Upon Review: Mama Lacee by Kenneth Brooks

May 21st, 2013

I love to curl up with a nice, steaming cup of tea and a free book to review. In fact I subscribe to three book review sites: Book CrashBook Rooster and The Bookplex just so I can indulge in my favorite leisure activity. What’s even better is when an author contacts me for a review. If you’re an author looking for someone to review your book or short story, check out my Request a Review page.

Because I like to share the great reads I’ve found (and warn readers of the not-so-great finds), I developed a system:

  • One cup — worse than a cup of luke warm black pekoe
  • Two cups — it may be hot, but you’ll need plenty of sweetener just to tolerate it
  • Three cups — it’s not my favorite, but it beats going without
  • Four cups — nice and hot and only needs a smidge of sweetener to be perfect
  • Five cups — loose leaf vanilla Earl Grey, yummy

Sometimes a book or story doesn’t warrant a five cup rating, but it’s so good it can’t be missed. For those I include the “Must Read” starburst in front of the cup rating. You’ll find my cup rating above the picture of the cover. Enjoy!

 

Mama Lacee by Kenneth Brooks

Four Cup Must Read

 

 

Usually it’s the description that makes me want to write a review. However, this one leave a lot to be desired:

“IT”S THE TWENTIES. MAMA LACEE IS IN HER 80’S. SHE’S BEEN THE LOCAL HEALER LONGER THAN MOST PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ALIVE. SHE’S SEEN IT ALL…GOOD AND BAD”

It’s my general rule that I won’t accept a book for review without checking the Look Inside feature on Amazon first. I’m glad I did.

The Good…

Don’t be fooled by the less than appealing cover. The story is riveting. It’s a wonderful glimpse into a time of rampant racism and blatant abuses of power. Best of all, there’s plenty of spirituality (the author considers it paranormal activity) to intrigue those who enjoy peeking behind the veil of reality.

The Not-so-good…

I don’t know if it was the author’s intent or not, but there is a lot of jumping between point of view and past and present tense. At times it feels like there’s an outside narrator and then the character seems to take over the telling of a scene. It can be rather disconcerting. Also, there are some formatting issues where paragraphs look strange.

The biggest drawback of the entire story is the abrupt ending. I would have liked to have known what happened to the rest of the people in the story once the “bad guy” is defeated. Did they learn from what happened and become better people? And what about the business men? What did they do? What happened to those who enforce the laws? If Brooks ever decides to release an updated version of Mama Lacee, I hope he considers giving his reader a good denouement to this marvelous story.

The Overall…

If you can get past technical flaws in the writing and don’t mind an abrupt end, Mama Lacee by Kenneth Brooks is a fantastic read.

Upon Review: Crystal Shade: Angeni, Volume 1 by István Szabó

April 29th, 2013

I love to curl up with a nice, steaming cup of tea and a free book to review. In fact I subscribe to three book review sites: Book CrashBook Rooster and The Bookplex just so I can indulge in my favorite leisure activity. What’s even better is when an author contacts me for a review. If you’re an author looking for someone to review your book or short story, check out my Request a Review page.

Because I like to share the great reads I’ve found (and warn readers of the not-so-great finds), I developed a system:

  • One cup — worse than a cup of luke warm black pekoe
  • Two cups — it may be hot, but you’ll need plenty of sweetener just to tolerate it
  • Three cups — it’s not my favorite, but it beats going without
  • Four cups — nice and hot and only needs a smidge of sweetener to be perfect
  • Five cups — loose leaf vanilla Earl Grey, yummy

Sometimes a book or story doesn’t warrant a five cup rating, but it’s so good it can’t be missed. For those I include the “Must Read” starburst in front of the cup rating. You’ll find my cup rating above the picture of the cover. Enjoy!

 

Crystal Shade: Angeni, Volume 1 by István Szabó

Three Cup

 

 

 Here is the description that made me want to write this book review:

“Thousands of stars could tell thousands of stories.”
Seven year old Grace always dreamt of becoming a guardian angel; like those who guarded and guided her people and prepared to bravely fight in a dreaded mythical event, the Crystal Shade – which never came. It’s not like Grace ever wanted to see Demons. Or wants to know what evil and darkness is – things that no one ever faced on her world and as the legends says, the Crystal Shade carries within -, nor does she want to die to be reborn as a guardian. But she thinks the mysterious life of angels is so noble, a fable that it sounds exciting – until it actually happens. 

