Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hammer & Air, by Amy Lane

Reids Rating: Milk Chocolate

This was a difficult one to rate. Lane makes a point of labeling it a fairy tale, and like any such story it has a fairy tale "happy ever after" ending.

There is little this reader was able to find light and fluffy, however, about orphaned friends who learn to discover and define the meaning of love for themselves and each other when they've no parameters to base it on. There's nothing light-hearted and white chocolate in that.

Lane, however, is my latest shocking discovery of a writer who possesses pure, unadulterated craftsmanship. Her story is told from the first person POV of one character for the entire duration, and after a few chapters you grow accustomed to the quaint peasant language and the consistent use of "were" instead of "was". She sinks you into the character with such ability and prowess that you'll find yourself thoroughly immersed and unable--unwilling--to pull yourself away before you reach the final page. (If you can, you're made of sterner stuff than me, and kudos to you for it.)

There's little in the way of plot twists in this one. It's largely character driven, the main source of tension the romantic relationship and its development, maturation, between Hammer and Air. Even knowing that it will resolve happily, that they'll be together at the end--for they must be, it's a fairy tale after all--Lane kept this reader, at least, on the edge of her seat and turning pages to devour the story ravenously.

In the end, I had to wipe away a few tears. I can't say for certain what emotion triggered them. But rest assured when you reach the end of Hammer & Air's tale, you'll be looking in the mirror and reassessing those relationships you felt sure were based on "love".

For that reason, I struggle over rating this one. It feels like pure Dark Chocolate to me. And yet it's not. It's Milk Chocolate, and White Chocolate too. They aren't blended together into a massive puddle of cocoa mud though. But swirled together to make a vivid tapestry that delights the palate with the contrasts at every turn. For simplicity's sake, though, I'm giving it a milk chocolate and we'll leave it at that.

Wanna taste? Get it here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tatterdemalion, by Anah Crow & Dianne Fox

Reids Rating: Milk Chocolate Truffle w/ an Amaretto liquor center

These two authors make a powerhouse of a team that deliver a wonderfully rich story. It will in turn have you grinning at the warm fuzzies, and gripping the edge of your seat through the action and plot twists. Rich and intoxicating, and this reader gorged herself and grinned happily.

Crow & Fox weave a romantic tale that wends its way through the kinks and tangles of insecurity, cynicism, that come with age, scars, and life in general. The magical quality to it, for this reader, lies in the beauty of being willing to trust, daring to take the chance to open yourself up. To give what you have, and take what is offered, and find contentment. Often easier said than done, for many.

There are gems to be found in this one. Sentences that could stand alone and tell a story, descriptions that weave poetry from simple words and expression. At times, the detail of a scene is lacking--deliberately--leaving the reader to piece together, and imagine, for themselves what's left out. The one quality of a book, over any movie--engaging the reader, encouraging the imagination and through it the construction of imagery. It is this quality that, far from annoying, sinks the reader further into the world. Make it what you want it to be, the prose whisper. What do you see? I'd call that true magic, woven so adeptly into something as innocuous as a book.

This first installment of the Foundations of Magic series has been released in ebook since May of 2010. It's being released in paperback the first week of April, from Samhain, and the sequel, Trammel, will follow in ebook format in late May.

Can't wait and wanna taste? Get it here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Serenity, by D. Renee Bagby

Reids Rating: Milk Chocolate

This alternate universe fantasy weaves the story of a political union between a princess and a, well, demon, facilitating the end of hostilities between two races. It has strong undercurrents that discuss the many facets of love, the forms it takes, and the power of loyalty, honor, and duty. And also speaks quite powerfully about making the very best of what life gives you to work with.

Bagby has created a challenging and fascinating fantasy world in this novel set in the Gezane Universe. There were a number of times, in fact, when this reader got the distinct impression that the world was more of a challenge than Bagby was capable of managing.
Take the prologue, for instance--as the, sadly, first such instance. Now, bear in mind that this reader did no reading of blurbs or anything before glomming the book in question. I'm sure I read the blurb--months? years?--ago when the book was initially purchased. I was halfway through said prologue before it dawned on me that two of the prominent characters in the scene were decidedly not human.

Kudos, for the obvious twist that made. However, I consider it a failing on the author's part for surely, if it had been solidly in POV, the character would have noticed some decidedly nonhuman aspects.
We'll overlook that though. I can handle sudden twists.

I cannot overlook the info-dumping.
Sadly, it came at the most inopportune times in the first third of the book. Some of it felt as though it had been quite literally dumped in, and the rest of it was excessive character description. Does it truly matter which way the horns of each character curl? It's like telling me which way Mary Sue parts her hair and how it differs from the hairdo that Isabella Swan sports. It is readily apparent, throughout this portion of the book, that there was excessive editorial neglect in terms of content and prose quality.
Bagby's cast of characters, the world-building and plot are all beautiful, despite any editorial efforts and certainly not because of anything the publisher did.

