Category Archives: Buchrezensionen

Book review: When Dark falls, Pippa Jay

The blurp: In a city where Dark Technologies Inc. now runs the show, Kadie Williams has more immediate concerns than the fall of Blaze, their guardian superhero. Almost every morning for the last few months she’s woken up with cuts and bruises on her body, and no idea how she got them. There are no nightmares. No evidence that she sleepwalks, or any sign of a break in. And nothing to tell her who’s been cleaning up after her. As just one of thousands of civilians conscripted to slave away in the labs of Professor Dark, she knew there’d be trouble ahead. But she never expected it to be so bad, or so personal.

Desperate for answers, Kadie looks to the new defender of the night, the only person who can hinder the total domination of Professor Dark — Nocturnelle. The mysterious vigilante superhero came from nowhere with her cybernetic sidekick Shadow, set on putting an end to the brutality of Dark’s regime. But as his laboratories work on a new secret super-weapon, Nocturnelle and Shadow may not be enough to save Nephopolis…or to save Kadie either.

Genre: Steampunk/Decopunk

The verdict: 5/5

Pippa Jay is a brilliant world builder and this story proofs it again. It’s just a short novella, but it’s packed to the brim with airships, mad scientists, cyborgs, superheroes and a little romance. Although the tone is cheerful, the story itself is actually quite sad, but I can’t tell you why, due to spoilers. Kadie and Nocturnelle are interesting leading ladies, and Shadow is a swoon-worthy sidekick. The only thing that I didn’t like was Nocturnelle’s propensity to rush into situations without thinking, which lands her in some pretty tight spots.

Take-away: Learn how to pack awesome world building into three sentences.

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Book review: Grim, M.K. Eidem (Tornians #1)

The blurb: King Grim Vasteri is the strongest and most feared warrior in the Tornian Empire. He is the King of Luda, blood brother to the Emperor and his line will die with him. He will have no offspring for no female would join with him for once he was scarred he was considered ‘unfit’. The Tornian Empire has been dying ever since the great infection caused the birth of females to become a rarity. Since then they have been searching the known universes for compatible females. The Emperor’s discovery of a compatible female on a slave ship changed that. He’d ordered Grim to find his Empress’ home world so more ‘unprotected’ females could be obtained, knowing Grim would never be allowed to Join with one.
Lisa Miller is a widowed mother of two little girls, Carly and Miki. Her husband died just a year ago, after a long battle with cancer and she misses him immensely. Friends want her to start dating again but in her heart, she knows there isn’t a man on the planet she could love like her Mark. Who could love their girls like their own. Therefore, she’ll stay alone.
When Lisa is discovered ‘unprotected’ at her husband’s grave, she wakes on an alien ship heading for an alien world. Refusing to accept this she confronts the large males, demanding she be returned to her children. Seeing his chance to have a female, Grim agrees to accept and protect her offspring, if she agrees to Join with him and only him. Realizing this is the only way she can retrieve her children Lisa agrees and the Tornian Empire changes forever.

Genre: Sci-fi Romance

The verdict: 2/5

I stumbled upon this series early this year while browsing Goodreads for books with strong leading ladies. I was looking for actual science-fiction, the one that doesn’t heavily feature romance, buuuut as I’m a sucker for romance, I gave in. Also, I wanted to know if it really was as bad as the comments said it was. Before I go on, I must add that this book is self-published and obviously the author had no money for an editor or a notion that spell-checkers exist. And I was aware of this as I purchased the book, so I’m not going to hold this against it. As I’m not a native English speaker, I only noticed the more egregious grammar mistakes, and I could read over the typos. The story itself is actually quite gripping, otherwise I might have not finished it, because besides the non-existing editing, the book has issues. Mostly logical ones, but some ethical ones, too. For example, I doubt it highly that any person would appreciate to be kidnapped and willing to leave everything behind as easily as Lisa did. Everybody has friends who’d be worried sick if we’d vanish without a trace. What I really, really liked, and what kept me going besides the struggles, was the relationship that Lisa forms with her hunk of a blue alien-husband. Not the instant-love bit three seconds after they met, but the stuff that came afterwards. They talk things through, they acknowledge that they have different cultural backgrounds and that they just can’t assume things about the other. That was very refreshing to read. The world building was also good and I wanted to know how that royal intrigue would end. All in all maybe the worst book I’ve ever read, but certainly not the worst story.

