Category Archives: Reviews

More love for The Egg!

Today is going to be a very good day because The Vintage Egg has received a fabulous review from Robbie Cheadle. Robbie also reviewed an intriguing little book about low cost, crafty and very imaginative ways to create Christmas:

https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/bookreviews-short-books-by-a-c-flory-and-charlie-lee-austin/comment-page-1/#comment-18839

Click the link below the picture to go to Robbie’s reviews or click here. You can also find Robbie’s books on Amazon. They include the absolutely delightful Sir Chocolate books for children which she co-produced with her son Michael.

The Sir Chocolate books are illustrated with characters made of fondant [icing?], and the artistry is a joy:

Have a wonderful day!

cheers
Meeks


A flurry of reviews

I don’t write a lot of reviews, but every now and then, a cluster of books come along that have something about them that really appeals to me. This next lot cleaned out my TBR list and triggered my desperate plea for more reading material. 🙂

Reviews on Amazon

The first review is for ‘Allies and Spies‘, book 2 of the Unravelling the Veil series, by D. Wallace Peach :

5/5 No middle book sag here!

After falling in love with the first book of the series, Liars and Thieves, I was a little apprehensive about whether the second book could live up to the first. Second books are a bit like the ‘middle child’ of a family. You get all the surprises with the first one so what’s left for the second?

I needn’t have worried. 😀 Allies and Spies sees the story grow up and out, both in terms of the plot and the characters.

I really didn’t like Alue very much in Liars and Thieves, but she really comes into her own in book 2. I can’t tell you what she does, but she saves both Naj and Tallin from a very nasty death. More importantly, she does so by coming into her strength. She’s always been brave, but there’s a difference between physical courage and the courage needed to overcome your own shortcomings. Or even to recognize them. Yet that is precisely what all three of the main characters must do if they are ever to solve the mystery of the disappearances that have claimed so many lives.

That said, I have a secret fondness for tortured characters and in book 2, Naj suffers. That suffering serves to catapult him into a greater understanding of his world and himself, but that’s not much consolation on a personal level. I truly feel for Naj. 😦

And finally, Tallin. In many ways, Tallin the Changeling was my favourite right from the start. There’s something about his easy going nature that is very appealing. His alter ego Slick seems to encapsulate his personality perfectly – cute, cuddly, cunning, and naughty. But Tallin has demons of his own, and in book 2 he faces at least some of them.

I wish I could tell you about the plot, but if I do I’ll spoil it for everyone. Let’s just say that some things become clearer, but the forces behind the disappearances are still shrouded in impossibilities.

I can tell you about the writing though. Peach makes writing on multiple levels look easy. The prose is lyrical, the dialogue is always just right and the pace is perfect. No typos, no plot holes, no ‘what the?’ moments. Definitely no saggy middles! The story. Just. Flows. And takes us with it.

This series is character driven fantasy of the highest quality, and I recommend it to everyone, even those who don’t normally read fantasy. I’d give it 6 stars if I could.

The second review is for Tales from the Annexe, by Audrey Driscoll.

5/5 Dipping a toe into the world of Herbert West

I absolutely adored the Herbert West series and really enjoyed revisiting the world in which the series is set. Of the new stories, the one that will probably stick in my mind the longest, and give me nightmares, is The Ice Cream Truck from Hell. I will never think of Mr Whippy the same way again. lol

Beautifully written horror-ish short stories that all lovers of good writing will enjoy.

Review no. 3 is for ‘Serang‘, by C.S. Boyack.

5/5 Coming of Age in a time of chaos

Serang bears a slight similarity to the Karate Kid story, but only because the main character is young and learns martial arts. Beyond that, Serang is a lovely, unique story about a young girl who is given to the Temple to be raised by monks. These monks are both male and female, and there is no qualitative difference between them. All monks learn martial arts. Which style of martial art they learn depends upon their individual personalities – i.e. what suits each monk the best.

When the temple is destroyed, Serang is saved by one of the wandering monks who also survived the carnage. He continues Serang’s education in martial arts and living off the land. There are exciting fight scenes, but they are not the main focus of the story. Serang’s development and growth are the drivers, and I have to say that I loved the story from start to finish.

I would recommend Serang to anyone who loves reading about ‘becoming’ and the triumph of the human spirit.

And there you have it, three very different authors, genres and stories, but I enjoyed every single one.

Have a great Sunday [in Australia] or Saturday [everywhere else]!

cheers
Meeks


“Liars and Thieves” by D.Wallace Peach

I had a feeling this book would ruin my sleep…and it did. “Just one more chapter” kept me awake until 3am, but it was worth every minute. My Amazon review is going to start with a great big 5/5 stars, but you guys will get a sneak peek, followed by some information from the author herself. Let’s begin!

