Scattered Thoughts May 2013 Book Reviews

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mayIt was a great month in book reviews.  While most of the book fell into the contemporary fiction category, there was a book in just about every genre.  One of my favorites this month was Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler, a science fiction gem of a story from Riptide Publishing. I have also found new authors like Sue Brown and her outstanding The Sky Is Dead.  Don’t pass either of these by. And if you loved Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov, then you won’t want to miss the followup novel, City Mouse (Country Mouse #2).  I thought it was even better than its predecessor.

There are stand alone stories and new books in continuing series. This includes one series (The Night Wars) that I will be reevaluating on the basis of the third book in the series, a real stunner called The Hellfire Legacy by Missouri Dalton.  This is a terrific book and I had not rated the second book very highly.  Now I am going back in June, reading all three together and write a  review of the series in June (and probably a mea culpa or two on my part as well).

The titles are linked to my reviews.  Really, there is something for everyone here.  Here are May 2013’s book reviews in order of rating:

5 Star Rating:

City Mouse (Country Mouse #2) by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov (contemporary)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler (Science Fiction)
The Sky Is Dead by Sue Brown (contemporary)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:
Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) by S.J. Frost
Bad Attitude (Bad in Baltimore #3) by K.A. Mitchell (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Bullheaded by Catt Ford (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Closet Capers Anthology (4.25 stars) mixture
Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by J.L. Merrow
Leaving Home (Home #4) by TA Chase (4 stars)
Moments by R.J. Scott (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Never A Hero (a Tucker Springs novel) by Marie Sexton (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
Night of Ceremony (Notice #4) by M. Raiya (4.5 stars) (fantasy, romance)
Noah by Ben Ryder (4 stars) (contemporary)
Shy by John Inman (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Still by Mary Calmes (4.75 stars) (contemporary)
The Hellfire Legacy (The Night Wars #3) by Missouri Dalton (4.5 stars) (supernatural)
The Isle of…Where? by Sue Brown (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
The Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger (4.75 stars) (contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:
Chateau D’Eternite by Ariel Tachna (3.75 stars) Fantasy
Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling (3.75 stars) (contemporary)
His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane (3 stars) (supernatural)
It Takes Practice by Willa Okati (3 stars) contemporary

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

 

Review: Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler

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Rating: 5 stars

Fragile BondSniper Sergeant Marc Staille and his trusty rifle, Mat are on duty, taking down the tawnies, the native dirt-colored predators that live on the on the desert planet of Horace Deuce-Niner targeted for mining by his employer.  His job is to go in and take out any non sentient indigenous creatures that might threaten their mining operation.  Everything seems normal until his group of snipers is ambushed by the same tawnies they have been hunting, and Marc is taken captive. To Marc’s anguish and surprise, the so called “tawnies” are sentient natives, not mere “fauna” as had been determined, and he is now seen as a murderer as well as invader.

Commander Hamm Orsonna, leader of the fefa clan, had a desperate mission.  Take one of the invaders alive so it could be interrogated and that mission had to succeed at all costs.  Hamm found it hard to believe that such hairless, frail creatures could be the cause of so much death and destruction, mostly from those little metal sticks they carried.  At the high cost of the death of most of his squad, Hamm captured an invader, and found a surprise for both of them.  The furrs as Hamm’s species are called use pheromones (along with fang and claws) to control and dominate others, and when Hamm uses it on Marc, the results are quick and effective submission.  But there is surprise on Hamm’s side as well.   Marc smells different from the other invaders, a smell that compels Hamm to protect him even from other members of the fefa clan.

It soon becomes clear to Marc and Hamm, that the future of both their species might lie in their hands. it will depend on their communication skills and the fragile bond they have established with each other if they are to find a way for them to find a lasting peace and perhaps even love.

What a stunning book!  Fragile Bond is a science fiction tour de force from author Rhi Etzweiler, an amazing example of world building and character development.  Usually I start by breaking out the components of the book that I liked best but that won’t work here.  I found every aspect of Fragile Bond to be just superior, from the tight, suspenseful narrative to the superlative “alien” voice and mind set created for Hamm and his race.  I save my 5 star rating for books I want to gush over and reread often.  I want to do both for Fragile Bond.

Since we have to start somewhere, let’s start with Etzweiler’s world building.  So many things can go wrong when an author starts to create an alien world that will seem both familiar and alien at the same time.  The world must pull in the reader by its believable aspects yet still make us feel as though we are on an alien planet.  And we totally get that here.  When we first meet Sniper Marc Staille, he is on on the desert planet of Horace Deuce-Niner killing tawnies with amazing accuracy, watching them explode in a pink mist one after the other.  He is dispassionate, a soldier doing his duty, pleased with his marksmanship and his weapon, Mat.   We see the planet and its flora and fauna through his eyes, an important viewpoint because he gives the reader the story’s “human” voice.  He is, at first, our most identifiable connection and his horror at finding out that the “beasts” he has been killing so unmercifully are sentient beings becomes our horror too.  It is also his first step away from the soldier/mercenary life and mindset he has been living.  The more that Marc (and the reader) learns about the race that has captured him and its culture, the more growth he shows as an individual. This journey adds such depth and soul to the story that it alone would make the story memorable.  But Etzweiler goes further, taking us into the minds and culture of the fefa clan.