Take-away: Re-read everything before I hit publish. Use spellcheck and beta-readers to find typos and plot-holes.

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Book review: Grimspace, Ann Aguirre (Sirantha Jax #1)

They always say you should read widely in the genre you want to write for. So I’m on a quest to read more Science-fiction with kick-ass female leads, preferably written by a woman.

Genre: “Grimspace” is more Sci-fi romance than Adventure or Space Opera. Or, like one reviewer on Goodreads said: It’s Space Soap Opera.

The blurb: As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace-a talent which makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. Then a crash landing kills everyone on board, leaving Jax in a jail cell with no memory of the crash. But her fun’s not over. A group of rogue fighters frees her…for a price: her help in overthrowing the established order.

My verdict: 3/5

“Grimspace” is by all means not a bad book. Entertainingly written, nice pace, and interesting world. I read it over the course of a day, it’s a perfect “beach read”. But I realised, a first-person narration is so not my thing. Especially not when the character we’re inside is so borderline stupid like Sirantha is. That she never asks “Why?” until the last quarter of the book is infuriating. She has absolutely no clue whatsoever about anything, and doesn’t bother to ask on top of it. I’m willing to hand-wave a lot of things. Like the instant-love between her and March. The constant bickering between them, in best Pride & Prejudice style. The deaths of characters that were frankly more interesting and capable than Sirantha herself. But what I can’t stand is stupidity. That the other characters don’t even bother to clue her in, is equally maddening. You’re about to land on a planet that has deadly creatures triggered by the smell of blood? Yeah, better not mention it. The thing with e-readers is that you can’t throw them across the room in frustration over silly behaviour of characters. It’s unlikely I’ll pick up the rest of the series.

My take-away: Give your characters substance. And make them use their brains. Ditch the angst. Make them act like adults, who talk to each other, and not like immature teenagers.

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Books of 2015 #2: Tales from the SFR Brigade (Anthology)

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The Science Fiction Romance Brigade is a collective of SFR writers and recently published their first Anthology ebook. I’ve never read an Anthology before. But I don’t regret it, as it introduced me to some fabulous new writers, and that’s the point of it, isn’t it? Also, being a collection of shorter stories and novellas/novelettes, I had high hopes of not being glued to my ereader for a whole weekend. Well… that only worked partially. It certainly is easier to stop though.

I actually read all stories except one, but I plan to read it later. It just wasn’t what I was looking for in that moment. My favourite stories where “Imprint” by Pippa Jay, who I recently met on Twitter and already adore, and “Whiskey and Starshine” by Erica Hayes. “Nobody’s Present” (Marcella Burnhard) was also very interesting.

If you never read Science Fiction Romance before and are eager to try it out, this free little Anthology is great to test the waters. Lots of interesting conflicts and angles, scorching hot heroes and feisty heroines. And space ships, and space stations and science and… guh. Try it. It’s free!

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Books of 2015 #1: Neanderthal seeks/marries Human, Penny Reid

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My recent strategy of first befriending other writers on Twitter and then (eventually) reading their books isn’t a bad one. Penny impressed me with her humour, her thoughtfulness and simply with being a mother of two, working full time in clinical research (like me!) and still finding the time to write. Not mention that she’s one of those self-publishers, and even designs her own book covers. Which are by the way totally beautiful and professional. I have absolutely no idea how she does all this without burning out. She’s also one who understands how social media marketing works, so go, follow her on Twitter, she’s no shouty, link-spamming person at all.

