Thursday, November 24, 2011

Moving!

Hi all!

I want to let everyone know that my reviews are moving to my main website at http://kristadball.com . Originally, my blog wasn't set up to deal with reviews, author help, and my regular blog. However, I've been able to move things together with some blog changes. Also, now that my time is limited, it is easier for me to blog from one central location, as opposed to three different ones.

So, hop on over and follow. You can see all of my reviews under the "Review" category!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alice and Dorothy by J.W. Schnarr

288 pages
Horror
J.W. Schnarr
Northern Frights Publishing
Amazon buy link - $2.99 (kindle format)
Drive Thru Horror - $2.99 (other formats)


The Blurb:


A FAIRYTALE OF SEX, DRUGS, AND MURDER...Alice Pleasance has just killed a man.Later, while suffering a heroin overdose, Alice visits a nightmare world of playing card royalty and violent tea parties. Worse, Alice discovers that her broken mind has dragged something out of her delusions and into her waking life. Something evil.
Trapped in a psychiatric ward while dealing with her drug addiction, Alice finds an unlikely friend in Dorothy Gale, a girl who knows all about other worlds and the duality of life. Sweet, gentle Dorothy, who carries a stuffed dog named Toto and has a few secrets of her own.Now they are on the run, escaping vengeful drug dealers, trigger happy cops, and the horrors being created inside Alice's own shattered mind.
And while Dorothy clings to the promise of love as she chases a tornado across the country, Alice clings to her sanity, because the creature sharing her mind has a growing bloodlust that will not be denied.

Holy crap. This book is gritty, demented, and ultimately unforgettable.

I had such a soft spot for Alice and her "Alice in Wonderland" psychotic episodes. I worked with homeless people for several years, many with mental illness and drug addictions. Schnarr's depictions of that kind of life mixed with a mental illness ranks amongst the most realistic and visceral that I've come across in fiction. When Alice is screaming at the voices in her head, hitting and killing as she tries to deal with the fractures in reality, I recalled the stories that homeless people often told me about their own lives.

Alice and Dorothy's adventure, or killing spree, or descent into insanity (it depends on what point-of-view you're using) grabs your senses and runs with it.

It was a difficult book to read, but far more difficult to put down. It pushes the envelop, and creates a masterpiece.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Four Quick and Dirty Reviews

I'm a little behind in my reviews, so here are four titles I've read recently!

ASPECT RATIO by Frances Pauli

SFR novel
Book Two of the Shift Happens series (stand alone, but I recommend you read Book 1 first)

Technically, this has been classed as a science fiction romance in several places. It isn't. It's a science fiction comedy.

It made me laugh when I was on vacation and having a crummy day.

What more could I ask from a book?


BE GOOD TO YOUR ELF by Elizabeth Coldwell

Contemporary Erotica (Christmas theme)
Short Story (about 3000 words)

Rather weird reading a Christmas tale in the dead of summer, but I've done weirder things.

This story had a sweet charm to it and never lost its sense of humour, right up to the end. Worth reading just for the poor heroine's face palm moment. You'll know it when you hit it.



CARNALLY EVER AFTER by Jackie Barbosa

Regency erotica (novella)

I really liked this story. It's not a deep historical foray into the Regency period or anything, but I don't think it's meant to be that.

My only complaint (and it's more about this genre, than this specific book) is the sex dialogue can get clumsy. It can get tedious having a man walk a woman through losing her virginity.

Still, if you're into Regency books, this is a descent one and worth both the price and the time investment to read.



SEVEN DEADLY SINS by Various

Flash Fiction Anthology
About 8000 words

This was a re-read for me. Still like it. The story, LUST, still has me laughing.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow

Urban Fantasy
Novel-length

Back of the book Blurb

First in the Dante Valentine series

Necromance-for-hire Dante Valentine is choosy about her jobs. Hot-tempered and with nerves of steel, she can raise the dead like nobody’s business. But one rainy Monday morning, everything goes straight to Hell. The Devil hires Dante to eliminate a renegade demon: Vardimal Santino. In return, he will let her live. It’s an offer she can’t refuse. There’s just one catch. How do you kill something that can’t die?

