Reviews and Features
Occasionally I review movies or other author’s books on this blog and I’ve preserved those posts on this page, along with features about other authors, and placed them with the most recent first. One of my resolutions for 2018 is to review more books here.
I am interested reading speculative fiction of all sorts, including science fiction and fantasy. I have a fondness for metaphysical tales and particularly like stories with a strong female protagonist. I will consider novels of almost all types that relate to the general theme of world peace.
I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review books about vampires or zombies.
I post my reviews on Good Reads and Library Thing, and may also post them on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and Smashwords if the book is variable through these vendors. If you would like your novel to be considered for a review please contact me at Lola (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.
February 8, 2018
Review summary: This is an impressive book, but not an easy read. If a reader is willing to make the effort to flow with this unusual story, I believe they will find themselves haunted by it, in the way only a fine novel can manage. I give it a 9/10. Details are below.
About this book: Klaus Werner travels to the Algerian Sahara to research a book on desert insects. He is billeted in a local monastery, but upon arrival he finds it empty of its inhabitants. He soon discovers that it is a recent crime scene.
About the author: Leslie Croxford is a British author and Senior Vice-President of the British University in Egypt. Born in Alexandria, he obtained a doctorate in History from Cambridge University. He has written one novel, Soloman’s Folly (Chatto & Windus), and is completing his third. He and his wife live in Cairo.
My full review: Leslie Croxford has written a book imbued with the feel of the dessert and buoyed by his deep knowledge of the region. As I followed along on one man’s odyssey to find himself after the death of his wife, his personal mirages of the mind and heart competed in my head with those of the world’s most vast arid region.
What I liked best:
- I’m not generally big on description, but the contrast between the sparse, often brusque dialog and the vivid verbal painting of the Sahara made me feel like I was there, experiencing days of solitude punctuated by stark conversations with others who seldom spoke.
- The main character’s earnest search to understand his past and discover who he is are woven well into the action. The hero is perceptive and honest with himself, making him fine company for all 280 pages.
- Occasional clever observations about humanity add a much needed touch of subtle humor. A few of my favorites are at the end of this post.
- Bonus points have been given for the delicate yet effective handling of both the sex and violence.
What I liked least:
- One significant event in the narrative is never explained well enough for me, and the little explanation it does receive contradicts other parts of the plot. It’s a minor but irritating flaw.
- I’m definitely not a fan of the very end. I will not give anything away, but only say that there were several possible variations on it that would have fit the spirit of the story as well or better, in my opinion, and been more satisfying to and even respectful of the reader.
In spite of these two issues, the book is well worth reading for all those who yearn to experience other lives and stranger worlds inside the covers of the novels they choose.
It’s About What You Believe
July 15, 2017
I learned to love Kurt Vonnegut decades ago, based on reading only six of his earliest and most famous works. Much later, I tried to read Breakfast of Champions and couldn’t get through it. I never even tried his later novels. He’d changed. I’d changed. Or maybe, I’d just gotten from him the one message that I most needed to hear.
For all that I loved his cynicism and his humor, this one quote was it. The words have stuck with me through decades of living.
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” — God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
That’s right. All that wit and imagination of his, and this was my main take-away. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that was disrespectful, although I think Mr. Vonnegut wouldn’t have minded a bit.
I’m attempting to summarize what I do believe in and it’s been an interesting exercise. Am I dying soon? Planing to run for public office? No, neither. I just really liked the movie “Wonder Woman” and it got me thinking.
What do I believe in so strongly that I want it to shape my behavior?
At this point, you might be concerned that too much of my personal philosophy comes from science fiction, but I’ll argue back. Stories of a speculative nature throw out a lot of societal constraints found in other frameworks, making it a fine realm in which to develop one’s code of ethics. It is absolutely where I have developed mine.
And I have the fictional Eliot Rosewater to thank for my most central belief. If I can’t be anything else, I want to be kind.
“The Martian” and why do we like what we like?
February 14, 2016
When the motion picture academy opted to nominate 8 movies for best picture a few years ago instead of five, I was delighted. I enjoy watching the lengthy spectacle every year for reasons I don’t understand, and it is always more fun if I’ve seen at least one of the movies. Or at least heard of one. Some years are better than others and often I develop a deep emotional attachment with a certain movie. Last year it was The Imitation Game, the only one I’d seen by March, but I loved it no less for its lack of competition in my mind. Okay — maybe it is not entirely healthy to get so wrapped up in which picture wins, but hey, I live in a culture where fans actually cry when their sports teams lose, so cut me some slack.
