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Professional Reader 2016 NetGalley Challenge 25 Book Reviews

2017 Reading Challenge

Jill Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 150 books.
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Guest Post: The Evolution of my Writing by Dane Cobain

Today I’m honored to bring you Dane Cobain, a very talented author (among other things!) and delightful person I “met” recently through my blog/reviews. In this first post, he will introduce himself and his work. Later this week, you’ll be treated to a fabulous poem he wrote expressly for Jill-Elizabeth.com, from a sampling of words I provided. I hope we will see more of him in the future – he’s lovely to work and speak with, and I think you’ll find his writing (in all of its forms) as enjoyable as I do…

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The Evolution of my Writing
by Dane Cobain

Hi, folks! My name’s Dane Cobain and I’m a British indie author, poet, social media marketer and occasional musician. I’ve been writing for fifteen years, and while I currently have five books out on the market, I’ve written almost three times that many over the years.

Most were self-published, made available only in a limited edition run for friends and family. Some were reworked and re-released, including the first book that I released after signing with a publisher, launching my ‘official’ writing career.

That’s why I’m here today to talk about the evolution of my writing. I’ll start at the beginning and end with a look to the future, so buckle up – we’re off on a ride through time and space!
Continue reading Guest Post: The Evolution of my Writing by Dane Cobain

Book Review: A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain

What an extraordinary series this is! I read the first book last year as part of the Library Reads program – when I saw the sequel on here, I jumped at the chance to request it… McElwain writes a brilliant tale – the characters are a delightful mix of eccentricity and relatable humanity; the setting is gorgeously painted; the plot and mysteries are well-woven and engaging.

I am a sucker for time-travel, so she had me from the get-go. Add to that a very strong, compelling heroine and a supporting cast that resonates with familiarity yet never feels stereotyped or stale, and you have the beginning of something grand. This second book sees our fearless heroine, Kendra, still a resident of Aldridge Castle – and once again drawn into a murder that she is uniquely positioned to help solve. The ongoing challenges she faces as she tries to force her modern, American, sensibilities and crime-solving techniques into Regency England are very well handled. Her frustration is palpable, and her restraint more than admirable – even if she, herself, might feel it is not as well managed as she (or those around her) would like… The love interest plot line (if you haven’t read the first book, I don’t want to spoil anything, so won’t say more) is delicately managed and doesn’t distract – or detract – from the mystery or the history, which is nice. Too often, authors seem to try to blend too many genres; McElwain manages to make this a time traveling historical fiction police procedural with a romantic under-core – without over- or under-playing any of those elements. No small feat, that… It helps that her writing style is so engaging and her stories so eminently readable – these are books you jump into with both feet, and ones you hate to see end… I cannot wait to see where Kendra’s tale goes next, and truly hope there are many more books to come!

My review copy was graciously provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

I Keep Saying This… (and a Blurb-Review of Gilded Cage by the Very Talented Dr. Vic James)

But I owe a post. Again. Ugh. I keep MEANING to write, but somehow the days fly by without my actually doing it. Still, I am overdue, so here’s a short bit of blurb-ness to keep my fingers in… (I have a handful of *real* reviews due, and promise they’ll be here soon, but I don’t know exactly what the parameters of this particular “soon” will look like… Still, I’m on it, I promise. Eventually. When life cooperates.)

Gilded Cage by Vic James

Oh, I liked this one… Dystopian future, with strong family elements and a really cool (and freaky) paranormal/extra-natural element I found intriguing and horrifying at the same time. There’s some first-class storytelling going on here, with more than a dash of morality tale for good measure. There are two segments of society – one has Skill (i.e., supernatural powers that range from the silly to the nigh-on omnipotent) and the other has ten years of slavery to that Skill… How individuals and families manage this ten years varies wildly – almost as wildly as the Skilled themselves. This first installment describes the intersection of two families, the Skilled Jardines and the unSkilled Hadleys. and the world will never be the same after their lives become entwined…

How’s THAT for a set-up – good, right? So’s the book. The story is quite as sharp and alluring as my hyperbole suggests. There’s some spot-on family and coming-of-age drama, and some glorious insights into the human condition that are presented in clear, crisp writing that enriches the underlying story while simultaneously making the reader occasionally pause, double-back, and reread until the full weight of the insights are realized. It’s a marvelous piece of storytelling… I’m delighted there will be more books.