I have mixed feelings about this book. First off, I really liked the near future-fantasy mixture. I generally find this mix flops, but Saintcrow definitely pulls this setting off. Since I read science fiction and know what a "hover" would be, I cope easily with the language. I can see, however, someone who's never read SF getting lost. However, if you can follow a Star Trek episode, you can follow this easily enough.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story line. I thoroughly enjoyed the side characters. I raced through the book to see how it ended. And yet...

Something about the main character really got underneath my skin at times. I have a personal issue with female main characters in urban fantasy, who are all kick-ass, but can't seem to work with other human beings. At all. It tends to grate my nerves at times. I'd love to see more urban fantasy where a women leads people into battle, instead of having friends inviting themselves to come help.

Even with the faults I found in the main character, the side crew were outstanding, as was the general story line. I picked up the entire series in ebook, as there was a sale over at Kobo Books. I plan to keep going. For the faults of Valentine, I'm still interested to see how things unfold.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bloodlines by Skyla Dawn Cameron

Bloodlines by Skyla Dawn Cameron
Urban Fantasy
Novel


Back-of-the-book Blurb


After three hundred years of unlife, vampire Zara Lain has seemingly done it all, and she's now making a living as a successful thief-turned-assassin. Her newest assignment seems simple enough--kill the aging leader of the O'Connor Coven and his only heir, and she'll have another ten million in the bank.


But in the dangerous world of the supernatural, few things are ever "simple."


When a massive assault decimates the continent's population of powerful witches and warlocks, and its orchestrator has vampires being hunted down and captured, Zara realizes the tables have turned and now she'll be playing the hero. Forced to join with a smart-mouthed fellow vampire, a demonologist who's also a fan of hers, a recently widowed--and frequently brooding--warlock, and her best friend's mom, Zara's grudgingly willing to do what she can to save the day.


If only people would stop ruining all her outfits...



Vampires behaving like vampires. Now there's a thought.

BLOODLINES is a snarky and bloody trip into the life of Zara the crazy, emotionally damaged, and way too snarky for her own good (my name for her). God, I loved her. Think Buffy as a vampire. Have teeth, will kick ass.

If blood, swearing, and snark offends you, pass on this book. There's plenty of all three. Yet, I never felt that any was out of place. It was always honest. And perhaps that's what set this book apart from most urban fantasies featuring a female main character: it was honest to a fault. There was no going easy on the readers; everything was to character for Zara. Everything. It's rare for a book to be that honest.

It's so honest that I finished the book at 1am and swore curses of eternal rashes on the author. Rare does a book bring out such a reaction in me.

Read it and rediscover both vampires and urban fantasy.



100% Full disclosure here, folks. Skyla is the COO of Mundania Press, who recently contracted an epic fantasy of mine. Skyla is also running a contest where there's some awesome prize-winning potential for folks who review Bloodlines. I'm reviewing the book because a) I liked it and b) I want to win goodies. I am not doing it to suck up to her, since she's already picked up my book ;)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Highsong by Laura Jennings

HIGHSONG by Laura Jennings


About 60 pages (according to my eReader)
Science Fiction/Adventure (though I'd class it as YA SF)
Back of the book blurb:


A young dolphin and her human ward discover they are the only defense against a massive alien onslaught.


I've put off writing this review because I'm rather torn about the book. Finally, I decided that my issue was not with the book; rather I am not the kind of reader that this book should attract.


First things first. This is well-written, organized, and a stellar showing of Jennings' talent. No doubt we'll see a lot more from her in the future and I sincerely look forward to her future work. 


For me, I was expecting more of a harder science fiction than a young adult toned novella. So, in that case, I was disappointed. Though, to be fair to the author, that's my fault and not the fault of her work. My interest in the book faded a couple of times, mostly because I struggled to connect with Harp (the human boy) and Sia (the dolphin). 


In the end, if the combination of dolphins and space travel interests you in the least, this is definitely the book for you. I'd also recommend this as a "gateway book" for anyone who hasn't read any science fiction. It has enough imagination to be different and interesting, without reading like a technical journal or assuming a base knowledge of common science fiction terms and plotlines.


