Tag Archives: book review

Tin House to Close; Sunspot to Open

books-2158737_1920June of 2019 will see the last Tin House literary magazine roll off the presses. After twenty years publishing original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Tin House is saying goodbye.

The move was done in the face of mounting costs associated with print publishing. Rob Spillman, the co-founder and editor, is moving on to other areas. The closing brings an end to a very long stretch of quality contributions to the literary arena.

While some new works will still be published on Tin House’s website, the loss of yet another print publication is difficult for writers. Much of the industry still gives more weight to credits in print publications, so the loss of even one magazine can be bad news.

There is a bright spot, however. Sunspot Literary Magazine is launching in January of 2019. For the first year, one print edition will be published. The magazine hopes to add additional print editions in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, digital editions are scheduled for every quarter. The founder is also considering adding frequent special editions that focus on a single author or a single category.

The magazine’s mission is to “change the world through words,” and is open to new and established authors and artists. Submissions of short stories, flash fiction, poetry, essays, art, interviews, and reviews of books, movies and galleries are being accepted through Sunspot’s Submittable portal.

This is an excellent opportunity to be heard and to enact the change you want to see.

Book Giveaway

Enter here for a chance to win one of two signed copies of Message Stick, a novel of Australia and winner of two national awards.

If you are interested in receiving an ebook of this novel in return for writing a review on Amazon, email me. Available for review only for a short time! Do share with others who might be interested. And thank you!

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

William Morrow Paperbacks 2015

Here’s a well-researched and well-drawn historical novel. I received an ARC from the publisher. Set during the 1918 flu epidemic, a twenty-something woman leaves her family after her father and brother commit a horrific act of violence…and revel in the blood. They claim to be patriots, and have murdered a member of a German immigrant family during WWI.

When she leaves her family behind, she stays in town, striking out on her own for the first time in her life. She falls for the brother of the murdered man, and begins driving an ambulance for victims of the flu. She has survived her own bout with the illness and so is safe. The work takes her into every social and economic strata of her town, allowing readers a detailed look at life during this time.

Oh, and she sees ghosts, the “uninvited” of the title.

While the book provides readers of historical fiction with what they crave, the prose is a bit pedantic…not dense so much as precise to the point of stripping out the deeper elements of voice and tone. This affects the book’s atmosphere and makes for a surprisingly dry read. However, since this is an artistic choice (because it’s related to the author’s voice), it can be chalked up to something that strikes me personally rather than as a flaw that might put other readers off.

Overall, the work is well written and the story is interesting. If you like historical novels, check out this book and the author’s other works. She’s written extensively across many time periods, so it’s likely that one or more of her books will resonate with you.

4 stars

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Book Review: Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia #review #novel

Available March, 2015 (ARC received from publisher)
Very interesting concept: a man dead for some time has built a career in the underworld preserving the flesh and bones of other deceased individuals. When Jacob learns that a Living Man has passed the borders between the living and dead worlds, he begins a quest to find the Living Man and learn how to return to the land of the living…as a corpse, yes, but one with a mission.
The world of the dead is interestingly illustrated but isn’t the primary draw with this work. Instead, it’s about how Jacob handles his quest and, of course, the personal reasons he has for it, which he will not reveal to his companions: a boy who can control the bones of the dead and a foppish criminal. The interweaving of these elements truly sets this work apart.
However, the narrative elements and choices the author have made work against those elements. Generally, whenever Jacob needs to learn something, he is told a story. In dialog. Long dialog that, while it holds true to individual speakers’ voices, is a weak way to convey such large chunks of information. It makes you wonder if he’s trying to mirror the oral origins of the underworld quest used for this narrative. If so, the author could have done so with far fewer dialog dumps and instead utilized stronger narrative tools.
3 stars.

Book Review: Blacklands by Belinda Bauer #review #novel

Young Steven’s life is marked by loss. When his mother divorced her husband, Steven lost his father. When his mother moves back to live with Steven’s grandmother, he loses his original home. And because the loss is generational, compounded by his mother’s loss of her brother to a serial killer, Steven’s life has been spent in a darkness that always seems to grow.
Desperate to fix the fractures in his family, he spends his afternoons digging random holes in the moors, or blacklands, where the brother is likely buried. His obsession is so complete he implements his own loss by alienating his friends. When he realizes the foolhardiness of his mission, he doesn’t turn away. Instead, he turns to the serial killer.
He begins writing to the imprisoned killer. Avery enjoys the correspondence as a way to spend the last two years of his incarceration…until he realizes Steven is a child. Then he becomes determined to break out and take advantage of the control he has over one last innocent. Steven’s redemption and his life seem surely to be lost when the killer walks free. A gripping, intense ride that holds the family at its heart.
5 stars!
Two other novels blend the intensity of crimes against the innocent with compelling personal journeys. Message Stick, winner of two national awards, is a gripping psychological thriller that follows a man’s journey through the personal history he has too long denied. He Drinks Poison is an erotically tinged thriller that traces a woman’s acceptance of her own dark power as she faces down a serial killer.
For a novel that delves into childhood pain and eventual redemption, try Cosette’s Tribe.

