Mr. Kiss And Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham #15in2015

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Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars, #2)Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Browser crash ruined my first version of this review, but let’s try again:

This book was going so well, until it fell apart at the end.

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I’m a fan of the Veronica Mars tv show. I’ll admit that I didn’t watch every episode multiple times, but I’m pretty sure there was never an episode where Veronica got the criminal to confess by bringing in a huge bruiser to beat the confession out of him.

Poor book-Veronica doesn’t have half the devious wit of TV/movie-Veronica, because book-Veronica just can’t think up a way to catch the bad guy without having his bones broken. Sure, in the TV show there were fights and physical dangers. Logan brandished a gun to pull her out of a tight spot. Keith faced off with Aaron Echols. Logan got himself thrown in prison to kick the shit out of the Hearst rapists.

But at no point did Veronica ever pull a lazy, shitty stunt like torturing a suspect into a confession.

Did I mention that a major subplot in the book involves the fight against corrupt local police?

Here’s the thing: Veronica was a trickster character. She put on disguises, played with people’s heads, and tricked them into incriminating themselves. She used her brains. In this book, not so much.

Anyway, that’s a massive, massive disappointment. I expect better. I wouldn’t want to drop a series for one terrible creative choice, but I’ll be borrowing book 3 from the library, and if the authors pull this lazy shit again I’m out.



No buy link this time.

Book 4 for #15in2015

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham #15in2015

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The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars, #1)The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Obviously, I was a fan of the show and I backed the Kickstarter. I even went to the theater to see the film. When this book came out, I bought it right away, but it languished on the shelf.

It shouldn’t have. It’s not the deepest detective novel I’ve ever read, but it was addictive as hell. I lost half a work day pushing through to the end.

This is the first novel I’ve ever read about characters from another. medium and being able to picture the actors delivering the dialog had a strange effect. There was a flush of warm feeling because I enjoyed the show so much, but it took me out of the story, too. Every time a scene with Wallace would end, I’d start thinking about Percy Daggs’s career, and wonder how much acting work he was getting now.

Still, it was compulsively readable, funny in spots, and while the scenes between Keith and Veronica didn’t have the warmth of the TV shows (because how could they without those two actors) it was still Keith and Veronica.

Good stuff. Recommended if, like me, you enjoy private investigator novels.

Book 3 in #15in2015



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The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

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The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch, #1)The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking This is why I give terrific books like MAPLECROFT four stars, because I need room for THIS.

Then I got to the end, and the whole thing fell flat.

The setting is Istanbul in the 1830’s, and an army officer has been murdered, his body displayed in a gruesome way. Imperial operative Yashim is brought in to solve the killing, and to find the other three officers who disappeared at the same time. Yashim is a man of some breeding who can move unobtrusively through all levels of society, including the sultan’s harem… because he’s a eunuch.

Anyway, historical fiction is something of a research competition. Writers immerse themselves in the time and place, studying the details that will make the reader feel that they’re really experiencing this other time and place, with just enough details to ground the story without turning into a travelogue. Then readers come along, looking for nits to pick… It’s a whole thing.

And it bores me, to be honest. As a fantasy reader, I love the sense of place and don’t worry too much about accuracy. Anathema, I know, but there it is.

In truth, the novel made me wish there were more novels with the same feeling of complexity and nuance that the real world has. I wish I were capable of it, myself.

Yeah, this is a murder mystery with far-reaching political implications. If the protagonist was a little slack in his investigation, well, that’s a nice change. The denouement didn’t work, unfortunately, and the “action” scenes deserve the air quotes. There was violence but none written with the sort of tension that makes the heart race.

Still, the description of everyday life in 1830’s Istanbul was a delight, and made me wish I could visit right now. The characters were complex and interesting. The genre stuff was tatty window dressing, and disappointing in the end.

If you’re a reader who enjoys reading fantasy novels for the settings, try this. Seriously.

Book 2 for 15in2015



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Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

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Maplecroft (The Borden Dispatches #1)Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting this book, I knew nothing of Lizzie Borden except that old nursery rhyme and that she’d been acquitted. So, an epistolary historical fantasy that, being familiar with much of Priest’s work, was sure to take a turn toward horror? I was in.

And I was glad of it. There were a few minor missteps, but they were very minor. Overall, the book combines Priest’s usual flair for historical detail with the slow-building dread that comes from nightmarish, inexplicable narrative.

In short, people in the small town of Fall River, MA are becoming sick, which means they’re actually transforming into weird inhuman creatures with a connection to the sea. It’s *not* a Shadow Over Innsmouth situation, although that’s obviously what it sounds like here. In real life, Borden’s murdered father and step-mother were ill for several days before they were murdered; Priest takes this detail and runs with it, imagining the elder Borden’s becoming monstrous and deadly, forcing Lizzie to kill them in self-defense.

