Category Archives: Reviews

Dark High Fantasy from a Great Indie Author: “Elf” by G.R. Sabian

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After a multi-year absence from blogging, this is an overt but well-deserved review for my best friend’s first(ish) novel. (I say firstish because this friend published a novel before, but took it down after a while for editing purposes. It’s a great book, too, but as of today isn’t back for sale yet.)

 

G.R. and I have been close for most of my adult life. We bonded over our love of writing (and reading) dark fiction with a fantastic slant. This includes everything from straight-up horror to all kinds of fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, and so on. In addition to being a great writer, G.R. is a fantastic editor and I would be a weaker writer without our friendship.

 

Anyway.

 

“Elf” is one of the stranger novels I’ve read. The book takes familiar fantasy tropes – beautiful elves, dire world-wasting threats, quests, dragons, magical creatures, and gorgeous nymphs – and uses them to create a story that is very singular and dark. It’s a combination of high fantasy, dark fantasy, and science fiction.

 

I think the blurb on the page puts it better than I can, but I’m a reviewer so I’ll do my best to summarize. The narrative follows the journey of Euthain Kurowin, a member of a society of elves who are deeply, intrinsically connected emotionally and psychically. One elf’s joy is every elf’s joy; one elf’s pain is every elf’s pain.

 

Euthain is a very privileged member of this society. He’s the son of two renowned leaders and has everything an elf could want. The problem is, Euthain doesn’t want what other elves want. His society is extraordinarily peaceful. They’re so in tune with nature that they can’t stand even to eat meat. Euthain, however, is essentially violent, jealous, and emotionally miserable. As such, he doesn’t have a place in a society that basically reads his mind, a society that recoils from everything he feels and thinks – dark, horrible things they can’t even comprehend. This results in him being effectively shunned, even within his own family.

 

Right about the time he finally gives up and decides to exile himself for the good of his community and himself, an old, forgotten evil emerges. Even as his people panic, Euthain is euphoric: here is his chance! A war is coming, a violence his people can’t even begin to imagine. He sees the chance to channel his violent impulses and callous nature in such a way that he can be a warrior, a defender. But when he comes face to face with this threat, he unexpectedly finds himself beguiled. He has to make a choice: fight for his people, the community that reviles and fears him…or fight alongside the only person who understands him.

 

So, a couple of things. First, “Elf” is not for everyone. It’s violent, dark, and Euthain – while presented in a way that allows the reader to empathize and even root for him – is objectively a terrible man. He tries not to be. He struggles to be a force for good. He wants to be so much more than he is, and he really does work hard in pursuit of that goal. But he doesn’t work hard enough. Thus, he’s not a good person, and does many, many, many things a bad person would do. Some of these are highly objectionable. But it’s part of what makes him a well-rounded, believable character. You may not love him, but you want him to succeed at his ultimate goal.

Second, there’s the portrayal of women. Does Euthain have issues with women? Absolutely. Is his culture and society dismissive and unkind to a subset of women? Yes. Is the story disrespectful of women? No. A lot of what we see, as readers, is through Euthain’s perspective and a lot of his issues are explored, but not in any way condoned. Besides Euthain, the other main perspective is that of a young woman, and I think she’s portrayed not only realistically, but as the story’s only real, true-hearted hero.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me emphasize that “Elf” is extremely well-written. It’s concise yet poetic, clearly composed, and proceeds at a great clip. The world-building is also exceptional. It’s immersive; from the first page I could see, hear, and feel this world that is by turns utopian and hellish. It wasn’t something I expected, but it was a wonderful treat.

I loved it. If you like a good, dark fantasy, I think you’ll like this too.

Hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity, and if so, here is the link:

 

Note: I love reading indie books (not just ones my friends write.) I’m getting back into reviewing after a long absence. If you need reviews, then (time permitting) I’d love to help out. No charge, of course, although a free copy of the book would be greatly appreciated because I’m kind of poor. I’m honest but kind, and will let you read the review before I post it if you like.

Second Note: I also do editorials, copyediting, and line-editing. Not for free, but not expensive either. Please understand that my fly-by-night blog posting really is not indicative of my writing and editing prowess; I’m an experienced freelancer and I swear I know what I’m doing.