Crystal Shade: Angeni, Volume 1 explores the early life of a young daydreaming soul who is destined to reveal the forgotten past of her home world and to seek the answer to the eternal question; what the legendary Crystal Shade really is.

The Good…

The beginning sets a great mood, making the reader want to know what the bogey in the dark is.

Most of the really good writing occurs near the end of the book. For example, there is some very good description of everyday animals we take for granted, which Angeni has never seen. It makes it easy to figure out what the creature is without the author having to name it.

Theme plays a major role in the entire book, leading to some thought provoking messages. I love stories that make me think about what I believe and what may be true. This book has a lot of passages that do that.

The Not-so-good…

The author warns in the description: “IMPORTANT: Please be advised that Crystal Shade: Angeni and its episodic release, Crystal Shade: Episodes is not a fast and easy mainstream read. You can’t quickly skim through and read it in one night, but you have to absorb the words and create the fantasy in your mind. Therefore, if you don’t like slower-paced books or non-mainstream storylines, please read the excerpt before making any purchase.”

If you’re looking for a book that begins with conflict or is paced faster than a snail, look somewhere else. This is an epic tale and, as the volume number indicates, will be told in more than one book. In fact, the story ends just when the conflict begins. I like to call this the Soap Opera Gimmick: end every book in the middle of a fight so the reader will buy the next one to see what happens. I don’t know about other readers, but I feel cheated when authors do this. Leave me with questions, but don’t leave me in the middle of a conflict.

Another complaint I have is the overuse of some words, especially the words “shy” and “cold.” It made me think of what Inigo says to Vizzini in the Princes Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Lastly, there are entire scenes that seem to be unnecessary. For instance, why does it matter to the reader what the names of the gods and goddesses are and what provinces they supposedly rule? The author spends an extrodinairy amount of time on world building, using specific names and stories to explain the placement of each province. Perhaps the information will come into play in another volume, but it was tedious in this one.

The Overall…

Take the author’s warning seriously! While I enjoy books that make me wonder about truth and reality, I also like them to balance that with action and external conflict. Crystal Shade has very little of that, which often bored me. There is plenty of action near the end, but it left me unsatisfied because the story itself didn’t end. My suggestion is this, read Crystal Shade if you enjoy long, slow tales and don’t mind a cliff hanger ending. If that’s not the type of story you like, then you’ll probably want to pass on this tale.

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Tag! A “First Look Meme” With Apprentice Cat

August 20th, 2012

I was in the midst of basking in beta reader praise when, Tameri Etherton tagged me in a new meme that’s making its way around the blogosphere. It’s called the Look game.

I suppose that’s because the rules say something like, you’re supposed to run a search in your work in progress for the word “look” and then paste the surrounding paragraph(s), followed by tagging as many people as possible.

Simple enough. I decided to share a bit from Apprentice Cat, since it’s coming out later this year. So here goes:

“What of his companion? Do we know where he is?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” He heard the soft sound of paws pacing toward the door. The mage sucked in a breath, his heart beat loudly in his ears.

“Right here.”

The door scraped loudly as it opened, spilling the old mage onto the floor. He looked into the yellow eyes of a large gray tom. Turning his head he saw the misshapen lump of fur the two had been discussing. He crawled to his old friend’s side, the mottled black and brown fur unmistakable. He reached to touch the once silken body.

“I wouldn’t if I were you.”

The old mage stared hard at the gray tom whose whiskers were splayed wide. He could feel the strain of the muscles in his jaw as he clenched his teeth. His vision dimmed to pinpoints, centering on the yellow-eyed cat.

“A single feather touch can rupture the victim’s skin and cause it to expel an acidic fluid.”

Ooo ~ ~ ~ ooO

Now it’s my turn. I get to tag some of you in this meme to share a bit of your work in progress. If I tag you and you aren’t up for it, no worries. If I didn’t tag you, but you’d like to participate, that’s awesome. Just let us know in the comments so we can pop over to your blog and check you out.

Angela Wallace ** Michael R. Hicks ** Jordyn Redwood ** Jami Gold

I look forward to reading all your excerpts.

