Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Paper Magician - A Review

Paper Magician 

I picked up The Paper Magician quite by chance on a pre-publication deal. I wasn't sure, about the story, but I liked the cover a lot, so I thought I would give it a go.

It falls in the "steampunk" category or alternate history, taking place in a Victorian England that has magic academies. Ceony, the heroine of the story, has just graduated from one such academy in one year on a scholarship. She is on her way to an apprenticeship where she will learn how to become a full Magician. In this reality, magic is conjured only through man-made materials. But once you bond with a material and can do magic with it and through it, you can't bond with any other materials. So there are magicians who work with metal, glass, plastic and paper. There are even evil magicians who do magic through flesh. These are called Excisioners.

Ceony has always wanted to be a Smelter and bond and work with metal. However, apparently lots of other people have, too, and not enough apprentices have gone into Folding, which is bonding with paper. So, the headmistress and the powers-that-be have decided that Ceony, because she was so brilliantly fast in going through the academy, will be bonded to paper and become a Folder, without any input from her. And once she bonds with a material there's no going back.

This is one of those stories where I enjoyed it, but I'm glad I don't live in the reality. Ceony doesn't even think about say applying to another school, maybe or leaving to find an apprenticeship on her own. She just does what she is told. She isn't very nice about it, but she does it.

Her new mentor, Emery Thane, seems very whimsical and more than a tad quirky. He seems to understand her disappointment and reticence, but from the other side, as someone who was also forced into Folding, but now it's just a way of life.

I wasn't sure I liked Ceony at all when I first started reading. The first chapter, before Mg. Thane shows up, I was ready to walk away from the book. It could be I'm too old. She's 19 and full of herself and thinks nothing of snooping around and making judgements and she "won't hold with secrets." Oh, please! I think I am too old for that. Later on in the story, she grows on me, as her character grows and the book shows the other parts of her, but in the beginning I'm rolling my eyes a lot.

It is a good adventure story. It's creative. Using paper for magic. And the different ways to incorporate paper into magic. Once the action starts, it's doesn't stop and you're led around the story while Ceony works to accomplish great feats with little or no training.

There were four spots, at least, where I got pulled out of the story and thought, "maybe I don't like this as much as I thought."

1) Another one where I had a hard time at the beginning of the book. It didn't go smooth. Used to, it was understood in books that the beginning introduced the setting and the characters. It was like a nice smooth carriage ride up a drive. These days, everyone is being taught to shove as much attention getting stuff at the beginning as possible, to keep the reader's attention. But instead, it's just confusing. You have to choose what to introduce and let the rest come when it may. Take your time.

2) P. 76 or 75. Continuity. Ceony snoops in her mentor's bedroom and finds his dress uniform and thinks it's a good thing he didn't wear it when they met yesterday. However, the scene takes place two-three weeks after she's moved in. So, I think during revisions, no one caught that. If they just deleted "yesterday" it would be fine. But I stewed over that for a while. Put the book away to read later because it bugged me.

3) p. 170 where Ceony thinks "I know you don't love me. Not yet." Yes, typical 19 year old girl thought process, but it put a sour taste in my mouth. It feels too romancy and one of those falsehoods that women have bought into over the centuries and we need to not let get into our heads and here it is yet again. Brainwashing us. "You don't love me yet, but I can make you love me." Why isn't she thinking: "You don't love me. Fine. I get that. But we're friends and I want to help you." OR "You don't love me. I get that. I'll find someone who DOES love me." But that "Not yet." Just - Eeeeyuch! and

4) Toward the end, after the adventure, a doctor is examining Ceony and she tells a lie to her headmistress, basically skimming over a major portion of the conflict with the villain. That's understandable, but she's obviously covered in blood and has finger bruising around her neck and neither the doctor nor the headmistress call her on that lie. And they're not the types of characters to let apprentices skim over those types of lies. So, either they are blind to details (not likely) or they decided to let it lie (which feels weak).

However, as much as I didn't like Ceony in the beginning, her character does grow. I do appreciate that. In fact, one of the major bugs early on was the whole comment about no secrets. She sees her mentor working on something in secret in the middle of the night, wonders what it is and is kinda nasty in how she judges him on it. Hello? It's his own house. He can do whatever he wants in the middle of the night and it's none of her business. And by the end of the story, she is much more likely to think that. To realize he gets to have his own life.

So, in sum, setting, characters, growth of main character, adventure tale - all good. Some confusion at the beginning, not so sharp as it could be and some continuity details and other things that bugged, brought it down a bit. I gave this book a solid 4 out of 5. I wouldn't pay $14.99 for the ecopy, but if I saw either the trade paperback or the ecopy on sale for $5.99 or less, I'd get it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Murder is a Family Business - A Review


Recently this was available on sale or for free so I got it and read it. I know Amazon is a bit like the Empire these days, but you can sign up for both BookBub and for Amazon's newsletters to be let known about deals. The other thing to do is just occasionally Google free Kindle books.

Anyway, sometimes the free/cheap deals work out .... and sometimes they don't. This time, it worked out okay. The main character is from a family of private investigators from Palo Alto that works on corporate espionage in Silicon Valley, mostly. Until the main character, Lee Alvarez, stumbles over a dead body. It's a pretty good set up and a pretty good story. It was entertaining, and despite what the cover looks like, she's not always running around in short skirts and losing her high heels. She is from a well-to-do family (half Mexican and half WASP), so you do get good clothing descriptions and cool technology. She's gotta computer geek brother. She's nosy and can't keep anything alone. She's intelligent and knows her job. She knows a lot of investigation is leg work. It's nice to have a blend of Bay Area socialite and immigrant-makes-good in the main character's background.