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff #review #novel

At times, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this novel. I enjoyed it a great deal, especially the parallel stories told from historic times and how they lined up with the present narrative. I wasn’t always sure how the two connected, though…I wanted a bit more meaningful commentary from the protagonist on what she was learning about those past lives and how they resonated in her present.
Overall, though, it was a very, very enjoyable read. Funny at times with a depth that really draws me.
4 stars!
For another novel that interweaves past stories with the present, try the two-time award-winner, Message Stick.

Book Review: Gathering Blue, Book 2 of the Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry #review #novel

Set in a very different type of society than The Giver, Gathering Blue takes readers to a world in which unknown events (or events hidden from the masses) have left a previously advanced society in a primitive state. Although the village is set up cooperatively, little cooperation truly exists among these people. They argue constantly, children are neglected at best and unthinkingly abused at worst, and a Council of Guardians protects their own rule as much as the population.
Kira, a young girl born crippled in one leg, would have been exposed to the environment and left to die had her mother not utilized her tenuous political connections to preserve her life. When her mother dies, the fatherless girl is again faced with being expelled from the community.
It seems, however, that her talent is uncommon. She is selected by the Council for special treatment, and is taken into the Council Edifice where the quality of her life is exceptionally better. But the work that she performs, caring for the robe of the Singer who preserves the village’s history, is dictated by the Council’s demands rather than her artistry.
When her mentor hints that the world is not exactly as the Council claims, the old woman dies suddenly. Kira begins to question the death of her father by terrible beasts—none of which have actually been seen in the woods surrounding the village—and then her mother’s passing.
The story is compelling because Lowry makes us care about Kira and her friends. But the plotline gives out at the end. Everything clearly is leading up to her discovery about Council secrets; instead, the book ends when Kira discovers the way to create the color blue.
Now, that in and of itself is important. Blue is a lost art, and is accessible only when she breaches the walls of secrecy and risks her life to discover the truth. But the truth is not fully drawn in this book. Instead, she comes to the edge of the truth, and readers are left to hover. Satisfying in some ways, dissatisfying in others.
4 stars.

Book Review: Mr. Ruins, Book 1 of the Ruins Sonata by Michael John Grist #review #novel

This novel is one of the most unique concepts I’ve encountered. Many authors and film writers have worked with plots that take characters into the minds of others. Many of these works have explored new territory but, because there isn’t much depth, the concept wears thin after a few stories. Mr. Ruins takes this concept much deeper, and does so in a way that is compelling and creative in its execution.
Mr. Ruins is written in alternating chapters that flip between Ritry Goligh’s activities in the material world and his spelunking inside a mind intend on destroying him and his team. Although Ritry is exceptionally good at his job as a greysmith, his success hasn’t given him much in life. In fact, it has kept him away from the one woman he truly loves, and he has banished himself to live on the fringes of a world inundated with tsunamis.
The precarious floating world, strung together from the debris of old, flooded cities and floating ships that didn’t survive the epic initial storms, mirrors Ritry’s internal environment. As the chapters unfold, readers learn about the tortured past that created a person who, although able to dive into anyone’s mind, can’t form the connections that make us human and buoy us atop the waves. Before he can make any progress, he needs to find himself…and that process just might kill him.
Very well written with only one ding: the use of the word BOOM (yes, always in upper case letters) to convey explosions and other loud sounds. The prose is really a cut above most hard science fiction novels, so to have the author fall back on such a weak way to describe the chaos—especially with such frequency—was disappointing. However, that’s a very minor ding and won’t prevent readers from enjoying what is truly an engaging work.
I also disagree with the decision of the author to warn about violence and graphic language on sales platforms. There’s nothing here that is so objectionable readers need to be warned. Don’t let that turn you aside, and don’t prevent your precocious teens from picking up this work, either.
The author photographs ruins and often finds inspiration amidst the wreckage of humanity’s past.
The novel comes with a glossary that defines in-world words for those who enjoy or need that but the prose integrates the terms so well you won’t need to refer to the glossary while you read.
5 stars!

Book Review: Under the Dome #review #novel

By Stephen King.
I picked this up because a friend was reading it and was enjoying the multiple points of views. Right away I remembered why I stopped reading King so many years ago.
The characters are too folksy-jokey for me, the plot points often seem to be included only for laughs, and while the level of writing is common for genre works, the lack of any other driver made me put it down. I really wanted to read this book because I thought that as a writer who works with multiple viewpoints, it might have something to offer. But I just couldn’t get through more than 30 pages. Pure torture all the way.
One star.