Commander Hamm Orsanna is another outstanding creation.  A race of felines or furrs, their culture is both advanced enough to have implanted linguistic translators and primal still to use pheromones to control and dominate other members of the clan, and claws and fang when pheromones aren’t sufficient.  They are a race trying to move beyond their animalistic behaviors and this first “meeting” will place untold stress and loss on beings already under duress.  Added to the anguish of the fefa clan, is the huge loss of life that Marc and his group have inflicted with their weaponry, picking them off with the ease shooting tin cans off a fence.  Etzweiler does a fantastic job of giving Hamm and his clan an alien voice and a language not always translatable, even by their own devices.  The author flips the point of view back and forth between Hamm and Marc in a necessary interplay of cultures, mission goals and racial outlook.  We are given an event or situation and then see it from both points of view, a neat balancing act that works to connect us intimately with the characters, all of the characters, and invest us emotionally in the precarious outcome on planet Horace Deuce-Niner.

And thanks to a tightly woven narrative, the suspense and anxiety levels continue to build throughout the story, the outcome is never assured of a happy ending.    Marc has a huge human contingent behind him, and although he says that the fact that an indigenous culture exists on the planet will halt things, the reader also has a vast store of knowledge of situations where that fact has rarely stopped humans at all.  Etzweiler uses this human history to ramp up the tension, as misunderstandings and events start to escalate things out of control.  I love that Etzweiler consistently uses our own knowledge of human history to increase our anxiety over the outcome of the clash of cultures and material needs while bringing us into the side of the race being invaded and exploited.

There are some wonderful secondary characters on both sides who enriched the story by their  presence and made me want to know their  history too. The author gives us at least one more indigenous races while hinting of others, that live on the planet that I wanted to know more of as well. And finally,we had a glimpse of a fascinating backstory of Marc’s employers, the trace supplied had me craving more and speculating wildly on their origin.  But did I feel that I needed any of that to fill out Fragile Bond? No, it wasn’t needed, and might have distracted us from the focus of the story.

Should this story be classified as a m/m romance?  Perhaps. There is a m/m romance here but as part of a larger story and with little sexuality attached to it.  It doesn’t need it.  This is powerful storytelling.  We have two races and two male beings meeting under the worst of circumstances.  That most primal of influences,pheromones,  will bring them together and start them on a path to mutual understanding and perhaps even love.  The story is told concisely, beautifully, and in such a way that this world and everyone you will meet on it will linger in your minds and hearts for some time to come.  Does something this great really need a category?  I don’t think so.  But it does need readers, lots of them to pass the word along.  Pick it up, immerse yourself in this world, and become a fan yourself.  I remain one and hope that someday the author will return to this planet for another walk on the alien wild side.

Cover art Petite-Madame VonApple is gorgeous and subtle.

Book Details:

ebook, 175 pages
Published February 18th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1937551911 (ISBN13: 9781937551919)
edition languageEnglish
url:http://www.rhianonetzweiler.com/fragile-bond.html

Riptide Publishing buy link

The Week Ahead in Reviews and Scattered Thoughts About Writing

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Sooo, here we are again at the beginning of the week and for me not much has changed.  I did manage to get several flats of flowers planted last week,  did clean out some clothes from decades past to give away,  and had my Dad over last Saturday afternoon.  Read some wonderful books, got a few new authors to add to my automatic must read list, and realized that spring equals moles holes and dirty dogs, so scheduled the terrors three for grooming.  Ah, plans…….

A visit to Good Earth Nursery yesterday saw me come home laden with more flowers to plant, where I have no idea but I had to have them.  For some people its shoes or purses, for me its plants and books.   Went to Johnsons and saw two Koi whose scales glittered like a disco ball while resembling a Dalmatian, so got them too while looking for Mother’s Day presents.  Haven’t named them yet, might not as that Great Blue Heron is still around to say nothing of raccoons and other fish loving wildlife that visit my yard.  I will give them a year and then see if I think its safe to bestow names on each of them.

Family will be arriving in a couple of hours, just to sit around on the patio, get caught up on the weeks events and happenings and munch out on appetizers.  So I need to get moving, those dips won’t make themselves and neither will the Sangria.

But lately several books have got me thinking about world building in stories, the importance of getting it just right, and the balance between too much and not enough.  Some writers seem to do it effortlessly, and for others it is a goal not achieved no matter how hard they have obviously tried.  So look for my post on world building in fiction later on in the week.   Now before I head to the kitchen and gardens, here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, April 29:               Josh of the Damned, Triple Feature #2, The Final Checkout by Andrea Speed

Tuesday, April 30:               April’s Book Reviews

Wed., May 1:                         Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler

Thursday, May 2:                 Chateau d’Eternite by Ariel Tachna

Friday, May 3:                       Scattered Thoughts on the Importance of World Building in Fiction

Saturday, May 4:                   It Takes Practice by Willa Okati

 

The last two days might switch around depending on how the week is going and how scattered my thoughts are by then.  I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday and great week ahead.  Stay dry, stay warm, and if the days are as lovely as this one, stay outside as much as possible.

