<![CDATA[SALLY BENNETT BOYINGTON - Reviewing]]>Sun, 13 Oct 2019 03:03:17 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[The Parafaith War, by L. E. Modesitt Jr.]]>Sat, 12 Oct 2019 12:41:13 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/the-parafaith-war-by-l-e-modesitt-jrI’ve seen this book on several “Top 10 Science Fiction Favorites” lists, so I decided to read it. The Parafaith War is certainly one of the better Modesitt books, in my opinion, even though it’s not quite my style.

The three-act structure and action-oriented narrative fit the hero’s journey plot archetype: Trystin Desoll, our hero, starts out in the planetary perimeter defense corps, becomes a starship pilot, and finishes as a spy on the enemy’s homeworld. Nothing really new there, but just because that three-act structure has become a standard Hollywood narrative doesn’t mean it’s trite. The specifics of the story and the questions it explores were enough to keep me reading.

The aphorism “Long periods of boredom broken by moments of sheer terror” seems to apply to Desoll’s entire career. The tedium and repetition of his day-to-day duties and even his actions during the many battles, whose description often varies only in small details, emphasize the automatic, unthinking responses that Desoll was trained and modified to deliver. That’s part of the reason for the war: the enemy believes that Desoll and his fellow technologically enhanced soldiers are no longer human, while Desoll’s side, the Eco-Tech Coalition, opposes the faith-based culture of the Revenants.

Punctuated with quotations from the Revenants’ Book of Toren, the Farhkan aliens’ Findings of the Colloquy, and the Eco-Tech Dialogues, the story explores Desoll’s unfolding notion that there has to be a better way than military force to solve a problem. The underlying hypothesis that technological and medical advances lead to population growth, which leads to overconsumption of resources, which leads to warfare, which decreases the population, is interesting.

The book also explores the limitations of technology coupled with the wielding of power through technology; the impact of bigotry on the ability to see the humanity of people who think differently; and the hypocrisy of moral absolutes, such as “thou shalt not kill” and “love they neighbor” versus the tendency to kill thy neighbor for religious reasons.

Although The Parafaith War isn’t the kind of science fiction I gravitate toward, the emphasis on battles rather than worldbuilding is likely to appeal to military historians, Civil War reenactors, veterans, and anyone who enjoys military-oriented adventure stories.
<![CDATA[Never Forget, by Martin Michaud]]>Fri, 30 Aug 2019 18:23:41 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/never-forget-by-martin-michaudMontreal detective Victor Lessard becomes a target as he tries to unravel a complicated quest for revenge that takes him back decades, across 1,500 miles, and into conspiracy theories with ominous implications. As he struggles to put his personal life back together, he and his partner, Jacinthe Taillon, must decide whether they trust each other.

This gritty police procedural, the third in a five-book series, drops clues like breadcrumbs. Michaud’s presentation cleverly provides just enough information to keep the action rolling along but never enough to break the mood of suspense. Readers are cut loose in time and space and largely ignorant of the underlying significance of events; they have to piece everything together just as Lessard does.

The first thing I noticed when I started reading is that this book is not for the faint of heart. From the first gruesome death (which readers experience from the victim’s point of view) to the last, insanity and violence rule the lives of the characters. Alcoholism and drug addiction run rampant, death and abuse are everyday events, forgotten people languish on the streets and in rundown buildings, and friends, family, coworkers, and lovers seem to have little affection for each other.

As the book opens, characters are dehumanized, lacking names and described only vaguely: “the woman with the frizzy grey hair,” “the weather girl,” “the young [female] punk,” “the man [in his seventies.” The process of murder seems inhuman, too; the primary murder weapons are mechanical devices set to discharge when conditions are met, so no killer is present.

The constant slippage in time, space, and point of view becomes dizzying, even overwhelming at times. Nor do the characters provide stability: Lessard is wounded emotionally and physically; Taillon is crude, loud, gluttonous, and deliberately provoking. Nearly all of the detectives have something in their past that makes them act unprofessionally on occasion, which places others at risk.

Yet their dogged persistence, flashes of brilliance, and willingness to place themselves in harm’s way eventually solve the puzzle. Whether they have a life to return to once the work is done is another question.

