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I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. The first couple of chapters showed me that it wasn't the kind of book I usually read, and very often don't enjoy. For starters, it is written in "Third person omniscient" - which is just a fancy way of saying that the reader gets to see inside everybody's head - their thoughts, opinions, and motivations. I generally prefer a strong, limited P.O.V. - inside one character's head at a time. Secondly, I usually prefer more traditional genre novels to literary fiction, and this very much fits into the literary fiction mold. Yes, there is a bit of mystery, an anxiousness to discover what happened, but this novel is essentially a character study wrapped inside a mystery. And the character being studied isn't all that appealing (to start).

But. I was given an advance copy in return for an honest review, so I pressed on. And I'm so glad I did! The more I read, the more I wanted to read. I wanted to know, yes, what happened to Carrie, but also, I wanted to follow this unlikable woman, Hyosun Park, on her journey. A journey that leads her to not just find Carrie, but also to understand her son and his love for Carrie. A journey that takes her into herself, and through the blockade of her upbringing to a richer, more complete understanding of herself, and the world around her. Oh yeah, and she also solves the mystery of Carrie's disappearance!

The Tree Of After Life is the debut novel of new author J. S. Vaughn. Based on this book, I am quite sure I will be reading more from this author.

Neal Asher's Dark Intelligence is the start of a new series (Transformation) set in the "Polity" universe of most of his previous books. You need not have read those to enjoy this book, though. This book takes place about a century after the Polity-Prador war ended. While readers of his previous books will recognize references to characters and events in those books, they are mentioned as more of an "in joke" than information crucial to the plot of this one. I've read some of those books, but not all of them, and I had no trouble understanding the plot and characters of this one.

Neal Asher is not a "favorite" author, but he is a good one. He misses the "favorite" mark mostly because his books are not always easy to follow, and Dark Intelligence is no exception. In this book, there are time shifts and flashbacks, and inclusions of seemingly unrelated events and characters that only later (in some cases, much later) become relevant to the plot. The pacing is also somewhat uneven, sometimes zipping along, other times getting bogged down in technological details. (Asher's work - both this and previous books I've read - is definitely hard science fiction!) There is also more violence and gore than I generally enjoy. Finally, the characters are not particularly appealing. They're cynical, ruthless and sometimes cruel or bloodthirsty. All of which gives them depth and dimension, but still, they're probably not people (to use the term loosely) you'd want to hang out with for any length of time. Or even meet, in Isobel's case!

All that said, the story/plot is engaging, the concepts involved are complex and intriguing, and I enjoyed the book. I'll probably read the next in the series, but I'll wait until the price comes down to "paperback" levels.


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Okay, I admit: the election threw me for a loop. But I can only spend so much time curled up in a fetal ball. After all, there are books to read! Not that I'm "over it" - in a sense, I'll never be "over it" because too many of the values I hold dear are at risk, and I am committed to resisting their destruction. But I do need to expand my view to include other things that are also important. Like reading! So... Onward!

One of my all-time favorite authors! I've decided to review her today, because she's just had an old favorite, Beholder's Eye (Amazon B&N), reissued in a gorgeous new trade paperback edition. This book, the first in the Web Shifters series, was my entry into Julie Czerneda's work, and - luckily - all three novels in the series were already out when I "discovered" her, because I devoured them over a period of about a week. (They're all being reissued, but you need to start with Beholder's Eye. It's the first, and the order matters.) I love all of Czerneda's books, but Esen-alit-Quar (Esen for short, Es in a hurry) will always have a special place in my heart.

Czerneda's work is mostly science fiction, with one fantasy series (so far). But, although she is a scientist (biology), her novels aren't the type of "hard" science fiction that focuses on technology, but rather on aliens and what makes them tick, told through the lens of their societies and their interactions with others.

Here's the thing about Czerneda's writing: It sparkles! At least, that's my word for it. I guess the shiniest sparkle is the wit and humor of her writing. And her characters are some of the best people in the universe! You'll want to know them, and they will all become dear friends. The action moves along at a brisk - and occasionally breakneck - pace.  And those are all elements that make me love an author's work.

But there's more, for me, that makes her a special favorite:  As you read, you might notice the layers of her sparkly prose. You might notice that almost no sentence only does one thing. For example, what seems to be a bit of physical description - of a character or a place or an environment - also turns out to illuminate something else - a twist of the plot, a quirk of the character, some essential fact about the culture the character lives in. Every paragraph is dense with information that advances the story, illuminates the character, or gives you a sense of the physical space the action is taking place in - but it never, ever feels like you're getting an info-dump. Because, sparkle!

