Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi


Andrew Dahl has just joined the crew of the Intrepid, but being a member of her crew is nothing like he expected. First of all, his superiors always seem to disappear right before the senior officers show up. Then there's the box, a device that makes no sense, but the data it spills onto his computer tablet seems to please the senior officers. Then there's the stigma of away missions. Someone always seems to die on them. There's got to be some explanation for all this. The only possible explanation comes to Dahl through the conspiracy theory of Jenkins, a recluse who lives in the cargo tunnels of the ship. Jenkins's idea starts making more and more sense, though, and Dahl realizes there's just one way to make things right.

He needs to get a certain TV show cancelled.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on "Away Missions" alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs.

Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship
Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.


Redshirts is, just from the title, definitely geared toward fans of Star Trek, and it definitely doesn't disappoint there. Being a fan myself, I admit I was giddy when I learned a book like this existed. It's so entirely tongue-in-cheek that you cannot help but laugh. Even if you're not a huge fan, or not a fan at all, I think you would find this book enjoyable. There are plenty of jokes for fans of any science fiction, and any fiction in general. The book pokes fun at Star Trek readily, but it is still a solid book in its own right, with a solid plot that you don't have to be a fan of the show to understand.


The book is clearly written with a style that's simple without being condescending. I listened to the audio version through Audible, narrated by none other than Wil Wheaton. I don't think there could have been a more perfect reader for this than Wheaton. However, while the book is easy enough to listen to while doing other tasks, the audio version did bring a stylistic flaw to my attention that I may not have noticed had I been reading it. I'm going to call this the "Said Problem."

The Said Problem is just what it sounds like. I've heard in writing podcasts that a writer's only real dialogue tag should be the word "said." Or maybe, "asked" when necessary. After listening to Redshirts, I completely disagree with that opinion. It was became glaringly obvious to me toward the beginning of the book that Scalzi, at least in Redshirts, followed that rule. In a fairly long conversation with a few characters, the dialogue pretty much went like this.

"Comment," Dahl said.
"Reply," Duvall said.
"Other observation," Dahl said.
"But then this," Duvall said.

And on. And on. In the recording, it sounded like the more it went on, the more Wil Wheaton got tired of it. For a few moments, I got to the point where all I was actually hearing was the "so-and-so said" parts of the narrative. I don't know if that was intentional, but the word "said" was run into the ground. This is a dialogue-heavy book, so there were a lot of "saids", a fair number of "askeds" and it was grating the entire time. Only once did I notice the word "snapped" in dialogue context, and maybe one or two adverb modifiers to "said." That's it. So if you're listening to it, get ready to hate the word "said."

My Thoughts

Despite the ridiculous overuse of the word "said" in Redshirts, I was not disappointed in what I expected from this book. In fact, it turned out even better than I had hoped. It's a fairly short read/listen, but there are almost constant laughs, especially for fans of Star Trek. The jokes are plentiful and well-delivered, the dialouge is snappy and surprisingly real in how Dahl and the other Ensigns banter, and there are a lot of small details that tie into themselves nicely at the end. And then there's the last chapter, which I won't spoil, but believe me, it will leave you with a great feeling.

Then... there are the three codas. Think of them as unnecessary to the plot of the book, but it's almost like bonus material. The codas tie up some points I didn't really realized needed tying up, but I'm glad they were there. The three of them together equaled about a quarter of the total novel, and they're well worth the time. All the laughter I spent on the book itself was balanced with some truly heartfelt tears (yes, tears. And I listened to it at work, so yes, I was crying a little at work) at the end of the final coda. I think that was a masterful addition to the novel.

Would I Recommend This Book? I definitely would. It's a great novel for a laugh and some fun, and I believe it's one bound for some good re-reads to look at details. I do also have the e-book version, so I think I will go back and actually read it in the future. I might be able to skim over the "said" repetitions that way. For just the novel itself, I'd give a said-heavy 4 out of 5 stars. But taking the codas into consideration, and the reaction they made me give, and how they really completed the package, I'll up it to a land worm-eaten 4.5 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Super Book Review: The Guild of the Cowry Catchers (all 5 books) by Abigail Hilton


Gerard Holovar is an exiled prince who has made a place for himself in the Temple Police, upholding the law of the high priestess and the gods, the wyverns. Now, though, he's been promoted to Captain of the Temple Police and assigned to work with the scoundrel Silveo, Admiral of the Temple Watch. Together, Silveo and Gerard investigate a rebellious pirate named Gwain, whose followers have been killing off the Temple Police. In a mix of sailing, fighting, death, and life, they find in one another an odd friendship, and somehow find themselves eventually fighting against the temple, the wyverns, and the high priestess herself.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

