Witches’ Gambit, Charles Freedom Long

Witches’ Gambit, Charles Freedom Long

Witches’ Gambit: Book One of the Seven Worlds

 Witches’ Gambit showcases Charles Freedom Long’s trademark ability to meld life after death, alien life, and extra-sensory perception into a gripping science-fiction story.

The United States is living though a Christian fundamentalist crisis, and Aidan Ray, a successful attorney, has to keep the fact that she’s also a practicing medium under careful wraps. However, when an alien shows up in her living room one evening to tell her that Earth is about to be destroyed  unless humanity can overcome its innate tendencies towards violence and religious absolutism, that secrecy has to be imperilled to save her world.

I’m a sucker for original ideas, and the underlying concepts for Charles Freedom Long’s Seven Worlds series certainly qualify. These books combine communication with the dead, a form of astral projection as a means to travel between worlds, and a variety of alien species. While some of the alien societies in this book, and the foods of the homeworlds, have extremely close parallels with Earth, the species themselves make for very interesting reads, as do the human characters. In Witches’ Gambit, we have what is essentially a trifecta of High Priestess, Rogue, and Warrior Monk teamed up to save the world, which creates a fascinating mix of worldviews and tensions between the characters. The three protagonists are well-developed and very easy to get absorbed in, and their goal is nothing less than the preservation of Earth. Definitely a recommended read.

Lacy’s End, Victoria Schwimley

Lacy’s End, Victoria Schwimley

Lacy’s End

Lacy’s End, by Victoria Schwimley, paints a graphic picture of domestic abuse from the point of view of Lacy, the teenage daughter of the town sheriff. Her frequent injuries have been ignored for years by Lacy’s school and the town at large alike, underpinned by the small-town belief that it’s a man’s right to rape his wife and discipline his daughter with his fists, and it takes a visit too many to the local hospital to tip one out-of-town doctor past the point of being able to overlook the situation. Allen Petoro involves social services, and stirs up more fuss than even the sheriff’s office can ignore, but Sheriff Waldrip has a badge, and a gun, and isn’t about to let some upstart doctor stand between him and his rights.

Lacy’s End is a compelling book, well-written and offering a glimpse into the psychology of the abused and the abuser, as well as the all-too-common bystander effect. Victoria Schwimley creates a realistic setting for her story, including a neat contrast between Lacy’s existence and the world of Allen Petoro, and the characters are well-developed and gripping. The touches of romance are well-done, and don’t detract from the main message of the plot. This book has much to offer to all ages of readers – definitely a worth-while read.

Why ‘it’s complicated’ isn’t a bad thing

Why ‘it’s complicated’ isn’t a bad thing

Or, why thinking is good for you

Complicated books, oh my. We’ve been seeing a lot of reviews in various spots on the Interwebz recently, saying that a book was complicated, or used UK English (gasp) instead of US English, or used words the reader didn’t know. Usually, the reviewer is knocking off stars for this.

Complicated booksYou know the reaction at By Rite of Word, if a book makes us think, or, better yet, uses a word we don’t already know? We get excited. We go and look shit up. We tell our friends about the cool new word / idea / whatever we found. Yes, this may explain why we read about ten books a month and don’t have many friends.

So, yeah, we’re not big fans of the belief that a book should be written to the lowest likely reading level. We don’t agree that books should confirm to ‘grade-level X‘…unless of course you’re in grade school. The English language has an incredibly rich vocabulary. Over 170,000 words. Tragically, the average native speaker knows between 10,000 and 20,000 of those. There seems to be a growing noise out there that anyone using a word that doesn’t figure in that most common 10 – 20 thousand is, at best, grossly inconsiderate of their less-lettered readers.

Bullshit. Pardon our French, gentle readers.

Using a word the reader doesn’t know is not a crime against humanity. (Providing, at least, that it’s used correctly. If it isn’t, well, then we might join you with tar, feathers, and pitchfork.) Writing is an art form. Making use of the incredibly rich linguistic heritage of English is what writers should be doing. Do you expect painters to stop painting and move to stick figures, because it’s easier to understand?

Thinking is fun. Thinking is, in fact, good for you. While there is certainly a line to be drawn between writers who get so hopelessly mired in their world-building and plots that the story never coalesces into a readable whole, and writers who expect that their readers can follow something a little more complex than ‘Peter and Jane saw a BUTTERFLY!!’, on the whole the point of reading is to think. We read to exercise our imaginations, or to learn. We read to see the world, for the span of a few hours, from a different point of view.

If what you read never challenges you, never makes you think, never evokes an emotional response, never teaches you anything new…what’s the point?

Of Men Made Gods, Osman Welela

Of Men Made Gods, Osman Welela

Of Men Made Gods: A Tale of the Lost Arts

Faced with a relentless enemy, the Danu, the First People, are forced to flee their homeland, but even in their remote refuge, their enemy pursues them, leaving all their hope resting in the power of their strongest magicians. Generations later, when the same foe returns fortified with magic of their own, the Danu face a choice that will define their race, and the rift between the faction that believes that blood magic is the only option to save their race and the faction that believes that blood magic will damn all that they stand for appears to be unbridgeable.

Of Men Made Gods is an interesting, thought-provoking fantasy novella, replete with magic and creatures of myth, and framing the dilemma of where a race’s ethical ground defines the race itself in an imaginative setting. Osman Welela’s civilisation of magic users holds themselves above all, keeping others only as slaves, which adds an ironic under-layer to the main storyline, and the gradual degeneration of the society’s values is clearly sketched in as the story progresses. There were a few typographical errors that periodically pulled my attention off the story, but overall I found this novella to be definitely worth the read; well-structured and offering food for thought along with its story.

Life Without Ceilings, Mary L Gorden

Life Without Ceilings, Mary L Gorden

Life Without Ceilings: A Woman’s Career in Computers

Life Without Ceilings is the memoir of Mary L. Gorden, describing her early life as a Navy child in the years following World War II, and the fascinating and unique story of her path to a career in the emerging field of computer programming in the 1960s.

In a twist that many of us may be familiar with, being told what she couldn’t or shouldn’t do from an early age proved to be a catalyst rather than a hindrance, and Mary’s interest in science, mathematics, and engineering survived through multiple moves and a series of religious schools that either didn’t offer those subjects, or didn’t understand why a girl would want to study them. Mary graduated straight into a computer programming position with Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and found herself in a niche perfectly suited to allow her to make use of her strengths.

I’ll be up-front and admit I don’t read a lot of memoirs. When I do, I’m often pleasantly surprised by how engrossed I can get in someone else’s life. Life Without Ceilings definitely fell into that category. I found myself grinning in sympathy over the ‘girls don’t’ sections, and drawn in by interests touching my own career as Mary described her time working with Visa in the early days of chip encoding. Above and beyond the fact that Mary’s story is well-worth the read, the book is very well-written and full of insights that take it far beyond a bare recital of facts.

Life without ceilings cover

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