 

 

 

 

 

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So There’s a Book I Really Enjoyed

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If you’re into great writing, flawless pacing, and horrifying subject matter that may or may not destroy your faith in humanity, you’ll probably like it, too. It’s called “The Wish Doctor“, written by the most likely pseudononymous G.R. Sabian.

 

The book follows the exploits of a crazily rich and seemingly soulless man who, for no discernible reason (other than a near-supernatural compulsion that I suspect is rooted in a traumatic past) randomly grants violent wishes to miserable people – regardless of whether the misery is warranted, the person is good, or the wishes are deserved. As an example, he burns one family alive to satisfy the wishes of a disgruntled young scion.

 

On to other things.

 

Somehow, he crosses paths with a child prostitute named Jamie. (Can you guess where this is going?) Her deepest wish, naturally, is that the pimps and offenders all die. Our hero, Harry, accomplishes this and assumes his work is done.

 

Only it’s not.

 

First off, the child refuses to let him leave. Second, she (understandably) has many issues that make her a danger to herself and others. By necessity, she is a master manipulator and basically, they end up in a twisted, if mostly sincere, approximation of a parent/child relationship. On top of that, the two have some kind of weird, understated psychic connection.

 

I’ll be honest. First, this is most definitely not a book I wish I’d written. Second, I definitely did not write it (just want to throw it out there – I am a professional writer, but I do things like ad copy, product descriptions, and blog posts for small/midsize businesses. I want to be a novelist, but I’m too chicken as of now to put my work out there).

 

Third, the entire novel is extremely disturbing on several levels. Think graphic violence and a lot of implied abuse and memories. It isn’t for everyone. In fact, the entire book is basically one giant trigger. As good as it most certainly is, as fantastic as the writer him/herself is, I can sort of understand why it’s retailing for $1 USD.

 

That said, I’ve been trying to talk people into reading it since I first read it in July of 2014, but my efforts have been in vain (and I can sort of see why, after reading the above endorsement). So, after this, I’m honestly giving up. I just couldn’t let it go without a cursory post on my very own blog. G.R. Sabian, whoever she/he is, is a stunningly fantastic writer. Think the pacing and spare, impactful sentences of Dean Koontz with the eerie lyricism of Cormac McCarthy wrapped around Tarantino-level violence (without the absurdity) and the true-to-life, hard-to-stomach grit of “Taxi Driver”. It’s cinematic and oddly literary at once.

 

If you can tolerate this, please read it – mostly because it’s supposedly part of a series and I want to make sure it continues.

 

In case you missed the link the first time, here it is: The Wish Doctor by G.R. Sabian.

 

It’s just $1, folks. Pleeeeeeeease do this. For me.

Stuff That Works For Me, Part 1: The BCBGeneration Milla Satchel

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So.

I gave in to my lust for a designer handbag.

It could definitely have been a ridiculous thing. It could have been a mistake, a complete waste of money that I absolutely cannot afford to waste.

I’m still cringing over the fact that I gave into my desires, given my precarious financial situation. But give in I did. And for the first time in like, three years, I have no buyer’s remorse whatsoever.

Before I go any further, let me insert a disclaimer here: the only reason I have no buyer’s remorse is because I a) saw the item in person before I bought it (no online purchase here, for once); b) carried it around the store, torn over the price (which was severely discounted only because it was the last one in the store); c) put it back regretfully; d) obsessed over it, looking it up, price-checking, researching the brand; and e) finally went back ten days later, praying it was still there.

It was. (Miracle, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight??? $108.00 handbag for $31.99? Shooooooot. )

And that bag, in case the title didn’t tip you off, is the BCBGeneration Milla, in the pewter color.

It is not only adorable and satchel-y and doctor-bag-like and designer and trendy, it is the perfect bag for my needs. It’s very roomy, but not at all bulky or awkward. It actually looks a lot smaller than it is (always cool as far as I’m concerned). In addition to the flipover top, it zips completely from side to side. There is a huge interior, with two small holders inside(I use them for my phone and camera) a zippered interior pocket, and a zipperless outer pocket with an opening just
underneath the buckle.