Probably my favorite thing about her science fiction is that she uses her knowledge of biology to create really interesting, really different aliens. And not just physical biology. No. She thinks about what kind of culture might be a natural outgrowth of the biological characteristics of her aliens. They're not just different physically, they create different societies, with different goals, attitudes and interactions with others of their kind, and with other species. They react to stress differently, and they get stressed over different things than humans would get stressed about. Which often leads to conflicts. Which is what stories are all about, at the most basic level.

The Web Shifters series is a great showcase of this element of her writing, because the shape-shifting species to which Esen belongs has the capability of assuming the shape and characteristics of any species they come in contact with. As the youngest member of her "web" - which only consists of six individuals - she's less experienced than other members. But what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with enthusiasm. And, as is so often the way of exuberant young people on their first adventure, she lands smack-dab in the middle of big trouble!

Czerneda's other two science fiction series, the Clan Chronicles (a trilogy of trilogies) and the Species Imperative trilogy continue the emphasis on believable aliens and cultures. The Species Imperative trilogy is, at it's core, about just that - the biological imperatives that drive a species to do what it does. Of course, in a universe populated by several species, there are bound to be conflicting drives. The main protagonist, Mac (formally known as Dr. Mackenzie Connor), is a salmon researcher on the Pacific coast of the North American continent. At least, she was, until she got dragged across the galaxy to try to understand and resolve one such conflict. Sounds kind of dry when you put it that way, but trust me, it's anything but. Plus, this series give us one of my all time favorite secondary characters: Fourteen. But of course, that's irrelevant (as Fourteen would be quick to point out).

The final book of the final trilogy of the Clan Chronicles isn't due out for a year. I may pass out from holding by breath by then - due to the cliff-hanger of the penultimate book, just published in September. The overall arc of the story addresses a critical question: what if a genetic characteristic - one that could be enhanced through careful breeding - that provided great advantage to individuals, turned out to pose a risk to the survival of the species as a whole? (Again, biologist! Czerneda says got the idea (in a convoluted way) from a study of minnows.) The first trilogy, Stratification, shows how this characteristic developed, and what effect it had on the species and culture. The second, The Trade Pact, concerned the "end point" - a woman so powerful she was unable to find a mate she wouldn't kill. The third trilogy - Reunification - is about the search for the Clan's origins, in the hopes they will find some solution for their desperate plight. Again, sounds dry, but again, it's anything but. There is romance, adventure, danger and laughter to be found throughout the three trilogies. Also, HUIDO! (A giant crab-like creature who also owns the premiere restaurant of the galaxy. Which never, ever serves human meat to humans. Not on purpose, anyway.) And hockey. Sort of. In a Drapsk kind of way.

I haven't even mentioned her Night's Edge fantasy series, yet! The first book in the series, A Turn of Light, fulfilled all of my expectations for a "Czerneda" book, and then some. It's not the "usual" fantasy - medieval-ish society, quests, and such. Instead, it takes place entirely within a rural, pre-modern, very small village and the surrounding countryside. And yet, there is Magic! Also, romance. And dragons. And not-horses. Adventure. And, yes, danger of the world-shattering variety. Not to mention, coming-of-age, personal growth and self-knowledge. And also, Warrior Toads! All bound together in one book, in one story, told in witty and elegantly-flowing prose. What more could a bibliovore want? A second book, of course. Which also exists, and is entitled A Play of Shadow.

Czerneda also has a stand-alone science fiction book, In The Company Of Others, and has written several non-fiction books about science and science fiction. When not writing her own books and stories, she often edits short-story anthologies in both the fantasy and science fiction genres. The anthologies all feature both established authors and new writers - and she actively seeks out new writers to include, because she loves encouraging new writers. (Including me, once.) It's her way of sharing the joy she's found in writing her stories. Her signature hashtag is "#lovemylife" - and she most obviously does. That joy comes through in both her Facebook page and her website. You should check them out. And buy some of her books.

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My newest discovery: I "discovered" - Ilona Andrews (actually, a husband and wife team using her name as a not-exactly pseudonym) through a listing for "Clean Sweep" on either BookBub or BargainBooksey (don't remember which). This is a novella that's the start of a series called "The Innkeeper Chronicles" and I've already bought and read the next one. The good news for some, is that the next book is being written as a serial on the web. (Not my preferred style of reading - I hate waiting on installments. I prefer to fly through a book and get right on to the next one!).