Liars and Thieves, by D.Wallace Peach

‘Liars and Thieves’, the first book in the Unravelling the Veil trilogy introduces us to the three main characters: a female Elf named Alue, a male Changeling named Tallin, and a half-cast Goblin-Elf known as Naj. But this is no cookie cutter ‘quest’ story. The three start as enemies and continue as enemies for most of the book because their races dislike and distrust each other.

We learn about those races, as we learn about the three main characters, and I have to tell you that the world building is deep. Each of the three races have unique magical talents, but the one thing they all have in common is their dependence on Savan crystals to power their societies. And guess who controls the mining of the crystals?

The Savan crystals can only be found in the Goblin’s territory, and comprises a large part of their trade along with mechanical devices that are powered by the crystals. In theory, this gives the Goblins a great deal of power, but these Goblins are not your stereotypical villains. Far from it.

In Liars and Thieves, the Goblins are the cool, calm rational ones who revere reason and logic above all else. They trade the crystals to the other races but keep supply to a minimum because they don’t trust the other races not to abuse the power the crystals provide.

As the story progresses, you realise that the Goblins are right. Alue the Elf is not a bad person but she is arrogant and impulsive, especially when she’s angry, which is a lot of the time. In many ways, she is a fitting representative of her people who seem to believe that they have the right to take what they want simply by virtue of being Elves.

The third race is represented by Tallin, a Changeling who can transform himself into any animal, or insect, for which he has learned the ‘pattern’. He uses his ability to spy on the Elves for the Changeling Queen. The Changelings believe that it’s okay to subtly spy on and manipulate the Elves because the Elves have proved that they want the natural resources that belong to the Changelings – and are prepared to cheat to get them.

Like three countries in our own world, the three Races in ‘Liars and Thieves’ have an accord that defines boundaries and lays down rules to help balance the needs of the three Races. But this is no dry historical treatise. We learn all of this world building through the characters and their interactions with each other. As we learn about them, we learn about their world, and the process is seamless.

That process is also utterly compelling. As I said in the beginning, I lost sleep because of it, and now I’m itching to find out what happens next. I’ve enjoyed all of D. Wallace Peach’s work, but this one has really, really hit the spot for me.

And now for some info about D. Wallace Peach [Diana to her friends], and the answer to a question I asked her about her writing process.

Author Bio

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill.

Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked.

Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

And now for that question. I asked Diana whether she created the plot to suit her characters or created the characters to drive the plot, or a bit of both. This is what she said:

Great question! Thanks for asking. I think there are three parts to the creation process for me. I start with the concept—a spark of inspiration bursts into my brain. In this case, a story about how untruths and biases start an avalanche of blaming and retaliation that spirals out of control and nearly destroys the world. The end of the world based on nothing real.

Seconds after the concept, the characters scramble in. Some are gung-ho. Some are wary. And some, like my goblin, would rather not participate. All of a sudden, their personalities are showing and taking over.

The plot is a work in progress as the concept turns into action and the characters tell me who they are. My outline of the plot lays out all three books, but it changes continually as the characters make choices and become who they are. I love that creative part of writing.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity, Diana. I think that balance between the characters and the world and the plot is part of what makes ‘Liars and Thieves’ such a joy to read. Oh, and…Diana’s writing is beautiful. At times it almost flows like music. At other times it’s as sharp as a shiny new pin.

If you want to see what else Diana’s up, you can find her on her blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

You can also find her at:

And last, but most certainly not least, you can find ‘Liars and Thieves’ via this universal book link:
http://a-fwd.com/asin=B08FGQ2W3Q
Or click on the picture of the book. It will take you to the same web address.

I’m recommending ‘Liars and Thieves’ to anyone who loves to read, irrespective of genre. A good story is a good story is a good story! Enjoy. 🙂

Meeks


Vokhtah – a review

Some days are just so good, you have to stand up and dance. Today is one of those days:

‘Yes, this book is different and weird and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. But that’s the point!If intelligent life exists on other planets, it’s going to be bizarre and foreign and at least semi-incomprehensible to human intellects. Reading this book really did feel like being transported to an alien world, and that was fantastic. I wish I’d read it sooner, because it really is a master-class in world-building. Vokhtah is a haunting, vividly-constructed depiction of a fascinating world—one I’d happily revisit.’

That quote comes from a wonderful review of Vokhtah that I stumbled across this morning. I know Vokhtah will never become a best seller, but so long as readers ‘get it’ every now and then, I’ll be happy.

