Jaeth’s Eye by K.S. Villoso

Jaeth's EyeJaeth’s Eye

by K.S. Villoso
Series: The Agartes Epilogues, #1

Kindle Edition, 372 pg.
World Tree Publishing, 2014

Read: February 9 – 11, 2017


There is no doubt in my mind that Villoso had a very clear idea what was going on in these pages — but as I read, I felt like I was constantly e-evaluating what was going on — guessing what I was supposed to understand, and what was supposed to be being revealed to me (either where I was or in the future).

Not only did I not understand where I was, I couldn’t really tell you until the end how everything tied together and what the overall story was. I didn’t get the various cultures/ethnicities, I couldn’t tell how the various moves by the characters — or by those they were talking about — meant anything.

Now, I liked the characters — I liked the interactions, and every time that the story moved on I hated it, because I’d have to reorient myself. The characters seem to change almost every time I encountered them.

Glancing around the internet I see that I’m alone in this — every other reviewer seems to have really dug the way Villoso told the story. Great — that’s a relief. I’d rather that I missed out on something good than the alternative — that Villoso didn’t put out something good.

Well, there’s one thing that you cannot convince me belongs in this fantasy world — dime novels. Nope, that just doesn’t fit.

I’m going to give this a three because the individual scenes, the character moments were great — I just couldn’t put the pieces together. Go read someone else’s take on the book, it’s bound to be better than mine.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post — sorry it worked out this way for you, K. S.

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3 Stars

Legal Asylum: A Comedy by Paul Goldstein

Legal Asylum: A ComedyLegal Asylum: A Comedy

by Paul Goldstein

ARC, 284 pg.
Ankerwycke, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2017


Elspeth Flowers is a career-fixated, libidinous, and conniving Dean of a state college’s Law School. She’s been working for years to put herself and her school into the prime position to launch themselves into national prominence. The School is on the verge of breaking into the Top 5 of U.S. News & World Report‘s ranking of Law Schools — a first for any state school. When that happens, the prospects for the trailblazing leader that got them there are so bright they’d inspire a song by Timbuk3. While Elspeth wants the success for the School, what she wants more than that are for her post-academia plans for herself to come to fruition. But on the cusp of her anticipated victory there are a few things that stand in her way:

  • Cuckolded Assistant Dean Jimmy James Fleenor who keeps (initially inadvertently) blocking her cunning plans.
  • An Enterprising Mail Room clerk, Wendall Ward, who just might be the most influential person we meet in these pages — definitely the most on-the-ball Mail Room clerk since Brantley Foster.
  • A federal investigation into the business practices of the school’s biggest donor.
  • A handful of secrets that are enough to get the accreditation committee to look long and hard at everything around the school.

Did I forget to mention that the ABA’s Accreditation Committee shows up days before everything is going to fall into place for Elspeth? Not just that, but thanks to circumstances and Jimmy James’ fumbling machinations, the committee is full of people who aren’t going to march to the beat of Elspeth’s drum or respond to her wiles. Their arrival shows that Elspeth’s best laid plans may look impressive (especially to her), but in reality are merely a tower of Jenga blocks threatening to topple. The question is: can she keep things standing long enough to get her Top 5 ranking and seize the brass ring — or will she find herself standing in a pile of rubble?

I like to think I learned a lot about the state of legal education today from these pages — even if the details are exaggerated for the purposes of satire there’s enough truth at the heart of them to educate the reader. Competition can drive the most cut-throat amongst us to extremes — and when the rewards for winners are what they can be in this area of academia, there’s a lot of incentive for people to get very competitive.

This is Goldstein’s fifth novel (I believe), and it looks like this is the first that isn’t a straightforward legal thriller. The experience he gained from those other novels probably served him well as he attempts to stop into another, and far trickier, genre. His characters are well-developed and well-used, his pacing is good, and he reveals plot complication after plot complication like a pro. He doesn’t go for cheap laughs and doesn’t demean the targets of his satire — nor does he pull his punches. It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny book, but it’s amusing and he’ll elicit more than the occasional grin as you read it.

One thing I’ve noticed about satirical novels is that endings are the hardest part — I’ve stopped looking for strong endings in satirical novels, I just hope for not terrible endings. Plots just tend to get away from the authors — like Soap Box Derby cars with cheap brakes on steep hills. Things in Legal Asylum threatened to get away from Goldstein, but he largely managed a satisfactory ending. I’m not 100% convinced it wasn’t more by authorial fiat than by being true to the characters (particularly Elspeth), but it was close enough that I could swallow that last chapter without much difficulty.

Do I think I’d find this more amusing if I was in the legal profession, had some experience with Law School, or was closer to my time in higher education in general? You bet. Is all of the humor lost on me because none of the above apply? Nope — and the same is likely for other readers. This is a recommended read for those who like smart books — particularly those about smart people who don’t always act like they are. Strong writing, satire that’s on-target without being mean, good characters and an ending that’s pretty satisfying — it’s hard to ask for more

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author’s publicist in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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3 Stars

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017


I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.

