Tuesday, March 26

REVIEW: Behind Lace Curtains

(A copy of this review has been posted to the Gossamer Court's Book Reviews section.)

From Amazon:

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"Healthy college students, safe at home, asleep in their own beds, do not die of natural causes. Or do they?

When conflicted New York City photographer Jake Preston is called upstate for the funeral of his former lover’s young brother, he is unwittingly lured into a maelstrom of dangerous secrets and waking nightmares. While searching for the true cause of Keith’s death, Jake falls under the spell of Claude and Madeleine Devereux, a pair of malevolent, psychic parasites who convince him that he is more than flesh and bone, blurring the line of demarcation that separates Main Street reality from the truth that lies hidden just on the other side of a lace curtain."

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Behind Lace Curtains is a 578-page murder mystery novel. I was provided with a free copy of the book in return for an unbiased, non-reciprocal review. (I do not include synopses in my reviews - check the book's Amazon or Goodreads pages for that info.)

I admit that I normally shy away from murder mystery novels. It's not because I don't like them, it's because they're a dime a dozen -- next to grocery store romance, I'm of the impression that mysteries are perhaps one of the most popular genre out there. Thus, it's much harder to stand out. Everybody has a clever idea or you probably would never have even seen their book, much less read it. You've got to have more than that, and I think Synborski managed to take it to a level that is very much worth the read.

The book is on the long side, but rather than being bogged down with excessive description or too much irrelevant information, the space is used to advance the plot and endear me to the protagonist. You'll hear me say this in a lot of my reviews -- I MUST have a reason to care about the protagonist's plight, or nothing the author does to them will matter to me. In Behind Lace Curtains, I am afforded enough quality time with Jake Preston to get what I feel is a true understanding of who he is. Synborski makes me want to turn the next page because I am presented with a three-dimensional hero who's fate is important to me. Likewise, several of the supporting cast members have appropriate levels of development for their roles.

Another point of appreciation for this book is its versatility. I get to experience the same plot throughout such differing venues as New York city, and bayou New Orleans. Synborski clearly has a clear range of understanding for both such environments to make them feel truly believable, and I noticed I was completing larger sections of the book than I had planned with each sitting.

My complaints are minor and basically superficial. I noticed a few grammatical issues here and there, but I personally am willing to accept such things when they are not overbearing (people tend to forget that even the most professionally edited manuscripts will still have a few errors -- it is simply inevitable even when the book is on a shelf at a store). There are also two spaces after every period. This I also can't really complain about either, as it took me a long time to leave this particular meme behind myself, but it is a bit jarring when reading text printed in a variable-width font.

I won't say much about the actual mystery because I don't want to give anything away, but the plot itself, combined with all other aspects of the story, make for a compelling read that I would certainly recommend, for overwhelmed mystery enthusiasts that are looking for their next gem in the sea.


Monday, March 18

Hanging at the Edge of the Cliff

Hello all!

The topic at hand came to mind when I had an ironic experience recently. Several days ago I was in a conversation on Goodreads where the question of cliffhangers came up. One participant explained that they really hate cliffhangers because they hate being, per the term, left hanging and waiting for more. Closure was needed, even if it was only closure for a given scene. I remarked that cliffhangers don't really bother me that much. Sure, if I'm really into it I can be heard to say things like "Aww man! No more until next time?" But, to me it's all in good fun and I enjoy the excitement of waiting for the next installment. I've heard though, that some readers are prone to becoming honestly angry with an author who makes use of cliffhangers in certain ways.

Then, I suddenly found myself on the opposite side of the fence. Those of you who know me probably also know that I consider a well-written manga targeted at adult audiences to be just as interesting as a good novel. Typically to find juicy bits like that you need to go to fansub groups for books that will never be licensed to anybody outside of Japan, as opposed to traveling down to your local Barnes and Noble. On the plus side, there are so many great titles out there (if you know how to find them) that it's literally impossible to run out of constant brain-stimulus while waiting for the next chapter of one that's hooked you to be released. On the minus side, the groups that translate these things don't get paid for their work, and translating a manga to a readable quality takes a lot more work than one might think (editing, typesetting, cleaning, translating, et cetera...). You're also at the mercy of whatever groups choose to drop a project, unless another group chooses to pick it up again. It's nothing to complain about since if it weren't for these groups we wouldn't have any manga to enjoy at all, but still.

My point after that large digression is that when reading manga, you have to get used to cliffhangers that might never be continued in some cases, unless you plan to learn more Japanese than I did during my time over there. That, and you must be patient. One title that I have been following as closely as possible for nearly two years now is Shinigami-sama ni Saigo no Onegai wo (Last Wish to the Shinigami), by Mikoto Yamaguchi. It's an intriguing murder-mystery with high paranormal elements, shocking moments, suspense, humor...basically the gamut of emotional responses (something I appreciate in any good story). Most of all, it's extremely well thought out. In all that time the series ended at only eighteen chapters, but I was pleased when another group picked it up and saw it out to the end. Until I read the last chapter and found myself...on the other side of the fence. I won't give anything away, but suffice to say the ending raises just as many questions as the beginning did, and I received no real sense of closure. "What the heck is this?" I thought. I actually found myself becoming a little upset, and I trolled around a few forums just to be certain the 18th actually was the last chapter. To my dismay, the series did indeed end there.

It seemed to me that either the publisher had decided to axe the title and pull the rug out from under the mangaka (author), or the mangaka got lazy/gave up/etc and just left us readers to "figure it out on our own". I'm fine with a mystery story, but in my opinon, any story must have some sense of closure to be considered finished. You can conjecture all day long about whether or not Colonel Mustard was killed in the library with the candlestick, and it's a lot of fun to do that while the story is going on, but how would you feel if you never really found out whodunnit? Right, I felt the same way.

