed with re-cutting videos of an old actor. He’s a typical teenaged boy living day to day. The majority of other characters are runaways with more brains than luck. Few of the characters really grabbed me. They were interesting but nothing special.

For characters, I give it 3 out of 5

Writing Style

The writer’s style was simple, clean, accessible; easy to read with a good amount of humour. No purple prose, but also no clever turns. It was good solid writing.

The only gripe I have was the disjointedness of the edition I read. The author uses some British slang in the dialogue but the edition was in American language. It threw me out of the story each time I heard a British accent in my head with American spelling.

I give it 3 out of 5.

Story

The story is slow and at times a little preachy. The peachiness is forgivable considering the story revolves around copyright laws.

It was interesting enough for me to keep reading but not really interesting enough to make me pick up another of the author’s books.

I see it’s merit however, and I can see the details and craft behind the story.

I give the story 4 out of 5

Fun

This book makes me think of something that should be read in highschool. It has a good message, is edgy enough for interest but not enough to insult and has lots of analyzing that can be done.

It was ok fun.

I give it 3 out of 5 for fun

Overall

Like A Princess of Mars this is an enjoyable read but I probably won’t re-read it anytime soon.

Good solid writing and ok story.

Final score is 65%