After her acquittal, Lizzie realizes that others in town are showing the same symptoms as her parents, and sets out to do something about it.

The book seems to be marketed as the start of a series, which frankly weakens the tension by a lot. I also wish there hadn’t been a mention of Miskatonic University. Turning the page and thinking “Oh. This is Lovecraft.” has become more of a disappointment than anything else. The story could have gone anywhere, but once I read that word, I felt possibilities narrow.

I also would have been happier with more Lizzie and less Dr. Seabury. He’s a fine character, but he’s not as interesting as Lizzie and I felt he took over the narrative too much.

But like I said, minor stuff. I haven’t read all of Priest’s work, but this is my favorite so far. It’s tangible, has great characters, and is genuinely spooky. Recommended.



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“Your Margin Is My Opportunity.”

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The water cooler talk around ebooks and self-publishing is that revenues for self-published authors are falling and it’s not just for authors in the Kindle Unlimited program.

For those who don’t know: Kindle Unlimited works like Netflix Streaming. Readers pay a set fee and can read as many books available in the KU program as they like. One fee, limited choice, unlimited reads.

One of the reasons that self-publishing took off as well as it did was because there was a bunch of voracious readers out there who could tear through a book a day, and they liked buying cheap books. With the sales commission that Amazon took (do not speak to me of “royalties” from Amazon), authors could do pretty well with this readership. Some did very well indeed.

And those authors grew to love Amazon and Bezos himself for fixing the distribution issues that have long limited self-published work. But of course, that quote in the subject header is from Bezos himself, and everyone knew the sweet payouts that Amazon’s been turning over to indie authors would come to an end soonish.

Now it appears to be happening. Instead of taking a commission, Amazon has started setting aside a pot of money, and dividing it between authors. Bringing new readers into your series by making book 1 permanently free isn’t really viable any more, since so many of those readers are in KU. Instead, self-publishers are releasing shorter and shorter works–or serializing their novels–to increase the number of shares they get in that pot.

Still, it appears that Amazon has skimmed off self-publishers’ most fervent readership. Instead of taking commissions, they offer what they like. So much for our margins.

I’m not sure how this affects me. I’m not really aiming for the readership that likes them cheap and disposable. I can’t; I’m not prolific enough. I have to price my work a little higher and hope to attract readers who see my books are more of an event. If I’m aiming for the “This is affordable; I might as well” crowd, I’m doomed. (Those readers are welcome to give my books a try, I encourage it! but I doubt they will in great numbers.)

Not that there aren’t other options: Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Indiebound, etc etc. Right? Except that, speaking for myself, the majority of my sales come through Amazon’s Kindle program. (I should do a post on that.)

The problem, I think, is not that there’s a glut of terrible books. There’s also a glut of really good books. I’ll never be able to read all the awesome books in the world, even if I did nothing else for the rest of my life. Even if your book is great, it can be difficult to catch the attention of new readers.

Which means it comes back to discoverability, and reaching the “early adopters” of the book world–those readers willing to try an author for no reason other than they like the cover or the title. If those readers are giving their credit cards a vacation by turning to Kindle Unlimited, some new way must be found.

At the moment, the only genuinely reliable method is reader word of mouth, which is the least-new thing about new developments in publishing.

Read more on this.

15 Books in 2015

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I don’t usually make New Years resolutions (because why wait for the start of the year to make a change? I prefer to spread my disappointment out over the year) but this year I’m making an exception.

I’m going to read 15 books in 2015, and I’m going to write reviews of them on Goodreads, then post the reviews here.

Some of you are going to laugh at that, because you read 15 books in a month, but I’ve always been a slow reader. So I’m going to try to finish a book every three weeks or so… about the time my library lets me borrow one.

And graphic novels don’t count.

I foresee a year of very few brick-sized epic fantasies, and a lot of mid-twentieth century crime thrillers.

The Silkworm by “Robert Galbraith”

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The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well whaddaya know, I guessed the killer!

Usually I never even try to guess the killer of a mystery novel; that’s not what I read them for. I like the characters, the conversations, the hidden narratives, but I don’t much care about puzzles.

Still, looking at one of the elements of the mystery (no spoilers, don’t worry), I thought I know how I’d do that if I were the killer and from there it was obvious.

Not that this ruined the book.

I confess to having a soft spot for private eye novels, even though no one is publishing them any more (supposedly). The good news is that Rowling apparently intends to continue writing the series indefinitely. Hey, she revived the boarding school genre, maybe she can make PIs marketable again.



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I have a story up at Podcastle(!!!)