Because this is a translation, apparently the first in the series to be translated from Quebec French to English, some of the wordplay in the plot may have been lost, and the narrative occasionally seems to have almost but not quite the right word. Still, the story flows smoothly and makes for a good thriller.
<![CDATA[Arthur's Army, by L. A. Wilson]]>Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:24:36 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/arthurs-army-by-l-a-wilsonPicture
The jealousy and desire Arthur inspires among his followers threaten to defeat him as surely as his military setbacks in this third novel in Wilson's series about Britain in the Dark Ages, narrated by the High King's conflicted lieutenant, the berserker Bedwyr. Despite losing a quarter of his troops, Arthur knows his success depends on fighting the just war . . . in the brutal sense of the word in those days: no indiscriminate slaughtering of women and children, only those who take up arms, though starving them out by burning crops and killing livestock is acceptable.

With the introduction of Myrddin (Merlin) and a family Arthur never knew, his quest to reclaim the Saxon Weald takes several unforeseen twists, as those who love him best must decide whether to betray him or their own interests. The magic and mysticism of the druids and the hillfolk who were never brought under the sway of Roman Britain lurk just under the surface in the pages of this volume, providing a tantalizing hint at this world, so foreign to modern readers.

Bedwyr's devotion becomes problematic in the politics of the court, as the story shifts over to his life as a mere man rather than Arthur's right hand. This heart-wrenching look at what warriors must become once the battles are over does advance the story arc of the whole series, but this volume does not quite fulfill its promise, feeling like a transition rather than a full story in itself.

The man-love in this volume develops naturally from the previous books and may be the most interesting aspect of Bedwyr's development. But having a conflict between religions and the spooky fox/bear story grafted onto what would have been a sufficiently complicated plot on its own left me wishing the author would have focused this volume a little more.

Disclaimer: I received a free evaluation copy of this book.

4-star review originally posted on Amazon August 30, 2011. Now Book 2 of the Silurian series.
<![CDATA[Adam's Daughters, by David Bowles]]>Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:20:43 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/adams-daughters-by-david-bowlesPicture
Set in the Old West that was, before America extended past the Mississippi River, this thoroughly researched novel tells a dramatized version of the author's own family history: the Adam Mitchell family.

With one of the daughters, Peggy, proving successful at professions including fur broker, self-trained physician, and schoolteacher, this forward-thinking family manages to play out their lives on the frontier in a series of dramatic incidents. Some of the attitudes seem more modern and politically correct than would have been likely for the times, but not gratingly so.

The author deftly weaves together details that might be unfamiliar to readers, such as the Celtic heritage of the Appalachians as exhibited in mountain dulcimer music. The original cover art is beautiful and perfectly captures the mood and flavor of this novel, which also has several helpful components discussing the factual basis of the work and providing a resource list, in addition to a cast of characters.

Disclaimer: I received a free evaluation copy.
4-star review originally published on Amazon September 1, 2011
<![CDATA[Duty, Honor, Country, by Bob Mayer]]>Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:14:11 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/duty-honor-country-by-bob-mayerPicture
Only a man who survived the trials and tribulations of the West Point cadets and went on to serve his country as an active-duty officer could write such a brilliant dramatization of the military careers and personal lives of the main characters who people this book: Ulysses S. Grant, Lucius Kosciusko Rumble, and Elijah Cord. By showing us the early events that helped shape them into men of honor, Bob Mayer escapes the trap of simply dramatizing known facts from diaries, letters, and so forth that necessarily plagues historians and biographers of the great Civil War generals. Here he creates an engaging, mostly imaginary account based on facts.

Although Mayer's series might not qualify as historiography (in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August), there is so much in this novel about early West Point history, the severe discipline and harsh living conditions, and long-established traditions such as the rings, the Honor Code, Beast Barracks, plebe hazing, Silencing, and the terms for each class (plebes, yearlings, cows, and firsties), along with descriptions of such iconic places as the Plain, South Dock, and Kosciuszko's garden, that readers gain a feel for what it means to be a part of the Long Gray Line. Though many things have changed for cadets in the past two hundred years, the emphasis on duty, honor, and country as precepts guiding all of these cadets as they move into the army (and for some, carried into civilian life later) remains unchanged.

The disappointments, pain, and regret felt by all the former West Point cadets shown in this book (especially those who went on to become the most famous Civil War generals) provide gut-wrenching insights into the politics and cultural undercurrents that surrounded these men, compounded by Mayer's deft portrayal of the misery of war, the importance of family, and what must be done sometimes to survive. In addition, their many personal weaknesses and struggles to become better men put a human face on this epic story.

The question of what IS honor, as shown through the comparison between Lucius Rumble and George King, takes center court in this gripping novel and provides sufficient reason to keep the pages turning even for those readers who may not be fans of military history.