This year, I have another such favorite. Science Fiction fanatic that I am, it is not surprising that I am cheering on “The Martian”. However, I’ve seen not one but two of the movies on the list this year, and I liked the other as well. Tom Hanks’ quietly ethical insurance lawyer had me rooting for him, and left me wondering why I preferred “The Martian” to “Bridge of Spies.” It’s not a better movie really. So what gives?
It’s back to the old empathy thing, I think. I don’t have a personal link with spies or lawyers or the history of the cold war, but the astronaut wannabe in me identified so much with the man left behind. I’ve lived in Houston, toured NASA, read countless things about manned missions to Mars as background for my own book d4. But it goes further than that.
I am in awe of Andy Weir, who wrote the well researched and highly accurate book about an astronaut stranded on Mars. He was a little known science fiction author, well, just like me. Word is that he got frustrated having his stories turned down by publishers, and that in 2011 he started posting chapters of “The Martian” to his website instead. How could I not love this guy? Of course I want his movie to win.
There is another odd link, one that might even be less obvious but stronger. I have used music in each of my five books, and spent a lot of time selecting the songs that my heroes would like and possibly turn to as they developed their super powers. I have this goofy attachment to all 54 songs. So I’m watching the end of “The Martian,” thankful that the author went ahead and let me have a feel good movie without the need to kill off a character or two, and then it started.
One of the most pivotal songs referred to in x0 is Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I have listened to that song countless times in the past four years as I wrote, revised and blogged about my book. And there it was! Someone had the good sense to let the song run in its entirety all the through the credits and by the end I was squirming in my seat at what a perfect addition it was to the movie. In fact, I wondered why it wasn’t included in the body of the movie itself. Was it an editing choice by the director or a stipulation by the musician? Either way, the song clinched it for me. “The Martian” has got to win.
Which brings me to the topic of personal taste. My preferences are not about how well done an artistic endeavor is. I like to think that some amount of quality is needed for me to like something, but it’s more than that. It includes what I am familiar with, what I understand, and what I enjoy. I like movies about basically good people that end well. No, I didn’t enjoy the Sopranos or Breaking Bad. On the other hand, I wasn’t a huge fan of any Rocky movie and probably won’t see Creed because I also like stories about science and smart people and care very little about sports. I do like to be surprised (“Sixth Sense” was fun) but not jerked around so much I get lost. I don’t like the disgusting. You get the idea. It isn’t about quality, it’s about me. And I suspect that when you pick things you like, it’s about you.
Are you an action-loving Mad Max Fury Road type? History? Wilderness survival? Maybe you are rooting for The Revenant. I don’t think there is a right answer here. Academy members are supposed to weigh in on the objective merits, but we consumers get to like what we like. It’s an important rule for a writer to remember, when she’s on the other side and a reader is judging her creations. Take a breath. Don’t take it personally. Everyone gets to like what they like.
One thing I do like is this video of Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive” superimposed with a clips of a a graceful yet vulnerable figure skater. If you are anything like me, it will have you standing up and yelling “Yes” by the end and possibly even twirling around yourself a few times while you belt out a “I Will Survive” or two along with Gloria. It makes me think of staying alive on Mars. It makes me believe that no matter how many bad reviews I get, I will survive as a writer. It makes me feel good.
And if your not anything like me? Well, that is fine too.
Come dance on Callisto
Oct 29, 2012
Join me in a sneak peak at another world. Callisto. Jupiter’s second largest moon. Rob Lopez writes that it is “Cold enough to suck the heat out of any pressure suit, and scoured by lethal levels of radiation every sixteen days as it orbits through Jupiter’s magnetotail. Nobody in their right mind would want to live there.”
But, in Rob’s newly created world in his latest book “Even the Dead Dance to Live”, people do live there. Read on for the rest of the book’s blurb, a little bit more about Rob, and a few questions Rob answered just for readers of this blog.
“Humanity built its first space city there. And for a while it looked like a good prospect. Mankind’s stepping stone to the stars. It’s all gone wrong though. Civilization is crumbling. And the cycle of life and death is whirling faster than was ever intended. Survival is a delicate balancing act that requires soft and careful steps.
Enter Shakespeare Cruz, a man on the run from his own dark past. He doesn’t do soft. And he’s anything but delicate. He’s got a price on his head, enemies on his tail and an ever tightening noose around his neck. He’s got a warlord who wants him to keep his appointment with death and a ghost who wants him to fulfill an impossible obligation. It’s not clear that either of them has picked the right man for the job. The time has come for him to make his choice however, and he’s got to make it fast. At stake is the soul of a city, the memory of a woman, and the life of one little girl. Only one thing is certain – it’s going to get ugly.”
