Keryl Raist is a part-time writer, part-time blogger, part-time book reviewer, and full-time mom. When not balancing babies with books, she likes to sleep. She lives in Charleston, SC, with two little boys; the "Number One, All-Star, Son-In-Law Of The Year Champion" (according to a discerning panel of her mom and mom's best friends); and a remarkably unflusterable cat.
Where to find Keryl Raist online
Where to buy in print
by Keryl Raist
Justice is fine, noble, a beautiful and fleeting thing. But if justice is impossible, revenge is almost as good, and tastes just as sweet.
Yesterday Sarah Metz didn't know who she really is. Today she does. And tomorrow the quest for justice, or barring that, revenge, begins.
Justice: Book Two The Ossolyn Trilogy is the sequel to Sylvianna.
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Smashwords book reviews by Keryl Raist
- Hearth and Harvest
on Sep. 10, 2010
All six of these stories have an eerie, almost Neil Gaimanish quality to the writing. A very distinct voice coupled with a beautiful use of language to evoke images and feelings of place and time. These stories feel like poems wrapped around plot to me, and in a few cases the plot appears secondary to the imagery.
I should probably make it clear that when reading, I'm looking for plot and dialogue. These are my main treats in a story. I'm generally not a huge fan of language so much as story. These stories are excellent examples of beautiful use of language, but on the plot front some of them are a little weak. As stories, as opposed to prose poems, they range from lovely (Leatherskin: A steampunk rift on Pygmalion, which you should all go out and download the book so you can read it.) to confusing (Written In Stone: Which is beautiful, but three reads through and I'm still not one hundred percent sure what is going on, or more importantly: why.) to abrupt (Reaping: A sweet little tale of a woman rescuing her god, that would have been quite a bit more satisfying at novella length).
It costs whatever you want to pay for it. On the strength of Leatherskin alone, I'd suggest paying for it. (I paid $2.00.) Hearth and Harvest comes in at about 30 pages, so it's a very short little thing. Call it lunch break or coffee break reading. A very pleasant lunch break.
- Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom Book One
on Dec. 28, 2010
A while back an email popped up in my inbox requesting I read Lovers and Beloveds for review. I did my usual routine of checking the book out, looking at it's reviews, reading the back page copy, and bits and pieces of text. It looked good. My initial impression was steampunk erotic fantasy. It sounded right up my alley.
Then another interesting factoid hit my radar; it was groupfunded, a major plus. If that term means nothing to you, prepare to learn. Groupfunding is a technique where you get a bunch of people to give you money to pay for you to do your project. Call it modern day patronage. On a practical level that means this book was good enough, in the bits and pieces released by the author, to get total strangers to give her money to hire an editor, artist, etc. While total money generated is not a definitive ruler for a book's quality, I've waded through a lot of self-published fiction that no one in their right mind would buy, let alone decide to patronize. I was thrilled to get into this book.
It turns out my initial impressions of Lovers and Beloveds was off, but not in a bad way. It is a coming of age tale wrapped around a story of sexual domination (a story within the story writing technique is used to good effect in this book) exploring how the one story furthers the other. It's a tale of a young man preparing for his eventual kinghood and the paths he may take to get there.
It is set in a fantasy land with an 1890's-1910ish technology level. But the technology is just in the background. To call it steampunk would be similar to calling Sherlock Holmes steampunk, sure it's the right era, but to do so misses the point of steampunk.
It is erotica: coming of age, realpolitik, intelligently crafted with layers and story lines beyond the sex, and wrapped up in the sexual politics of what it means to be a man or a woman erotica. As such, if you don't happen to enjoy reading explicit sex or sexual violence, just put the book down and head for the next one on your list. Assuming such reading does not bother you, go get a copy, you'll be well rewarded.
Lovers and Beloveds uses erotic sex as a vehicle to explore the paths of power and the relationships of dominance and privilege. All things a boy needs to learn to become a man who will be a king. The sex is well written, very hot, and it's easy to see why the main character, Temmin, finds himself aroused and dismayed by that arousal when seeing the main character of the inner story raped.
I think calling this book fantasy might be a bit misleading. There is magic in this world, but it's use is minimal. My guess is that in later books in the series it will become important, (perhaps there will be a magical coming of age in the next book?) but for the opening book it's just sort of there. Really, this reads more like historical fiction than fantasy. Take out the few brief magic bits, and this could very easily be set in a fictionalized 1890's Colonial India or Hong Kong.
Temmin reads as a genuine young man. He's spoiled but trying to be a good person. He can be self-absorbed and whiny, but he's an eighteen-year-old who just had his world turned upside down. He's earned his whininess, and there's something wrong with a person who isn't self absorbed when his entire reality shifts. Basically, the fact that he is annoying on occasion is entirely in character and should the annoying bits be removed, he wouldn't read true.
