Reluctant Courage by Rica Newbery: I just can’t muster the energy to excoriate this

Reluctant CourageReluctant Courage

by Rica Newbery

eARC, 234 pg.
BookVenture, 2017

Read: May 5 – 7, 2018

When I don’t like a book (yes, it’s going to be one of those posts), sometimes I’m tempted to describe all the problems I had with the book. And some deserve it. But generally, I don’t want to do that — it seems mean, a lot of this is subjective anyway, and someone poured themselves into their book and why kick them?

So I’ll keep this short and vague.

We’re in Oslo, two years into the Nazi occupation. One thing that’s easy to forget is that even under oppressive governments, life goes on — people love, get married, have kids, go to school, have affairs, abuse substances, and whatnot. Sure, you’ve got to be careful about it — you don’t want to attract the attention of the oppressors or anything, but hey, into each life family turmoil must fall.

Maria and her three daughters (and sometimes her husband) spend so much time bickering and fighting with, or just hurting, each other that it’s almost like they forgot there are Nazi soldiers walking the streets. Sadly, throughout, the antagonism and outbreaks of anger, or sadness, or what have you, don’t feel organic, but rather the results of authorial need. Their lives are filled with poverty, hardship, disease and bitterness — and more than a few attitudes that don’t seem genuine for anyone living tat that point in history (with or without Nazi soldiers on the streets).

I do want to stress that everything that happens is plausible, is possibly based on fact — I’m not commenting on that. It’s the frequently melodramatic way this novel depicts it — it’s just not well-written. Shallow characterization, poor pacing, and strange organization are what dooms this.

There’s one scene that comes out of nowhere that gave me a little hope for the book when someone (who’d basically be depicted as a horrible person) risks life and career to save some Jewish families from arrest. It’s a long time before anything comes from that one scene. I didn’t dislike and/or get put off by the whole book, there was a point that I breathed a sigh of relief — something interesting was finally happening. It was page 148 when I noted that. Sadly, most of what followed (at least the parts that had to do with that event) was hard to believe — and was shoehorned in with a few other storylines for the last 80 pages.

Dull, cliche-filled, aimless, and difficult to believe. Don’t waste your time on this.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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1 1/2 Stars

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Spellcaster by George Bachman

SpellcasterSpellcaster

by George Bachman

Kindle Edition, 262 pg.
Sublime Ltd., 2017

Read: June 22 – 23, 2017


On a recent Once and Future Podcast episode, Rachel Caine said something about new writers today needing patience — not rushing to publish, just because you can thanks to technology, to take the time to get the book right. Man, I wish Bachman had done that. I think there’s a perfectly fine and probably entertaining novel here — but this needed a few more drafts/revisions, and an editor to come alongside him and give him a hand. Sadly, we have this mess instead.

If you told me that the copy I downloaded was missing several chapters — key chapters, I should note — or that this was a sequel to something that I really should’ve read first, I would absolutely believe that. But given no other titles listed anywhere for Bachman and that the chapters are numbered, I can’t even use that to rationalize the problems.

If I look at the book description, I get a much better idea of what happened in the book that I did from the book itself. Bad sign. I think Bachman was trying to go for mysterious, enigmatic, something to get the readers to dig in to the story. Instead he gave us something confusing, something that obfuscates more than intrigues. I’m not saying the author has to hold my hand and point out everything about the story that I need to understand — but if I have to assume as much as he made me, or just shrug and say, I’m sure that made sense in his head that often, the author failed.

There’s some sort of steam-punk/future tech going on in the setting, but . . . nothing comes from it. It was like he started writing some sort of alt-history or steampunk novel and dropped it, without deleting references to hovercars or two types of showers (one water and the other . . . sonic or something, I don’t recall).

At some point we trade in one set of characters for another — which was fine, but left us with no sense of resolution, or anything for those we left. Aside from 1 character being thought of occasionally, nothing more is said or done with them. I don’t think that was handled well at all.

That goes for the whole book, really. It’s not going to do anyone any good — least of all me — to enumerate all the problems I had with this book. There was some decent writing, a sense of style that should appeal to many, but they were wasted in a horribly plotted and executed novel. Spare yourselves.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post. I think it’s pretty clear that the act didn’t persuade me in any way. I still do appreciate the opportunity.

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1 1/2 Stars

Traveller – Inceptio by Rob Shackleford

Traveller – InceptioTraveller – Inceptio

by Rob Shackleford

Kindle Edition, 822
BookBaby, 2017

Read: April 19 – 22, 2017


There’s part of me that wants to go off on this novel describing all the problems I had with it — the uninspired writing, the bland characters, the unnecessary plotlines, the preposterous nature of so much of the story — after all, I did spend days stuck in this mire. But I just don’t care enough — and it’d just be mean.