It has an old-timey, doctor-bag/school satchel look to it. Also, be aware that it looks so much better in person than any online photo gives it credit for. In all the photos, it just kind of looks like a fat, lumpy, regular purse with a sky-high degree of “ho-hum”. I have the pewter color (it also comes in black and bronze), which is darker and much more neutral than you’d think. While it doesn’t go with everything, it matches very well with any color in the cooler spectrum. (Not that it matters to me. Come summer, I’ll be toting this puppy with my neon-pink tank top and day-glo shorts. But I know that relatively few people care less than I do.) Throw on a dark coat or pants, and
you’re set.

For the record, I typically carry a digital camera, planner, a book or two, a sketchpad, notebook, pens/pencils, Bamboo tablet, mini netbook, and a handful of miscellaneous items with no visible strain. It would also probably work as a small overnight bag, depending on what you packed. (But who’d use a designer purse as an overnight bag, right? I mean, besides me.)

As alluded to earlier, I got this item 65% off due to a combination of a pricing error and it already being on sale because it was the last one, of any color, in the store. That said, after owning it for
a while, I believe it’s worth retail (not that I would’ve been able to afford it then, but it’s still worth the price). It’s strong, very well-made, with tight double-stitched seams, and very sturdy in addition to the aesthetic appeal I have not lauded enough. I have no complaints. The Milla is definitely recommended. If you ever have reason to buy one, I hope it works for you, because it definitely worked for me. Because of it, I am officially a BCBGeneration fan. Way to go, expensive labels, seducing girls who have no money to spend.

Romy Inc., WHAT do I Have to DO to You to Make Your Clothes Last MORE Than Four Days?

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I am a naive person. Not incurably, intolerably, dangerously so. I just have this tendency to assume that whenever something is unsatisfactory, or disappointing, or otherwise unpleasant—say, Modcloth.com’s selection of incredibly adorable, hideously overpriced, ridiculously flimsy clothes–that it’s bad, and when it’s unusually bad, like Modcloth, there’s just not going to be much else that is as bad. (For the record, color me stupid but I’m a frequent buyer on Modcloth. I can’t stay away.) How many stores carrying incredibly adorable, hideously overpriced, ridiculously flimsy merchandise can one floundering economy support?

As it turns out, at least two.

I have the same sort of disgusted adoration for Romy (http://www.romystyle.com) that, until recently, I reserved for Modcloth.  It makes sense. Browsing their online showroom, or popping in at one of their boutiques, is enough to give anyone the sneaking suspicion that they probably source clothes from the same places as Modcloth.  (If this is true, though, Romy gets the unbranded merchandise, while Modcloth has the go-ahead to use labels.)

Moving on.

It’s pretty easy to see through Romy’s gimmicks. The first time I saw a store, I was thrilled with the screaming red and yellow signs that read, “Everything 50% off!” Very cool, yeah?

Well, not passing any judgment here, but a year later, everything, in every store, is still 50% off. This kind of reminds me of a bit in some movie (I think it was “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan”, but I’m probably wrong) where the owner of some electronics shop has big “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, EVERYTHING ON SALE….” and has had these same signs up more or less since he took up shop. Anyway, I’m digressing majorly here.

Every time I walk through Romy, or even just past a window display, I fall in love. About every four times I fall in love, I buy. And given the wider availability and more immediate gratification of Romy, I end up buying from them a lot more often than I buy from Modcloth.

With one exception, I’m disappointed every time. (The exception is a black skirt that I’ve since skinnied myself out of. Shame, actually. It’s a really nice skirt. Also, it came off the clearance rack. Miss Bean for the win times two….minus the twenty or so losses she’s sustained meanwhile, leaving her with a rough score of -18. Whoops.) Romy carries some of the prettiest, girliest, most feminine, modest pieces. So many of them are gorgeous. Florals, pastels, flowing skirts, lace, ribbons, sashes, and on and on and on and on. They are so PRETTY and they ACTUALLY LOOK GOOD ON YOU! I’ve never actually bought anything at Romy that looked bad on me. Even the camisole that I accidentally bought in the wrong size (like, four sizes too small size) looked decent. The only problem I’ve ever had with the fit is, inexplicably, on one gorgeous little blouse, the arm-holes were like…miniscule. Insanely small. To the point where they don’t even look like they match the rest of the shirt.

