Review – Gravity’s Revenge by A. E. Marling

Gravity’s Revenge is the third book of the Enchantress series, and continues the development of Elder Enchantress Hiresha, Tethiel the Lord of the Feast, and others.

This book is by far the most straightforward of the three, following a basic fantasy quest/action storyline.

Premise
The story opens with Hiresha escorting the daughter of her maid, Janny, up the magical Skyway to the Academy of enchantresses. On their way we are treated to both explanations and demonstrations of the Academy’s gravity-defying design. Hiresha also witnesses its failure as she sees the form of a young enchantress hurtle past to her death.

Just getting the other Elder Enchantresses to acknowledge the possibility of a failure of the college’s enchantments is Hiresha’s first problem. The Academy’s design is attributed to the Opal Mind – the Goddess of Intellect and Creativity. Despite the fact that they know how the magic works, suggesting the possibility of its failure is tantamount to heresy.

Before anything can be done about the possibly failing magic, another wrinkle is added to the tapestry – Bright Palms have ascended the cliffs and intend to take the Academy hostage in order to force concessions from the government. In short order, Hiresha is cut off from her stash of gems, her Spellsword bodyguard, and most of the rest of the academy.

The Final Step to Independence
Because Hiresha is so thoroughly cut off from her normal sources of support, she is at her most active and independent. This completes a character arc that began in Brood of Bones where she is almost entirely dependent on her maid and spellsword to accomplish anything. In the middle book, she has cast off many of the comfortable and confining trappings of pomp and title, but still leans heavily on her maid and spellsword. In Gravity’s Revenge she is forced to rely on herself to overcome both physical and mental obstacles.

The Theme of Moral Ambiguity
All three of the Enchantress books ask us to consider the nature of goodness, and what it really means. Like in real life, there are no wholly good or evil organizations in the Lands of Loam. Few characters present as wholly positive or negative, either. Gravity’s Revenge tackles this question head-on. The Bright Palms consider themselves the protectors of the innocent, but their methods can be callous to the point of villainy. The Academy is a center of learning and progress, but it’s hidebound and elitist. Even the Lord of the Feast, patriarch of a family of monstrous predators, finds himself acting on behalf of the greater good.

Gravity’s Revenge is a an excellent book, with a strong heroine and disturbing villains. Marling’s command of the language continues to mature, and the writing in this latest outing is solid – lyrical in places, without being stilted or obtuse. If you like action-packed adventures and books about characters trying their best outside their comfort zones, this one is for you.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Brian Keene’s “Blood on the Page”

Blood on the Page is an excellent collection of short stories. I’m a fan of Keene’s longer works, but this collection contains some of the best writing I’ve yet to read from the man.

It’s always difficult to give a collection a single rating, because no author on earth has ever been blessed with perfect consistency. I chose a four, because 1) that’s my overall impression of the read, and 2) that’s where I’d put the majority of the stories. Some were sublime, inching into 5-star territory. Others were more mediocre, earning a 2 or 3.

Unfortunately, some editorial errors made it into the final product – in particular a few misuses of apostrophes. Though jarring, there were only a handful, and they do not greatly take away from the experience.

If you are a fan of horror, gritty life experiences, and general creepiness, you owe it to yourself to give this one a shot.

Rating: 4/5

My New Hobby – Soap Making

I have been interested in the process of making soap in a vague way since I started shaving with a double-edged razor, in December of 2011. The concept of soaps and their different properties and ingredients came to my attention in a way that they never had been before.

I read a forum thread about a guy who was making his own shaving soap. It was interesting. One part chemistry, one part artistry, and it was neither difficult nor expensive. A bit of oil, a bit of horribly dangerous caustic chemicals, and voila. I have a problem with dry skin on my hands, so I thought the ability to create my own hand-and-face soaps with extra emollients and the like would be great.

Game on, then! I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, the raw materials of soap making, while not expensive, are not easily available for the low prices that make soaping affordable. Olive oil, just to give you one example, is far more expensive in the grocery store than from a soap/cosmetics supply, with warehouse store prices falling in between. So over the course of a couple of weeks I picked up some vegetable shortening (palm oil), economy bottles of olive oil, and coconut oil. Pure lye is available at home improvement stores as drain cleaner, so I picked up some of that. A second hand crock-pot and a paint-stirring paddle for my drill, and I was ready to give things a try.

New Soap: Orange & Cedarwood Hand and Facial Soap

My latest batch of soap seems like it’s going to be a good one.

My very first soap was a hot-process soap made with 50% olive oil, 25% coconut and 25% palm. It’s not a bad soap, but it’s not a great soap, either. My daughter thinks it’s drying, but I’m not sure how, and my wife complained that the soap was very slippery. The lather is a bit on the thin side, too, something caused by the high percentage of olive oil.

So I did some research in my books and online at the Soap Making Forum and came up with a new formulation to try. I lowered the olive oil content and beefed up the palm oil. In addition, I added shea butter for its conditioning properties and decided to include some additional glycerin as a humectant. I saponified it with 100% sodium hydroxide.

Fats

Palm Oil 40%
Olive Oil 25%
Coconut Oil 25%
Shea Butter 10%

Additives

Glycerin, 3T/lb of oils

Fragrance

Blood Orange FO 50%
Lime EO 20%
Cedarwood EO 30%

I created a cylindrical loaf in a Pringles can. The new, shorter cans are just about perfect for a 1lb batch – it left me about 1″ of space at the top of the cylinder.