So let me keep this brief, something Shackleford could try. There are few sentences that couldn’t be at least 1/3 shorter — the novel as a whole could be 1/3 shorter and would be much more effective. On any number of episodes of The Once and Future Podcast host Anton Strout has talked about young writers over-sharing their world building — this is a perfect example of it. I can’t tell you how many pages are devoted to the accidental invention of this time machine — how much drama surrounds it, how questionably the term “research” is tossed around, etc. — and beyond the fact that a time machine that can only transfer people 1000 years to the past and back is accidentally created, we don’t need any of it. Nothing else in the first part of the book (I’m guessing 200+ pages) devoted to that matters. At all.

The worldbuilding is the best part of the book, and it’s overdone. That’s all I’m going to bother with on this one — it’s just not worth it. This was clearly a labor of love, but sadly, not an affection that I can share at all.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post.

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1 1/2 Stars

INVIVO by Robert A. Brown

INVIVOINVIVO

by Robert A. Brown

Kindle Edition, 233 pg.
Denro Classics, 2016

Read: November 24 – 26, 2016


I’m not sure I can list the problems with this book without hitting the character limit on a post (not sure if WordPress has one, Goodreads does, though). Were this only the story of a grieving scientist driven to some sort of insanity (temporary or otherwise), I might have been able tolerate it. But no, it’s so much worse.

    I’m just going to do this one in bullet points because I can’t muster enough will to really write anything.

  • The book promises to be about X, quickly becomes about Y (with a hint of Z) and then ends up being about R and S. I can live with that kind of things sometimes (maybe even enjoy it), but since X and S are so far removed from each other I had no tolerance for it with this novel.
  • The dialogue is wooden, clunky, and far too wordy.
  • The characters act more due to authorial fiat rather than organically (this isn’t 100% true, but it happens enough that I can list it here in good conscience.
  • There’s a mystery here “solved” in a ridiculous and fanciful way — the police were so useless that a medical doctor and genetics researcher is able to read a couple of books (that he received in record time) about sociopaths and is equipped to solve. And he does so in ridiculously short manner.
  • Maybe I’m wrong — I could be — but the science here is so outlandish that Jules Verne wouldn’t buy it. It’s so far beyond “fringe” science that Walter Bishop would scoff at it.

This is just poorly constructed, and I just can’t buy any of the plot-lines. The writing is stiff, lifeless and yet sloppy. For example, one scene starts in a staff meeting with the main characters and his assistants, and mid-conversation it jumps to another mid-conversation with his wife. Also, I’m not sure if the repeated use of a racial slur was because Brown was trying to show just how despicable a character was or if Brown was showing us how despicable he was (given the fact that the character seemed to be being shown in a redemptive light while using the slurs, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that). Even the stuff that I could say was better about this book seemed too contrived — the romances, the scientific breakthroughs, the friendships, and so on. It just was lousy.

Disclaimer: Actually, this probably doesn’t need a disclaimer, because I clearly wasn’t influenced by anything — but I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. Sorry about that, Mr. Brown. Also sorry that it took me 8 more months than I expected to get to it, but . . . something tells me you wouldn’t have minded me waiting longer.

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1 1/2 Stars

Korian and Lucy by Zoe Kalo

Updated 8/9: The author contacted me about this, and assured me that it was an editing mistake on her part that soured me on this story, which is exactly what I hoped it was, and that it’s been fixed in the current edition. Which I think makes this a 2-Star story now (maybe higher): I’m not sure it tells us anything we couldn’t assume from reading the first novel — maybe some of the characterization will play a role in later books. Instead of being bad, this is now just inessential. Still, I recommend the first book and plan on reading the second.

Korian and LucyKorian and Lucy

by Zoe Kalo
Series: Cult of the Cat, #.5

Kindle Edition, 24 pg.
2016

Read: July 12, 2016

17 years before the birth of Trinity . . .

That line right there? The setting, words 5-11 of the story, are what killed it for me. Killed it dead.

Why? This is the story about Trinity’s mother and father, their brief affair, setting off the events of Daughter of the Sun. Which means, unless one of the types of magic involved in worshiping Egyptian deities involves Seventeen Year Pregnancies, (I can’t imagine any mothers I know signing up for a religion that consigns them to pregnancies that last that long) this is a flawed and hastily edited story. There are other chronological issues, but let’s stick to that one.

Just when you’ve gotten comfortable in this story, just start getting to know the characters, the story just stops. It doesn’t end, it doesn’t resolve, it doesn’t leave on a cliff-hanger. It stops and says look for part 2! Are you kidding me?

This is racier than Daughter, easily. Where Daughter suggested, hinted, pointed at Trinity and Ara’s sexuality, this story throws it in your face. It’s not over the top, but it’s very tonally different.

It’s not all bad — the fling/affair/romance between Korian and Lucy had promise; we get the idea that Trinity’s beloved grandmother wasn’t really all the fantastic, but is more realistic; and the wheels are set in motion that will result in the events of Daughter in a mere 34 years or so.