You can read the entire review on Berthold Gambrel’s blog:

https://ruinedchapel.com/2020/02/21/book-review-vokhtah-the-suns-of-vokhtah-book-1-by-a-c-flory/#comment-15977

Have a wonderful weekend, my friends.

-hugs-

Meeks


Duplicate Effort by Kristine Kathryn Rusch – a review

Duplicate Effort: A Retrieval Artist Novel by [Rusch, Kristine Kathryn]

I just finished Duplicate Effort and left this review on Amazon. Can’t provide the link yet, but here’s a copy of what I wrote:

Not since C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series have I come across a saga with such great sci-fi, great storylines and great characters.

Why do I call the Retrieval Artist series a saga? Because each volume has it’s own, standalone story, but also adds to the character arc of some really interesting, no, fascinating characters. Characters like Miles Flint, Noelle DeRicci and even Ki Bowles. Bowles is not a ‘likable’ character, but she’s still 3 dimensional and human; someone we might not like but who deserves some compassion nonetheless.

And, of course, there’s Talia. 13, orphaned, traumatised, and a clone. Not a ‘real’ child. What happens to a living, breathing person who’s classified as a ‘thing’? Talia will change Miles Flint’s life. She will also make you think about what it really means to be human.

You can read Duplicate Effort as a standalone story. I guarantee you will enjoy it. But if you love deep, well thought out sci-fi and characters with a life of their own, I would very strongly recommend reading books 1 to 7 of this series in sequence. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve never read Rusch’s work before, this series is a good place to start.

Rusch began as a traditionally published author and became a very successful Indie. Some of her business knowledge and experience is distilled into a series of blog posts she calls Business Musings. She talks about everything from contracts and agents to IP [intellectual property] and copyright for Indie authors. A great resource.

cheers

Meeks


Guttenberg – the problem with blocks

For those who don’t know, Guttenberg is the name of the new[ish] WordPress editor, and unlike standard word processors, it isn’t based on a linear flow of text. Instead, posts are built from blocks of ‘things’, a bit like legos.

But what are blocks, and why should we care?

In Guttenberg, each block contains one type of ‘thing’ – i.e. you can have one block for the heading, a second block for the paragraph, a third block for the image and a fourth one for a list of things. You can also embed videos and audio etc in blocks.

Because each of these components is inside its own block, they’re kind of ‘self-contained’ and can be moved up or down using arrow keys.

This is what the arrow keys look like:

The Block Move arrows in Guttenberg

Each click of the up or down arrow moves the whole block up or down by one block.

Useful, right?

Well, yes and no. If your posts are relatively short, and you only need to move a block a short distance, the arrow keys work just fine. But what if you realise that a block at the end of the post should really be at the beginning? And there are 20 or more paragraphs/blocks in between? That’s twenty clicks. 😦

Or what if you realise that a whole section of your post needs to be deleted?

I can tell you from bitter experience that deleting a whole series of blocks is a major pain in the proverbial. To delete a block you must:

  • click inside the block to be deleted,
  • click the three dots at the far right of the floating menu,
  • scroll down until you reach the ‘Remove block’ option, and
  • click it.

There is a slightly faster option which involves clicking inside the block to be deleted and then pressing SHIFT + ALT + Z on the keyboard. But…it gets real old real fast when you have 20 or more blocks to delete. If you open the post in the Classic Editor, you can select and delete paragraphs easily, but that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

How do I know all this? I know because I’ve just spent a lot of woman hours looking for an easier way to update one of my How-to books. ‘How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing’ was out-of-date in both the ebook and print book versions, so I thought I’d turn the whole thing into a series of posts and update it online.

It seemed so easy at first…-cough-

Copy/pasting the text into a series of posts was easy enough – Guttenberg automatically turned each paragraph into a block – but as KDP, Thorpe-Bowker and the National Library of Australia had all updated their websites quite dramatically, there were a lot of old, outdated blocks to remove.

Updating the relevant chapters also required that some parts be re-structured. And yes, you guessed it, there is no way of selecting a whole series of blocks and moving them as a group. There is a group function, but I couldn’t get it to work properly. Perhaps it was never designed for ‘group moves’.

In hindsight, I should have updated the Word file first, and then poured it into Guttenberg. But I didn’t know then what I know now, did I?

Sadly, the ‘Group’ function didn’t work as a ‘Reusable’ either. A reusable block is a sentence or image or whatever that can be plonked into a post without the need to copy something and then paste it.

As I wanted to create consistent navigation across something like 19 blog posts, I created some reusable blocks that I used for each post:

When I’m finished, all of the ‘Click here…’ blocks will be live navigation links to other posts in the series, so not having to copy/paste each one is nice. But is it nice enough to keep using Guttenberg?