The Neanderthal books were on my reading list for quite some time now, but I never got around to actually read them. So yesterday, on a whim and at midnight, I started the first one, “Neanderthal seeks Human” – and of course, I couldn’t put it down. I read until three in the morning, going to bed after the first kiss. I basically read all of Sunday, until I finished the second book “Neanderthal marries Human” at half past eleven PM. Yes, besides sleeping and reading I didn’t do much else. Penny labeled the books “smart romance” and yes, it’s not quite the usual romance. Both books are peppered with random scientific facts, which a) make you smarter and b) must have been taken a lot of time to look up, because I can’t quite believe that Penny knows all this on top of her head. But then, Janie does, so maybe Penny does too. I also like that the protagonists, Janie and Quinn, don’t fall head over heels for each other – or, rather the romance between them unfolds over several weeks, there is stuff they have to get through together – it’s actually quite an adventure. I’m a sucker for adventures. The books are also not only heartbreakingly romantic (1) but also hilariously funny (2).

The protagonists, Janie and Quinn, are no cardboard cut-outs, but feel like real people. This is important to me, but might not be for you. They both have interesting and believable character development arcs. Janie also drove me quite crazy at some points, but never so far that I disliked her. She’s quirky. That can get on your nerves. Quinn, on the other hand… he’s an alpha male done right. Meaning he’s dominant, but not a jerky, scary asshole (3). He respects Janie as a person. I don’t know if he and I would go along well, being quite the alpha myself, and I wouldn’t have tolerated a lot of the stuff he just naturally does. Like ordering food for Janie. But I can’t deny that he’s a fascinating man. We don’t learn a lot about him in the first book, which is only written from Janie’s point of view, but the second book remedies that.

Being a writer myself I often get annoyed with romance books because they are so predictable. Of course, the recipe has to be always the same (4), but that doesn’t have to mean I can make check-marks on my imaginary plot point list. Penny manages to not walk into this trap. In fact there are some twists in there I absolutely didn’t see coming. Of course there’s a black point, but I didn’t expect it to be what it was. I also love that in the second book the focus is on the development and deepening of their relationship, not an encore of pulling them apart and getting them together again. And I love it, I absolutely love it that Penny gives us the chance to see what comes after the “happily ever after” ending of book one. That even perfect book couples have to learn to get along with each other. I wish more writers would do this.

So 5 stars from me, and I urge you all to read Penny!

Neanderthal seeks Human (Amazon DE link)

Neanderthal marries Human (Amazon DE link)

(1) I cried, oh god, I cried. Especially at the end of book 2. And with that I don’t mean I had water in my eyes, no, I actually had to blow my nose because I was totally undone. So there.

(2) If I wasn’t crying, I was giggling, snorting, screaming with laughter. It’s a rollercoaster. An amazing rollercoaster.

(3) *cough* Christian Grey *cough*

(4) Get them together, get them apart, get them together again for good.

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Books of 2014 #4 – Barrayar; Lois McMaster Bujold

“Barrayar” is the second book of the Vorkosigan Saga, starting right where the first book “Shards of Honor” ended. I fell in love with Aral and Cordelia, and their unlikely love, during Shards and was dying to know how fate was going to treat them.

While Shards was a bonafide romance in a setting of two worlds at war with each other, Barrayar’s main theme is parenthood. There are a lot of different parents in there, from single and broken soldier dads to heteronormative parents, mothers who bear their child the natural way and mothers who use advanced technologies. This by the way made me realise that I wouldn’t mind being a mother, but the idea of being pregnant sort of gets me out of the deal. I would love to have one of those artifical uterus things the Betans invented. Anyway – another major theme is how a society treats the less healthy ones: be it disabled babies or soldiers wounded in battle.
This all weaves into a story of a planet trying to come to terms with progress, technological and social, told through the eyes of an out-worlder, from a way more “civilized” (or so it seems) world.

I enjoyed Barrayar immensely. Not only does it give you food for thought, it’s also beautifully written and features a lot of different characters, which I liked a lot. Especially the budding love between crippled Kou and valkyrie-like Drou had me in a constant panic that one of them would die. The relationship between Aral and Cordelia passed the test of time (the books were written eight years apart) and was still awesome. It’s so wonderfully sober and unromantic and yet written in sentences so beautiful that they punch you right in the guts. My favourite one: “Aral merely grinned, and made love to her as if she were spun glass.” Aaaaaaah, spun glass! SPUN GLASS!!! How gentle must he’ve been? I seriously wish she would write a bit more than single sentence sex scenes though, because she has the right words fo’ sure. On the other hand, being able to put everything into one sentence is the true art, so there…

As I loved Shards and Barrayar so much that I wanted to own them outside their Kindle prison, I had to realise that it’s not so easy to aquire books that came out some twenty years ago. But I succeeded in the end, and I’m looking forward to thumb through them and find my favourites scenes much easier from now on. The Kindle prooves again and again that it can’t deliver for me when it comes to that, to loving books and knowing where certains things hide inside.