Those with paws eat those with hooves. This is what the wyvern gods of Wefrivain teach. The fauns of the islands are the slaves and food animals of their paw-footed counterparts, and the wyverns maintain the hierarchy. In return, wyverns are fed and worshiped. These days, however, faun pirates are spreading new ideas. Their charismatic leader, Gwain, has taught them to kill wyverns, and they are effectively killing off Temple Police. Gwain’s pirates are starting to worry Morchella, the Priestess of the wyvern cult.

She thinks she’s found an answer in the person of Gerard Holovar, the new captain of her Temple Police. However, upon his promotion, Gerard strikes up a quarrel with Silveo Lamire, the admiral of Morchella’s Temple ships and her second in command. Silveo has a reputation for cruelty, cunning, and a biting wit. He’s a foxling - a minority species - and rumors say that he was once an assassin, who clawed his way to power from a childhood of poverty and abuse. He cultivates serial affairs with persons ranging from his own lieutenants to dock prostitutes. On the surface, Silveo could not be more different from Gerard - a member of the dominant species class, born to money and power, adhering to strict codes of honor, and devoted to his wife.

When Gerard is promoted, Silveo is intimidated. Gerard’s presence seems to jeopardize the position Silveo has painfully carved out for himself. Silveo threatens to kill Gerard if he stays with the Temple service.

In spite of their differences, Morchella believes that Gerard and Silveo have between them the skills to catch Gwain. She orders them to work together. They make little progress until Silveo meets Gerard’s wife, Thessalyn, and hears her sing. Silveo is generous to Thessalyn and vocal in his admiration of her talents. Gerard finds it difficult to hate anyone who is kind to his wife. The three of them develop a complex friendship that deepens as details from their pasts reveal that they have more in common than they thought. Their hunt for the charismatic pirate will lead them to dark places. On the other side, they just might find redemption.


I don't know that there can be a context for The Guild of the Cowry Catchers, unless I want to go into racial issues, and I really don't want to go into that here. Sure, there are some serious racial tones to this, but as the population of Wefrivain are only partly human (many of them, anyway), I at least don't feel like I'd need to make comparisons. There are also sexist tones to the series, regarding homosexuality, but again, I don't feel the need to draw the connecting lines between the story's narrative and the present-day world I live in. Let's just call this a really great story and leave it at that.


The Guild of the Cowry Catchers is a 5-book series: Embers, Flames, Ashes, Out of the Ashes, and Shores Beyond the World. I listened to all five books via podcast, and it is a wonderful medium for this series! Hilton did a spectacular job with the narrative, her voice actors are perfect, and I honestly don't know that I'll be able to read this in print without hearing the voices in my head. I wouldn't want to anyway. If you're an audiobook listener, get the recordings. They're well worth the time and money (if it's no longer free).

Okay, now that I've covered the audio, to the writing itself. Hilton is a great writer. She's very plainspoken, but that doesn't mean there's not any good imagery in her prose. There's a rather beautiful clarity to her phrases and descriptions that give the reader enough information to get an idea of the setting and characters' appearances, but there's still plenty left to the imagination. Hilton gives the framework and leaves the finer details to the reader in a wonderful way. A lot of the important details that are recurring throughout the series, such as the color of Silveo's fur, make perfect sense with the world and even have bearing on the plot. Appearances aren't ignored. There's even a lot of good psychology in the world and the characters' words and actions. On the Cowry Catchers website, there's a character list that includes the characters' Myers-Briggs personality types. Hilton kept to those VERY well, and that's the sort of attention to detail that is spread throughout the books.

My Thoughts

I got hooked on the series pretty quickly. Wyverns, shelts (part human, part animal beings), talking beasts, pirates... there's not much this series doesn't have, really. But while The Guild of the Cowry Catchers might seem like a children's or young adult book from the type of characters and world it's set in, it is not. This is definitely a series written for adults. Very definitely. If you're the type to be easily offended, don't read it. In the disclaimer at the beginning of every podcast episode of the series, Hilton mentions that if you need to ask if you'll be offended, you probably will.

Don't take that lightly.

For my part, I'm not very easily offended, so I dove right in. And I wasn't disappointed. The plot gripped me, the setting is rich with culture, status, and society, and the characters are loveable and/or hateable. Oh, and does this book tug at your emotions, both glee and despair! I cheered at moments, giddy for hours afterwards at what happened. I shed a few tears, too.

