Category Archives: A Word From My Friends

Reviews on books, movies, and music by my friends.

Guest Review Of Planetfall!

Y’all know it’s a joy of mine to feature guest reviews from my friends! Today I get to share one from my friend Indreni on a book I really want to read: Planetfall by Emma Newman


There’s no denying that British sci-fi and urban fantasy author Emma Newman is really cool. Not only does she write short stories and novels, design dresses, and narrate audiobooks (what reader doesn’t see that as a dream job?!), she hosts and co-writes a visionary Hugo-nominated podcast, Tea & Jeopardy. As if that weren’t enough, Newman is open about her experiences with anxiety, postpartum depression, and more–and incorporates these into her writing: yes, we sci-fi readers have an ally and inspiration in Newman as an author, world-builder, and character-creator. 

Planetfall is Newman’s first sci-fi novel, and while it’s a little over a year old now, I was amazed and grateful at how timely, relevant, and pressing it is. Set in a not-too-distant world where gov-corps control highly-stratified nations suffering from enormous wealth divides, oppression, and environmental ruin, main character Ren has an opportunity: she can leave Earth with a prestigious group of fellow scientists and doctors in order to follow the brilliant Suh, a university friend who has seemingly received a vision from God calling humanity “home” to “God’s City” on a faraway planet.


From the get-go, Newman makes it clear that life on Earth has become stifling, bleak, and all but hopeless. Grieving the loss of her young daughter, and fed up with her relationship with her narcissistic mother, there is little keeping Ren on Earth but the pleading voice of her idealistic father, who believes Ren’s breakthrough visengineering system of 3-D printers can save countless lives on Earth. It’s just one of several complex ethical questions facing Ren throughout the novel, and the reader can’t help but wonder how he or she would react in the same situation.

Set 20 years after Ren, Suh, and the other colonists “make planetfall” on their new planet, when the book opens the new colony appears to be humming along. Ren’s 3-D printers have made human labor almost obsolete. Homes, clothing, food, organs–all can be printed thanks to her. They live sustainably, recycling their raw materials in a mashing system, and building homes that make their own energy. 

But the peaceable facade and the premise of the colony has come at a price, which Ren has helped to cover up all these years. Where is Suh, the original leader, for example? One day, Suh’s grandson, Sung-Soo, emerges out of the harsh grasslands beyond the colony’s gates and upsets the balance. Ren, suffering from tremendous, untreated anxiety and OCD, begins to fear she can’t keep lying to the colony any longer about what really happened during “planetfall” 20 years ago.  


Planetfall is a slow burn, but the world-building and character development are fascinating and kept me engaged for all 320 pages.     

For those who, like me, were intrigued by Newman’s extensively-created futuristic space colony, her 2nd novel came out this past November. Titled After Atlas, It’s deemed a “stand alone novel set in the same universe” as Planetfall. As After Atlas has received rave reviews from readers, I’m guessing Newman really hits her stride in her 2nd novel, and I am definitely looking forward to checking it out.

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Guest Review Of Another Bloody Saturday

One of the goals of RedStarReviews was to have my friends be able to share their reviews of books they loved on my website! I’ve enjoyed the variety these guest reviews bring. Today I am happy to share a guest review from my friend Indreni that features a very interesting sounding book on a topic I love! 


As American football season is a few months off yet, some of us, especially those of us who aren’t baseball fans, may find ourselves in a bit of a sports gap. What better opportunity than to enjoy the sunny days of summer outdoors with a book about that other football–Mat Guy’s Another Bloody Saturday: A Journey to the Heart and Soul of Football, which takes us around the world beginning in Salisbury, England, to Wales, the remote Faroe Islands, North Cyprus, Bhutan, France, and back again to the English lower leagues? 

A delightful collection of vignettes that span Guy’s earliest childhood memories of attending matches at the now-defunct Victoria Park with his Granddad to the present, he asks the question: Why be present at sporting matches? Why not just watch them from the comfort of your home on TV? It’s a question many sports fans, especially those who love underdogs and underachieving teams, will ask themselves as they brave another weeknight under-attended game, sometimes in the lashing rain and whipping wind. And British football fans are no stranger to agony and loss to begin with–now imagine the lower British leagues, which see their rising stars plundered by the Premier League again and again. Some of us college basketball fans (ahem) know their pain–as soon as the team gets good, the coach is snapped up by a bigger university or a college with a much larger sports budget. 