It's worth picking up and giving a try.



Monday, June 6, 2011

The Dimensional Shift by Frances Pauli

I struggle with science fiction romance (SFR). I'm not a big romance reader, though I don't mind romance in a book itself. However, I haven't had good luck with the merger of the two genres. Most times, I'm left feeling like either the science was laughable or the heavy panting got in the way.

So, as someone who doesn't like the genre and who has struggled to even finish most SFR books recommended to her, I *loved* this book. Loved it. Laughed and laughed, and laughed some more. And I didn't laugh at it. No, I laughed with it.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Pauli took the common "vanilla human meets the aliens" trope and gave the woman a job cleaning hotel rooms in space/time. That just rocked.

A major thing that I enjoyed was that the love interest was not the focus of the book. Our heroine had to deal with moving into another dimension, making friends with an invisible man, and her crazy neighbour. The relationship between Chloe (our heroine) and Drew (the handsome boss man) never felt forced, so I could enjoy their story along with Chloe's adventures.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Digital Rights by Brent Knowles

Digital Rights by Brent Knowles
Science Fiction
Novella-length
$1.00

Back of the Book Blurb:


Izzy's new job aboard a solar station orbiting Earth becomes more complicated when she begins receiving cryptic messages from a ghost. This story was a winner in the "L Ron Hubbard presents the Writers of the Future" contest, and first appeared in Writers of the Future Volume XXVI.

I picked up Brent's book months ago, but only have had the chance now to sit down and read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had the right mix of science fiction (robots, set in space, creepy quasi-'net) with the psychological mind tricks that outstanding harder science fiction should play with your mind.

The science easy to follow after about page 4 or 5, once I managed to adjust my imagination to Knowles's particular setting. The only thing I struggled with was trying to picture the "Assistants", but I opted to picture them as quasi human-looking robots. I'm not sure if that's what the author intended, but it worked for me.

For those who are afraid to jump into harder science fiction, Digital Rights provides a good introduction. The benefit is its length. A longer story would have become too bogged down, I think. The length works in its favour.

There are books that make a reader think, "I could have written that." Then, there are books like these that make a reader sigh and say, "I wish I'd written that."

One of my favourites for 2011.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Book Announcements

I'm very fortunate to have beta read some wonderful books that have since been published. However, since I read and helped with those early stages, I don't feel right posting reviews of them. Instead, I will give do a book announcement to bring attention to them.

Dioscuri
by Chrystalla Thoma
Novella-length
Young Adult Fantasy

When you are Zeus’ immortal son, you know you can get away with mostly anything. Bringing back the dead is not one of those things. Yet this is what Polydeukes does when his mortal twin, Kastor, dies. According to the dark deal he strikes with one of the gods, the brothers must alternate days in the land of the living, and  Kastor cannot be told, or the deal is off. On top of that, If Hades were to find out, all hell would break loose. Literally.

But Kastor begins to put two and two together, and keeping the secret becomes difficult for Polydeukes. Will Kastor break his brother’s deal and save Polydeukes from an eternity of punishment in Tartarus, or will Polydeukes find 
a way to save them both?



Princes for Hire
by Jamie Grey
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy
Short story

After winning his kingdom in a legendary poker game twenty years ago, Princess Mina’s father loses the kingdom just as easily. Now alone and penniless, Mina must rely on her sword to support them both.

When the princess-turned-mercenary is offered a contract to save a prince that will pay enough to keep her father laid up in luxury for yet another year, she and her business partner snap up the deal. Dragons and all. 


But when she’s faced with a seedy mage and a prince who doesn’t want 
any woman to rescue him, Mina quickly learns the so-far-unseen dragon is the least of her worries.


Lair of the Jaguar God
by Marie Dees
M/M erotica
Novel

In the steamy Guatemalan jungle, Kit fights to prove his archeological skills while struggling with his attraction to the seductive Tony, who arouses feelings he is desperate to deny. Tony has his own secrets. A were-jaguar, he is still bound to the ruined Mayan city he once protected, but instinct draws him to the reluctant Kit. 