Then... there are the outtakes. Of course, these are only on the podcast version, but they alone are worth listening to the podcast. Seriously. I was listening to the outtakes episode for the last book at work, and my supervisor had to know what was going on. I wasn't laughing aloud (I have more sense than that) but I was definitely hiding the chuckles loudly.

Would I Recommend This Book? Again, if you're not easily offended, don't read these books. If you're cool with it, then yes, I highly recommend the series. It's a great fantasy story with NO humans (not easy to find without there being aliens or something) and the whole plot is great. Since this is a series, I'll actually be posting at least star scores for each individual book and then the series as a whole, so:

Embers- 5 out of 5 stars
Flames- 4.5 out of 5 stars
Ashes- ­4.5 out of 5 stars
Out of the Ashes- 5 out of 5 stars
Shores Beyond the World- 5 out of 5 stars

And for The Guild of the Cowry Catchers as a whole, I give a sky dancing 5 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit

Book Review: A Minor Magic by Justin R. Macumber


Skylar didn't mean to set fire to her foster parents' dog. It was an accident. But now, decades after The Burning, Skylar is about to lose the only home she's ever known because her sudden powers are too much of a threat. Out on her own in the ruins of Tennessee, she runs across other survivors. One of them just might be able to tell her what it is she's becoming. And how she can use it to save not only the ruined Earth, but a whole other world, too boot.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

Over the course of a single night, mystical fires tore through the sky and reduced most of Earth to ash. Ten years later magical fire burns again, but this time it’s in the hands of a young girl named Skylar. Exiled from her adoptive home, Skylar must now struggle through ruined lands and religious zealots who believe she’s an agent of the Devil. An even greater threat exists in the form of shadowy sorcerers from another world who covet her blood. Along her journey, she meets a motley band of outcasts who not only know the secret of what happened to Earth, but also of Skylar’s true origin. Will Skylar be able to accept this fantastical truth? But more importantly, can her powers and raging heart be tamed in time to stop those who once burned the world and now seek total domination?


There are tons of apocalypse and dystopian post-disaster/post-calamity postulations out there, thoughts of how the world is going to be destroyed and just how humanity will survive afterward. Macumber's disaster, the Burning, is an interesting take in that we didn't destroy ourselves by creating nuclear weapons, zombies, or anything like that. We don't know what happened to us. But humans are still aching to survive, raiding hotels, gas stations, and big department stores with blue signs for food and supplies. I found the post-Burning world true and intriguing, sparsely populated (at least within this story) and full of danger and depression. Let's pray the magical fires don't actually come and kick our butts.


Macumber writes clearly, but I didn't actually read A Minor Magic. I listened to the audio version through, narrated by Veronica Giguere. Macumber's style is very open and crisp, with good imagery and a good sense of place and mood. It's hard not to picture his characters and settings, and the plot is linear enough that it's easily followed, with enough little side threads and questions to keep it from being a straight and narrow path. Macumber writes a very clear conflict and is constantly working toward its resolution while still acknowledging that his characters are people who have other needs.

Giguere's performance is very well done. She does alter her voice for each of the characters, so it's very easy to tell them apart, and her Southern accent (since most of the characters are in or from Tennessee) isn't bad. At the very least, it's understandable and not over the top at all. There's no overacting here, just differentiation. I wouldn't have really needed any dialogue tags, since her voices are so clearly different in tone or accent, and it helps that Macumber wrote the speech patterns for the characters well.

My Thoughts

A Minor Magic is set in a vivid destroyed world ("vivid" definitely not meaning "colorful" in this situation, since the world's covered with dirt and ash). The characters are true to life and intriguing in what their stories were before the events of this novel, and there are plenty of surprises in the plot and world that will grab your attention.

That said, the book surprisingly wasn't for me. I can appreciate how well it's written, the love and effort Macumber put into it, but there was never really a chord struck with me in this book. That's not to say the book is bad. Far from it. I just never really got sucked into it or had my interest plucked in any significant way. This is a personal opinion and does not have anything to do with the quality of the book itself, which is actually a first for me. Normally, if I don't like a book, it's because it's poorly written or just plain bad all around. It was odd to me to have this sort of relationship with a book.