But Guy has tapped into something universal when he proves again and again with his stories that the long-suffering loyalty of the sports fan is richly rewarded in numerous ways–that magic goal, the miraculous win, the sense of community and camaraderie, and the serendipitous human connections that can spring from being out in the world, in a crowd that shares love for the game and the spirit of competition. 

Likewise, stories of healing and connection permeate this collection. Guy chronicles his volunteer work in developing football in Bhutan. He includes a beautiful chapter on how two tragic events that occurred on the same night, one to his closest football friend and the other to footballer Dan Seaborne, became an impetus to embark on recovery and meet in real life. But perhaps the most touching chapter, for me, is the one where he attends the ELF Cup in North Cyprus. The ELF Cup is a world cup for stateless football teams–think Tibet, Palestine, Greenland, North Cyprus, and more. These teams aren’t allowed to compete in FIFA or in FIFA’s World Cup because they don’t represent internationally-recognized nations. Guy points out that in Tibet, a person can be thrown in jail for singing their own national anthem, but at the ELF Cup, for a couple glorious minutes, that anthem can ring loud and clear, and for 90 minutes on the football pitch, the nation of Tibet, long occupied by China, can live again. This, to me, symbolizes everything Guy is standing for in his book–the real soul of the what the game can mean to an individual, to a community, to a nation, and the rest is noise. 

As a non-British reader myself, who likes football but isn’t any sort of devoted fan, the book gave me a privileged glimpse into a world I never knew existed: the magical network that is lower league and non-league football. It stirred up feelings of nostalgia for the childhood White Sox games I attended at the old Comiskey Park in Chicago with my family, when the team was terrible and that beloved stadium was in its last days on this earth. I think I cheered all the more loudly because the team was so bad. And somehow, I think that realization taps into Guy’s insights about the true soul of sports fandom. 

Another Bloody Saturday is available directly from Scottish indie publisher Luath Press  (paperback and e-book) where you can also sample the first chapter, Amazon, and fine UK bookstores.   

You can follow Mat’s amazing football adventures and insights on his blog, Dreams of Victoria Park.

Guest Review Of The Name Of The Wind 

While we were away on vacation some friends contributed Guest Reviews for our website! We couldn’t be more thankful especially as having our friends join in on the fun of book reviews was one of the reasons we started this site! Today Danny reviews The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Very honored to share his thoughts on this excellent book!

  
The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Guest Review by Danny

First and foremost I have to say this book is Tolkien in its grandeur. I say this bold statement because that’s exactly what the book is: bold. It also has a hint of George R.R. Martin in its violence, setting and mood. Again, another BIG NAME analogy. And you know what? That’s exactly where Patrick Rothfuss belongs: Among the BIG NAMES. 

The Kingkiller Chronicles takes place in the time of knights, bards, traveling performers and musicians, kings, and…..wizards. Heard it, read it and hell they’ve even made movies so we can see it but…..Patrick spares us the clichés that so many have ripped off from Tolkien and spares us the political chaos of Song of Fire and Ice (not that its bad but, who wants to copy what being done well already). Yes indeed folks a breath of fresh air.

The story is centered around Kvothe. A thief, a musician, a rogue, a hero, an Arcanist….Patrick’s version of a wizard. Kvothe is not some muscled barbarian with a mighty blade and mighty steed. Kvothe is a musician with a quick tongue and a great mind. Kvothe is given the opportunity to “set the record straight”, to give the true accounting of his deeds. As Kvothe documents his life you realize two things. Kvothe while still young, has lived more than some old men. The other, is that he regrets it.

Now if the books sound glum forgive me. Its just I don’t want to give anything away and the books are extremely detailed and deep. I could probably write an entire essay on one of the books alone. This book has so many layers. What really drew me to the books was the songs. The music, The way Patrick Rothfuss incorporated songs, poetry, plays, mythology, folklore and science all into one coherent vision is just astounding. To any who are musically inclined these books especially will speak to you.

These books are hard to put down. They read easy and they’ll ruin your social life…..ok maybe not that far but it can if you let it. Do yourself and your book collection a favor and pick up Patrick Rothfuss’ books. If you like Lord of the Rings, A Song of Fire and Ice and Star Wars novels this is a series you want to have.

Guest Review Of Uprooted

This week my wife and I have been away on vacation but one of our friends has stepped up and provided a guest book review for us! She also happened to review a book that I am very much interested in reading, and her review has made me even more interested than before! 