On the other hand, there were some hiccups. I had a hard time getting past the first chapter. Took me a few tries. I liked it enough to want to keep trying, but for some reason, I kept stumbling over the sentences and descriptions. They didn't flow and it was confusing and it took a couple of tries to get past that.

After that, it was fine, mostly. There were a couple of continuity issues (January in the Bay Area sunset time was one issue that threw me off during a particular scene). And a few other moments where I felt pulled out of the story because of inconsistency or something that felt off. But I mostly like it. I would give it a solid 3.5 out of 5, especially if it's on special or free.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Who Will Sub For Miss Simmons - Blog Contest and Preview

Well, I thought Labor Day would be a grand day to officially introduce my most recent labor, Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons? I was hoping to have a complete and correct hard copy to show by now, but Lulu is having some issues. According to a recent email: "In recent weeks, we have experienced the perfect storm of mishaps - a combination of unusually high order volumes, a broken printing machine, and an early outbreak of fall cold season at our US print vendor. Unfortunately, this means that we are late in shipping your order (or orders)."

Oh, well.

For now, the closest thing to something shiny and new to show you today is the ebook, which right now is only available through (as an epub) until the ecopy is approved for the iBookstore (iBooks), Barnes and Noble (Nook), Amazon (Kindle) and Kobi.

Click on the cover to see the book description on On sale for $1.25 through September 30.
Click on the cover to see the book description on On sale for $1.25 through September 30.
So, because of all the above, the book is on sale for the month of September at (remember, epub version) for one whole shiny dollar. Click the picture above or here to read more about the book or click below to purchase.


I'll let you know when the paperback is available and maybe come up with something fun to do when that happens. We'll see.

Until then, if you have any good slug stories, or other good bug stories, share them in the comments. At the end of September I'll put your name in a hat and you may win a fun treat! (Well, maybe not candy corn, but something.)

See below for a preview: Chapter One from Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons?

Chapter One

Miss Simmons

The boy stretched taut the rubber band, took a line of sight, adjusting for wind, weight of the pebble, then waited for it to be clear.

Thwack! The bit of gravel hit Mary smack in the rump.

"Hey!” she yelled. "Who did that?" She whipped her head around, a couple of kids standing in line for square ball dodging her long ponytail in the process.

"Eddie James! I saw that!" shouted Jill, the short girl next to Mary. She burst from the line, a small red and brown blur running across the playground. She skidded to a stop in front of him, looking up, hands on hips, her curly hair shaking in anger. Mary arrived a minute later, arms crossed. They stood in solidarity glowering at their playground nemesis.

"I didn't do nothing," said Eddie. "You always blame me, besides,” he paused, giving Jill a look, “if you do anything, I'll tell Miss Simmons you were the one who hacked her cell."
"Did no such thing!” Jill’s light brown cheeks turning a bright pink. She screwed up her eyes and shoved her face up into Eddie’s “Fink!"

Eddie leaned down, black eyes meeting her brown ones. "Did. So.” He looked up at Jill’s halo of curly brown hair. “Fathead!"

“Back off, Eddie,” warned Mary, voice low and hands now clenched and ready.

“Psst! She’s coming!” One of the kids watching hissed before sauntering back over to the square ball court.

The children quieted as they saw Miss Simmons' lean form coming toward them. The turnip-shaped bun on her head seemed to bristle with irritation, the pins holding it in place flying out as she strode toward them in her brown polyester pants, the squish-squeak of each step heard across the playground. Upon arriving, she straightened her olive green cardigan and peered down at them over her glasses.

“Now children," cooed Miss Simmons, grabbing Jill and Eddie’s arms. The points of her long, dark red nails bit into their flesh, adding to the pain of her steel-like vice. “What could possibly be the problem between two such lovely, well-behaved youngsters? Would you like to tell me about it?" Her voice edged into a slight threat. “Or…,” she looked back to the portable next to the school building, her homeroom and where most kids ended up spending detention — sooner or later.

Jill, Mary, and Eddie held their breaths and exchanged looks. Some of those kids were never seen again, supposedly because they were suspended or expelled, but…

Eddie and Jill weren't the first kids to “makeup" to avoid detention and Miss Simmons’ sugar voice and acid remarks.

"S-sorry, Miss Simmons," stammered Jill, anger-fueled confidence suddenly gone. "We were only p-playing." She hissed as she felt the hard fingers around her arm squeeze down even harder, one of the fingernails puncturing her skin.

Miss Simmons leaned down to look the children in the face, sharp nose pointed at each in turn. Something flickered deep in her basalt eyes. There was a clicking and a hiss, then a bright smile.

"That's better, now run along and play,” answered Miss Simmons. As she turned and stalked away there was a small noise, as if she was cackling. The trio watched her walk away, making sure she was really gone.

“Hey,” Eddie whispered at Jill and Mary as they watched Miss Simmons enter her room in the portable. “By the tree after school?”

Jill nodded, rubbing feeling back into her arm. She licked her finger and wiped away the blood from where Miss Simmons’ fingernail had pierced her skin.

“Yeah,” said Mary. “We’ll be there.”

Back to playground politics as usual....