Friday, August 26, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Cat Rambo's You Sexy Thing Cooks up a Madcap Adventure

You Sexy Thing
, by Cat Rambo (Tor)

An assortment of ex-soldiers, human and alien, have recently retired from the a mind-linked military ad are about to realize their dreams: their restaurant is about to be reviewed by the foremost restaurant critic of the galaxy and possibly receive a coveted award. Wealthy patrons will then flock to their establishment, and riches will flow their way. What could possibly go wrong? To begin with, a package containing a possible imperial heir, an explosive assault on the space station in which they live and work, and being kidnapped by a sentient bioship, You Sexy Thing, which is programmed to take them to a prison planet before it’s hijacked by the most notorious, vicious, scheming pirate king of all time. So of course, the way out of their dilemma is to teach the ship to cook…

Cat Rambo’s space opera is at times hilarious, emotionally deep, complex, and playful, but always vastly entertaining. The worldbuilding details drew me along as the plot darkened and the characters revealed layer upon intricate layer of depth. I’m a sucker for stories that hook me with humor and whimsy before socking me in the gut. You Sexy Thing delivers on all counts. I’m particularly pleased to see that Rambo left the door open to a sequel, although with storytelling skill like this, I’ll gladly follow her into whatever new universe her imagination concocts.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Disabled People Love the Redwoods, too!

One of the joys of living where I do (Central Coast California) is how accessible the redwoods are. These are Coastal Redwoods, not the inland Sequoias, and they thrive in the ocean-born mists. They can grow to over 350' and live over 3,000 years. We were heartbroken when Big Basin State Park burned in the 2020 wildfires, but redwoods are notoriously resistant to fire. New growth sprouts around burned trunks like a sprightly green beard. The park has re-opened, and its resilience is a reminder that all of us can enjoy these breath-taking forests. Big Basin does not, to the best of my knowledge, have disabled accommodations, but Henry Cowell State Park, Muir Woods, and many other parks, do! Check out this guide from Save the Redwoods:

Get your FREE Guide, A Disabled Hiker’s Guide to the Redwoods.

Even if this information doesn’t apply to you, there’s probably someone in your life who could use it, so please share it with your friends and family.

Many accessible experiences can be had in redwood parks, from hiking and camping to incredible scenic drives. Home to the world’s tallest, largest, and some of the oldest trees, as well as biodiversity found nowhere else, these special places offer inspiration and enhance the well-being of all.

Our new, free e-guide provides an accessibility overview of 15 redwood and giant sequoia parks. We are grateful to have worked with Syren Nagakyrie, the founder of Disabled Hikers. Syren visited parks this year to review accessibility using ADA/ABA guidelines as well as using their personal and professional experience to research parks.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Short Book Reviews: The Mystery of the Crow Folk Revealed!

This latest novel in the “Warrior Bard” series will delight Marillier fans. After the events in The Harp of Kings and A Dance with Fate, everyone seems to have settled happily. Liobhan, who is both a skillful musician and an elite Swan Island warrior, is with her sweetheart, nobly born Dau, although by tradition they are not allowed to go on missions together. Her half-fey brother, Brocc, has retreated to the Otherworld with his fey wife and infant daughter, whom he adores. Swan Island continues to train young warriors and provide their special blend of espionage, counsel, and martial prowess. Then, of course, everything falls apart. Brocc’s attempts to establish a truce with the vicious Crow Folk lead to his and his daughter’s expulsion into the mortal realm. Dau’s latest mission puts him at risk of encountering the brother who tortured him and Liobhan, and a crown prince has gone missing and is possibly dead. Disparate story lines gradually weave together as the true menace emerges, along with the alliance that will defeat it.

I enjoyed A Song in Flight very much, especially the chance to spend more time with my favorite characters, watch Dau and Liobhan recover from the traumatic experiences of the last book, and delve the mysterious origin of the Crow Folk. Without having read the previous two books, however, much of this one would have been confusing. This is an issue every author who writes multi-volume series faces. If you put in enough background to fully orient a new reader, you risk losing faithful fans through repetition and boredom. Marillier does a fine job reminding the reader without bashing over the head, but in the end, it’s best to read the previous volumes in order.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Another Time-Traveling Mystery Romance from Kelley Armstrong

A Twist of Fate
, by Kelley Armstrong (Subterranean)

This time-traveling-mystery-romance, set in the world of A Stitch in Time, is every bit as charming. In the first book, a door through time allowed 21st Century Bronwyn and 19th Century William to fall in love and build a life together. William’s best friend, August Courtenay, has suffered a double loss. First his sister, drowned in the pond on the family estate. And then his beautiful wife, Rosalind, who went riding along the ocean cliffs one night and never returned, leaving her husband to raise their infant son alone.

Rosalind did not perish, as everyone believes. On an impulse, she rode out to William and Bronwyn’s home and stumbled through the time portal. For the past four years, she’s been marooned in the present time, learning new skills while she desperately searches for a way to return.

Now she’s back.