All the same, I've calmed down now and I can't say that I'm still upset about it. The mangaka insists that he dropped enough clues during the story to allow readers to determine the culprit. So, since 18 chapters isn't that long, I will most likely go back and re-read the entire thing to see what I come up with. Was the end-of-series cliffhanger a bad idea? I'm really not sure. I could cry foul, but then, I appear to not be the only one who's going to read it all again (which is rare for me), and if I'm willing to do that, I must have liked it. Also, now people have something to talk about. It's no longer "Oh, so-and-so did it, that was cool, let's move on." It's now, "Who do you think did it? Let's discuss ." I'm sure the story will garner even more readers now that people who have read it can make such comments.

Just like I'm making now. Go figure.

Well, that's my two cents. Would love to hear some opinions on cliffhangers for anybody who took the time to read this entire post! In the meantime, I think I have the list of suspects in this story narrowed down to two possible culprits. It's GOT to be one of them....

Thursday, March 14

Updates from the World of Ord

Hello all!

Wanted to take a moment to keep interested readers abreast of the developments in TGL's sequel. Things have been a little on the slow side lately, as I've been using some of that oh-so-precious free time to fulfill reviewing obligations to fellow indie authors. I don't so reciprocal reviews, but I'm a memeber of several review groups on Goodreads that have excellent schemes for matching up books with potential reviewers. If you want something out of the community, giving back is a good way to get it :)

At any rate, I also wanted to bring up a friendly mention I received in Real Indies, Real Answers, an article by Simpklu, a small team of editors, proofreaders and promoters who work quietly behind the scenes with small press, minor publishing houses, independent writers and self publishing authors. Simpklu recently asked several pertinent questions of the indie author community, and included a blurb in their article including one of my responses to their questions. Thanks Simpklu!

More writing to come!



BOOK REVIEW: Rani of Rampur

(This review has been copied to the Gossamer Court's book reviews section.)

From Amazon:

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"Rani of Rampur is a fast paced story of a young journalist, Rani who travels to her ancestral home in the Indian village of Rampur, in order to meet her estranged aunt's family. While helping her aunt plan a family wedding, Rani encounters political intrigue, murder and even supernatural forces at work. How she survives the challenges which are many, to protect those she holds dear, forms the core of this story."

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Rani of Rampur, by Suneeta Misra, is an approximately 200-page mystery/drama depicting fictional characters, but heavily weighted in factual aspects of Indian culture and society. I received this book for free in return for providing a non-reciprocal, unbiased review. I am not one for providing detailed summaries in reviews, so I will delve directly into my thoughts (if you do desire a synopsis, one has been provided on the book's Amazon sales page).

I must say that I enjoyed the setting of this book, but I admit I may have some personal bias in that department. I studied Asian history and culture extensively in college, and though my focus was on Japan, one cannot learn certain facets of Japanese history without learning Chinese history, and one cannot experience much of western Chinese history without influence from countries such as India. I haven't immersed myself in such a setting for some time, so this book was welcome in that respect. I won't hold my own shortcomings against the author however, when I further admit that my expertise with names and pronounciation also lies further east than India, so I did have a trivial amount of trouble keeping characters straight in this book (which did not dissuade me from enjoying it).

Rani of Rampur is essentially a young woman's struggle against classic, "bad guy" evil on the cusp of a society in a state of social change. Misra does a commendable job of weaving together both sources of antagonism -- there's murder most foul for Rani to deal with, while at the same time a clashing of progressive versus traditional culture. Despite the length, Misra takes her time weaving a careful plot, as well as developing the main character into somebody I felt I could relate to. I can't stress enough how important something like this is, at least to me. If I am not given the opportunity to care about characters in a story, then it won't matter to me what happens to them and overall I will find a read to be boring. That was not the case, here. I was really able to get into Rani's feelings and thinking. It's possible some may think the story ponderous at times, but I appreciated a well-rounded tale.

I have seen this book classified as a mystery. I can see that to a point, but I thought of it as more of a drama. There's definitely a mystery there to be enjoyed, but I felt that the cultural aspects of the book were more of a centralized theme.

I can say that Rani of Rampur felt "real" to me. Most everything in this book I can see happening in real life one way or another -- I didn't have any "oh c'mon, that's stretching it" moments. The book is well written and edited to the point that it is clearly not just a fly-by-night "I wanted to write a book" thing. Misra is a serious author, with a title such as this under her belt.

If I were to say anything negative about this book, it would be that a reader who has little to no interest in the cultural aspects of the book might not have enough to go on with just the mystery aspects to enjoy themselves. Misra does an fine job of keeping things clear and understandable (at least she did for me), but if familial power struggles with an ethnic feel aren't your cup of tea, you might have a tough time here. All in all, that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. Rani of Rampur is a unique tale that I would recommend to a fiction reader that also wants to learn a few things about another culture.


Friday, March 8

TGL's paperback status and updates on Book II

Hello all!

I'm happy to announce that TGL is once again available in paperback format! Check it out here!

The sequel is up to chapter six. So far several new characters have been introduced, and one bad situation has led to a few others. Hot water for the heroes! Writing continues...


Friday, March 1

TGL Featured on WiLoveBooks

Hello all!

TGL was recently featured on the WiLoveBooks book blog! Read all about it here!

Progress on book II continues. It's right around time to find out just what became of poor Theo after his ordeal in the reflectia woods. More to come!