Archive for January, 2008


Justin Gustainis: Black Magic Woman

Supernatural investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are called in to help free a desperate family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem Witch Trials. To release the family from danger they must find the root of the curse, a black witch with a terrible grudge that holds the family in her power.

The pursuit takes them to the mysterious underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans and New York, stalking a prey that is determined to stay hidden. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself — and the very heart of darkness.

Black Magic Woman is striking in that it has a world feels remarkably more real than most urban fantasy settings, which is a statement of how seamlessly Justin has woven the supernatural and the real together.

It is a book almost-painstakingly crafted together, but is so readable that Justin makes it look easy. Absolutely the kind of book that you pick up and finish in one sitting.

However, Black Magic Woman is one of those books that are ‘flat.’ Some of the interesting scenes that should have punched simply did not, such as the one where Libby reveals something intensely personal or the sex scene (I think there was only the one). Everything came together in a neat little package, including Quincey’s fabulous personal history (one of the highlights of the book for me), except that I think it should have had more of an emotional punch.

That said, you’ll be definitely be seeing more of Justin Gustainis soon, just like Jim Butcher says on the cover. He is simply too good not to.

Black Magic Woman rates 4 out of 5.

Disclosure: This book was sent to me.


Michael Betcherman: Suzanne

Suzanne Braun had it all – the big house, the luxury car, the expensive vacations. Then her husband died, but not before making a series of reckless investments that depleted his fortune.
When a promising relationship with a well-heeled and aging suitor ends badly, the beautiful widow finds herself a social pariah, universally regarded as an unscrupulous golddigger. Her prospects look bleak when her late husband’s brother, Douglas, invites her to spend the summer at the family cottage on Lake Joseph, a playground for Toronto’s rich – and very rich.Suzanne heads north with one goal in mind: to return home with a wealthy fiancé in tow.

Douglas’ wife Catherine dreads her arrival. The two women have loathed each other for years and Catherine fears that Suzanne will set her sights on her brother Mark, a wealthy businessman who is returning to Canada after 14 years in Japan. She will do anything to keep her arch-enemy from entering the family circle.

An irresistible force is about to meet an immovable object.

It’s certainly an interesting concept, reading a book that’s constructed exclusively of emails. By the way, I didn’t read it as the author intended, as a couple of emails every day for three weeks, so this may have affected opinion of the book.

When one think of a woman who’s looking for a rich man to marry, one normally thinks of her as a shallow, money-hungry bitch. Suzanne doesn’t come across that way. To some extent, she still seems shallow, but she’s manages to be likeable anyway.

What makes Suzanne a good read is that Betcherman’s successfully given each of the correspondents their own voices, though I feel that some of the correspondents are rather stereotypical.

However, there isn’t very much emotional depth to the story, and curiously enough, I also find that the emails read more like proper, hand-written letters than emails.

Suzanne rates 3 out of 5.

Full disclosure: The author sent the book to me.


David Boultbee: The Gender Divide

Ryan Peters is an anomaly. In a world where women live four times as long as men do, Ryan is one of a few men with a similar lifespan. This difference in lifespan has had profound consequences on the world balance of political, economic, and military power and has created a social Gender Divide that threatens to tear the world apart.Determined to close this Gender Divide, Ryan will sacrifice anything to succeed. The Gender Divide has already cost him the one true love of his life and even though he has a second chance, he won’t let that stand in his way. He is even willing to give up his own life … and in a sense he already has.

The Gender Divide isn’t normally my type of science fiction, and I can’t say that it has changed my mind.

It has an interesting set-up. Women live much more longer than men, and as such, instead of a pink ceiling, we have a blue one. Then comes our protagonist, who is the first man to gain an equally long lifespan.

The author expands the concept lucidly, but it all goes downhill at the end. I admit that much of why I think the ending is weak has to do with my personal beliefs. It’s just too pat and too “let’s fix everything so that everybody can have a happy ending.” For me, The Gender Divide simply does not do its premise justice.

The Gender Divide rates 2.5 out of 5.

Full disclosure: the author sent the book to me.


6 Questions with Diana Pharaoh Francis

1. On a scale of one to ten, rank your current level of insanity–where ten is belongs-in-lunatic-asylum insane–and tell us why.