If only this was a complete story. If only this actually made any kind of chronological sense. If only . . . I could’ve liked this as much as I liked the first novel. But, it didn’t. You’re better off not reading this one, folks. Check back for the second novel, but spend your time doing something else.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this story by the author in exchange for my honest thoughts. Much to her chagrin, no doubt.

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1 1/2 Stars

Do More Better by Tim Challies

Do More BetterDo More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity

by Tim Challies

PDF, 114 pg.
Cruciform Press, 2015
Read: December 11 – 12, 2015


Abraham Lincoln reportedly said about someone’s book, ” People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” If it were chronologically possible, he might have been talking about Do More Better. I am not the person who likes this sort of thing, but I have profited from reading some productivity-improvement books — this does not fit into that category. Could it help some people? I don’t see why not, but there’s a lot of people who won’t see their lives fitting into his mold (count me as one of them).

But honestly? I was turned off by the book before he started the practical section. I’m not going to give a detailed analysis, this isn’t the type of blog to do that, but I can give a thumbnail.

The first few chapters, the theory, or groundwork for his productivity guidelines are pretty questionable. Despite Challies’ proof-texting, I’m not convinced that any apostle or prophet encouraged anything along these lines (you could make the case that Solomon’s Proverbs could be used to these ends, not that I see Challies appealing to them). It looks so much like the kind of schemes we Americans (and, I suppose, Canadians) like — if I just do X, Y and Z, I can be whatever I want to be. If I eat all my veggies, especially the gross tasting ones, I can grow up big and strong. If I implement Method Q with Style R and Teaching S on a consistent basis, I’ll have well-adjusted, successful kids. And so on.

Chapter 5 on are so programmatic, so specific to his own scheme, that it’s restrictive (I’m sure he’d argue these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, only guidelines, but to implement them as he suggests, you’d pretty much have to treat them as hard and fast for however long it takes to set them as habits). I’d spend so much time for the first few weeks with his book in one hand and my Galaxy Note in the other, just making sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing as far as my Tasks, Calendar and Information were concerned — even before my weekly Reviews. How would I get anything else done? Good question. As an example — I’ve been an Evernote junkie for 4 years now (this was composed on Evernote), but to use it the way he wants me to would take a focused readjustment.

Lastly, this is the kind of book that can only be produced in the affluent West. More than one author/speaker has talked about “The Cave Test” when it comes to evaluating worship “styles” — if it can be duplicated in a cave while meeting in secret, it’s fitting for Christians. While reading this, I wondered just how many countries (or parts thereof) in this world, where practicing Challies’ principles would be possible. The fact that a large percentage of the Church could not (and has not) been able to think in these terms — much less put this into practice — says a lot about their role in the Christian life.

I suppose I should say something about the writing — it’s certainly competent, clear and succinct. But it’s not at all interesting. Can you write about productivity/time management/etc. in an interesting, even entertaining fashion? Sure — see Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way (not at all Rated G) as one example — but that’s not saying you have to. I don’t need to be entertained every second of the day, but if you want me to stay with a book (even a short one), you need to be more interesting than my microwave’s Instruction Manual. This was just so bland it was hard to keep focused.

I’m not suggesting that no one read this book, if reading the product description makes you think it could help you, I’m not going to argue. But I’m certainly not going to to suggest anyone go out and grab a copy — or even to borrow one. Do I think it’d be better if he removed his purported theological underpinnings from this? Yes. I’m also convinced it wouldn’t make a lick of difference to Chapters 5-10 in application (which speaks volumes).

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I received this book from the kind people of Cruciform Press for this review, I hope they don’t regret it.

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1 1/2 Stars

A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

A Working Theory of Love
A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

What is there to say about this disappointing mess? Well, I guess there’s that. Hutchins had aspirations, clearly, there was a lot of ambition behind the various storylines surrounding Neill Bassett here, and I really don’t think he lived up to them.

To really get into my problems with the book would take 1. Spoilers, and I really hate giving those kind of reviews. 2. Effort, and I simply cannot bring myself to care enough to put in the effort.

I couldn’t care about any of these characters — they just weren’t that interesting, developed or sympathetic. There were a couple I was tempted to care about, but he just didn’t give anyone enough depth to be invested in. A lot of plot issues could’ve been overcome with a couple of characters I could give a rip about.

The family storyline had the most promise, and fell the furthest short — well, at least the mother storyline. I don’t believe his mother, and everything seemed too pat at the end of the book regarding her story.

None of the romance stories worked for me — even the resolution Neill came to at the end seemed more like something imposed on the character by the author than anything that came naturally from the novel. The only evidence we really have to support any feelings Neill has for any of the women here comes from his narration — and doesn’t ring true. The evidence isn’t to be found in the story, or his action.

The A.I. test story is the most interesting — for the “father”-son interaction. Not for any of the philosophical questions it tries to raise about the nature of humanity, or love, etc. But it’s not enough to save this novel.

Not funny, not moving, not terribly interesting. Spare yourself, you have better things to do with your time.