Would I Recommend This Book? Sure! The book itself was well-constructed and interesting, but while I can appreciate how it was crafted, it didn't resonate with me personally. It just wasn't in my interest, which honestly surprised me a little. I didn't get drawn in as I had expected to. Still, it doesn't deserve a bad score for that. I'm giving it a Burning 3.5 of 5 stars. Give it a shot and see if you like it yourself!

For more information on the author, visit
For more information on the narrator, visit

Book Review: The Sword and the Pen by Elysa Hendricks


Brandon Alexander Davis is ready to be done writing his Warrior Woman series of books. How does he plan to do that? By killing of hte heroine, of course. Serilda is going to die in this final book, leaving him free to move on with his life. That is, until Serilda appears in his house. Convinced this is just some overenthusiastic fan putting on an amazing performance, Brandon moves on with his plan, writing the ending he'd been planning. But it doesn't leave him satisfied. Is he falling for this woman claiming to be Serilda? Or worse: is she really Serilda after all?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

It was time. After penning ten popular sword-and-sorcery novels, Brandon Alexander Davis was ready to move on. Ready to stop hiding in his fictional world. Ready to start living a real life. There was just one problem: as he plotted the noble death of Serilda D'Lar, his fictional creation, complete with mile-long sword, skimpy leather outfit and badass attitude, appeared in his study.

Was she nothing more than a crazy fan, or had Brandon finally cracked?

This warrior woman whom he knew so well, so strong yet vulnerable, was both fantasy and reality. She was an invitation to rediscover all he once knew--that life is an incredible, magical journey and, for love, any man can be a hero.


We all have our fantasies. Writers practically live in multiple realities at once, and don't we all-- writer or not-- dream of having those fantasies come true? Would we all like to meet that one fictional character (or more than one) and see what change that makes in our lives? We've all had a crush on some character or other, or just wished to actually have them around to be friends. Hell, this isn't even to that length. Brandon wasn't even really all that attracted to Serilda while writing her. Sure, she was in some ways a projection of the women in his life, and the culture he built for her world was affected by what was going on in his life, but that didn't mean he wanted to actually meet her. Still, deep down, don't all authors want to meet at least one of their characters?


The Sword and the Pen is clearly written and very easy to follow. I do feel that there was a lot of overt repetition of concepts. Over and over, it's pounded into the reader that "this can't be Serilda" or "why was he behaving like this". Sure, the repeated concepts are presented slightly differently, worded differently, but this book could have been slimmed down a lot if things had been written a little more clearly. It's straightforward enough without the repeats. Thankfully, it wasn't as though there were full paragraphs that just said the same thing four times in as many sentences. It was just that pretty much every chapter, the same theme was repeated, gradually changing into the next thought, slow as molasses.

I do, though, want to commend Hendricks on her use of switching POV. The book was divided into three parts: Serilda, Brandon, and Serilda & Brandon. The entire book is seen from both characters' POV's, but the language POV changes. Pretty much every chapter is broken into parts from each character's POV, but the voice changes between them. For example, in part one, Serilda, Brandon is in third person, and Serilda in first. In part two, Brandon, Serilda switches to third person and Brandon to first. These switches make perfect sense with the narrative as well as making an extra distinction between the character-POV switches and is done without any real shock at the change.

My Thoughts

I haven't read a whole lot of romances. In fact, this makes my third, so I don't think I really have a strong basis for comparison as for true quality of this genre. I do, however, have a VERY strong backing in fantasy, which is one reason I picked up The Sword and the Pen. It's a fantasy/romance novel, after all, so I thought it would be a good way to ease into the romance genre.

I'm not sure if that was a wise idea or not.

As a fantasy novel, The Sword and the Pen was cliched and underdeveloped, surprisingly predictable, and not particularly innovative. As a romance novel, my impressions were that it did its job well. For the most part. I had the feeling that the only real reason Brandon and Serilda fell for each other is because they were supposed to. I couldn't find a real serious basis for attraction other than they were there together. Sure, there were attractive traits to both of them that the other might pick up on, but I don't know that I would ever say I was convinced that the feelings they had for one another were real. Maybe Serilda's, as we did get to see how different Brandon was from Donoval, her previous lover. Oh, we got to see that comparison at length. But Brandon's attraction I felt was tacked in, made necessary by the plot, rather than his attraction making the plot necessary.

As a genre mash, I really didn't see the necessity of The Sword and the Pen being a fantasy. Serilda could have easily been a "warrior woman" from anywhere or anywhen, without there having to be the false world behind it. Maybe this is just me being a little elitist when it comes to fantasy. Yes, I understand that this was a romance first and a fantasy second, but I still feel strongly that if you're going to shove two genres into a novel, both should be developed well enough that the story would fall apart without one or the other.

