Category Archives: ebook reviews

Nabakov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt

I just finished reading Nabakov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt, which uses statistics to analyze various popular and classic works of literature. For example, the book examines the favorite words of popular authors, whether it is possible to determine whether a man or a woman wrote a book through analysis, whether there is such a thing as an author “fingerprint,” and so forth.

It was a really interesting read, and one point caught in my mind. When discussing Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES, the author noted that all three HUNGER GAMES books are nearly the same length, and have very similar internal structures – number of chapters, length of chapters, and so forth.

I think this point caught in my mind because it wasn’t at all surprising to me. I write really long series, and to do really long series, the writer has to settle on a structure for the books. That makes it far easier to a series that can sustain itself over an extended length.

Like, the FROSTBORN series for example. The first thirteen FROSTBORN books are all 24 chapters long, and they all land between 90,000 and 105,000 words in length. The only exceptions are the second-to-last book FROSTBORN: THE DRAGON KNIGHT, which was 26 chapters long, and the final book FROSTBORN: THE SHADOW PRISON, which was 33 chapters long. The extra length was necessary to make sure that the series ended properly, since there is nothing that readers hate more than a long-running series that screws up the ending. (For example, see the ending of THE SOPRANOS.)

I did the same thing with the GHOST EXILE series, but less rigorously. The first 7 books were all between 21 and 24 chapters. Starting with the seventh book, GHOST IN THE THRONE, the length began creeping up, and the final book GHOST IN THE WINDS was the longest of all. Again, it was to make sure that the series hit the ending properly.

MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED was probably my most consistent series – all 3 books had exactly 20 chapters.

But I digress a bit. Nabakov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve was definitely an interesting read if you’re interesting in writing and publishing.

-JM

The Hymn of the Pearl, by Brian Niemeier

The Hymn of the Pearl by Brian Niemeier is a fantasy novella with an interesting premise. The concept of palmistry (or “chieromancy” to be fancy) is an ancient one, the idea of reading someone’s fate from their palm. Hymn of the Pearl takes the concept to the next level, with chieromancers actually able to alter or change someone’s destiny by altering the invisible lines of fate extending from their hand.

Since fate is real in this setting, that means that the guilt of an immoral act inevitably invites misfortune. A chieromancer can take that guilt, and its inevitable misfortune, and transfer the guilt to someone else, preferably a livestock animal. It’s a rather more direct and practical application of the ancient idea of offering an animal sacrifice to appease the gods.

Previously, this practice belonged solely to a religious order called the Advocates. However, the Advocates were overthrown by another order called the Arbiters, who believe that fate was simply another science and pursued it without a religious lens. The Arbiters took a more commercial approach, changing fates and reassigning destinies for the highest bidder.

Into this setting comes Soter, the last of the Advocates. The fall of the Advocates cursed Soter so severely that he is a walking vortex of misfortune – if he travels on a ship, it will sink or undergo pirate attack, if he’s thrown in prison, the prison will burn down. The curse also makes Soter effectively immortal so he remains alive to enjoy his torments fully.

However, some of Soter’s former friends have realized the nature of his curse, and want to use him as a weapon to win a war, despite Soter’s warnings that it’s going to backfire horribly. Worse, something ancient and evil has noticed Soter’s curse, and has its own ideas about what to do with him…

It’s a really interesting theological and mythological idea, and I enjoyed reading The Hymn of the Pearl. The novella does use a lot of invented terms, but fortunately there is an excellent glossary in the back. (One of the nice things about ebooks – no need to watch printing costs.) The only thing I would change is the cover art, since it doesn’t say “high fantasy novella” but instead says “Penguin Classics Edition of some Roman poet or another”. That said, I cannot judge a writer for using public-domain art for cover art, since I have done it myself many, many times.

-JM

Relaunch Your Novel, by Chris Fox

As the years pass and I’ve been a writer for longer and longer, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of advice for beginning writers, but not much advice for veteran ones.

That makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure how many novels I’ve written (that’s how many books I’ve written – I have to stop and think about it) but it’s in the mid 60s now, with nine nonfiction books and a whole ton of short stories. There are a not that many people who have written 60+ novels, and even fewer who have written more.

The “aspiring writer” market is much larger than the “veteran writer” market, so it makes sense there is more stuff out there for “aspiring” than for “veteran”.

So it was interesting to read Chris Fox’s RELAUNCH YOUR NOVEL, which is aimed at writers with a backlist of published novels. The book had a lot of useful tips for breathing new life into old books, several of which I’ve used to good effect in past. At some point, of course, you have to stop tinkering with old novels and start producing new ones, but giving the old ones a facelift from time to time is a good idea.