The writing is tight. Scenes flow from one to the next with no major issues. If there were grammar errors, I didn't notice them. Dialog and voice may not be exceptional, but they were more than competent and worked with the characters. I never found myself thinking, "There's no way Temmin (or any other character) would say that!" There are bits where as a reader I found myself wondering why we were meeting certain characters and plot lines, but the quality of the rest of the story and knowing this is book one of a series makes me think they are the seeds of future plot points. The story within the story may have been a bit longer than strictly necessary, but that's my own personal taste (I tend to skim epic battle scenes), and for all I know in the next book the bits I thought were long may be vitally important.
I look forward to seeing how Temmin will mature into his future.
- Expert Assistance
on May 05, 2011
Sit back and imagine, if you will, a story where Lazarus Long, Hannah Montanna, and Marvin the Paranoid Android on prozac get together to liberate a planet. Got that image in your head? Sounds like fun doesn't it? Yep. Reading it was fun, too.
Jake, the main character is something of a cross between Han Solo and Lazarus Long. Like Han he's in financial trouble. Like Lazarus he seems to have seen and done everything at least once. And like both of them he exudes a sense of fond grouchiness at the naive-cute-and-fuzzy-puppy types that keep tripping through his life.
Like Lazarus, Jake has a sentient computer/spaceship with a brain the size of a planet. This one is not depressed, but does seem to have a dry sense of humor and irony sensors on overdrive. Odin, in addition to knowing basically everything that ever was recorded, also has teleporter technology, can build almost anything, and crack basically any code. As you can imagine, Odin is a very good friend to have. Odin was built as a military vessel. He became sentient and decided he did not want to be a warship. Jake found him floating abandoned in the middle of space, probably bought him some fuel, and the two have been together since.
And now, looking for some fast money, Jake has a new job. Two new jobs really. One is shuttling Evvie Martini (Hannah Montanna, down to her dyed hair) from gig to gig. The other is helping the people of Antioch Two throw off Sordius Maxi, the owner of their planet.
Of course, eventually Evvie finds out about the revolution, gets involved, and a cute little tale that can be described as "Yay Liberty!" ensues. The story is more or less the fictional equivalent of kettle corn. It's sweet, crunchy, yummy, but not exactly nutritious.
Here's why. In the past I've mentioned something called power balance. So, let's talk a little more about plot and power balance. For a plot to work, the good guys and the bad guys need a shot at winning. It can be a one in a million shot, that's good reading, too. But unless you want to study some sort of human emotion, (ie lit fic) the guys on one side can't so completely overpower the guys on the other to the point where the guys on the other have absolutely no shot at winning. Sure the struggle of David V. Goliath is good reading, but the struggle between Goliath and the quadriplegic toddler isn't. The toddler has no chance at all.
Maxi never had a shot. Odin isn't so much taking a gun to a knife fight as taking a tank and making sure that Omniscient God Almighty is driving it. Maxi was so far out gunned by that computer it wasn't funny. And to throw the power balance off even further, Maxi is a lot more like Fredo Corleone than Michael.
There's no tension to this plot, because there's no real danger. There's no chance the revolution won't work. There's no possibility of any of the main characters being in any danger. Because of that, none of the main characters experience any real change. And why would they? Nothing was really risked. Evvie is just a childish at the beginning of the revolution as she is in the end. The rebels are just as clueless; they never had to learn anything. Odin, well, he's already the pinnacle of intellectual evolution, so there was nowhere for him to go. Jake has no deeper understanding of anything because he knew it all to begin with.
If you'll forgive the comparison, this is not Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It's not even close.
When discussing revolution it's hard to avoid politics. This was a fairly innocuous screed against commercialism, without being insulting or annoying. I'm about as far off on my side of the political spectrum as it's possible to get, and I didn't find the political content too bothersome. I doubt anyone else who can still claim to be somewhere on the rational scale would either.
So, if you want a cute and safe read, an adventure where you know everyone comes home just peachy and the good guys are guaranteed to win, this one's for you.
- Beside the Still Waters
on Dec. 31, 2011
I love a good family saga. I love historical fiction. I loved the gilded age, and the turn of the twentieth century. I'm a massive WWI wonk.
So, when Beside the Still Waters, a family saga set in 1904 to 1938 landed in my review pile, I was a happy little reader. Probably a little too happy, I was so excited to see it, I put it in the to review pile even after thinking the beginning was a little choppy and rough.
Let's take a minute and talk about what a historical family saga entails. There should be a huge, sweeping collection of deeply rounded characters, in a vibrantly alive piece of time. John Jakes and Herman Wouk wrote my two favorite sagas, and those tales are massive, fully alive and breathing pieces of interactive history. Basically, if the author is doing her job, you get to join a family and live with them through some fascinating bit of history.
There should be a main story arc, this is usually the sweep of the chunk of history the book is set in. On this plot line the characters or more or less acting like tour guides, giving us an intimate view of life during whenever the story is set. This is the plot line that ties everything together, and should be a meta image of the smaller individual conflicts going on in the secondary and tertiary plot lines.
The secondary plot line will be some level of specific conflict involving different members of the family. This is usually the motive plot for the 'story' and will usually involve breaking different bits of the family off into different camps. The historical aspect of the story is often the fault line that divides different bits of the family into different camps.
Tirtiary (and on and on, a real saga can have at least one main plot line per main character, and often side ones for the side characters and so and so forth. After all, it's a SAGA; no one's worried about it coming out too long.) plots involve romances, coming of age stories, individual conflicts for individual characters.
And, if it's not clear from the above, or the fact they're called sagas, a family saga should be long.
So, basically, when I read a historical family saga, I want a huge, complex, well-researched book, brimming with fascinating characters, in depth locales, plot twists and turns, that all wrap into some sweep of history and a satisfying conclusion for all surviving family members.
Besides the Still Waters is well researched. In fact, I would have very happily read a straight up history of the Quabbin Reservoir by Lynch.
It fell well short on all of my other criteria for a good family saga.
"A rift between two brothers, Eli and John Vaughn, at the turn of the 20th Century continues through to the next generation as John tries to use Jenny, Eli’s daughter, in a plot to regain the family farm from Alonzo, who now runs it, who is Jenny's love. John is broke and eager to sell the farm to the state, which is buying up area property for the coming reservoir. Both Alonzo and Eli refuse to sell their properties, and protest removal by eminent domain. Torn between loyalty to her family and heritage, and the allure of a future beyond the valley, Jenny refuses to remain powerless like the men she loves, but looks for a way to take control. A disastrous decision may prove fatal in a race against time."
That's the back of the book blurb. It's a little choppy, but promising, right? I thought so. Here's the problem: at fifty percent through, the plot, as stated in the blurb, is just, barely beginning to get rolling. To use a historical example that most people are familiar with: if the main plot of this book had been wrapped around the American Civil War, the story would have started with the writing of the Declaration of Independence to get us familiar with the fight over slavery. Jenny (who is identified as the main character earlier in the blurb) isn't even born for the first third of the story.
The antagonist, John, shows up for less than three pages of on screen time, and then vanishes for a third of the book. Once again, a family saga should be long and complex enough to follow the antagonist as he runs away, blows his fortune, and then take him back to the main swing of things, so that by the time we get to the conflict, we're deeply attached to both sides of the argument. A family saga needs the depth to follow multiple characters through their lives while still pushing the main plot line forward.
The writing style is choppy. I'd be reading away, getting a little plot and character development, then into straight history, and back to plot, and back to history. From what I can tell this is intentional, but instead of highlighting how the meta history compliments the individual lives of the characters it's jarring and breaks the flow.
The writing style is non-fiction. As I said, I'd happily read a straight history by Lynch, but I don't want to read fiction by her. In non-fiction it's perfectly acceptable to tell your reader what happened, showing them is nice, but usually not the goal. In fiction the idea is to show your readers what is going on. But, if you pick 3rd person omniscient as your point of view, (the narrator voice) it's very easy to slip into telling your reader what is going on. And tell she does. So much telling that it's actually pretty rare to run into a scene that really is showing something, but when one does occur, a chunk of straight history will show up in a page or so and stop it dead.
And, just to make me grit my teeth, the formatting is wonky. I just wrapped the beta version of my latest novel, and my hubby wanted a version for his Kindle. (He doesn't like reading on his computer, so no Word doc for him.) Anyway, I put the beta version through the Smashwords' Meatgrinder with no prep at all, and got precisely the same sort of wonky formatting Beside The Still Waters has. Basically, it looks fine, and then for no real reason it suddenly changes font, and changes back, and forth again, all through the book.
As I said in the email I sent off to my beta readers, the kindle version looks like it was formatted by drunk weasels, drunk weasels that like Courier. It's not illegible, but it is annoying. Deeply annoying. And maybe part of the reason it annoys me so much is that I know how much work it takes to fix this (about an hour-hour and a half), and how ridiculously lazy it is to just leave it that way.
So, all in all, I'm not impressed by Beside the Still Waters. I wish it had been a straight history of the Quabbin Reservoir. I think I would have enjoyed that quite a bit.