What power does this young man have over an immortal Mayan god? Will Tony find out before looters destroy the last remains of his ancestors, or will he lose everything, including a chance for freedom?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beyond Reach by Rebecca M. Senese

Beyond Reach by Rebecca M. Senese
Science Fiction
Novella-length
$1.99

Back of the Book Blurb:

Nadia is an Assassin, designed, built and trained to kill. Running from her owners, the Gemini Corporation, stranded on a space station, she is hunted by a tracker named Devon. The easiest thing would be to kill him. But Nadia is desperate to resist her nature and as Devon closes in, she fights against her overwhelming urge to kill.
I really enjoyed this novella, both in terms of the writing style and the plot itself. It was a little twisted and had a darkness to it that often doesn't translate well in science fiction of this length, however the author really pulls it off. I enjoyed this story a lot and fully recommend lovers of dark SF to pick it up.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Taking of Dove by Marie Kulhane

The Taking of Dove by Marie Kulhane
Published by Cobblestone Press, 2008
Novella-length, M/M erotica


Back of the book blurb:

Lonely centuries ago the one who made him named him Hawk and sought from him a soul bond.  But soul bonds are a myth and no vampire knows that better than Hawk.



Then a hunting party returns with unexpected prey, a blond who he names Dove and who arouses a desire other than his hunger for blood.  Hawk can only delay his death for a few days.  Unless he makes him a vampire, but only a fool would try to bond--again.

The Taking of Dove was the first gay erotica I'd ever read. I picked it up because I had just met Marie and wanted to support her, since she'd really helped me with a lot of newbie writing questions well back in the day. And while I'm still not a religious follower of m/m erotica, I definitely see the appeal of both the genre and especially this book.

One of the best things about this book is that sex isn't demonized nor moralized. It just is sex. I found that incredibly refreshing at the time, after having read a number of books that did one or the other. Also, I liked the actual plot of this book. I had the misconception that erotica just meant page after page of mindless sex. That might be the case for some erotica out there, but definitely not this book. The plot and story is intelligent, honest, and real. The characters are full of pain, hurt, fears, and all of the things that I want in a well-rounded, solid main character.

Hawk is a great alpha male, with great emotional development. I was very impressed with him from the start and liked him early on. It look me longer to warm up to Dove, but he was well-matched in the relationship.

Overall, several years later, I still rank this book in the top m/m erotica I've read.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shadows of the Emerald City

If you have $2.99 and are itching for an ebook, you must go purchase "Shadows of the Emerald City. It's that good.

I confess that I own the paperback, which I purchased from the Northern Frights Publishings's booth at Edmonton's Pure Spec convention in October. So, I'm cheating just a tiny bit here. However, the words are all the same and, at that $2.99, you just can't go wrong with this book.

I'm not a Wizard of Oz fan and I'm really not a horror/twisted dark fiction fan. So, when I say that I felt this was well-written, well-compiled, and well-edited, you are hearing this from a non-fan of the genre. There were a few stories I had to stop reading; otherwise, I'd need to sleep with the lights on for a week. And yet, I felt compelled to still give the next story a try. I found myself pushing my own limits in the genre because I enjoyed the short stories in this so much.

I'm so happy to see a new publisher really pushing the limits by putting out this anthology. It's outstanding. It's creepy. It's twisted. And it will change your view of Oz forever.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dean Koontz's Dead and Alive

Dead and Alive (Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, #3)Dead and Alive by Dean Koontz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this instalment, Deucalion, Carson, and Madison are steadily moving toward stopping Victor and his bid to take over the world. Victor's problem is that his creations are all turning into Pinky to his Brain. He is so bound by his own arrogance that he is incapable of taking steps to correct the errors. His downfall is inevitable, because he just can't admit that he isn't perfect. With everything going wrong around him, he finds more and more creative reasons why none of this is his fault.

Erika Five (Victor's wife) has become a central figure in this story line. She stumbles upon a secret passage in the library that leads to a private study. In the study is a large, coffin-like glass box with "something" in it. Something that actually speaks to her. Then she brings Jocko (Jonathan Harker's child from book 1) to see the secret room. Erika and Jocko have become friends and she wants his opinion about the mysterious box. Jocko is pretty sure that whatever is in the box is bad and they should just leave it alone.

