Friday, December 30, 2011

The End of the Year

"Just a few more hours/that's all the time you've got/Just a few more hours" Those lyrics are from Get Me to the Church on Time from the Broadway musical, "My Fair Lady." The song is actually about the last few hours of freedom before the guy gets married, but they are appropriate now, as well. Because it is "just a few more hours" until we turn over another year. And, as so many others are doing, I'm looking a little bit back, and a little bit ahead. On the big scale, it was a bit of an unsettled year. The weather was unsettled in a lot of areas, with storms and earthquakes and disasters seeming to occur on a regular basis. On a smaller scale, here in my world, we had a freak snowstorm in late October, and are still having unseasonably warm weather interspersed with a chilling cold day now and then. Wind, rain and hot weather were a bit topsy-turvy all year as well. We lost some big news names: Kim Jong-il, Anne McCaffrey, Harry Morgan, Bil Keane and Steve Jobs, just to name a few. Some things changed, some did not. All in all, it was a year much like any other, with ups and downs, good and bad, highs and lows. And now it is time to say good-bye, and welcome in a bright, shiny new year.

New Year's always holds a bright promise: this one will be better. Whether you are a resolution maker (I am not), or you prefer to just hold out hope that things must go better, the feeling is there. We've sent the old away, it's behind us, and we can look forward to something better.

And you know what? I think that is a good thing, as long as you realize that the New Year alone is not going to fix everything. You have to add your part to it. The turning of the year gives you the chance to put the past behind, and face a new, improved future. But it will happen only if you make it. January 1st presents you with a blank slate, and that's all it is responsible for. Keeping the shiny, and making the new last is all on you. And that's not a bad thing, either. We all need to get more involved, more motivated and just do more. So whatever you want to happen? Get out there and "Make it so!" as Captain Picard would order. Do it. Even if it's just a small thing that affects only you and your life. It's worth it, because next year at this time, you can look at that one thing and say- I kept this shiny and new all year long. And that, my friends, is worth more than all the big, sweeping resolutions that are forgotten and abandoned. Happy New Year!

And one last thing that has nothing to do with New Year's, other than it is the deadline for this: Writer’s Digest 101 Best Web Sites for Writers is taking votes.

I'm asking for votes for one of the most useful websites and podcasts for writer's I know: I Should be Writing by Mur Lafferty ( It's informative, interesting, sometimes tough, sometimes personal, but always has good, solid, common sense advice, plus interviews with everyone you want to hear about.

I have gotten a lot of benefit from ISBW. I've voted! It should be included on the list. If you have listened or read ISBW and think it's worthwhile, please add your vote. I thank you and I know Mur does, too!

The basic instructions: 1.Send an email to: 2.Put 101 Best Websites nomination in the subject line 3.Write a brief note asking for WD to consider the site for inclusion in the 101 Best Websites list and make sure to provide both the NAME of the blog/site, as well as the URL. I Should Be Writing 4.The deadline for nominations is January 1st, and winners are announced in June.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

For All Of You

Merry, Happy, Joyous, Fun-filled, Festive, Jolly, Cheery, Love, Light and Laughter to All!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'm sorry, Ms. Self-Published Author, But You Just Lost a Sale

I found a link to a book on a friend's Facebook page. Apparently, the book was written by a friend of his. Since I am all for supporting new authors, I figured I'd go take a look. I went to the Amazon page for the book and the title and blurb sounded interesting, so I clicked on the "Look Inside" link, which took me to a preview of the first 5 or 6 pages. And that's where the trouble began.

Let me start by saying I have no problem with self-publishing. In fact, I am considering going that route if I ever manage to get the novel I am working on in decent shape. It can be a good way to get a book out and into the hands (or ebook readers) of people faster than going a more traditional route. But there are some pitfalls and this particular book fell deeply into one of those pits. What was wrong? It needed a good editor.