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Books of 2014 #3 – Bloody Lessons, The Victorian San Francisco Mysteries Series

I stumbled across M. Louisa Locke’s first installment of victorian mysteries set in San Francisco – “Maids of Misfortune” – while I was looking for books about the city, preparing for my trip. I enjoyed the heck out of the adventure of unconventional (but historical accurate) widow Mrs Annie Fuller and her dashing lawyer, Mr Nate Dawson, and was delighted to learn a lot about San Francisco in the process. I was even more delighted as I found out that there was a second book, which I read after my journey. Fast forward to now, two years later, and I had the idea to check if there might be a third book, and lo’ and behold, there is. Needless to say it was on my Kindle instantly.

As with romance books, mystery books come with a sort of ‘rating’ as to what to expect. These are labelled ‘cozy mysteries’ – there’s nothing gory or upsetting in there. In fact, they remind me a lot of Agatha Christie’s books where you’re always trying to figure out who the culprit is, but there’s nothing extremely violent happening. (I could have used a bit more heat between Annie and Nate, but being victorian and acting historically correct you don’t get much besides sweet kisses.)

I like this series a lot for three reasons.
The first one: It plays in San Francisco, one of my favourite cities ever.
The second: The author is a retired history professor, the books are very well researched and cover a specific social issue or trend from the time. The first deals with the working conditions of domestic servants, the second dallies with séances and the third covers the educational system and the problems female teachers faced at the time.
The third reason: The characters. Besides Annie and Nate, there are a lot of recurring side characters, who are all as well thought out as the two main protagonists are. The author manages to make them relateable to modern day readers without ignoring the social standards and circumstances nor the consequences of what would happen if the character would stray away from the social rules. Hence no more heat between Nate and Annie, because her reputation as a respected boarding house owner and widow would be on the line.

The three books in chronological order are:
Maids of Misfortune
Uneasy Spirits
Bloody Lessons

And now I have my fingers crossed for a fourth one. There are also companion stories with the focus on some of the side characters, but I haven’t read those yet. I’m sort of partial to Annie and Nate.

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revisited: the kindle vs paper books

I own my Kindle now for roughly 1,5 years and I think it’s time for this avid paper book lover to evaluate this ride. Frankly, I don’t use it as often as I could, but that has more to do with me forgetting to read than anything else. I don’t read more paper books. Or less, because of it.

It took me a while to come to the conclusion that the media that contains and delivers a story, is totally irrelevant. Be it a paper book, a movie, a video game, a comic strip or a file on the Kindle, if it has a compelling story that grips me, it has fulfilled its purpose. The thing that is important is the story, not the media through which it is told.

What I like about the Kindle (and it’s associated iDevice apps) is the instant gratification. It is quite amazing to have access to the content of a book 2 seconds later. That totally floats my boat. The other thing I like: The price of the books. As I more or less exclusively read books in English, and these bookmarkets have different price politics, British and American ebooks come with a decidedly lower pricetag than their German counterparts.

Then the Kindle comes with useful functions like highlighting and notes and such, which is great if I read reference books. It has adjustable font sizes! And of course, the 47 books on it would take up quite a lot of real estate in my bookshelf.

And yet I prefer paper books. Not for the smell, their touch or other nostalgic nonsense. I prefer them because they are a work of art, put together by a handful of artists. First, the author, then the typesetter and the cover designer, then the printer and the bookbinder. Having encountered quite a lot of badly formatted Kindle books, I came to appreciate the work of somebody who knows how to set a page.

I don’t care if a 200 pages long romance novel comes on digital paper, but I doubt I would want to read those five volumes of Modesty Blaise comic strips I recently bought, on the Kindle. It would work, of course, but I won’t enjoy it that much. And I do read comics on my iPad, so it’s not that.