  
Uprooted by Naomi NovikReviewed by Aglaia

One part Jane Eyre, one part Harry Potter, one part fairy tale, all parts fun. Despite suspicions that Uprooted would be just another young adult fiction fluff text, I found myself greatly enjoying Naomi Novik’s newest foray into the forest of words. 

Agnieszka is an accident-prone young girl who has grown up on the edge of a forest in which lurks more dangers than just bears or snakes. And if the dangers of the forest aren’t enough, there’s the every-ten-year selection of a young girl by the local official, Dragon. When Agnieszka is unexpectedly chosen by Dragon, her life changes over night. Her selection rips her away from all she knows and deposits her into a world of magic and spells where she must discover her own talents and gifts.

From there, Uprooted moves with break-neck speed between events, and the reader is pulled along for a fun ride as Agnieszka learns about magic and how to defend her town and country from an encroaching power. Along the way, she unwillingly falls in love with her mysterious and cold mentor. The quick pacing and action packed scenes move smoothly through the plot points, and I found myself compelled to keep turning pages into the wee hours of the night.

I did think of this as a gothic romance with magic. Agnieszka is a heroine as awkward as any Jane Eyre, and Dragon is a love interest with a darkness and prickliness equal to any Rochester or Heathcliff. Combine the gothic feel with a dash of Harry Potter-like magic in a world ruled by age-old stories of nature, and the story comes alive in an entirely entertaining fashion. While none of the characters carries extreme depth, they are still interesting enough for a reader to follow.

Perhaps the biggest “flaws” I found were the heavy-handed environmental statement at the story’s climax and the sometimes over-used first person narrative. The former is mitigated by the logic of its origins within the story itself, and the latter can be overlooked for the sheer fun of the story.

Overall, I found myself truly “uprooted” from my own reality and transplanted into an ancient world of spells, magic, and arcane wonders. I would strongly recommend this book for a fun, fiction break from heavier, academic texts.

An Irish Murder Mystery With A Twist! 

RedStarReviews is happy to bring you a special guest review by FrenchFryWife

The Likeness by Tana French 

Tana French made a splash with her debut novel In the Woods, which circles two mysteries and ends with raising even more questions. It is the first in French’s multi book set, which is (awesomely) titled The Dublin Murder Squad Series. The Likeness picks up shortly after ITW and follows Cassie Maddox, a previous undercover detective who now works domestic violence. She is called to a crime scene that normally wouldn’t involve her unit because of a highly unusual find: the murder victim looks exactly like Cassie and has an ID card with her old undercover alias.

 

Realizing an amazing opportunity to (literally) walk in the victim’s shoes, Cassie’s former boss Frank Mackey convinces her to impersonate “Lexie Madison” in an attempt to solver her murder. The police claim that Lexie made a miraculous recovery at the hospital and doesn’t remember much from the evening of the attack. Cassie returns to the house shared by Lexie and her four roommates, a motley crew of grad students who are the main suspects. Cassie falls easily in step with her new lifestyle and begins digging through Lexie’s world to find information leading to her tragic death. It’s not long before the line between Cassie and “Lexie” blurs, putting the murder case and Cassie’s life in danger.

 

First off, you must know that it’s not required to read In the Woods before starting this book because all the major plot points are discussed. However, if you enjoy rich character development and back story, I highly recommend it. I really enjoyed The Likeness because it weaves through shady pasts and mind games. At first I found myself wondering which of the roommates were lying, but later found myself much more interested in why. The odd group of friends can seem at once fiercely loyal and inseparable. Then, like a light switch, they are guarded and vague with each other.

 

For a good portion of the story, there is much more psychological play than real action. It may seem slow for some readers but I liked falling down the rabbit hole with Cassie. The one true problem I had was suspending belief for the basic premise: the idea that a total stranger, no matter how talented, could replace another person so convincingly that even the people who saw her every day would not know.  Frank holds a boot camp of sorts and in just a few days, Cassie masters Lexie’s cadence, accent, laugh, and dry humor. To be fair, she falters a few times but Cassie recovers with quick thinking. To be more fair, my favorite movie is about a theme park with dinosaurs so I will not begin casting stones.

 

The Likeness is that special type of book where I was hungry to know the truth but didn’t want the story to end. I look forward to continuing French’s series and meeting more quirky, authentically Irish, and sometimes homicidal characters. If you are looking for a murder mystery with layers of psychological intrigue, I highly recommend The Likeness. 