“I got to work on my second novel. Then my third novel, then my fourth. Were they any good? No, but learning the hard way was a family motto by now and I gradually picked up the art of wrestling my dreams into paragraphs and tacking them together into a coherent form. My fifth novel, Even the dead dance to live, is the result, brought to you by the technology of the web and available on Kindle at Amazon here.
It’s a fairly urban novel, set as it is in a colony city, and dancing, jiving or ‘ducking and diving’ are common street terms for simply getting by in the face of things you can’t control, so I used that as a motif. I did a lot of research into conflict zones around the world, like Mogadishu, Beirut and Baghdad, and you just find these people who, no matter how bad things get, still have to get on with life. I tried to capture some of that in the novel, with different characters reacting in different ways to their environment, but all essentially seeking to do the same thing: survive. As for the part the dead play in all this, that’s a bit of sub-plot and back-story that will only make sense in the last line of the book.What’s the next project? Will there be a more action on Callisto?
Yes, most definitely. Even as I type, there are several characters from the first novel struggling through the chaos and the anarchy, their lives on the line and with time running out. As it undoubtedly always is . When I completed the first novel I thought I had finished with Callisto, but Callisto clearly hadn’t finished with me, and there turned out to be more to tell. The next novel will probably be titled, There Are No Angels In Heaven, and it’s looking like a late 2013 completion date. But a lot can still happen, so don’t hold me to that.I read your author page at http://www.amazon.com/Rob-Lopez/e/B007SA1LIK and had to laugh. It is true that people hardly ever read these things. You say that you aspire to write “kick-ass action with interesting characters and a little more depth”. This sounds like a very good plan. So which of these did you think “Even The Dead Dance To Live” achieves most effectively? Or is there something else entirely about the book that you like better?
Oh. My. God. Someone read that! Do you ever have that moment when, after making a glib, throw-away comment, someone decides to hold you to it? No, me neither. Because I thought about every word of that statement carefully… well, sort of. But actually, it’s not so much a plan as a description of what I think Even The Dead is. It’s certainly kick-ass. Quite violent in fact, so perhaps not for the faint hearted. The characters are certainly something I work hard on. They own the story. Science fiction is frequently accused of producing wafer-thin characters that are just cyphers for some nerdy concept, and I really, really wanted to avoid that. If it’s not really about the characters, their dilemmas, traumas, decisions, then I’m just not interested. Getting the characters right is what keeps me up at night. As for the little more depth – well, it’s not a Literary novel, but I did want more than just a series of actions. As reviewers have noted, it’s not a black and white, good guys versus bad guys book. I wanted some complexity in the character motivations, but also in the settings that they have to wade through. I don’t like the simplistic political backdrops that, again, are too frequent in sci-fi. Life’s never that simple, and I wanted to express a little of that. Not too much, as I’ve got to think about the pace. But enough to make the place feel lived in and real. As for aspiration – yes, I aim to write more like that, and to get even better at it. But that too is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. C’est la vie.
Would you like to visit “The Palace of Eternity?”
Many of us share a fascination for books that cross genre lines, and I thought long and hard about whether to label my own magical realism collection as science fiction or as fantasy, knowing that each genre’s followers have fairly specific expectations.
This is why new indie writer Andre Jones has my staunch admiration. He has written a three novel series that flies in the face of genre classifications, with multiple story lines firmly rooted in both science fiction and fantasy. Check out the information below on both Andre and on his first novel “The Palace of Eternity” and for a brief interview with this author.
You’d think riding wyverns, and being in the company of a shape-changer and an armoured telepath, you’d be safe enough. Prophecy, however, always turns one reality into another.
Shak’aran is a far away world full of exotic beings intrigue and magic. So how did humans get there? Leonie is a feline thief, down on her luck and fighting for survival in the uncaring city of Delta. Various cults are after her, as is the Jart’lekk, the local assassins guild. And this is a good day. In her travels to assist Fieron, her shape-changer companion, Leonie learns more about herself and her past. She also gains many enemies … even the dead ones still come after her. But, regardless of her prowess, her uncanny abilities (and being able to ride wyverns) magic is the cause of her undoing … on this world, at least.
A friend introduced him to role playing games – and NOT those of the computer variety – real ones. As most gamers had no doubt realised at some point, a new gaming system could be designed with better rules (and omitting all those ‘nuisance’ rules). Andre developed such a system, then decided it needed its own world to test it. Joining the Navy put a dampener on the this scheme, so all the details were to be included in a book … or so he thought. Also being an avid scifi reader, it was only natural to include aspects of scifi.