Paranormal and/or SciFi (you'll see what I mean), lots of action, just a touch of romance in these first books, strong female protagonist, equally strong male characters. Best of all (for me) they've already written many books in a couple of other series, so I'll have lots to read in the coming weeks. From the descriptions, the other series also have strong female leads and strong male characters, with paranormal action adventure. Anyway, check out their website or Facebook page, or buy this book at any major retailer:

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Diane Henders is the author (independently published) of an 11 book (soon to be 12) book series about a badass... um... middle-aged bookkeeper? Wait... what? Okay, maybe if you squint a little, and in the right circumstances, she just might look like a badass superspy. Said circumstances being: getting carjacked, then rescued by a swoonworthy RCMP cop, who then suspects her of being involved in the international espionage plot he's investigating. The same one her carjacker was involved in. Of course, it doesn't hurt that while, yes, she's a bookkeeper, she's also a self-sufficient, tom-boy-grown-up 46 year old woman who thinks nothing of renovating an old farm house all by herself, or tackling - literally - a guy she thinks is threatening her with a gun. She's also snarky and really disinclined to take any crap. From anybody. So, of course the aforementioned swoonworthy cop thinks she's a superspy.

That's in the first chapter of the first book. Then things get weird. (And yes, there is a section early on where you might worry that the author has dumped you into the mind of a lunatic. Keep reading. Trust me on this!)

This is a great series, and I know because I've read them all (and am eagerly awaiting the next installment). It may not be for everybody - the protagonist, Ayden Kelly, can be a bit foul-mouthed, and is enthusiastically heterosexual and single, but it's perfect for me - it has everything I want in a reading experience: The characters are appealing and well drawn, the action is briskly paced, and the writing is well done, with plenty of humor to leaven the action. Romance is present (and also nicely done), but it's not the main focus - which is a big plus for me. I enjoy a bit of steam, but not so much steam that you can't see the plot through it. As a reader, I'm all about the story. Romance is a nice bonus, though. There is also a bit of sci-fi-ish tech, but for the most part, the story is present day, normal world.

The editing is professional-level, too. No weird typos, no homonym or usage errors to throw you out of the story.

Another thing I liked about this series is that the author doesn't try to tell you everything about the characters in the first book. Clearly, she always planned for this to be a series, so, as is appropriate for a series start, you learn enough to like the characters, and get a feel for where there's more to discover about them in later books. Each book is a complete adventure, though - no cliff-hangers, just the sense that more adventure is bound to follow. Because, with these characters, how could it not? There is an overall background story arc that comes into view later on in the series, but it doesn't really interfere with the resolution of any particular current adventure.

As is common for self-published authors, the first in the series is free (in ebook form). So if this sounds interesting to you, try the freebie. It's worth your time to find out if this author might become one of your favorites, too.

Dianne Henders has a author page on Facebook and a personal blog. Her books are available at all the major retailers.

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I love Huff's stuff. (Yes, I did that on purpose.) Her writing runs the gamut - well part of the gamut, from Science Fiction to many different kinds of fantasy. Her writing is strong in all of my favorite things - great characterization, plots that you can both follow and be surprised by, and quite a lot of action, proceeding at a brisk pace.

Her science fiction is "military-ish" but it's not the big space battles and conflict-between-worlds/societies common in that genre. There's some of that, especially in the later books, but the stories themselves mostly follow the trials and tribulations of Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr. Sure, okay, maybe she saves the universe a time or two, but that kinda takes a back seat to introducing new Lieutenants to the joys of delegating - the "what" decisions belong to the Lieutenant, the "how" belongs to the sergeant. (The "why" is above both their pay-grades.) Huff's newest book in this series, AN ANCIENT PEACE just came out in paperback, which is why I picked her for my next "review." It's the start of a "sequel" series, following "Gunny's" exploits after she leaves the military for private missions on the down-low.

I have to admit, this is my favorite series of hers - but that doesn't mean I don't love the others, too. The others are all various forms of fantasies. She has several urban fantasy series, and some more traditional fantasy series as well. I may not have read all of them yet, but I'm picking them up one at a time, currently working on the Keeper series. The "Blood" series is probably my favorite, but the Enchantment Emporium series is a very close second.

And a spin off from the "Blood" books, the Smoke series contains my all time favorite line (yes, I'm a book nerd. I have favorite lines): It's a masterpiece of characterization (quoting from memory here):

"The remote was not in the pizza box under the couch."

I mean, really, think about how much that tells you about the character and his living space! In less than a dozen words!

Huff's books are mostly traditionally published, although a few of her older books (finally) have had the rights released from their original publishers, and are now being republished at more budget-friendly indie prices. But most of her books have been in print since originally published (and she's been writing for nearly 30 years), so the fact that the publisher continues to carry and print them tells you something about their popularity!

Ms. Huff doesn't really have a website, but she has a personal Facebook page and a live-journal. Links to her author pages at major booksellers below.

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