Matters are not so simple as a happy reunion. First she has to explain her absence to her possessive husband. After the death of his sister, he’s likely to think she abandoned him. Has he remarried? Is he happy in a new life? Rosalind decides to investigate before showing up on his doorstep and through a twist of fate, ends up as her young son’s new governess. Not only that, but her son is one of the few people who can see the ghosts that haunt the mansion, a gift of his mother’s “Second Sight.” Who—or what—are the ghosts after?

Rosalind’s first-person voice is engaging and emotionally urgent. I loved all the ways she had adapted to modern life and then took those skills and empowerment back to the past. Her fierce, unwavering devotion to her son was pitch perfect. On the minus side, I had trouble with how much she dithered about telling August who she was under her convincing disguise. Like other readers who are not primarily romance fans, I find the misunderstandings created by the lack of a simple, direct conversation frustrating, although they are common to the genre. To Rosalind’s credit, she is in many other ways a resourceful character. One of the high points of the story came near the very end, when she confronts her husband with his pathological abandonment issues and informs him that he will have to work through them.

If you, like me, loved Bronwyn and William’s story, you’ll want to grab this one, too!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Dr. Moreau in Yucatan

 The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Ballantine)

My introduction to the Mexican-centered fantasy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia was her re-telling of the Cinderella story, Gods of Jade and Shadow. Now she offers a fresh interpretation of H. G. Wells’s classic novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. Instead of retreating to a hidden island to perform his experiments, this Dr. Moreau seeks the relative solitude of the Yucatán jungles, on an estate owned by a wealthy man in search of cheap, malleable plantation laborers. Under the pretense of developing such workers, Dr. Moreau creates human-animal hybrids from various animals. They are, alas, less than functional, with rapid aging, joint problems, and other issues. Only his beautiful, meek, and secretly rebellious daughter, Carlota, is perfectly human. Dr. Moreau needs a majordomo to run the estate and care for the infirm hybrids, so he hires Montgomery Laughton, a drifter heavily in debt and drowning a broken marriage in drink. Isolated and surrounded by lush forest and fascinating creatures, Montgomery begins to slowly form a friendship with Carlota and to heal.

When the landowner’s charming and egotistical son arrives at the estate, he is instantly smitten with Carlota, thereby setting into motion a cataclysmic chain of events.

Like other of Moreno-Garcia’s adventures, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is strongly character-driven. Maturation and healing are the twin lenses that focus the action, which begins slowly in the near-static serenity of the estate and builds to a breathless climax. At first, I found Carlota childish, especially her constant verbal sparring with her two closest hybrid friends. Her flirtation with the landowner’s son struck me as dangerously naïve. As the story went on, however, I noticed the parallels between her increasing understanding of the world at large and of herself. Her capacity for acceptance—of her friends, of her father, of Montgomery with his tortured past, and of her own true nature—emerges as the moral and emotional center of the book.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Auntie Deborah is Still Giving Writing Advice

Dear Auntie Deborah...

I wrote a story using another person's characters, even though they said not to. Can I publish it since their book isn't copyrighted?

If the author has published their story in any form, it’s copyrighted. That, however, is beside the point. It’s just plain unethical to do what you suggest. It’s a great way to make enemies in your genre and create a horrible reputation that will haunt your career, assuming you still have one after such a bonehead move.

Create your own characters. Write your own stories. Treat your colleagues and their work the way you would like to be treated. Pursue your career with integrity and generosity.

Are self-published books inferior to professionally published books?

It all depends.

Not that long ago, self-published or vanity press books were assumed to be of inferior quality, that is to say, unpublishable by “real” (traditional) publishers. There were exceptions, of course, but that was the conventional wisdom.

Today, however, many self-published books go through the same rigorous editing and quality standards as traditionally published books. Some genres, like romance, are especially friendly toward self-pubbed projects.

With modern publishing technology (ebooks, POD printing), there are many reasons why a pro-level author might want to self-publish, including:
  • Niche projects, like memoirs or family histories.
  • Series that were dropped by trad publishers but that have an enthusiastic fan following.
  • Well-written books that don’t fit into the NY “best-seller” model.
  • OP (out-of-print, rights reverted to author) backlist.
  • Great books that straddle genres or otherwise confuse traditional marketing/sales departments.
That said, many self-published books are dreadful. They aren’t good enough to attract the interest of an agent or publisher to begin with, they aren’t professionally edited or proofread, the covers are amateurish, and so on. The challenge for the reader is to sort out those books that are truly a wonderful reading experience.

Does reaching a certain number of reviews increase your indie sales?

The short answer is that nobody knows. Theories abound, usually to line the pockets of the “experts.” “Gaming” the Amazon system is a losing proposition. What might have been true 2 years or 6 months or last week no longer works — because thousands of self-published authors have tried it, thereby flooding the system with meaningless tweaks.

If you want to increase your sales, write a great book. Publicize it. Get stellar reviews on Publishers Weekly and the like. Write an even better book. Rinse and repeat. Even then, there are no guarantees when it comes to sales, but you’ll have the satisfaction of writing really good books.