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3 Stars

Storm Clouds Gathering by Gibson Michaels

Storm Clouds GatheringStorm Clouds Gathering

by Gibson Michaels
Series: The Sentience Trilogy, #1

Kindle Edition, 366 pg.
Arc Flash Publishing, 2014

Read: January 28 – 30, 2017


There’s a sentient, autonomous AI running around the computers that run (essentially) the State and Defense Department for the United Stellar Alliance. It’s trying to learn how to act more like humans while carrying out its duties — both official and unofficial. The unofficial duties include caring for (and learning from) the descendant of its creator — someone who wouldn’t be allowed access to the AI by anyone other the AI. There are some officers in the Intelligence wings of the Fleet who think that there might be something going on with the AI running FALCON, and set out to find it (if such is a thing).

Meanwhile, long-term stresses and problems within the United Stellar Alliance are coming to a head and the planets that make up the alliance are on the verge of declaring war on each other. The moves that the various entities make — and the politics behind the moves — fed into my political and historical interests (and other readers will resonate with them, too, I expect).

But here’s the best part — as interesting as all these things are — it’s not the main story. The main story involves an alien race, the Raknii. The Raknii are a warrior/hunter society, one who conquers pretty much everything they encounter — without mercy, without pity, without consideration for anything other than victory. But many of the leaders of this race are questioning this — and fear that the culture has gone astray. About this time, they discover a new race in the galaxy — one that will prove to be the ultimate test for the Raknii, which may help their culture get back on track. That race, of course, is humanity.

Each storyline worked for me in just the right way — the Civil War story was good, the parallels to the US Civil War were maybe overplayed, but they were used well enough that I’m not going to complain too loudly. The story of the AI learning about human cultures was nothing but fun — ditto for the efforts of Fleet Intelligence to get to the bottom of things. All this going on with a large-scale alien invasion looming unbeknownst to any human was a great touch — any of these would keep me reading, mixing them the way that Gibson did was icing on the cake.

The cast of characters in this is so extensive that I can’t really comment on them all — let’s just say that I liked just about ever character — no matte how they threaten the fate of humanity. About the only people I didn’t like were those from the Consortium (a group of businessmen that have more of an impact on the USA’s government than anyone appreciates) — and there’s just nothing redeemable about them (or frightfully interesting outside of their role as antagonists).

Michaels writes with heart, humor, hope and a pretty good attention to detail. There are plenty of infodumps throughout — especially concerning the Raknii, but also getting the reader brought up to speed with humanity’s politics/technology — but these are almost always woven in well with character moments and the over all narrative. I just had a blast reading this.

This is the first entry of a trilogy, and is one of those that doesn’t come to any real resolution as such. It’s more of a pause in the action before jumping into the next volume. I’m not crazy about those kind of books, but I get the thinking — the point is to move on to the next two books. Besides, I enjoyed this enough that all I want to do is move on, I can live without that temporary resolution. I’m giving this a 3-Star Rating, but do so in the expectation that the following entries will be ranked higher.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Mr. Michaels.

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3 Stars

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots & CrossesKnots & Crosses

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #1

Hardcover, 256 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1987

Read: February 1 – 4, 2016

Yet there had to be clues. There had to be. Rebus drank his coffee and felt his head spin. He was feeling like a detective in a cheap thriller, and wished that he could turn to the last page and stop all his confusion, all the death and the madness and the spinning in his ears.

After 21 novels and 30 years of being in print, I finally decided to give DS John Rebus and his author Ian Rankin a shot, it looks like they might stick around for a bit. Seriously, I’ve seen the names a lot over the last few years, and despite being unimpressed with his appearance in the Face/Off collection a couple of years ago (I’m sure I’ll change my opinion once I get to know Rebus a bit), when I needed a new mystery series to sink my teeth into, this looked like a good candidate.

In Knots & Crosses we meet DS John Rebus, a former SAS officer, now a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh. He’s scraping by, he has an ex-wife and daughter; a small, dusty apartment; stacks of books; a pretty successful brother that he really has no relationship with; a large capacity for drinking; a surly attitude; and a not-that-successful program to limit his smoking. On the whole, that sounds a lot like many other fictional detectives (police and otherwise) — but there’s something about him that doesn’t seem that cookie-cutter when you read him. Maybe it’s just Rankin’s writing, maybe there’s something else — I’m not sure yet, I’ll have a better idea in a book or two (which will also give Rankin the time to distinguish Rebus). There is one other thing that separates him, but that’s the crux of this book, so I won’t get into it.

There’s a serial killer at loose in Edinburgh, killing girls and sending little notes to Rebus, taunting him about it. Sadly, Rebus doesn’t realize that for quite some time. Whoops. Not that there’s any reason for him to have seen the link, really — the killer was really more clever than he needed to be on that front. Rebus is part of the army of police working on his case, while dealing with some personal demons of his own — hopefully, the latter doesn’t prevent him from doing his part to help with the former.

The best part of the book for me was Rankin’s writing — the book is full of great sentences. Not so much that it distracts from the characters or story, but enough that you can admire his prose while enjoying the rest. This book wasn’t intended to be the beginning of a series, and doesn’t really feel like one — it’s a character study (probably a couple of characters, really), but one that’s rich enough that Rankin could come back to Rebus and build. There’s no way that future cases will be solved the way that this one was, this isn’t a prototype for Rebus’ methods, but an introduction to the detective and his world.