The only discordant notes in this book come from the many subplots, such as that of the primary antagonist, St. George Dyer, a slave overseer who hunts down Lucius Rumble and his son in the midst of a Civil War battle. Dyer may very well have existed and might have been as brutal as portrayed here, but having an entire subplot focused on his greed and desire to destroy the Rumble family detracts from the valuable service he does in the book: providing a link with the fascinating Texas war profiteer Sally Skull, another actual historical figure. There are so many secondary characters that some of their stories simply vanish instead of being wrapped up at the end, leading to a sense of an abrupt ending and matters left unfinished.

(Disclaimer: I received a free evaluation copy to review.)

Editorial quibbles for those who care about such things: missing punctuation marks, occasional typos, and homophone errors suggest that although this book went through a spelling/grammar checker, it was not professionally proofread or edited.

5-star review originally posted on Amazon September 3, 2011. This book appears to no longer be available for sale.
<![CDATA[Gamal's Assassin, by J. Randall]]>Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:07:22 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/gamals-assassin-by-j-randallTupac Amaru, the last Inca emperor, was executed by the conquistadores. But his body does not get to rest in peace: when archaeologists uncover his reburied remains, a graverobber steals the funerary artifacts, in ignorance leaving behind only the death mask. A 30-year-old Marine is among the American undergraduate students at the summer field camp in Peru. His quest to avenge the woman and children murdered by the thief leads him and a friend across the world on a dangerous mission.

From Peru to Bolivia to Rio de Janeiro to Rome to Saudi Arabia to Egypt to New York... The author lets the reader see all these locations through several viewpoints, including the various villains (although several of these are too clichéd).

There aren't a lot of subtleties in this book, which relies primarily on plot, with fast-paced action and dialogue carrying the question of whether the Marine and his friend will get themselves killed before returning the artifacts to the archaeologists. I would rather that more of the locals (anywhere in the world) were described in a less patronizing way, that the Americans weren't always one step ahead of their enemies, and that some of the plot twists hinged on something more than coincidence. The action is not all focused on the deadly gamble, though.

Sexually aggressive women provide a few moments of fun that don't involve anyone dying. The one love interest is a vegetarian archaeologist who wears a Che Guevara t-shirt with no bra under it, drinks whiskey with her Coke, can fix her jeep (and drive it too fast), and is willing to risk her life to save a guy she just recently met.

I liked having the chapters titled, in the old-fashioned way. The author also did a good job overall with the pacing, interspersing backstory and physical descriptions with action. Only in a few scenes did the pacing get bogged down.

The course the book took disappointed me a little; from the book description I expected to read more about the artifacts and why they're important enough to kill for.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy to review.
4-star review originally published on Amazon September 20, 2011, but this book appears to be no longer available!
<![CDATA[Betrayer, by C. J. Cherryh]]>Wed, 31 Jul 2019 17:58:21 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/betrayer-by-c-j-cherryhPicture
I've been meaning to write a review of the Foreigner series since reading #1, #2, and #3 in a single weekend many years ago. Unfortunately, I always get so caught up in the story that I'm unable to focus on the details with a critical eye.

By now, each new book in the series is like Facebook in providing me the opportunity to catch up with old friends: in this case, Ilisidi, Lord Geigi, and Cajeiri (and wondering, for the latter, whether the author will ever let him move on to felicitous nine years old). With kidnappings, attempted assassinations, uneasy alliances, and conspiracies and machinations that would put Jacobean dramas to shame, the series consistently reveals essentials about the human condition--using the alien culture of the atevi.

The atevi are not completely foreign to us, of course, for they have a Japanese flavor, reminding me of samurai culture and kabuki theatre, while simultaneously undergoing a rapid transformation from an almost medieval world of warlords and preindustrial technology to the information age and a presence in space. The constant tension between traditionalists and modernists (and the prospect of disaster if the traditionalists prevent modernization) is part of what drives the story for me.

With generally slow pacing and the primary point of view lodged in the head of Bren, a compulsive planner, these books are thoughtful, complex, and, yes, addictive. Each volume closes out a plot arc but advances the series to another point of impending conflict. I always anticipate the next one, only wishing it would come out sooner so I don't have to wait for my fix.