Deucalion visits Victor's Angel of Mercy Hospital and discovers that Victor's creations are imploding much quicker than anticipated. He finds and speaks with Victor's computer operating system, and when he learns that the computer is partly organic he "frees" her from her prison by shutting the system down. The computer is grateful, but she follows her fail-safe instruction by turning the self-destruct count-down on. Victor goes back to the Hospital that evening only to find that everything will be destroyed. He grabs his computer back-ups and heads out to his new race factory outside the city. Deucalion, Carson, and Madison are on their way to the factory as well, and the final confrontation that will occur there.

I enjoyed this novel very much. I really liked the developing relationship between Carson and Madison, and the one between Jocko and Erika. Watching Victor's plans unravel and his utter confusion about it was fascinating. I know not everyone liked it, and I can understand why, but for me it was a satisfying read, and I recommend it. I'm really looking forward to Book 4: Lost Souls.

Buy the eBook:
Kobo    Kindle    Nook

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chimerascope by Douglas Smith

Chimerascope
Douglas Smith
Published by ChiZine

Back-of-the-book

Chimerascope, my first full collection of short fiction, is now available for ordering. Chimerascope contains sixteen of my favourite stories, including an Aurora Award winner, a Best New Horror selection, nine Aurora finalists, and three Year's Best Fantasy & Horror honourable mentions.

I had intended the read the first story, get a feel for the collection, and then book a time that I would read it all. No way. This collection was impossible to put down. This contains one of the best collections of speculative fiction I have ever read. There is a reason that the majority of these stories have won awards and nominations. Smith is absolutely brilliant as he proves SF is every bit as intelligent and thought-provoking as any literary work out there.

My favourite in the collection was "Scream Angel," with my new favourite first line: They stopped beating Trelayne when they saw that he enjoyed it. I surprisingly also liked "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down." I generally don't like horror, so it was a surprise to have enjoyed this one as much as I did.

After reading the collection, I immediately knew Chimerascope would be on my Aurora Award nomination list this year.

Author's website

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Allegra Fairweather: Paranormal Investigator

Allegra Fairweather by Jannie Nell
Carina Press
209 pages

Back of the book blurb:


Allegra Fairweather here. Paranormal investigator. Got problems with specters? Shapeshifters? I'm the woman to call. Just don't call me a Ghostbuster. The last guy who did that ended up flat on his back with my boot at his throat.
With my 99.5% success rate, solving the mystery of a bleeding rose that has sprung up on the shores of Loch Furness should have been an easy gig. But already I've heard the shriek of the local banshee, discovered two bodies (and then lost two bodies), and had a near-death encounter with a three-hundred-year-old ghost. And perhaps most dangerous of all, the hot pub owner who hired me now wants to show me exactly what's under his kilt.
Luckily, I'm ably assisted by my very own guardian angel. I'm grateful for his help-but he's also drop-dead gorgeous. A bit distracting when I've got a mystery to solve, and the clock is ticking...


I'm a little torn by this book. On one hand, it was quite a light, fluffy read - perfect for reading at the bus stop every morning. On the other hand, I had no confidence in Allegra's abilities. Then, there is the romance element that seemed too heavy-handed and out of place, but then there's the relief of it not having a HEA ending.

I loved the characters, excluding Douglas and Allegra. Douglas was underdeveloped for my tastes and seemed to become less and less important as the story went on.

Allegra kept telling us that she was an expert in paranormal investigations, though she didn't really seem able to investigate the case. There were a couple of very obvious moments where Allegra could not have solved the case without people randomly coming up and telling things at crucial things. That was disappointing. 

I also sometimes found her unprofessional, like this was her first case. The lusting after Casper (her guardian angel) frustrated me a few times and I admit that I thought she'd be faster solving the case if she wasn't mooning over the forbidden fruit.

In closing, if you're looking for a female version of Harry Dresden, this isn't it. If you like paranormal romance and are reading more for characters than plot, this might be worth you giving a try.