The opening of the story was not bad. I was interested in the subject. But there were so many grammar and puntuation errors in those few pages that I found myself getting popped out of the story and wincing (and mentally correcting) every other sentence. Missed commas, commas where they didn't belong, choppy sentence structure, all of that and more. I have no idea if the rest of the story held up to the premise and I will never find out, because if those first pages are any indication, I would find it exceptionally hard to read, no matter how good the idea may have been.

It's too bad, really, because if the author had gotten a professional editor to work on the book, I probably would have bought it. Getting a pro to edit your book before you self-publish is one of the constant themes you see in books, articles and blogs relating to self-publishing. Sure, it is going to cost you some money up front, but isn't it worth it to ensure that people will buy the book? A good editor is going to do a lot for you in polishing your story, with both the mechanics of writing and style and content. We all like to think we are already good at all that stuff, but as the author, you miss stuff. Always. And your mom or your best friend aren't likely to be much better, unless they happen to be pros. An editor is trained to look beyond the surface story, and pull apart all the things that are wrong.

Not to say that you shouldn't let your mom or your best friend read your work. They are the ones that can tell you (assuming they will be honest with you), if the story works and keeps them interested as readers. But for the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts editing, hire someone. I plan to. Because what your potential reader sees in those first few pages will convince them to buy or not to buy. And you want them to decide on buy. A book that comes across as poorly written from a mechanics point of view is just as bad as one that is poorly concieved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Gateway (Harbinger of Doom 1) by Glenn G. Thater

The Gateway (Harbinger of Doom, #1)The Gateway by Glenn G. Thater
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was... confusing. The Gateway is the opening book in the Harbinger of Doom trilogy and as such, I didn't expect everything to be answered or settled by the end. At the same time, I did expect a coherent, integrated story that set up the next books and introduced characters that would draw me in and make me want to read more. Instead, the book seems to be a collection of vignettes, without much to hold them together.

The story centers on the knights of House Eotrus, a medieval holding in a Norse setting. The story does utilize many Nordic mythologic references and traditions. The Lord of the house had gone with a group of men to investigate mysterious happenings in the forest around the estate. When they do not return, the eldest son gathers a group of knights to find out what happened. He recruits Angle Theta, a mysterious warrior with apparently supernatural powers to help. When they go to the forest, they discover that a gap is being opened to a world of demons set to invade and destroy the knight's world. With Theta's help, they must find a way to fight the demons and close the gap.

The first problem I had with this book is the characters. They are mostly one-dimensional, with little or no physical description to differentiate them. The dialogue is off-putting, a combination of a stilted style of archaic language and a lot of modern slang. It makes them less believable as a whole.

There are odd viewpoint shifts in the book, as well. Most of it is written in third person, but there are sections in first person, as well. That kind of shift is hard to do well, and here, it just seems confusing.

There is little world-building in this part of the story. What we see is a fairly typical medieval setting with little to make it stand out as a time and place.

The action is fairly well done. In particular, the climactic battle scene is intense and fast-paced.

In all, it was a quick, okay read.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mistborn: The Final Empire is a very good fantasy. I have not read the author's first novel, but I look forward to doing so. The plot of this story is a common one in fantasy, but Sanderson twists it enough and adds some new ideas that make it interesting and definitely worth reading.

The basic plot revolves around the plan of a group of revolutionaries to overthrow the Lord Ruler, who has held complete power in the land for a thousand years. The Lord Ruler is, to all appearances, immortal and is called the "Sliver of Infinity." A band of thieves, led by Kelsier, who has survived the Lord Ruler's most heinous slave mine, attempts to depose the ruler and free the downtrodden skaa.

The "magic" system in the book is intriguing. I use the quotes because it is unlike most magical systems. No spells, no chanting, no ritual practice. There are no wizards with energy-flashing staves and no witches weaving complex charms. The magic stems from swallowing bits of certain metals, and then "burning" them internally to tap into the metal's power. It is a bit more like tapping into superhero powers than a system of magic, but it works well and is a different take on what we usually see.