What I mean is: As a consumer I find it great to have so many options. Both have their merits and their downsides, but I find it stupid that for so many people it has to be “either or” – why not enjoy the heck out of both? Why am I supposed to chose a side? I refuse to do that. I like to collect paper books and I like to read my chick lit on the Kindle. I will buy a book in dead tree form because I loved the ebook version. It is great that self-publishing and ebooks allow for obscure niches to pop up, that it gives authors a chance that would never land a deal in traditional publishing. Who knew that dinosaur smut would find readers? And it’s equally nice to have curators who filter all those many stories and bring out what they believe are the best ones, through the traditional way.

Stories have existed before books, and they will live on in any form of media we put them in. And that’s a very comforting thought.

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Books of 2014: #2 Playing for Love at Deep Haven, Katy Regnery

So, the true first book of this year, which I somehow couldn’t finish. But now I have. To be fair, I think the book and I have met at the wrong time, which perfectly fits with its theme of second chances. I’m usually no romance reader, but for whatever reason, I read a lot of that stuff lately, and as Playing for Love at Deep Haven came along, it was like as if I’d eaten too much sweets.

Although it actually is a very nice story, and I think in comparison to By Proxy, Katy’s first book, it definitely wins. The relationship between Zach the hard rocker and Violet the poet has more layers and is not only deeper, but also more believable than Sam and Jenny’s. Zach and Violet have a shared history. Second chances, you know. Katy is a top-notch romance writer, and she certainly knows how to pen inner turmoil to the page. Her kisses are to die for. Her characters ring true, they live and breathe on the page.

But there’s a thing I had trouble with.

Other than By Proxy, Playing for Love features not only sweet kisses, but also sex. Lot’s of it. And I really don’t mind sex in books. Katy has taste, and she writes intercourse as well as she writes kissing. The problem for me was, that there was a bit too much of the bedroom shenanigans for me. Sex ate plot. For me at least.

Speaking of plot, it was a teensy bit forseeable what would happen. Not that so much happens in contemporary romances anyway, I mean, you have the meeting of the hero and the heroine, sparks fly, they kiss/fuck, navigate some minor disturbances, kiss/fuck some more, then you have the big bad black moment where all falls apart, you gnaw your fingernails until, tadah, there is a happy end. Yes, I’ve read a lot of this stuff lately, as I said, and being a former student of literature, structural similarities don’t escape me.

I think it will take some time until I pick up another romance book. I need a bit more plot. Some antagonists besides inner insecurities. A bit more action.

Verdict:
If you need a scorching hot rocker in your fictional boyfriend collection, Zach has you covered. If you need a nice romantic read for the weekend, this book is the right one for you. If you need a bit more plot than two people trapped in a beautiful house, go look somewhere else.

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Books of 2014: #1 – The Language of Dying, Sarah Pinborough

I found Sarah’s Twitter via Chuck Wendig (who I found via Tumblr, but that’s a different story), and it was one of those accounts I just had to follow, although I had never read any of her books before. She has the power of putting the saddest things into the most beautiful words, and they will haunt you for a long time. She is also very clever and very funny. Admiring her essays for a long time, I finally came to my senses and bought “The Language of Dying” today – during my lunchbreak. (The beauty of modern technology, really.)

I was running around that book for quite a while. People dying from cancer is, after all is said and done, part of what I work with daily. I wasn’t sure if I could stomach putting a story to all those anonymous little numbers I turn into pretty posters every day. But I’m glad I took the plunge. I’m not kidding you, this is a very sad book. It might be not right for you, if you’re in a place where your life comes apart at the seams. Or it might be right for you exactly because your life is coming apart. Just consider yourself warned, as it will tear your chest open and claw at your beating heart.

It is a story of a father dying and siblings trying to deal with it. And I can’t say much more, because I could spoil it for you. It wasn’t the first book I started this year, but the first one I did finish. After reading a handful of romance books lately, I felt like I had managed to overeat on candyfloss. I needed something raw. Really raw, and powerful. And this book delivered that. The language is heartwrenchingly beautiful, the images strong and I will think about it for a very long time. And I will definitely buy it in dead tree form too, because a screen doesn’t do it any justice.

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