AND, if the great storytelling wasn’t enough, when I Tweeted about my review, I got a response from the author herself, calling out a line from the review and thanking me! How’s THAT for cool?? 🙂

Book Review: The Whiz-Bang Machine

Wow – I was SO excited about this one, it’s an amazing, original premise (mystical typewriter tied to a bizarre set of family secrets) and I couldn’t wait to get started. It started with, well, a whiz-bang – a very strong beginning, sympathetic and interesting characters (including the typewriter itself, which almost counts as one), mystery and suspense and drama galore… Then it sort of stopped being that interesting. Randomly. The characters that seemed so complex wound up vacillating between acting like children (no matter their age) and acting like stereotypes. The secrets felt convoluted and somewhat forced at times – as did their reveals. And the action sputtered and banged like the typewriter itself. There’s a ton of promise here – it just felt like it still needs a HEAVY edit to pull all the pieces together…

I liked it, but it was work to read at times – and it also suffers from my LEAST FAVORITE book issue of all time: it stops. Right in the middle of the action. And there was no indication at any point in the marketing materials or the story itself that this wasn’t going to be a stand-alone book. I HATE THAT. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind a cliff-hanger. Well-managed, a cliff-hanger is a great way to bring readers back and to continue a story into new territory. But a cliff-hanger shouldn’t come in the middle of a plot point – this is not a weekly serial; it may well be a year (or more) before another book. Stopping at a point where the story you’ve been reading feels unfinished is not cuing up a cliff-hanger, it’s irritating your readers by forcing them to buy another book to finish the one they’re currently reading…

My review copy was provided by NetGalley.

Series Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Another excellent installment in this remarkable trilogy – that I now understand is going to move beyond three books! If you haven’t started the series yet you simply MUST. I”ll give a quick recap of why the first two books are worth picking up before you dive into this, the third:

THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY
There’s nothing I love more than a book about books, and a book about books AND secret libraries AND books that change/save/destroy the world(s) AND time-travel is simply too fabulous for description. The writing is great, the story moves at an excellent pace, the characters and world(s) building exquisite…

THE MASKED CITYHooray – it’s almost as good as the first in the trilogy! I say hooray and sound surprised because, in my experience, the middle books in trilogies are often necessary evils – they need to say what they do to set up the finale, but are often not the best stories to read by themselves… This one has some moments that clearly feel like setup – the pacing slows, the exposition grows, paragraphs feel just that little bit out of flow – but on the whole it also still reads like a really good story.

Here’s a taste of the writing in this one. I just love the straightforward, no-nonsense personality of Irene – this scene sees her facing off against one of the villains of the piece. This burst of villainous loquaciousness is a prime example of Cogman’s magnificent use of language and spot-on ability to nail the human condition: “People want stories. You should know that more than anybody. They want their lives to have meaning. They want to be part of something greater than themselves… Most people don’t want a brave new world. They want the story that they know.”

And finally: THE BURNING PAGE
Admittedly, this one was the most difficult for me of the three – I suspect because I read every page waiting to see what was on the next one… This happens to me with the “last” book in a series a lot – I am so invested in the characters and story that I can’t read the book for the simple pleasure of its writing/story, but am reading to satisfy my craving for the world and characters that it encapsulates. This necessarily, I think, makes the reading process a different one than when one reads a first or stand-alone book, because of the build-up and expectations and overwhelming desire to know What Happens Next…

Still, there are thrills aplenty here, and the continuing saga of the Library’s battle against the evil traitor Alberich is well-plotted and -paced once again… I really enjoy the increasing role of Kai and his people (I don’t want to inadvertently give any spoilers for the early books) in the series, as well as the increased intrigue among and between the Librarians (both those already introduced and the handful of new mentions in this book). Irene is a marvelous character – sassy, resourceful, human, and utterly likeable even when she is forced into horrible corners. I cannot wait to see where the series goes next – there are a few newly opened doors in this one that should lend themselves to a marvelous set of new adventures and developments!

Once again, there are beautiful truths planted throughout the story; little nuggets of wisdom that often seem to come out of the mouths of the Librarians (no surprise that, in my experience librarians as a class DO tend toward the remarkable end of the insight spectrum!). The characters are thoroughly well-rounded individuals, and this latest book provides an opportunity for several to finally explain their motivations in a way that is ultimately satisfying and disconcerting in equal measure – largely because those explanations reveal the complexity of motivation that underlies pretty much everything (in fiction as in life). The explications of said complexities are beautifully and delicately presented, as they have been in each book, and underpin again the tremendous talent of this author.

Here are a few samples to whet your appetite:
— “Is this really the time to–” Irene started angrily. “Yes,” Coppelia snapped. “Yes, it is and it always will be. You use the Language, child. You have to be absolutely precise or you will get hurt.”
— “Getting killed was incredibly easy. Anyone could do it. Staying safe and alive was much harder”
— “The only problem is that it’s difficult to imagine something entirely new. We use the words and definitions of the past to shape our ideas. Something that is genuinely the next evolutionary step is unlikely to resemble anything we can imagine.”
— “‘People do keep on talking about wanting a war so that their side will win. But ultimately all they really want is for their side to be a bit better off. Nobody wishes for their side to triumph completely.’ She paused, considering that statement, and clarified it. ‘Nobody sane, that is.'”

I really can’t say enough good things about this set of books. If you haven’t started the series, you really should!

My review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

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