In the end, Bagby gives her characters a satisfying resolution, although some of the scenes, descriptions--namely the climactic ones--feel rushed, and the final knot in the romantic plot thread feels a tad bit hollow and fabricated. The author works so hard at having it be a surprise that there is little to no supporting evidence to build up to this culmination. It would have been much improved with stronger writing while in the demon's POV. There is, sadly, little to no depth to him until the last third of the story. As a result, the reader is left struggling to determine which romance the story is supposed to be focusing on--the married king and queen, or the queen and her bodyguard?

The romantic plot thread could have used more reinforcement, stronger arcs that the reader didn't have to fumble for. The POV's could have been stronger--the demon's at least. The info-dumping... And yet I enjoyed this book a great deal despite its flaws. Not certain if Bagby plans to write again in this particular universe, but I'll certainly give her another try if she does.

Wanna taste? Get it here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anchored, by Rachel Haimowitz

Reids Rating: Dark Chocolate

Okay, I admit it looks rather strange that this second review has the author in common with the first one. But I was wanting to read something that I knew wouldn't end up being SPAM. Seriously. Waste of time, when you're in the mood for 75% cocoa extra rich dark chocolate.

And Rachel doesn't fail to deliver just that.

While this second story also depicts the theme of slavery, a master/slave arrangement that evolves from resented to begrudging tolerance to something more, the similarities this reader sees end there.

In contrast to Counterpoint, Anchored is full of non-consensual sexual violence. Rachel depicts it in vivid, graphic detail, pulling no punches (the blurb for the book warns as much, so if you disregard that, and this as well, don't go crying over traumatic flashbacks and whatnot over it). All the scenes flow seamlessly, though, as Rachel gives the reader a harsh and unpolished view into the psyche of a slave, depicts that cold, hard diamond of indomitable spirit that every human possesses, and lets you watch it be crushed underfoot. And then rebuilt, healed, with love and patience.

Her transmission of emotions, either singularly or in a jumbled twisted heap of confusion -- depending on the MC's mindset -- is done with such flair and talent that the reader sinks fully into the POV, into the world, into the plot, and does not surface until the final words.

Mind you, Anchored is quite the roller coaster. I promise it will leave you feeling breathless, wrung out, and awestruck when it's over. But unholy scones is it ever worth the ride.

Wanna taste? Get it here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Counterpoint, by Rachel Haimowitz

Reids Rating: Dark Chocolate

To quote a dear friend of mine... "Oh, my aching yum-yum."

Counterpoint is a heart-wrenching romantic fantasy that weaves slavery and cultural animosity with the duality of struggle -- personal struggle against one's self, and the external one of survival.

It starts out a bit slowly, but I feel that's not the fault of Rachel's writing: neither characters, nor plot development. Rather that perception of slow build is the fault of an entire industry of romance stories that demand a specific formula be laid out in the development. First encounter here, conflict arising there, intimate interaction at this juncture. Excessive porn and smut must logically follow.

Conversely, Rachel keeps the reading guessing. Will these two ever find common ground of anykind? Just as the lead, and the reader with him, resign themselves to that lack--settle into a comforting familiarity of, okay, even without the romance, these characters are engaging, have depth, and I'm one hundred percent invested, and the plot is thick and twisting just enough to keep me breathless--the author rips the heart straight from your chest with intimacy so deep and eloquent that this reader, at least, could feel almost tangibly everything that the characters did.

And that, my friends, is the pinnacle of prose.

She handles the interactive complication of master/slave with tact, sensitivity, and authenticity. Not trying to play with the characters or their reactions to the situation in the least. That honesty and clarity is insightful and refreshing, when so many have no concept, or play with the scenario as with a new and shiny high-tech gizmo whose practical functionality escapes them.

I had doubts, at first, about the fashioning of interplay between elf and human. Tolkien saw to it, through cult and ensuing culture, that elves and any association are so thoroughly overdone as to be disinteresting.

And yet... while it is difficult to pick one scene as the most riveting in the book, every one I put on such a list would be from Aiden's POV. The elf, hearing the songs of a god, of the creation of worlds, as he sits listening to Freyrik play his violin, is just one example of many that followed from the relational turning point in the book. Rachel does an exquisite job of showing the reader just what her elf hears and feels, of sinking the audience so thoroughly into who and what he is, that it truly took some effort, at times, to switch gears back to Freyrik's point of view.

To put it bluntly, the elf is a page-stealing show-stopper. Which is completely fine. And fascinating.

And... all I have left to say, short of flailing and grinning like a loon, is... Give Me The Sequel. Please?