Probably about an 8. A few weeks ago it would have been a 19. I just finished (sort of) revisions on the next book in the Crosspointe series, titled The Black Ship. They were really difficult to write and while I got the book to the point that it is overall exactly what I want it to be, the ending needs a little tweaking and so I keep thinking about how to make it work the way I want. Then too, I’m working on figuring out the characters (really getting into their heads) on The Turning Tide, the book I have due in June. I’ve made interview questions for each and am having them discuss their answers in their own voices. This is odd, because they are doing so in first person, but I will write the book in third person. I often don’t get a good handle on characters until after I’ve written about them awhile–about twenty or thirty thousand words, and so I thought I’d try this to see if I can get into their heads sooner.

And then I have these other ideas pronking me on the shoulder saying, “ahem, write us. Write us NOOOOOOOW!). So I’m a little schizophrenic.

2. What happened to all the animals in the Path books?

They lived happily ever after. No, seriously. The ahalaad-kaaslane animals remain attached to their partners and there will be more partnered in the future. While the goddess cannot be very present any more in her own land because her presence suppresses magic and therefore causes problems, she watches from afar and still creates the ahalaad-kaaslane animals to pair with the humans.

3. Both the Path and Crosspointe books will be trilogies. What do you like about the structure of trilogies?

Actually, the Crosspointe books aren’t a trilogy. I’m hoping more for a series (depending on whether my publisher likes them enough to buy more). Each story is complete in itself and will focus on different characters. The first book is about Lucy and Marten, the second about Thorn and Plusby, the third about Shaye, Ryland and Fairlie. I’d like to write a story about Keros and about Sarah also *(who appeared in The Cipher) and have planned for it. What connects the stories is the growing trouble in the culture and the way that it will explode and then change the world. I picture it sort of like those big-cast disaster movies where you follow different characters who are experiencing different parts of the disaster in different ways and in different places, until they eventually converge as things settle out.

I really prefer writing the series to the trilogy, if only because I like that I have the time to develop the Crosspointe world on a larger canvas and with more perspectives. Trilogies I like because they allow me to really develop the characters and the world over more than one book, and so there’s a greater sense of depth to the story, to the characters and to the world. But in the series, each book is more complete at the end, which is a bit more satisfying.

4. I could never see myself going to school for a degree in Creative Writing. But you have a BA/MA in it. Why did you do it?

I started out my BA in Agriculture Science Marketing and Management (I grew up on a cattle ranch and thought that would be a good fit. It wasn’t). I liked English. And in college, I actually started to write stories and loved it. I had told stories before that, but only in my head. So I just decided to follow my heart.

I went to get my MA in creative writing because I wanted the chance to hone my skills more than I had. It was an excellent experience overall (with some potholes of the snooty ‘you write (add derogatory adjective) fantasy?’ sort. I remember in one workshop where a fellow student asked why I had to have all the strange names. And I pointed out that there were plenty of strange names littering traditional literature. Hamlet, Bihaj Mudge, Uriah Heep, and so on. Once I pointed that out, he shut up.

I did my PhD in literature because I wanted to explore literature more, but I didn’t want to go further in creative writing. At that point, i just wanted to write without the structure and requirements of classes. I wanted to see what I could do on my own.

5. Did you ever figure out how to pop an eyeball without breaking it?

I have a friend, who we all call Fighter Guy in my online writers support group (you’ll see him in the acknowledgements of my books), who gives advice on many things regarding fighting (he used to be a professional jouster). And he happened to know about eyeball popping. He knew about the itching, the blood and what it looked like (since he’d experienced it). He just told me about unhinging a jaw and how easy it is. Look for that to show up in a book someday. He has saved the logic of my fighting and other elements on more than one occasion.

6. Since you are my first guest of the year, you get the New Year’s Day resolutions question. Have any? Don’t bother? What are they if you do?

I think my resolution is to be disciplined and organized so I don’t feel so insane. To do the sensible thing about exercise and diet so I don’t feel insane. (Are you sensing a theme here?). I want to work on some new projects also, and that requires discipline and organization to keep different story threads straight in my head. I may start with cleaning my house . . . erm, maybe with my office actually . . . . I have to keep a regular schedule. I’m on sabbatical from my job for a few months and want to take the best possible advantage of it.

Happy New Year!

Diana Pharaoh Francis (descendent of the Pharaohs?) blogs at Mad Libs. Her next release is The Black Ship (November ’08), the second book in the Crosspointe series.

And a contest! Diana sent me an ARC of The Cipher, which I reviewed here. One lucky person who comments will get the ARC (I’ll throw in slowboat international shipping), and I will get a new copy to keep at home in Singapore. So comment away!