 

Riptide’s Publishing Disaster Relief Effort for Victims of Hurricane Sandy

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From November 3rd to November 10th, Riptide Publishing is donating the 25% of all proceeds onsite to assist in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  If you have waited to pick up any of their releases, now is the time to do it.  Maybe you missed the latest in the Cut & Run series Stars & Stripes or The Gravedigger’s Brawl from Abigail Roux or need to pick up Heidi Cullinan’s latest Tucker Springs novel, Dirty Laundry.  Or are you overdue to go all gladiator for the latest books in the Rome series.  Whatever the genre, make your purchase go further than just your reading enjoyment, let it provide much needed help for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Go to Riptide Publishing’s website this week, purchase one or more books and go Red, as in Red Cross.  You won’t be sorry.  Here is the link for Riptide Publishing.  There are a gazillion (almost)  title to choose from and from a remarkable array of authors. Here are a few of the ones I have reviewed that you might have missed:

Read my review of Stars & Stripes  by Abigail Roux here, read my review of Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov here

Read my review of The Gravedigger’s Brawl by Abigail Roux here. Read Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino here. Read my review of Blacker Than Black by Rhi Etzweiler here .

Read my review of Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan here and all of the Josh of the Damned series by Andrea Speed, starting with Pretty Monsters here.  

Review of Blacker Than Black by Rhi Etzweiler

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Reviewed for JoyfullyJay blog where I am a guest reviewer:

Rating: 4.5 stars

Black and Jhez are twin Nightwalkers, those who sell their chi or life force to the vampires that now rule the world.  Living in the shadows and tenements of the blue-light district of York, they thrive where other Nightwalkers soon wither and fall.  Their secret?  They steal the chi of their vampire clients even as they are selling theirs, a silent, stolen exchange of energy that has kept them alive for decades.

One unfortunate choice of a john changes everything for them.  Black picks Monsieur Garthelle as the john for the night, not recognizing the master vamp of the city.  What should have been a simple selling of Black’s chi (and the taking of a sliver of Garthelle’s energy) turns explosive, with Black running back to the streets, shaken beyond belief.  When Garthelle recovers, he tracks the twins down, confronts them and forces both to work for him as spies against other vampire families.  Facing not only the loss of their liberty and possibly their lives, they quickly discover nothing is what it seems to be, especially after a high placed vampire is murdered at Garthelle’s home.  Who are their enemies?  Who can be trusted?  What is the nature of the vampires obsession with them?

What a story.  I am going to say right off the bat, that this review is very frustrating to write.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers because who doesn’t love that “huh, didn’t see that coming” moment in stories they are reading?  And trust me, there are quite a few of those here.  The author plays with several themes here, fluidity and changeability run throughout the book.  Whether it is the changing nature of human society, the vampire families and their alliances, right down to the basic natures of human/vampire natures, all is constantly in flux.  The characters and the reader both can be certain of nothing as the story deepens.

The story unfolds from Black’s POV.  From the new world order to the skanky streets the twins live and work on, Black’s confusion is our confusion.  I like that the details of how the vampires came to rule are left deliberately vague.  The author has left our imaginations to fill in the gruesome blanks.  There are black holes of knowledge every where just waiting for the characters (or reader) to stumble and fall into in this story.  Just as the characters discover one alliance that may affect the balance of power, another event happens to undo all they have learned.   And that seesawing plays out so nicely as layer upon layer comes off and more of the plot is revealed.

I think the author has done a wonderful job of characterization here, not only with Black, but with Garthelle, Jhez, and Blue, a close friend of the twins.  Each different yet completely memorable.  What we learn of the new world everyone inhabits is gleaned through gritty realistic details of littered streets and grim despair of the human condition contrasted with the glossy buildings of obsidian black of the ruling vampires.

And speaking of vampires or the Lyche as they call themselves.   This is a different take on vampirism, combining elements of the traditional European vampires with that of the succubus/incubus type energy feeders to arrive at a vampire that seems old and fresh at the same time.  Familiar enough not to throw one off but with some new elements that make you sit up and take notice.  Very well done with vivid imagery that portrays the nature of chi exchange each character undergoes during a feeding.

That is not to say that there aren’t some slow parts where the narrative bogs down.  There are too many descriptions of Garthelle’s apartment building or rooms in his mansion, too much black.  I am going to assume that  this was intentional as the author is very careful in the construction of this story.  I was finding myself wondering how many times the author would find a way to insert the word black or blacker in terms of decor, apparel, or anything as a matter of fact.  I had black fatigue in some places.  But oh the pyrotechnics at the end.  They are wonderful.  A great way to end the journey of a thousand fun house mirrors.

And yes, I am still dying to tell you some spoilers.  But my lips are sealed and I am throwing away the key.

Cover:  Cover art by Del Melchionda. Love the cover.  It is lush and absolutely perfect in tone and graphics for the story. I even feel there is a hint here as well to one of the first twists in the story.  Great job.