Yes…they are so pretty. And even though they’re not dirt-cheap in terms of pricing, I bought a skirt, two undershirts, a sweater, and two blouses for around $68.  It all sounds so good…

Til the loose threads start to cascade.

I don’t know. I don’t get it. They are SO flimsy. SO poorly-made. SO cheap.

But—

With florals and lace and ribbons and sashes and pastels and flowing skirts…what are we supposed to do? Well, okay, most of you will probably (rightly) turn your noses up and seek your wardrobe elsewhere. So I’ll rephrase:

What am I supposed to do?!?

Even when the clothes fall apart in four days. Even when they forget to give me my $10 gift card no matter how much money I spend. Even when their sale is a hoax. Even when the dressing room is partitioned off from the store by a frigging curtain. Even when the website is riddled with grammatical errors.

I’m hopeless. It’s kind of sad. But I like to think it’s kind of funny, too.

“Embassytown?” Hard Sci-Fi Emphasizing the Power of Language? Yes, Please!

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I’m not actually a China Mieville fan. The entire “New Weird” genre just sort of confuses me, and I’m rarely impressed (to be fair, he’s a fantastic writer). “Un Lun Dun” and “Kraken”, particularly, didn’t really leave favorable impressions. Still, I did love “King Rat” and “Perdido Street Station”, and his other books were enjoyable. Also, it’s stupid to not read anything else by a prolific author simply because two books weren’t your thing. Add to that the fact that “Embassytown” is, at least superficially, hard-core science fiction…well, it was enough for me to take the plunge.

“Embassytown” is told through the eyes of Immerser Avice Ben Cho. She first chronicles her childhood on the planet Ariekei, giving us glimpses of Mieville’s multi-layered world: most children don’t grow up with their birth parents. They live in communal homes with multiple parents (much like counselors.) Humans share their world with “extos”–aliens. But this isn’t some two-dimensional Star Wars or silly Futurama-type melting pot. Extos are screened. With one important exception, extos can only settle on Ariekei if their sociologic and, to an extent, genetic makeup (they must have language, move comfortably in a human-run world, have similar thought processes, et cetera) is similar enough to allow integration with humans.

Humans do not own Ariekei, however. We are settlers, only living on the planet because beings known only as Hosts permit us to.

The Hosts protect themselves. While benevolent, especially toward children, they have a part of the planet only they can enter; humans can’t breathe in their area. They circumvent the human similarity, as well (it’s their planet, after all.) They speak a language only genetically engineered linguists can comprehend (these people are called Ambassadors.) They are not at all humanoid in appearance; they do not communicate like humans; and their sociologic match-up is questionable at the very best.

However, the human and exto population of Ariekei long struck a balance. They are always problems, but Embassytown is an almost diturbingly cordial society. The Hosts do their best for Ariekei, and the Ambassadors keep the peace and essentially run the society.

But when a new Ambassador arrives, the entire balance is thrown into jeopardy.

Now, the writing in “Embassytown” is fantastic. It does start slowly. There are pages and pages of childhood memories, but that serves two purposes: extensive, and subtle, world-building; and an understanding of a narrator who often takes a back seat to the story to follow.

The writing is lyrical and descriptive. During its leaner moments, Mieville recalls Ray Bradbury (which is only a plus as far as I’m concerned.) Some readers will probably describe it as “long-winded”, but I think it matches the story perfectly. The narrative doesn’t stop or bog itself down. There is simply a lot to tell, and Mieville tells it all.

The characters weren’t as deep as I prefer. But again, this matches the story. While a very bleak, hard-core science fiction novel, the crux of “Embassytown” is the beauty and power of language. It wasn’t a parable, but the theme overtook the plot. At the same time, it doesn’t wham you over the head. You’re not having “language is a beautiful thing” screamed at you from every page. It is subtle. The story doesn’t have a weak spot, and it doesn’t stop. I think one of Mieville’s greatest achievements is this flawless weaving of a theme and moral into the fabric of a novel.

This novel is also very bleak. While it starts off comfortably as Avice describes her childhood, “Embassytown” swiftly darkens.

I’ll be honest. This is my favorite of China Mieville’s books. It is traditional science fiction infused with enough originality to make it unqiue. It carries a theme that is actually very dear to my heart. The writing is Mieville at his best, and the story itself is very different. I can already tell it isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I adored it, and eagerly suggest you give it a try.