Upon Review: In Her Name: Empire by Michael Hicks

February 29th, 2012

I’m so excited this week because Natalie Hartford of Life Out Loud is spotlighting me on her blog. Natalie calls herself an urban redneck who loves all things pink and she’s a real firecracker. Take a moment to hop on over to her blog and enter her contest for a special edition signed Simply Prayer ebook (open internationally) or a signed copy of the paperback version (open to US/Canada).

Now, on to the review:

I love to request free books to review. In fact I subscribe to two review sites: Book CrashBook Rooster and The Bookplex, but sometimes I find an intriguing tweet that leads me to a free book. Such was the case of Michael Hicks‘ book Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1).

Here is the description that fascinated me:

In the first book of an epic futuristic fantasy trilogy, this is the coming-of-age story of Reza Gard, a young boy of the Human Confederation who is swept up in the century-long war with the alien Kreelan Empire. Nightmarish female warriors with blue skin, fangs, and razor sharp talons, the Kreelans have technology that is millennia beyond that of the Confederation, yet they seek out close combat with sword and claw, fighting and dying to honor their god-like Empress. Captured and enslaved, Reza must live like his enemies in a grand experiment to see if humans have souls, and if one may be the key to unlocking an ages old curse upon the Kreelan race. Enduring the brutal conditions of Kreelan life, Reza and a young warrior named Esah-Zhurah find themselves bound together by fate and a prophecy foretold millennia before they were born.

I admit it. I was sucked into the story before Chapter One ended.

The Good…

Although the stakes never change (life or death every time) it feels like it does. It’s not a matter of if Reza will survive; it’s a matter of how and who will survive alongside him.

Empire is rife with tension and conflict from beginning to end, forcing the reader to keep turning pages to see what happens next. The characters feel real and demand we pay attention to them.

The Not-so-good…

While the overall writing is captivating, there is quite a bit of head hopping to get used to. Even so, Hicks is able to pull it off with a minimum of jarring the reader.

At times the descriptions of the Kreelan homeworld were more detailed than I like and I felt they dragged the story down. However, one expects a certain amount of world building in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I don’t think the descriptions in Empire were excessive.

The Overall…

Loved Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1) by Michael Hicks. Even without the excerpt for In Her Name: Confederation in the back, I was eager to see what happens in the next book. I highly recommend this for anyone remotely interested in Science Fiction.

Is There Christian Fantasy?

July 7th, 2011

book photoI love fantasy. My bookshelves, which I share with my fantasy-loving mother, are crammed two deep with fantasy books. Some shelves even have books on top of books. If there’s a limit to the number of books one can keep on a Nook, then I’m sure I’ll discover it and most of those will be fantasies, too.

Yet there seems to be a distinct line for many on what is secular fantasy and what is Christian.

Obviously those stories involving Satan or his demons as the protagonists can’t be considered Christian. The same is true of stories that make obvious reference to the Christian God and His angels as the good guys can’t really be considered entirely secular. Those aren’t the books I’m thinking of.

I’ve read mostly secular fantasy over the years. Some I can honestly say cannot be classified as Christian even with a lot of stretching of the imagination. Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series would be among those.

There are others, though, that I’m not so sure can be classified to my satisfaction.

For instance, in Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey Mysteries the protagonists, who happen to be talking cats, often mull over ideas that echo Christian thoughts.

And what about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy? Nowhere is God specifically mentioned, though Tolkien himself said,

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. “

So, if God is not specifically mentioned, does that make LOTR secular?

And what about magic in fantasy?

Many people draw the line at magic, saying Christian fantasy cannot contain magic in any form unless it’s evil. Others, like John Edgell in his post The Writer of Christian Fantasy Fiction and Magic, set specific guidelines for magic usage.

For instance, Edgell says,

“…if the magic comes from a personal power source, whether outside of or within the one using the magic, that power source determines whether the magic at its essence is good or evil.”

In Edgell’s opinion, magic that comes from nature (he uses a glowing stone as an example) is neither good nor evil and therefore not at issue. However, if one person can use magic and others cannot, then it all depends on where that ability comes from as to whether the story can be Christian or not.

Personally, I look at the ability to use magic in a fantasy as simply a talent or skill similar to the ability to sing or write. It is the use of that talent or skill that makes a character good or evil. In this case, a fantasy written from a Christian worldview, as LOTR seems to be, can be classified as Christian fantasy.

What do you think? What makes a fantasy Christian or secular?

Photo by zeze57

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