This book, #12 in the series, has a transitional feel to it. I trust that C. J. Cherryh has some reason for bringing Machigi, a dangerous enemy, into the Western Association, thereby joining the traditionalists of the East and South with the modernists of the West, adding a seafaring people to the spacefaring alliance. But she hasn't revealed her intention yet. As always, I have to wait, and trust in the author's ability to deliver yet another compelling read.

5-star review originally posted on Amazon September 27, 2011
<![CDATA[Obsidian Prey, by Jayne Castle]]>Wed, 31 Jul 2019 17:43:56 GMThttp://wordsmithpages.com/reviewing/obsidian-prey-by-jayne-castlePicture
This paranormal romantic suspense takes us offworld to Harmony, a world colonized by a high-tech futuristic Earth but then cut off from the home planet and reverting back to today's level of technology in a setting that is parallel to our Pacific Northwest. On this new planet, latent psi abilities are common, enhanced by tuned amber. The heroine of this book, Lyra Dore, makes her living, such as it is, by tuning amber, though she also explores the alien ruins and sells relics from them (and has another source of income with great potential, besides).

The main plot is a little slow to get started but hums along pretty smoothly, involving a murder in the Amber Inc. laboratory and the theft of an alien artifact that may or may not be dangerous in the wrong hands. Toward the end, though, the resolution of this plot line becomes predictable. The secondary plot concerning Lyra's secret admirer actually has more suspense initially than does the industrial espionage of the main plot. Unfortunately, it too loses steam at the end, going with the obvious resolution instead of adding an unexpected twist.

The romance subplot is what carries the book in the first half. Cruz Sweetwater walks back into Lyra's life after an aborted courtship a few months earlier, which enabled him to get close to her so his family's company could gain control of the valuable ruin she had discovered. Now, as she sees it, she's useful to him again. Though she is just as willing to use him (to vault her career to a higher level of exclusivity) as he is to use her (for her unique paranormal talent), she's portrayed as being the one with superior ethics. Part of this undoubtedly derives from the feud between their two families, with hers being working class and his having gained power supposedly by cheating hers a few generations back.

Several plot elements are rehashed from previous Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz books outside of the Curtain World/Ghost Hunters series. For example, Jeff, the young Sweetwater employee who wants to break from the family business, reminds me of Josh Trevelyan from Absolutely, Positively (1996). The connection with art galleries and relics is reminiscent of Sharp Edges (1998) and Eye of the Beholder (1999), the latter of which also has a metaphysical guru like the one in Obsidian Prey (Ghost Hunters, Book 6). The theft of a crystal and murder of a lab tech occur in Soft Focus (1999), along with the hero's demand to have a second chance with the heroine. Then there's the family feud from the Jayne Ann Krentz Collection - Eclipse Bay: Eclipse Bay, Dawn in Eclipse Bay, Summer in Eclipse Bay series.

The heroine is JAK's standard feisty, principled, independent woman with a chip on her shoulder, running around doing dangerous stuff but sure that nothing bad could possibly befall her--and she doesn't need any help, thank you. The hero is likewise stock: controlling and dangerous, but also loyal and protective toward his family and perceptive, sensitive, and generous with the heroine no matter how bitchy she is. Lyra resents the power held by Amber Inc., and she certainly doesn't approve of how the Sweetwater family got to the top, but she isn't too proud to cut corners and act unethically for her own advantage.

These characters are a melange of likeable and unlikeable characteristics, and the mix doesn't make me want to get to know them quickly. They have just enough depth to support the story line. Not enough to carry the romance line, which is rather weak. If the author didn't keep telling me how each one broke the other's heart, I wouldn't have seen it.

The three sex scenes are almost required in this book, because there isn't much romantic tension. Even though Cruz says to Lyra that she's making it as difficult as possible for him to get her back, she really doesn't: there's no groveling, no romantic gesture, not even an apology from him. They didn't have sex the first time around, and she chalks it up to him just doing his job, which was stealing the ruin from her, and not getting attached enough to her to want to take her to bed--which apparently did little more than sting her feminine pride. Then when they do sleep together, she says sex is just sex and doesn't mean anything (though it was good for her, the first orgasm that didn't require a "small personal appliance"). Although she claims he broke her heart during that first "fake" courtship, the only sign of her anguish is that she filed a lawsuit against Amber Inc. Where are the emotions?

Although the writing style is somewhat passive, the plot is predictable, and the characters are stock, Jayne Castle's storytelling still carries the day. This was an enjoyable enough read, more like the first few books in the Ghost Hunters series.

4-star review originally posted on Amazon October 2, 2011