But if you’re writer with a few books out and you want to breath some new life into your old books, RELAUNCH YOUR NOVEL has many good ideas and blueprints for doing so. Definitely worth the read.

-JM

The Hymn Of The Pearl, by Brian Niemeier

This book looks interesting  – I read Brian Niemeier’s NETHEREAL a couple of years ago and thought it was an interesting mixture of Space Pirates and HP Lovecraft, so I think I’ll check out his new novella.

What really caught my eye was that it’s in a setting sort of inspired by the Late Roman Empire.

The Roman period and Late Antiquity is one that is underused in SF/F, I think, though I’ve played with it myself. SOUL OF SORCERY was sort of based on the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, and the Empire in THE GHOSTS is kind of like what the Western Roman Empire might have been like if it survived to the Renaissance period (albeit with more sorcerers).

So THE HYMN OF THE PEARL is next on my July reading list.

-JM

THE LADY IN THE LAKE, by Raymond Chandler

I happened to see that THE LADY IN THE LAKE by Raymond Chandler was on sale on Kindle, so I picked it up.

It’s one of Chandler’s novels featuring private detective Philip Marlowe, and it’s really good. In the book, Marlowe gets hired to find the vanished wife of a rich man, and in the process, he stumbles across a poor man whose wife has also disappeared. In the course of his investigation, he stumbles across a web of lies and corruption, and if he’s not careful, that web is going to eat him as well.

It was a well-constructed mystery book in its own right, but I also enjoyed reading it because of its influence on the Dresden Files, which I enjoyed greatly. Philip Marlowe is a lot like Harry Dresden, albeit with no magic and less of a pushover with women (some of the women in THE LADY IN THE LAKE would have rolled right over poor Harry).

Definitely recommended!

-JM

THE SANCTUARY SPARROW by Ellis Peters


I finished reading THE SANCTUARY SPARROW by Ellis Peters, one of her series about the mystery-solving monk Brother Cadfael, set in medieval England during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda.

I really enjoyed it! In this book, a desperate singer named Liliwin takes sanctuary at Brother Cadfael’s abbey, pursued by an angry mob that claims he assaulted and robbed a local goldsmith. Liliwin protests his innocence, and Brother Cadfael starts to investigate. Naturally, darker things are afoot than mere robbery.

I always enjoy it when Cadfael teams up with Hugh Beringar, the deputy sheriff of Shropshire. I definitely recommend this book, and the entire series. Always a pleasure to read a really good book from a writer at the top of her game.

-JM

THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler

I read my first Raymond Chandler book this week – THE BIG SLEEP, the first of Chandler’s books featuring private investigator Philip Marlowe. In the book, set in 1930s-era Los Angeles, Marlowe is hired by an elderly man to investigate (and possibly deal with) a blackmail attempt against his youngest daughter. Mayhem ensues.

It is interesting to read a book set in the 1930s – everyone smokes and drinks constantly, which is definitely not the case in contemporary America. In one scene Marlowe goes into a drug store to buy a bottle of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes, which you definitely could not do today.

It was almost interesting to see the effect this book had on later fiction – I believe THE BIG SLEEP and its film adaptation created the popular image of the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, world-weary yet clever private eye in trench coat and fedora. I’ve read all fifteen of the Harry Dresden books, and Marlowe had a strong influence on Dresden. In fact, I suspect Marlowe is the kind of man Harry Dresden would be if Harry a.) wasn’t a wizard, and b.) wasn’t so flustered by women.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to watching the film version when time permits. I’m curious to see how the movie would soften some of the book’s harsher scenes, several of which definitely would not pass muster in the standards of 1940s-era cinema. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the film version of THE MALTESE FALCON made the Sam Spade character into a more heroic man than he was in the book, and I don’t think the story was hurt by the change.

-JM

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


I wasn’t going to read HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, but someone loaned me their copy, so why not read it?

Obviously, it’s not an actual novel, but a script of a play (though from the way the publisher marketed it, you would never guess it). That said, it’s a pretty good story. I once heard it said that the best Young Adult fiction is about either 1.) children dealing with the absence of parents, and 2.) children coming to terms with their parents, and the script does both entertainingly.

It must have been a hideously expensive play to produce – all those special effects, and all those quick scene changes!

That said, I do think it’s something of a missed opportunity. Instead of a play script, it should have been adapted into a trilogy of books. It has exactly the right structure for a trilogy, and it would have made a mint.

So, a good story, just be aware it is a play script, and not a novel.

-JM