The loaf came out of the can (which I snipped at the top and peeled off like a packed of canned biscuits) after 48 hours. It was still slightly tacky to the touch, but had set nicely and smelled great. I used a wire clay cutter to slice it into discs. It worked fine, but the length of the tool and the need to get it all the way down to the surface of the table made it awkward. I also didn’t have a guide or miter box, which made the cuts a bit wobbly.

CAM00079

My Concerns

My primary worries are that the scent will turn out not to be pleasant once the process is done, and that the soap will be too soft because of the amount of glycerin. Updates on that when I check it in four weeks, 6/3.

Review – Old Blood’s Fate by Michael Merriam

Old Blood’s Fate by Michael Merriam is a fast-paced urban fantasy with heavy elements of thriller and romance.

Jack Clausen is a Creek man transplanted to Minnesota from his native Oklahoma. After a trip back to his old stomping grounds to write a travel article, Jack ends up on a crashing plane with Emma (a magically gifted flight attendant) and Old Coyote.

After mysteriously surviving the plane crash, Jack is soon caught up in the schemes of Coyote an the other First People of North America.

I liked the way this story was executed. Jack’s character is important enough to warrant the attention of the powers present in the book. At the same time, he is not so powerful or wise as to make his struggles meaningless or unrelatable. The Animal People do a good job of combining “regular guy” qualities and ancient wisdom and power, like the best myths of most peoples. The “fate” aspect of the book is definitely present – something that I usually don’t care for. However, it’s not heavy handed, nor does it result in a feeling of inevitability or fatalism. Instead, it manifests as a tendency toward coincidence, and a drawing together of the major actors in the story. I found it a very tasteful way to handle it.

The romance subplot is important, but doesn’t overpower the rest of the plot. The progression of the relationship is very believable, as well. The sex scenes are pretty hot – fans of Merriam’s earlier work will notice they are considerably more graphic than his usual “cut-to-curtains-blowing-in-the-windows approach.

There are questions left unanswered by this book, and I liked that. It would have been too pat to answer ever question that was brought up, and would have weakened the overall impact of the story. Whose theories about the story’s major problem were correct? What will the overall impact be of the way the problem was resolved? These things are left open ended, or totally unaddressed, inviting the reader to think about them for himself. They also leave room for Merriam to expand on this setting and these characters, without being locked in to an obvious next step. (In fact, I believe I recognize at least a couple of characters as having already appeared in one of the stories in the collection Shimmers and Shadows.)

Unfortunately, my eBook copy of the story suffered some copy editing issues. Nothing that prevented me from enjoying the story, but a few that broke the flow of my reading.

In summary, I definitely recommend this book for fans of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and folklore based tales.

Rating: A solid 3.5 stars.

Review – The Devil’s Hand by M. E. Patterson

M. E. Patterson appeared on my radar completely by happenstance. He was one of those random Twitter adds that you can never remember after the fact. Either he added me based on the other people I follow, or I saw him mentioned in a Twitter post and checked his profile out myself. I was immediately intrigued by the description of his first novel, The Devil’s Hand. I used to play a bit of online poker for real money, and was actually beating the game. So an Urban Fantasy novel where the protagonist is a poker player appealed to me.

It took me a while to get around to reading it. I always seem to have either more books than I can handle at a time, or less money than I want to spend on them. Somewhere there exists a happy medium, but I haven’t found it. I finally got around to it last week, and I’m pretty glad I did.

Trent Hawkins is the so-called Luckiest Man Alive. After surviving a horrific plane crash, he goes on to capitalize on his luck in Vegas. Not unexpectedly, casino bosses and the Gaming Commission take a dim view before long. He and his wife leave Vegas, broke and blacklisted. That’s where we come in. Trent and his wife are headed back to Vegas so she can take a dream job. Things immediately begin to get weird.

A rain of fish and a hail storm herald the couple’s arrival in Las Vegas. Odd things are happening in the shop of an old friend of the family. And when a vagrant preacher comes to the children’s hospital where Susan works to try to capture a girl to whom he has no connection, the ride really begins.

Along the way, questions are answered, like “why is Trent so lucky?.” Others are raised. We’re left with a sense of closure on the current story, but an impression of what else may be to come. The Devil’s Hand is the first book in a series called Drawing Thin, and I plan to keep reading.

The writing in Devil’s Hand is evocative and sturdy. The storyline is face paced and stays interesting. The forces moving behind the scenes turn out to be familiar fare for urban fantasy and horror readers, but in an interesting permutation that’s similar to but not quite the same as many others I’ve read.

The book’s big stumbling block, like many other indy offerings is in editing. There were a few places where misspellings and the like made it into the final version of the book, and one notable instance where the declared outcome of an important hand of poker was different from that described by the action. To Patterson’s credit, when I mentioned this on Twitter he owned up to it and sent me a link to the material that had been erroneously cut, and which will be added back in the second edition.

All told, I give The Devil’s Hand 4 out of 5 stars for engaging action, well realized characters, and a refreshing take on familiar supernatural elements.

The Devil’s Hand at drawingthin.net

M.E. Patterson on Twitter

Time to interrupt the crickets

I’ve been neglecting this place, and writing in general. I posted about the scary hamburger fingertips that prevented a lot of optional keyboarding before. I’ve also been helping my wife get off the ground with her website and part time crafting business, Ladysea Creations.

I’ve also been learning about and plotting to start making soap. Expect some posts about that as I get going.

It also appears that my break from writing hasn’t ruined my interest in my story, or writing in general. So it’s time to get back to that in a serious way.

In short, I’m back and glad to be back. I’ll be making a couple more posts over the next day or two about indy books I’ve read recently.