I admit that most bloggers probably won’t try to publish a whole book on WordPress the way I have done, but I’m sure I can’t be the only person smashing my head against Guttenberg’s limitations…

If WordPress wants Guttenberg to make blogging easy for all bloggers, then it has to solve these core problems with blocks. If they can’t be solved, then the old ‘Classic’ editor has to be retained because it’s still head and shoulders more powerful than Guttenberg.

I’ve given Guttenberg as fair a trial as I know how, and it’s just not good enough. Not yet. For now I’m going back to the old Classic.

cheers

Meeks


Vokhtah has 16 reviews!

When D.Wallace Peach [Diana to her friends] said that she was going to read Vokhtah, I warned her. I said that the story was nothing like Innerscape. I told her that there were no humans in it, that it was all about these weird aliens on another planet…

And then I promptly forgot about it because I didn’t expect her to finish Vokhtah, and I certainly didn’t expect her to review it. But she did, she did. 🙂

Forgive me for posting Diana’s review in full, but Vokhtah is my firstborn, and I still think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.


D.W.Peach – 4/5 stars


This is a hard book to describe. “Pure Alien” is a good start, and I’m impressed by the author’s ambition and execution. Vokhtah is an alien planet and the characters are insect-like (my impression) creatures who engage in their own sort of political intrigue, espionage, and social caste system. They’re clever, dastardly, selfless, and selfish – much like humans – but there the similarities end.


The world-building is rather amazing and humans won’t find much that’s familiar here. Even the speech is different. The iVokh and Vokh are genderless “its” and don’t have names, referred to by their role in society, their ranking, and their talents. Social norms are dictated by groups and reinforce variations in dominance and subservience. It takes about a third of the book to get used to.


The story unfolds from multiple points of view, all alien. Flory doesn’t pamper the reader with backstory or explanation, but tosses us right into the strange world – sink or swim. The experience is immersive, but it requires patience to figure out who these aliens are and what the heck they’re doing. I enjoyed the story-telling, the fascinating world, the author’s imagination and writing skills. The pace was excellent and kept my interest.


I did spend a fair amount of the book confused about the characters, though. This is primarily, I think, because they don’t have names and, in many cases, go by multiple designations. For example, there are a number of Sixths and Sevenths. A Blue is also a Messenger who is also a Healer. A Teller is also a Trader, and is sometimes an Apprentice, so sometimes they’re the same character, sometimes not. There are a lot of identically designated characters as each location/eyrie in the story has the same basic social structure, and the book involves travel. I struggled to keep them straight until about 50% through when the plot began to narrow down the action and further define the characters’ personalities and motivations.


But then, I struggled to keep Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon straight. That one I gave up on; this one I didn’t. And it was worth it. By the end, I was ready for the next book in the series. I highly recommend Vokhtah to readers who love pure alien sci-fi, love a reading challenge, and want to engage with the work of a wonderfully creative imagination.

For those not familiar with ‘Gardens of the Moon‘, the book is the first volume in Steven Erikson’s mammoth Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It has an eye watering 1,221 ratings and an overall ranking of 4/5 stars.

To have something I’ve written even mentioned in the same sentence as ‘Gardens of the Moon’ makes my heart swell to epic proportions. But to have Diana say that she didn’t give up on Vokhtah when she did give up on Erikson’s first book…gods, I think my heart is going to burst!

To Diana, and every one of the amazing readers who read Vokhtah, and left a review, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

Meeks


Review – The Prince’s Man by Deborah Jay

I gave Deborah Jay’s novel – The Prince’s Man –  5/5 stars and posted this review on both Goodreads and Amazon:

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading ‘The Prince’s Man’, but the reality blew me away. The story is a grown up fantasy reminiscent of Robin Hobb’s Farseer series [which I also happen to love]. You’ll find Machiavellian politics, intrigue, loyalty, a hint of love, and a cast of characters you can relate to. Yes, they have their flaws, but don’t we all?

To my mind, watching the characters change and grow is at least half the fun. The other half is getting to know the world in which those characters live. In all types of speculative fiction, the world is as much of a ‘character’ as the characters themselves. Think how important the planet Arrakis is to the story of Dune.

As readers we want to step out of our everyday lives and get lost in another world. And the author does not disappoint. The otherness of The Prince’s Man is evident right from the start, but there are no boring info. dumps. We learn about the world in the same way we learn about the human characters, by watching the story unfold, a bit at a time.