Book Review: Quiet Chaos #review #novel

By Sandro Veronesi
I abandoned this one after about 100 pages. That’s pretty unusual; normally if I get past page 30 or so, I like something about the work enough to read the entire thing. But here, the narrative was too annoying. The author was replicating the chaos and emotional turmoil through the craft on the page. After a time, it was simply wearing. It kept me too distanced from the characters, oddly enough, because it was meant to take me deeper into that world.
Two stars.

Book Review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith #review #novel

When I first found this on the shelf, it had just come out. I was interested in unique crime fiction and this fit the bill.
I am not terribly much interested in historic Russia but the author sucked me into this world with his character. This is one of those books that you really should try. Give it 30 pages and see if you don’t also get sucked in!
My only dislike was the ending. The climax was over much too quickly. A technical flaw that hopefully the author will correct in future novels.
5 stars!
Interested in more crime fiction? Try He Drinks Poison, a gripping thriller.

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson #review #novel

A riveting read! This fantasy offers a heroin who is very much a normal young woman. She’s the younger of two princesses, and despite her royal blood, feels that she can’t do much of anything right. So mired is she in despair over what she’ll never be, she punishes her body by eating to excess. Her marriage to a king is a political move, but when he asks her to keep their marriage secret for a bit, her sense of self-worth isn’t bolstered. It doesn’t take long to discover that her husband has a mistress, and that he in part wants to keep the marriage secret from her.
Then she is kidnapped. After being dragged across a forbidding desert, she discovers that the people who have kidnapped her are more desolate than she has ever been. Her initiation into palace politics allows her to understand the larger movements threatening this tenacious band of survivors, and she throws in her efforts with their cause.
What follows is a beautiful blossoming. She discovers untapped layers of talent she never knew existed. She has relied for so long on the godstone, the jewel placed in her navel that sets her apart, for her internal sense of value. Now she discovers that the stone is not the full measure of her worth. A story of redemption in the only eyes that matter: her own.
5 stars!
To read another story about self-worth and self-exploration, try He Drinks Poison, a novel shortlisted for several national awards.

Book Review: Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley #reviews #literature

Available from Ghostwoods Books February 2015
A ravishingly written book that burns ferociously long after the last page has been turned.
This book blew. Me. Away. I haven’t laid hands on something this beautiful, this sensuously dark and attractive, since Patrick Susskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
Set in an 1850s that feels as modern and yet as fable-like as any fantasy or fairytale, the story follows Afsar, a young woman who is the daughter of the Shah. In the Shah’s country palace, time is something that needs to be filled. The entire royal family fills it with sadistic repasts, feasts of blood that torture and murder the sworn enemies of state. The rosy hours of the title refer to a particularly horrific days-long torment of a group of rebels, a blood-soaked orgy of violence and cruelty.
Growing up in such an environment and under the thumb of a father who is not actually her father, Afsar yearns for something more. What that something is, she isn’t sure. When a circus is brought to the palace grounds, she is captivated by a magician who wears a mask to hide his facial deformity. After she murders his friend, a girl she takes as a rival for his affections, the magician trains her in the art of murder.
It is something she takes to well. At first there is hesitation and even repulsion that she fights to quell. Underneath she finds that something she has been missing: the feeling of power, a strength that is denied her under the dictates of her brother-father, palace life, and a culture that oppresses women.
She finds freedom of a sort…a gashed and bleeding sort that wounds both her and her victims. She creates justice for other women who are wounded while also oppressing those around her—the poor, the weak, other women. She is as deformed internally as her paramour is externally.
This book grips readers in a way that defies description. While you walk with Afsar, you hold her hand as much as you are held in her thrall. You feel repulsion and yet something more, compassion and pity. This is a dark tale, yes, but one with the complexity that places it immediately in the ranks of classic literature that will live far longer than any of us reading this now. Clearly one for the ages.
An enthusiastic 5 stars!
Check back on Wednesday for an interview with this author.

Book Review: Cosette’s Tribe by Leah Griffith #reviews #literature

I was the final judge for a novel contest the year this manuscript came in to be judged. Right from the first reading, I knew this book was going to be among the top finalists. When it came time to sort through the top ten, then the top five, and finally to rank the top four entries in order, Cosette’s Tribe rose straight to the top.
It was truly an honor to be able to read this work. The literary magazine that administers the prize still to this day talks about the author and this, her first novel. Don’t miss this…and I’m waiting for the author’s next book!
5 stars!

Book Review: The Bone People by Keri Hulme

After I got used to how the author handled the dialog and internal monolog, I really fell into the world she’d created. I was as fascinated by the boy as the primary character. I felt like I was there, in that world, looking through the protagonist’s eyes. This is a real triumph for any author. I WILL be reading more by Hulme!
5 stars!
For more fiction that deals with indigenous people, check out Message Stick, winner of two national awards.