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Well, how about that!

The story I wrote for John Joseph Adams’s HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects has been turned into an audiobook (audiostory? audiofic? radioplay?) and is live at Podcastle right now–“Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One”, my Lovecraftian Taco Kickstarter story.

I guess it should be listed as a radioplay, since they have an actual cast, not a single reader. And that cast has some names in it. Yikes. Imposter Syndrome, ACTIVATE!

I’m listening as I type this, and… is it embarrassing to announce that these guys made me laugh aloud?

Give it a listen, and check out the other stories they’ve done: for example, there’s an N.K. Jeminsin story that includes the disclaimer “Rated X. Contains sex and wolves.” ::sprains mouse clicking finger:: (My story is PG.)

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

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The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, I guess.

I picked this one up because I wanted to see how a recent, successful epic fantasy series started. Like many others, the literal answer seems to be “With protagonists as kids”

More specifically, this seems like a promising start that goes wrong in a bunch of interesting ways.

For example, the setup: This is a pre-industrial world where demons (aka “corelings”) rise from the ground at night, hunting and killing humans. The only protection humans have is to hide behind wards, magical symbols that hold demons at bay.

Once, people had more wards that were more powerful, but as the population has been fragmented and centuries pass, much of the old weapons have been lost. It’s a war of attrition, and humans are slowly losing.

As it is, a fine setup. The story opens with Three Admirable Protagonists–as children–who need to be instructed on The Way The World Works, for the reader’s benefit, and it’s the usual slow-paced epic fantasy thing, where we have to follow them to each new place, to meet new people and see new wonders, mainly because epic fantasy readers are tourists in a made-up landscape.

But… the problems. Brett does play rpgs, apparently, but he doesn’t think about his setting the way a player would.

For instance, wards seem perfect for ingenious, demon-destroying traps, but no one tries to build them. The only traps in the book are really tame.

Also, since you can attack across wards, you might expect the people huddled behind them to be the greatest archers in the world. Nope. Bows just don’t come into it. Yeah, the corelings have thick armor that makes them hard to hurt, but what about a windlass crossbow? What about aiming for the eyes? Sure, you’ll miss most of the time, but it beats the current plan, “cower and hope”.

The corelings themselves must be dumber than dogs or cats… Wards can be thwarted by partially covering them, but none of the demons ever tries to kick dirt or wet leaves onto them.

What’s more, wards (while not exactly rare) are not nearly as ubiquitous as they ought to be. Not enough people know how to do them, and portable circles are too expensive; this shit should be everywhere, because the demand is so high. It just wasn’t believable that towns and houses had one layer of protection, or that repairing/creating wards was an occupation that could make you rich. I didn’t believe it.

Beyond the implications of the setting is the odd pacing of the story, which follows each major development in the three characters’ lives right up to the point where the author realized the book was called “The Warded Man” so best skip a bunch of things to get right to that. The main character vanishes, replaced by Tattooed Batman, and… well, let’s just say it’s a little jarring, especially since so much of his character has been completely changed.

Finally, something serious: it’s one thing to have multiple cultures engaged with a resistance to genocide put heave pressure on women to have babies. It’s not fun, but it’s not surprising. What is surprising is the appearance of fantasy Muslims, complete with burkas and merchants who love to flatter and haggle. I’m especially not pleased to see them set up as antagonists for the next book.

It’s funny. Enjoying sf/f has made me a very forgiving person, artistically. Dude in a rubber suit destroying a balsawood Tokyo? Sure, go with it. It doesn’t look real but I’m willing to pretend it does because I want that thrill.

The same goes for this novel. There were plenty of good things here, especially the supporting characters, and under normal circumstances I’d be willing to pretend that Our Hero is the first person to think of tattooing wards onto himself. But I just don’t want to revisit those warlike, treacherous, faux-Muslims again, so I’ll wait for Mr. Brett to start a new series before returning to his work.



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The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald

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The Underground ManThe Underground Man by Ross Macdonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lew Archer is moving into the seventies, trying to keep up with changing times, and so are his characters.

After reading several crime/mystery novels, it was refreshing to read one that opened with real momentum, and that felt honestly earned. Archer is searching for a kidnapped boy in the midst of a California wildfire. The authorities have too much going on to offer much help, and Archer has to do the fictional PI’s work of digging through every character’s lives to work out the truth of the current crime and the obligatory crime-of-a-previous-generation.

The prose is a little purple, but it’s a pleasant hue. As a fan of private investigator novels, I like a bit of purple prose. Macdonald isn’t entirely convincing in his description of his younger character and people’s drug use, and frankly, I thought it spun on a little long, but it was still one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year.



Pick up a copy for yourself.