And finally, I’d like to say something about the plot. It. Is. Not. Predictable. To me, that’s one of the book’s greatest strengths. I like to be surprised, and nothing puts me off more than ‘the same old same old’. In The Prince’s Man, the author kept me guessing right to the end.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book of the series, and I highly recommend this one to anyone who likes a story with real meat on its bones.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2770933130

I’ve been horribly slack about posting reviews the last year or so, and for that I apologise. Diana Peach’s review of Nabatea reminded me of the impact our reviews have on the authors who write the books we read. I have posted some reviews on Amazon, but not enough. From here on out, I intend to update my Goodreads account with reviews of the books I’ve enjoyed the most. I read an awful lot so I can’t review everything, but I will do better than I have been doing todate. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


Devil in the Wind – Black Saturday

I’m not a poetry person, at least not normally, but I’m sitting here crying as I read this poem by Frank Prem. It’s about the Black Saturday fires that claimed 173 lives here in Victoria. 

I was at home in Warrandyte that day. I’d sent the Offspring away, but I was at home with Dad and the animals because Dad had mild dementia and…I don’t think any of us really believed. I listened to 774 radio all day and some horrific reports were being phoned in, but we had the best roof sprinklers money could buy, and fire-resistant shutters. I was sure we’d be fine. And we didn’t really believe. 

The next day, the reports started coming in and finally, we believed. That’s the background. Here is the poem that’s brought me to tears.

evidence to the commission of enquiry: all in the ark for a while

well

you have to go back

to the chaos of that time

back to february

 

as the day got on

we realised we were in strife

because the thing was bigger and hotter

and faster and more unpredictable

 

it was more everything really

 

and we’d started to get word of huge losses

in other places around and about

people

property

animals

whole towns

 

so we were head-down-and-bum-up

and worried

about what was going to happen next

 

anyway

out of the smoke came a sort of convoy

led by a horse whose halter was held

by a woman driving a ute

 

in the back of the ute

a dog was running around

like a mad thing

 

after that came another car

with a float and two more horses

 

next was a vehicle that a police fellow

was driving

 

he’d been up in a chopper

trying to winch people out

but the wind got too big

so he dropped down and helped

by driving the car

with whoever he could get into it

 

then there were a couple of deer

that jumped out of the bush

when the cavalcade went past a clearing

 

and a pair of koalas

 

and three kangaroos

 

and some lizards

 

all running as part of the convoy

 

they scattered pretty quick

when the procession of them

emerged from the smoke

and the flames

but it was all in together

for a while

 

It was ‘all in together’ for a while after Black Saturday too. We grieved, and donated food, and money, and hay because the animals were starving, and because we were alive and so many were not.

The love has disappeared now, but for a while we had it and I thank Frank Prem for helping me remember. Parts of this post will become my review on Amazon because this is my memory of the devil-wind.

 


Hunting the Phoenix, by Audrey Driscoll

I don’t think I can define the difference between a craftsman and an artist, but I know it when I see it, and Audrey Driscoll is an artist. I know, because I am a craftsman, a good one, but not an artist.

So, enough navel gazing. What is it about ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ that’s so special?

Simple answer: everything.

‘Hunting the Phoenix’ is the fourth and last book of the Herbert West series, but it is also the climax of the preceding three books. Imagine the steps of a pyramid with the Phoenix as its apex. Or if music is more your thing, imagine a classical symphony in which each movement builds upon the last to achieve the soaring notes that grab your heart and lift you out of yourself. That is the Phoenix.

At its core, every work of fiction strives for just one thing – to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief, to become part of the story, and the Herbert West series is no different. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classical literature, the story lulls the reader into a pleasant sense of security. ‘Oh, this is what the story is about…’ And then the surprises begin. Small ones at first, as you realise the author is more daring than you thought, then more profound as the truly shocking events begin to unfold.

Each book in the series is like this, but in the Phoenix the shocks go deep. I admit, there were a couple of spots where I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief. Such careful, restrained, beautiful writing and she takes it there?

Yet ‘there’ is exactly where the story needs to go in order for the ending, the climax, to feel both unexpected and absolutely right.

I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say that the quality of the writing is superb. What may surprise some people is that it is written in the First Person POV [point-of-view], and I don’t usually like First Person POV. This time, however, I barely noticed because Driscoll effortlessly avoids every single pitfall that goes with First Person POV. As with C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series, the POV is perfect and exactly what the story requires.

I wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants more.

I’m just about to use parts of this post as a review on Amazon. If you want to read the series, the order of the books is:

  1. The Friendship of Mortals
  2. The Journey: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 1
  3. The Treasure: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 2
  4. Hunting the Phoenix

And please, leave a review on Amazon because these books truly do deserve to become modern classics.

cheers

Meeks

 


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