‘In the Fullness of Time’ is a trilogy involving fantasy and futuristic Earth. Palace of Eternity is book one, Shadow of the Tower is book two and Depths of Time (working title) is the third and final book.
When pushed, he can’t decide who, if any, writer influenced him the most, but the names of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Harry Harrison adorn his bookshelves along with Katherine Kerr, Stephen Donaldson and Robin Hobb, just to name a few. He now lives in Victoria, Australia, and shares his life with his Scottish wife, daughter and two manic British Shorthair cats. When not writing, he still gets involved with Navy activities, permaculture and designing his straw bale home on his soon-to-be self-sufficient farm.
Sherrie: Have you found it difficult to blend the two different genres of fantasy and science fiction?
Andre: Maybe because I love Science Fiction and Fantasy so much, to me there was no border and therefore no difficulty. I know that may sound crazy to some – magic is fantasy and has no correlation with real science (so how can they be regarded as ‘the same’?) – but through my novels (more specifically in Shadow of the Tower) I tried this analogy: there are natural forces in the universe that, when harnessed correctly – can give you a desired outcome (ie harnessing electricity to give you light). A science-based civilisation uses technology to do this – making wires, filament, bulbs etc. In a low-tech world, ‘magic’ is prominent, they’ve learnt to utilise esoteric means to convert the natural forces to get a desired outcome. But you have to believe 100% that it will work (as well as knowledge and training). A scientist and a sourcer are one and the same – they just used different tools.So, other than the method of hanessing the forces – the results are the same. Its simply that attitude/belief-system of the user that determines what method to use. Spoiler alert – based on that premise, you just might find magic going head-to-head with hi-tech weapons and gadgetry on a futuristic earth … and winning.
Come take a Journey to Light
Aug 6, 2012
Fellow indie author and kindred spirit Bob Craton has written a fascinating trilogy about four pacifists who must join forces to save their world from a brutal empire. I enjoyed the first novel in his series recently, and below I share the synopsis and Bob’s bio with you.
Journey to Light: Part I of The High Duties of Pàçia: Imagine a world populated with the entire spectrum of humanity. Good people, ordinary citizens of small cities, fear attack from brutal and powerful men called the Zafiri. Great Cities are divided between the decadence and splendor of the wealthy and the deprivation and squalor of the poor. An organization of women known as the Sistéria is widely known but little understood. Its members have the talent to use ‘effect,’ the ability the read and control the emotions of others, and sometimes to have prescient visions of the future. And people in Pàçia, a land with an ancient history set apart from the rest of the world, were once gentle, kind and peaceful. Their leaders did not have the power to rule or command; instead they had duties to fulfill – High Duties which for millennia helped make the world a better place. That is, until twelve years earlier when the Zafiri invaded Pàçia with a massive army, capturing the beautiful city Abbelôn and crushing the gentle people. Now the rest of the world is threatened by more war and destruction.
Then an extraordinary young woman named Sistére Graice crosses paths with a man unlike any she has met before. Her ‘effect,’ which has always worked on everyone else, has no power over him. Known only as Holder, the man has no memory and doesn’t know his own identity. Graice’s mentor Sybille hires him as a guide for a journey she and Graice must make, partly so they can keep him close until they discover his secret. As they travel, Graice tries to help Holder recover his memory. While he is in a drugged sleep, she ‘sees’ into his mind and discovers small fragments of past events, all involving a beautiful golden-haired woman. When he wakes, Holder still does not remember these scenes but Graice gains clues about his identity. The women now know who he is (or was) but do not tell him. He must remember on his own for the recovery to succeed.
In the backwaters of the land meanwhile, a boy age thirteen travels with his aunt (his sole surviving relative) hiding from enemy spies by moving constantly and using false names and disguises. When he complains that he knows nothing about his parents, she reveals his family name and bits of its history. It’s and old and honored lineage. Later, she gives him an amulet and implies he will wear it someday. It’s an Emblem of High Duty, she says. His grandfather and mother had held two of the three High Duties before they died.
A girl named Caelia, also thirteen, hides from the same enemy. She lives with her parents and many other refugees in a cavern where her father searches for secrets of the Anziên people, a civilization which collapsed 3,500 years earlier. Named after a legendary heroine from antiquity, Caelia is unusually bright and mature for her age and her shining red-gold hair sets her apart. Girls with that hair color are born once in a millennium, people say, and everyone in the community loves Caelia. At this point, however, even the girl herself does not know why they do. When she wants to leave the cave on an adventure, everybody objects but no one can say no to her. She gets her way and departs with a trading expedition.