I liked Rebus — well, not “liked,” really. But as a character, he’s someone I want to spend more time with. Like Harry Bosch, he doesn’t seem to be a likable person, but frequently, those are the kind of guys you like reading about. I also liked that he wasn’t some sort of super cop. At one point, he’s described as not “a very good” cop, merely “a good one” (or something quite like that, I don’t have the book on me to get the exact wording). I imagine that over another 20 novels, he’ll get better — and I look forward to seeing that growth.

I really wish I’d known what “Noughts and Crosses” was before the killer mentioned it late in the book, sending me to google. I’m not sure it would’ve improved the book much for me, but I’d have appreciated aspects more and when I should’ve. Stupid “two countries separated by the same language”-thing….

Anyway, a solid beginning to the series, and more importantly, a good read for those who like police procedurals. I’ve already got the sequel on my shelf and will be getting to it in a week or so.

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3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Serengeti by J.B. Rockwell

SerengetiSerengeti

by J.B. Rockwell
Series: Serengeti, #1

Kindle Edition, 288 pg.
Severed Press, 2016

Read: February 7 – 8, 2016


Serengeti is the AI that runs/inhabits a Valkyrie class warship. She and the rest of the fleet of the Meridian Alliance are hunting for ships belonging to the Dark Star Revolution. Sadly, the hunt finds them — but the DSR ships were waiting for them. The ensuing battle doesn’t go well for the Alliance — and Serengeti barely survives, and the crew aboard her is decimated.

They escape the scene of the battle, but don’t end up where they’re supposed to be — and so Serengeti begins her trek to return to the fleet, limping along while hoping her remaining crew in the lifeboat will make it. She and a couple of repair robots make the long, limping journey alone — relying only on each other, some surprising ingenuity and hope to make it.

To help her — both for companionship and because she needs some better help, Serengeti upgrades a robot friend and the two quickly learn to rely on each other for moral support, encouragement and basic needs. It’s a pretty cool story in that way, and not one I can remember seeing anything like before. It’s like the Firefly episode, “Out of Gas,” starring a non-bickering C3-PO and R2-D2. But not at all, really.

There’s some humor, a lot of heart, and some good SF action to be found in these pages. I’m not sure what else to say without spoiling it, so I’ll keep this brief. This is a solid SF adventure with some surprisingly sympathetic AI protagonists. It’s the first of a duology — and I fully intended on getting my hands on part two pronto.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — I appreciate it.

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3 Stars

Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

ChameleonChameleon

by Zoe Kalo

Kindle Edition
Zoe Kalo, 2017

Read: January 27 – 28, 2016


Paloma is a few months shy of turning 18, graduating high school, and moving on with her life when people at her old school have had enough — she’s expelled from school and home. Her mother and step-father deposit her in a convent school with a mix of the privileged and orphans. Isolated, rejected, and defiant, Paloma determines that she’ll endure the experience no matter what it takes.

At that time however, she hadn’t considered the types of nuns she’ll meet, the kind of peers she has — and the very real possibility that she’ll meet a ghost (and maybe more than one). The nuns are a mix of judgmental and prejudiced against her; and welcoming and encouraging Her peers are largely a different assortment — some seem to be conscientious and studious, spiritual and compassionate, or spiteful and catty; most turn out to be everything they seem not to be. Paloma quickly (and despite herself becomes part of a group and finds that to be both a comfort and a source of distress. The ghost seems to be . . . well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Paloma’s life up to this point hasn’t been that easy — there are some dark things in her past, and your idea of what some of those are is constantly evolving and you understand her better and she reveals more about herself. As you learn about her, she learns about her friends and “friends.” There’s more going on at the convent than many would guess, and many of those things will be exposed in one way or another before the reader finishes Chameleon.

My wife and kids have been watching a lot of Chopped lately, so you’ll have to forgive me for this metaphor: but Chameleon does a good job of using all the ingredients in the basket — paranormal elements (or are they?); complex female characters; even more complex relationships between them; a handful of mysteries; complicated family dynamics; and so on — combines them in some interesting ways, but the end result is a little undercooked. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but as I’ve thought about this book the last few days, that’s what kept coming to mind — if Kalo had given this another revision or two to smooth out some of the rough spots, better develop a few scenes, characters and relationships, this could’ve been much better. It’s a good, enjoyable book — but it’s not as good as it could have been.

I’m not sure what the point of setting the story in 1973 was — other than it being safely on the other side of PCs, the Internet, etc., I guess. It doesn’t hurt or help the story — I just think that for a setting as specific as that, there should be a clear advantage.

It’s a touch melodramatic for me with characters that need a little more time in the oven — but it did what it set out to do. Chameleon tells the story of this group of girls in a way that keeps you guessing, on your toes and turning pages. I anticipate the target audience will respond to things I didn’t here, but even for those of us a couple of decades past that target, this is an enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Ms. Kalo.

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3 Stars