  

Guest Review Of You Are A Writer

Today we have the joy of sharing a guest review from our friend Jesse (who goes by @dzhecci on Twitter). Jesse chose to review: You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins. Without further ado here are Jesse’s thoughts:

You Are A Writer (review)

I am a writer. If I learned nothing else from Jeff Goins’s book, I learned that. I learned other things, too, though, which is the point. But the most important thing I learned is that I am a writer.

You Are A Writer is, essentially, a book about how to get published. More than that, though, it is a book about how to improve your writing, further your career, and prepare yourself as a marketable commodity in the publishing world. From tips on writing and editing to website design and construction, there is something for everyone. If you already have a substantial blog with many followers or have only ever written grocery lists, if you want to get published this book is for you.

Goins pulls from his own experience as a writer, both as an amateur and a professional, to explain how to get from point A to B in a way that seems both practical and possible. It will not tell you exactly whom to contact at exactly which magazine to get published, but it will tell you how to find those people for yourself, and how to appropriately contact them.

In addition to being a valuable resource for freelance writers, the book is enjoyable to read. It’s well-written, well-paced, and at least my copy had an interesting formatting system that I found intriguing.

I would have liked a little more detail at certain points, regarding some of the suggestions, but this is my only real critique. It was a book I could not put down. But it was also a book that I found so inspiring that I paradoxically wanted to put it down so that I could return to my own writing.

It is a book that I will likely read and re-read throughout my life. I suggest you check it out.

GUEST REVIEW: Does Not Love

Today’s Guest Review is by our friend Indreni. She selected to read Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox. Without further ado here is her Guest Review:

Does Not Love

Chicago author James Tadd Adcox’s debut novel, Does Not Love–a noir thriller, social commentary, and in-depth meditation on marital love all rolled into one page-turner–was released this past October and published by indie press Curbside Splendor. What’s more fun than taking a gamble on a debut author’s small press novel that you stumble across at your favorite local indie bookstore?

Part of what caught my eye with this book right away was its setting in an alternate version of Indianapolis. Midsize Midwestern cities are relatively untapped goldmines for dystopian or science fictional novels, filled with post-industrial landscape, abandoned (or not really) buildings, homes, or entire neighborhoods, and colorful characters who struggle to redefine and re-engineer the new urban order they find themselves in.

Adcox’s novel has all of these—the main character, Viola, works in a grand old public library in a tough Indie neighborhood that’s seen better days. Her husband, Robert, is a corporate downtown lawyer representing the local pharmaceutical giant Obadiah Birch. The supporting cast includes a shady-but-romantic FBI agent sent to Viola’s library to enforce “the secret law,” which gives the nation’s authorities complete power over its citizens, and a ragtag, mistreated tribe of drug company “guinea pigs” that have taken up residence in abandoned storage facilities and are planning to overthrow the pharmaceutical company Robert represents.

But all this is merely the surrounding storm to the fact that Does Not Love is a surprisingly intimate and detailed case study of a marriage. The social malaise, upheaval, and paranoia that Adcox so accurately nails is a mirror reflecting that malaise in the characters’personal lives. Viola and Robert find themselves at a crossroads after dealing with a series of miscarriages, each grieving in their own ways–Robert wanting to turn more towards Viola and Viola turning away from Robert. Viola is a refreshing female character—she’s analytical and distant, whereas Robert is more sensitive, lovelorn, and perhaps the more sympathetic one.

The forces of social and personal unrest and upheaval converge when Viola becomes involved with the FBI agent, who is all too willing to fulfill her S&M fantasies that cause Robert alienation and discomfort, and when Robert’s friend, an Obadiah Birch representative, tells him “there’s a drug for that”—a drug that can make Viola fall in love with Robert again. He explains that love is a purely chemical process that can easily go wrong, resulting in such physical maladies as, “Hypoactive Desire Disorder…Erotic paranoia. Erotomania, also known as Clerambault’s syndrome…Sexual Aversion Disorder….” From here on, we can no longer trust Robert and Viola’s actions and feelings—where the organic stops and the drug effects begin—but Robert’s ultimate desire to uncover the truth leads him directlyinto the underworld of pharmaceutical “guinea piggers,” their secret society, and their struggle for revenge against Obadiah Birch’s unethical research.

Does Not Love is a fast-paced, offbeat, and truly perceptive read that questions at what point societydeems our human emotions and actions pathological, as well as how arbitrary that point might be. It is also a biting satire of our nation’s nebulous post-9/11 laws, and the potential outcomes when the extent of corporate and government involvement in our lives isnot so much blatantly dictatorial, but unclear.