Would I Recommend This Book? I guess. There really wasn't a whole lot that reached out and grabbed me, either as in the romance or the fantasy details. The relationship felt stinted and forced, and the fantasy elements were cliches put to work as plowhorses, tugging things forward against their will. I give The Sword and the Pen a world-crossing 3 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit

"Book" Review: Space Casey (season 1) by Christiana Ellis


Casey-- that's not her real name, and she's not about to tell you her real name-- is a con-woman tired of being stuck on Io. So, true to her nature, she steals a ship. Little does she know that this ship has a more sophisticated AI than anything she's ever come across. And the guy she stole it from? Well, he wasn't human. Suddenly, Casey finds herself lost out in a much greater galaxy than she ever thought there was, and home... well, that just seems completely out of reach.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from iTunes:

Space Casey tells the story of a fast-talking con-artist, 200 years in the future, who steals the wrong spaceship and finds herself thousands of light years from home. It’ll take all her smarts and more than a little luck to weasel her way out of this one.


This story falls into a little crack in science-fiction that I personally haven't seen a whole ton of. Humanity has expanded into space, exploring our solar system, but we haven't yet managed to get out and really see the galaxy yet. We've barely left our own front yard, and we have no clue what could be out there, if there's life, or anything. Manking has yet to emerge as a spacefaring race, and I absolutely LOVED that Ellis picked this sort of era as the backdrop for Space Casey. Aliens aren't run-of-the-mill-- we don't even know if there are aliens at this point. Oh sure, we've got spaceports on the moons of our outlying planets, but we're just babies taking their first steps, with no clue what bigger things are going on out there. It's almost like the missing link of sci-fi, between us now and the time when space travel and aliens become everyday things.


It didn't take me long to realize Space Casey isn't a book. This was confirmed in the Q & A episode of the podcast when it was mentioned this was an intended-for-audio production. It's a good thing, because I kept wondering how on Earth-- or, considering the subject matter, how off Earth-- would all this greatness come across in print? The answer is, it couldn't. The audio production, the ambient noises of spaceship, the sound effects, the voices, everything, came together to make this what it was. I don't think print could have done Space Casey justice.

That said, I was a little shocked when it just... began... at the very start of episode 1. I guess I was expecting an intro, just saying, "You're listening to Space Casey by Christiana Ellis" or something, but I got over that shock pretty quickly and fell into the story.

All in all, the style of the actual storytelling is great. This is honestly performed like someone is telling you a story, not like there's some narrator telling you what happened to someone else. Casey is the one speaking to you here, and it's great! The sounds effects, voice modulations for the actors, and everything just work to create a little pocket of a galaxy where anything can happen-- and it usually does in an unexpected and somewhat absurd way. You'll get some good laughs out of this!

My Thoughts

It didn't take long to listen to Space Casey. The story itself is only 10 episodes, and most of them run 20 minutes or less. So this is just a couple hours, but believe me, you'll want to take the extra 24 minutes to at least listen to the blooper reel, if not also the Q & A episode. What's great is that yes, I got some great laughs out of the bloopers, but I got some equally great laughs out of the story itself. The mess-ups weren't all that were funny, so that's a big plus. If you're into sci-fi at all, and if you like humor thta sometimes touches on the clicheed and then teases itself about being clicheed, you're in for a treat with Space Casey.

I honestly never really knew what to expect plotwise here, but that made it very easy to relate to what Casey herself was going through. She was completely lost, blindsided by the universe, and heaven help her find her way out of this mess. What's even greater is that a good bit of the characters you meet along the way reappear at the climax, resulting in a huge mess because-- well, Casey lies a lot. So when everything she's lied about starts criss-crossing with the characters she's interacted with... well, it's not all that easy to sort out. Episode 10 was pretty great that way. Then again, the whole thing was. It's some good fun if you're in for some laughs on a road trip or something. There is a little language, but nothing over-the-top. It's cursing based on frustration, and there's nothing overly offensive or extraneous. Basically, it's not cursing just for the sake of cursing or for shock value. And there isn't much of it.

Would I Recommend This Book? Book? Well, as I mentioned, it's not really a book. This is an audio "drama". It's an aural performance. And yes, I would recommend it. It's funny and not really too terribly long. And the added bonus of the blooper reel is great. I'd give Space Casey a fashion-developing 3 of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit