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Latest Reads

It’s been a while since I’ve done any reviews, and there have been a few already released this year that I loved, so let’s remedy that, shall we?

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First up – THE MUSE by Jessie Burton. It’s completely different from her first book, THE MINIATURIST (you can find my review here) and totally works on its own. There is a freedom and something like joyous abandon in the voice and prose that goes beyond Odelle and Olive – the primary characters and narrators. Yet Burton hooks it all together through the mystery of the painting, of the Schlosses, of Isaac and Teresa. You won’t find magical realism here like existed in The Miniaturist, because it doesn’t need it. It’s compelling, gorgeously written, and I think has more of Burton in it than her first book. I’d give it a 4 out of 5!

 

Kameron Hurley’s THE STARS ARE LEGION is up next. If that cover doesn’t make you want to buy it, I honestly don’t know what to do with you. It’s an inventive sci-fi of world ships (actual whole planets!), and brutal women who have their own hidden agendas. Like the levels of Katazyrna, I know I’ll have to re-read it two or three more times before I truly get all the details and intricacies built into it. If you like Hurley’s other series, especially the Bel Dame Apocrypha books, you’ll enjoy this. I’d give it a 4 out of 5, also!

 

The last one I want to talk about is Aliette de Bodard’s THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS. Because Asmodeus needs a bit more room to be doted on =).  You like fallen angels, magic, and dragons? Good. Read this. Actually, read book 1 first, then come back.

The House of Binding Thorns picks up shortly after the events of HoSW, when Madeleine is returned to House Hawthorne and, unfortunately, under Asmodeus’s thumb/dagger. There’s a lot to love in this book: a deeper, longer look at the Dragon Kingdom under the Seine, and their growing interactions with the houses; Asmodeus marrying into the Dragon Kingdom; the Annamite community that makes the best of the magic-ravaged city, away from the Fallen; a glimpse back to House Silverspires; the introduction of a Fallen who has stayed out of the war and conflict between the houses, making a life with the one she loves on her own terms.

Oh, and Asmodeus kiss scenes. *swoons*

Seriously, read it. Madeleine deserves a medal, or something. We get a much better understanding of Asmodeus and what he cares about. Overall: gorgeous writing, lovely characters, and an amazing world I’ll come back to again and again. HoBT gets a 4.8 out of 5 from me!

 

The next books up on my TBR are THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, DREAMS OF THE EATEN by Tex Thompson, CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, and INFIDEL by Kameron Hurley. Are there any particular books you all *gestures wildly* are excited about releasing this year? Books I can add to my ever-growing TBR shelves?

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2014 / 2015 Housekeeping – Pt. 1

Let’s just say I’ve fallen behind on putting up book reviews. I mean, behind. We’re talking 10 books from 2014 and 3 from 2015 – by release date, because I’m pretty sure I read more than three books this year…

Anyway, in the spirit of moving to a new year, time to get those puppies done! *Note – may be some spoilers in the reviews, so be warned!

 

1). Crimson Son by Russ Linton – A superhero story that doesn’t center on the super hero, Spencer is the son of Crimson Mask (the world’s most powerful augment), but doesn’t have any powers. Spencer’s one part cynic and two parts hormonal teen, which made connecting with him a bit of a struggle. The pacing, at times, seems to drag despite the urgency of Spencer’s quest. But the extended list of characters, from Hurricane and Hound to the Black Beetle himself, help round him out. It’s a story of survival, finding the truth, and, in a way, coming home. The truth and reality Spencer gets in the end aren’t butterflies and rainbows, but it’s enough for him to begin to heal.
Rating – 3.5

 

2) Premonitions by Jamie Schultz – I don’t know whether to call this a supernatural heist book, or maybe just urban fantasy heist? In any case, it was a fun read. Getting to know Karyn and co. takes a bit of time. There’s kind of an obligatory typecasting – there’s a silent guy who serves as the muscle, a magic-user who’s a bit more neurotic, Karyn as the leader and pre-cognitive Ace-in-the-hole. And then you have Anna. I still don’t know what Anna’s purpose is, other than a foil to Karyn and possibly the main gun. Strange to say, the highlight of the book is Karyn’s addiction. To keep her pre-cog abilities from rendering her to a comatose state, Karyn has to take an illegal drug called Blind. Her source dries up at the time shit is really hitting the fan. Seeing Karyn’s breakdown and flight from her team hit all the right notes. Her struggle is what brings the book together, and whether she gives in or overcomes it, well… you’ll just have to read!
Rating- 3.5

 

3) Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier – As always, Juliet is a master of elegant prose and fantasy with a historical feel. Blackthorn and Grim are two unlikely companions, but work well together. The premise promises to be interesting throughout the series –  saved from execution by the Fae, Blackthorn must give help to anyone who asks. If she can do this for seven years, she’ll get her revenge on the very man who imprisoned her in the first place.  Her first task is to help save a company of women nearly drowned in a local pool. It turns out one of them is betrothed to a local prince, and when she doesn’t fit the mold or personality he expected, he elicits Blackthorn’s help too.  It’s not a heart-pounding pace, and sometimes Blackthorn’s attitude makes it difficult to sink completely into the story, but has a happy ending typical of Marillier’s work – somebody ends up happy, but maybe not the titular character.
Rating – 3.8

 

4) Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews – This is the one we’ve been waiting for, guys! The book where we finally get to meet Roland, Kate’s notorious father who eats, sleeps, and breathes magic – and it lives up to the hype, though in a different way than expected. Kate is as sharp and sarcastic as ever as she tries to unravel the mystery of who actually killed a Master of the Dead. Hugh returns, still a giant pain in the ass. Packed with action, sprinkled with a few dark moments, and we get to see more of what’s in store if Kate fails against her father. It didn’t hit me as hard as Magic Slays or Magic Rises, but from this point, the clock starts ticking to when Kate will have to actually fight her father.
Rating – 4

 

5) The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley – Wow – this one was a ride. Plant magic, parallel worlds converging, and gender-bending societies made this a helluva standout in epic fantasy. The multiple POVs lend well to the broad scope of the problem – to the worlds converging and the threatened destruction/subjugation. Though Lilia is a problem child, she promises to be more important as Oma grows closer in the sky (meaning book 2, Empire Ascendant). Parts of the book reminded me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness in the way Hurley deals with gender identification and roles. The ending did feel a bit rushed, and not as clear as it needed to be in explaining what Lilia was doing. That said, it’s a refreshing addition to the epic genre.
Rating –  4

Side note: Hurley is one of the writers whose blog you should be following if you aren’t already. She gives bluntly honest, down-to-earth insight on her struggles and successes as a writer. Especially great for young writers or aspiring writers who think they’re going to make it big with one book and then not need to have a day job to support their writing.

 

6) Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews – Woooo buddy I needed a cold drink after this one. This new series by Ilona and Gordon promises to be a scorcher. They build another impressive world where magic is hereditary, and houses form out of the families with the greatest abilities. Nevada is good at being a private eye, helping keep her family afloat so they don’t lose their home and livelihood. Even though she gets in over her head, she does what’s necessary to level the playing field. She’s not a chosen one. She doesn’t come from a great house. She doesn’t get rescued. She’s headstrong, but not in the same way as Kate from the Kate Daniels series. With Mad Rogan in the mix, I can’t wait to see the fireworks in the future books.
Rating – 4.5

 

7) Clariel by Garth Nix (biggest letdown of 2014)

Nix’s Old Kingdom books were probably the biggest reason/inspiration I got into writing. The world is so different from the standard dragons and wizards; magic is free, potent, and dangerous not just to the living, but the dead as well. There are gates in death, and those who die aren’t truly at rest until they pass beyond the final one. I hoped Clariel, would give a greater picture of the Old Kingdom before the Great Charter Stones were broken with royal blood, before the role of Abhorsen became incredibly important. I guess it does, to some extent, but fails to explain any of it. Clariel is unlikeable throughout the whole story; she has virtually no arc or development. She continuously ponders about ditching her parents’ ambitions and living in the forest as a ranger, yet does nothing about it. The plot is shallow, and the antagonists’ motives/plans are so easy to read it’s honestly like watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith all over again. But those things, really, aren’t the biggest letdown – that award goes to the world building. The story takes place mostly in Belisaere, with Clariel’s mother taking position there in some respect to her goldcraft. Very, very little is done with respect to building up the guilds, their history, and their importance to the city and King. Basically all the magic and wonder created in the other Old Kingdom books is completely missing here. It’s just unpleasant all the way around.
Rating – 2

 

8) The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (favorite of 2014)

Part historical, part suspense, and with what seems like a speculative element thrown in – it’s an unusual, but fantastic combination. Nella begins as a romantic hoping her new husband will love her, and by the end she’s no token wife. She truly becomes a head of the household, at least what’s left of it. The miniatures are as stunning as the writing is beautiful. And I still don’t know who the miniaturist is! What floors me, though, is how much this book brings to mind British and American literature taught in late high-school and undergrad. Oddly, it reminds me of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. But better, way better than the Dickens, Chopin, and the like taught in college. Seriously a fantastic read,  and I can’t wait to read Burton’s The Muse coming out later this year.
Rating – 4.8

 

No, I didn’t count wrong. The other five reviews will be put up in the next week (probably while I’m procrastinating revisions). Maybe I’ll stop letting them get so out of control this year!

 

Read on, write on, eat cake. Happy New Year!

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Book Review – Schism by Laura Maisano

Behold! I have returned from San Antonius, land of river and tree and cement, and FOOD. Food like this –

 

It looks pretty enough not to eat, but don’t kid yourself. You will eat it, and then you will thank me later.  But we’ll have to save all the delicious reviews of grub, because today my friends, I have another review for you. Today, I’ll be talking about Schism, the new book-baby of my friend Laura Maisano.

 

The art therapy crap hasn’t done squat for Gabe Jones. A thousand sketches of his fiancée can’t bring his memory, or her, back to him. Nothing on Earth can. His past lies in another dimension, a world just out of sight.

 On campus, another student unknowingly shares Gabe’s obsession with the fourth dimension. Lea Huckley must prove this world exists. The monsters from the other side attacked her parents and fled, getting her folks locked up in the loony bin. Finding evidence is the only way to free them.

 She and Gabe strike a deal to help each other out, and together they manage to open a door to the world of Gabe’s true origin. She’d use him for proof—if she didn’t already care too  much.

 While Gabe tries to reconcile his feelings for Lea and his re-discovered memories of his fiancée, a much more sinister plot unravels. He uncovers his history, just in time to become the  unwilling linchpin in a conspiracy to start a war. His memory holds the secret the would-be conqueror needs to get the upper hand, the final riddle. Gabe must protect the riddle at all   costs, even if that means leaving Earth, and Lea, behind for good.

 

I’ll just admit it now – I love Lea. Seriously. She’s spunky, witty. An exceptionally loveable nerd who doesn’t give two shits how crazy other people think she is. But additionally, she isn’t dependent or constantly fawning over the guy she likes. Lea steals the show for the first half of the book.

Gabe, at first, feels simply there. It’s difficult to put into words; he’s actively helping Lea and hanging out with his roommate, but it was difficult to connect with him. It’s almost like his struggle to deal with his emotions, caused by the loss of his fiancée and memories, creates almost a fugue-like layer that keeps the reader at an arm’s length. But it’s glorious when that barrier disintegrates. His pain, anguish, love and above all, self-acceptance, become all the more real. Suddenly it’s not a college guy putting one foot in front of the other to get beyond loss and grief, but an otherworldly Winged whose life could keep multiple worlds balanced. As much as I love Lea, Gabe’s character arc might just be my favorite part of the book.

The twist is the other contender. I won’t spoil it, but it is quite fantastic. And it’s not just the contents of the twist, but how the reader is misdirected to not even consider it a possibility.

Though the story is mostly solid as a whole, there were some hiccups. The riddle is mentioned fairly early in the story, but not explained. Once we find out it’s hiding a relic called “the Stand,”  we have to grapple with what that means too. Only Nor seems to know what it does, which is a little strange considering the number of other councilmen entrusted to keep it’s location a secret. How does Illirin not have an archivist that can at least speculate on the Stand’s possible power(s)? Nor’s accomplice (a wizard who shan’t be named) also comes across a bit oddly. From their private conversations, the wizard sounds older, at least close to Nor’s age. It’s a bit jarring when his identity is revealed. Human or no, I’m still half expecting him to shed his normal form and… well I can’t really say without spoiling the twist!

As if parallel worlds, a brilliant dame, and a blue-skinned boy weren’t enough, Schism also throws Arthurian mythos into the mix. It, too, felt a bit rushed or glossed over, but I can look past it for now; tying Lea and her wizard nemesis to Merlin and Morgana was not a main part of this book’s plot arc. So for now all I’ll say is, “Cool!” and just watch that thread more carefully in the sequel. Definitely looking forward to see Lea getting more involved in saving both worlds!

 

That’s a wrap! I think I’ll take Tex’s advice and go back to Crimson Son for the next installment, just have to read it again. For some reason my brain didn’t quite know how to feel about Spencer on the first read-through.

Oh and if you’ve been hanging around this whole time waiting for more food pictures, don’t worry. I’ll get a post up about my excursion too!

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DFWCon Recap!

So I’ve been meaning to write this post for the last three days, and I’ve had problems pulling it all together. I don’t know if it’s work, or having to cook for myself again, but my writer-brain keeps trying to take another week off.

Last week was our second journey to Mexico (Riviera Maya), and we enjoyed it just as much as our stay last year. My stomach didn’t act up this time, so I got to enjoy more food. It was sunny and 80+ the whole week. The only speck of rain came at the start of our romantic dinner on the beach, which then became a romantic dinner in a nearby resort restaurant that just happened to be closed for the night. We caught the sunrise on the morning before we left, and then went on a hunt for coatis.

Of the (miniscule) disappointments:

  1. We didn’t get to go kayaking, due to rough and choppy waves the whole week.
  2. We were very nearly run over by a bus on the way to the resort. It’s one thing to have road rage in the States, and entirely another to see a giant charter-type bus beside of your van, that doesn’t want to let you over,  and is literally close enough to touch through your window.

The trip back was much less exciting, I promise.  And for the more noteworthy recap…

 

DFWCon!

I woke up on Saturday morning nervous as hell, and not sure what to expect. In retrospect I shouldn’t have been worried, or stressed.  It really is a gathering of wonderfully talented, exceptionally kind people.

The day was chock full of panels, workshops, and classes, covering a wide range of topics. I went to the author/agent panel first. Even though I’m nowhere close to querying agents, I think it had the best non-craft related pieces of advice that I heard over the whole weekend (I’ll get back to that later). Next came Tex Thompson’s dialect class, which was totally not what I had expected (in a good way). She’s got so much enthusiasm for what she’s doing and what she’s teaching, you can’t help but be gung-ho about fixing your own stuff.

At lunch I stuffed my face with fajitas, and networked a little.  Jonathan Mayberry gave an insightful and inspiring keynote. After the lunch hour ended, I headed straight for Donald Maass’s class on setting.  It was packed, and for good reason. I certainly came away feeling like I could make my setting do more for the story than what it currently is.

Skipping past an hour-ish wait and then my consultation, the last class for me of the day was about writing a great query. Yes, I have a knack for putting the cart before the horse. By that time in the day, though, I just wanted to go home and take a three-hour long nap. I didn’t, though, because I needed to eat dinner and head back out for the Gong Show. The aforementioned event is a neat concept, and fun to watch. A panel of judges (agents/editors) listen as anonymous queries are read aloud. If they hear anything that would normally make them stop reading or reject the query, they hit the gong. At three gongs, the reading is stopped, and the judges explain why they have rejected the query. It’s exciting, wondering when or if they’ll sound the gong. But it’s also informative, and gives a good idea of what agents are looking for in a query. Sometimes it’s a language issue of the query itself, and at others it was simply the story idea. Two queries made it through the test, one having received no gongs at all. One of the best things, though? Everyone in the audience applauded the query authors. Community love = warm fuzzies.

I bowed out after the Gong Show ended instead of networking. In addition to feeling exhausted, I was not exactly in the best headspace. I felt better when I got back to DFWCon in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Highlights of the day included Tex’s prose class, Maass’s micro-tension, making our own “Fantasy” table for lunch, Amanda Rutter talking with us at lunch, and listening to Jennie Goloboy talk about killing characters with disease. Maass closed the conference with a prediction on how publishing is going to change in the next few years. He also left us with this thought – how will your writing change the world?

Long story short, DFWCon is more than I hoped it would be. I’m excited for DFWCon 2015, and am going to work to make my writing ready for it.

Now if we back up a bit, remember when I talked about the best non-craft advice that I heard over the whole weekend? Well, sorry to keep you waiting. Here it is:

Make sure your response is not from an emotional place.

I’ll just leave that to stew for a few days.  And to all my fellow writers – I hope to see you at DFWCon next year!

 

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Into the Nether…

Welcome to the blog! I’ll be sharing insights about my writing process, the status of current project(s), and anything else I find that tickles my fancy.

Much of my last ten years has been focused on one story, a fantasy, which I planned as a trilogy. In the scope of how young I started it, ten years isn’t a long time. I finished the first draft of book one just before the new year (seriously, 9:00 PM on New Year’s Eve), and then set it aside for a couple of weeks. When I came back to it, I thought I’d be ready to push through revisions and editing sweeps to get it ready for the world of querying. I was wrong. I reread it, saw that the first half needed substantial rewriting, and promptly panicked.

It’s taken a few months, some tears/frustration, lurking on a variety of writing websites, and a lot of jottings on dry erase boards and paper, but I finally feel like I have a better grip on how the first half has to be changed.

Although writing isn’t easy, I want to show readers the world that I’ve created, and the characters who inhabit it.

 

Side note – I am really impressed that Literature&Latte (the people who make Scrivener) have a way to look up your order number if you’ve purchased it previously. So glad I don’t have to buy it again!

 

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