CloudStor, Why Are You Giving Me a Headache?

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Regarding Buffalo’s 1-terrabyte capacity CloudStor device, I must first say that I’m not entirely pleased with it. When it runs, it’s great. And actually, the hardware itself is always functional. But it’s really only functional when it decides it’s online.

Maybe I’m the exception, but even when I am online, surfing or Facebooking or doing homework or watching Pokemon episodes or whatever, the CloudStor is listed as “offline”. I don’t know whether my computer has trouble recognizing it, or whether the CloudStor has issue with my internet connection. Whatever the issue, it’s really starting to make me unhappy.

But the truth is, when it works (is online), this really is a great device. Within a couple of hours, I had it working flawlessly on my personal laptop. I plan to install the software on my family’s computers, as well, since between us, we have the greatest library of music, photos, and videos that ever was. 

It  comes with a helpful little pamphlet. It pretty much explains everything. Just go to the website listed on the first page, and follow the prompts. The CloudStor registered quickly and flawlessly.

I decided then to download the desktop plugin.

And that’s where I ran into my first problems. 

The initial download was fine. But at first, it wouldn’t do anything. It was taking up the space on my computer, but the PogoPlug folder is empty. When I first tried to install it, it ran into an error and aborted. I couldn’t figure out how to get the activation going again. I even deleted the folder and tried installing it again, but still, nothing. I finally went and restored my computer, and tried the download again. It was great. The only weird thing was, it went and opened two setup windows. Just stick with one. As soon as it’s done, exit the other one. Don’t even fool around with it. (I may have fooled with both, and wound up with un responsive system. Learn from my mistakes.)
If you download all the recommended plugins and software first, you should be fine as far as functionality goes. It’s still kind of buggy, and I don’t have a desktop icon. It’s pinned to my taskbar, but every time I click it, it tries to install the software a second time before web access opens up. It’s confusing, and irritating, but I’m sure there’s a way to figure it out.

Also, the CloudStor itself is still constantly listed as offline. That hasn’t sorted itself out. I have it for maybe two minutes, and then it’s gone, never to return without a system reboot of both the computer and the CloudStor itself.

Onto the good.

Before I had multiple netouts and confused the poor thing, and after I sorted out the PogoPlug software, it was working fine. The upload time is exemplary. All my files are present–photos, videos, documents, music–and as far as I can tell, uncorrupted. I can already tell the CloudStor is going to be a lifesaver as well as a major convenience.

I do absolutely recommend it, despite all of this. It’s ultra-convenient, very easy to setup, and intuitive when it comes to downloading.  Judging by most of the other reviews, bad experiences are in the minority, and the customer service department is already working on my problem. Just make sure (as any reasonable person would, I’m sure) that your internet connection is stable. Download all the plugins. And have fun =)

Here’s Something You Should Buy. It’s Awesome. I Promise.

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Okay, I just want to share that The Body Shop’s Spa Wisdom Africa Ximenia and Salt Scrub works fantastically for me. I have very, very dry skin that. Granted, I haven’t experimented a lot with body washes. In fact, I only got this one because it came free with my order.

And I am SO glad I got it!

It isn’t as rough as other salt scrubs I’ve tried. The smell is gorgeous–cool, airy and floral, very subtle yet just noticeable enough. You don’t need very much at all per wash, so it does last a long time. (It took me a couple tries, though–I used WAY too much the first time around!) Also, my skin was soft and perfectly smooth.  This scrub has shea butter in it, which would explain that. It works as well as a lotion, and almost as well as body butter. In fact, after I use this scrub, I often don’t even need a lotion afterward.

Again, I’m not too keen on the price. $28 for 13.5 ounces is two dollars an ounce. Regardless of how well it works, I think that’s pretty steep. I’d say I wish I knew how small it was before I bought it, but I got it for free, so I can’t complain =)Also, it’s 100% fair trade, so actually, it is worth the full price. Smooth, moisturized skin, amazing scent, shea butter, fair trade–you probably can’t do better.

Overall, it’s worth it. I just hate spending money. But I didn’t this time, so I should shut up. Just saying,  if you qualify for a free Spa Wisdom item with your order, pick this one!