Along their separate paths, Graice and Holder are attacked by a monstrous creature; outlaws kidnap Caelia and drag her into a forest wilderness; and enemy soldiers close in on the boy, causing him to flee for his life. Not only do all survive but the encounters also reveal hidden secrets. The story continues in Return of the High Protector: Part II of the High Duties of Pàçia.
Biography of the Author
When he was a child, Bob Craton’s teachers often remarked (not always favorably) about his day-dreaming. He spent much of his time lost in his own imagination, often creating elaborate elementary school tall-tales, and the habit never went away as he grew up. Coming of age in the 1960s filled his head with dreams of saving the world and having a career in academia. Then the real world closed in. With a family to support, he took a job at the corporate grindstone, just temporarily until he could get back to grad school and earn the PhD he desired. Somehow ‘temporarily’ turned into thirty-three years of stress and boredom but he kept entertaining himself by creating stories inside his head. Interestingly (well, he hopes it’s interesting anyway), his best ideas came to him while he was stuck in rush-hour traffic during his daily commute.
At age fifty-seven, he retired early (a euphemism for ‘got laid off) and had time to put his tales on ‘paper’ (an ancient product now replaced by digital electronics). The ideas in his head were all visual, like scenes from a movie, and as began writing, he learned to translate visual into verbal and improve his skills. Or at least, that’s what he says. He admits that sometimes minor characters – or some who weren’t included in the original plan at all – demand attention. Frequently, he agrees with them and expands their roles. Many people believe he is bonkers for believing that fictional characters talk to him, but he calls it creativity and remains unrepentant.
Consider entering the world of “The Green Stone Tower”
Jul 2, 2012
x0 is delighted to feature another new fantasy author this week. Would you like to enter yet another new world? Consider that of “The Green Stone Tower”.
Long ago in the legendary time, at the very dawn of civilized days, the Old Gods sang the Green Stone Towers into being as bridges between two worlds. By means of the Towers the workers of magic, descended of the gods, escaped the wrath of the rest of mankind. Into the land of Faerie the mages fled, the gods followed, and the doors of the Towers were sealed behind them. In the ages after, the makers of magic evolved into the immortal faerie-folk. Now once in a while a faerie will brave the Green Stone Towers and visit the world they left behind, often for love’s sake, if a mortal takes their fancy.”
Desires Revealed by Rebeka Harrington
Rebeka Harrington caught my attention on a writer’s website by saying she liked to cruise the internet as her alter ago Bektamun, a 3000 year old vampire with a penchant for revealing secrets. Bek (and Bektamun) have just released a second novel and she has agreed to answer a few questions about her new book right here on this website! Read on.
Escape from the religious war leads Nicole and her family to the most unlikely rescuer, a vampire. Nicole discovers love and a new life, but finds herself inexplicably drawn in to a private war between her protector and an extremist faction of vampires. The deeper she gets involved in the vampire world the higher the price she will have to pay to obtain her desires.
Rejoin “Vampires Revealed” narrator Bektamun, in Paris 1572, at the height of the religious war between Catholics and Huguenots, the day of the St Bartholomew’s Massacre. Discover the story behind her rescue of the Gervais family and how Nicole became her Avetser and was made vampire. Desires Revealed will also introduce you to Oskar, leader of the Eleiveb.
Desires Revealed purchase details:
Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/174232
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Desires-Revealed-ebook/dp/B008DBGM2S
I don’t really like to think of this as a series, more a collection of similarly themed stories. And I admit, that is probably just me trying to dodge the pressure of having to write a series.With Desires Revealed I’ve tried to make it as stand-alone as possible, simply because it is a very different style of writing from the first. Most people are going to like one more than the other. If you’ve read the first one then you will likely join the dots quicker, but it’s not essential to be able to enjoy the story.
That’s a tough one, but ultimately I suppose I would have to say yes. One of the key concepts in the book is the role and expectations women had to face during that era.
Warning: this a major spoiler if you haven’t read the first book. My vampires were born and descended from humans. Now go and read the first book to find out what other vampire revelations I have in store for you 🙂
Rebeka Harrington Author Biography
Raised in country Victoria, Rebeka started her writing career working for the local newspaper as a teenager. While she decided not to pursue this as a career, she has always enjoyed writing and being creative With so many varied interests and eccletic taste in most things, Rebeka enjoys incorporating all of them in her writing. She particularly enjoys writing about vampires. Rebeka seeks to define and explain vampires in a way not done before. This was achieved with her debut title “Vampires Revealed”. Following titles revolve around exploring the world and characters created in her first release.Currently Rebeka lives in Melbourne with her “demented” but lovable cat, dividing her time between writing and managing a small boutique entertainment agency.