World building is also done well. The landscape we are introduced to is grey and ash covered. The ash falls like rain every day. At night, dense, fog-like mists rise and cover the land. The mists are feared by most people, although the Mistborn, with their metal-enhanced abilities, move about freely in the mists. The society is comprised of the Lord Ruler, who has absolute power, at the top. The Great Houses are the aristocracy of the world, and hold the wealth and power. The skaa, considered sub-human by the elite, are essentially slaves, used for manual labor and as servants to the wealthy class. In between, are the theiving guilds, who survive on wits and by conning the wealthy.

The main characters are Kelsier, a thief and revolutionary, who puts together the plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler, and Vin, a street-wise young woman who is a member of one of the thieving guilds. Both are Mistborn, able to "burn" and utilize all the metals. The rest of the team is composed of allomancers, who are able to work with only one metal each.

The plot moves along at a decent pace, with the battles between the Mistborn particularly well done. There are some rather long passages of dialogue that get a bit tedious at times, and Vin's attendance at the upper class balls for information gathering are a bit overdone. In general, though, those two flaws don't take away from the story's readability.

Kelsier and Vin are very detailed and complex as characters. The rest of the cast is less well drawn and one or two are almost cardboard cutouts without much definition. Again, these are minor problems and don't hurt the overall enjoyment of the story.

In all, this was a very good read, and I will go on to read the rest of the series.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Young Junius by Seth Harwood

Young JuniusYoung Junius by Seth Harwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I waffled back and forth between a three and four star rating for this story. I finally settled on four, because, despite the violence and somewhat bleak outlook of the story, I found it compelling and hard to put down.

This is another book that is a departure from my usual fantasy/science fiction fare. I'd read a few short blurbs online that sounded intriguing, and the setting was particularly attractive to me. It is set in 1987 Cambridge, MA, in the area surrounding the Alewife stop on the MBTA subway line. I use the Alewife station on a somewhat regular basis going in to Boston, so, while things have certainly changed since 1987, a lot of the references were very familiar.

The story follows 36 hours in the life of 14 year old Junius Posey, growing up in the slum area of Cambridge surrounding three towers run by two rival drug pushers. Junius is determined to find out who shot and killed his older brother. He and a friend go into the tower territory where they end up shooting one of the members of one of the drug gangs. Junius is given fifty dollars by his mother, who tells him to run to an aunt in NY for safety. Junius ignores her instructions, and continues to look for his answers. In the course of his quest, Junius becomes involved in an escalating war, bringing the two young men, the police and the drug gangs to a bloody, violent confrontation.

It is the characters that make this such a fascinating read. They are real and gritty, with depth and life. None of them are cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Even the hard edged drug lords have shades of grey, and are not completely evil. All of the characters, from older than his years Junius, his tough as nails mother, and his drunkard father, to the crack addicts and drug dealers in the tower projects are real and believable. They live on the pages of the book and pull you into their complex, if violent, world.

At its core, this is a mystery: who killed Junius' brother? And while the answer is discovered, it is the larger story of the ruthless, violent world surrounding that mystery that makes this a powerful read.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Man Betrayed (Book of Words 2) by J.V. Jones

A Man Betrayed (Book of Words, #2)A Man Betrayed by J.V. Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part 2 of J.V. Jones’ Book of Words trilogy is pretty much on a par with the first one. That is to say, I read it and basically enjoyed it, but still wish I hadn’t read her later stand alone, The Barbed Coil, first. To be fair, this trilogy were Ms. Jones first published works, and it is good to see that she got better with later stories.
The storyline continues from The Baker’s Boy, with Jack and Melli still on the run from their respective troubles at Castle Harvell, the evil Prince Kylock still maneuvering to take control of the kingdom, and various other nobles and clergy adding to the political machinations.
It is the political intrigue that keeps this book interesting. There is a lot of backstage intrigue, alliances made and betrayed, and no one is completely who they seem to be. Unfortunately, the characters are still a bit flat and clich├ęd- Jack is the innocent youth with potential he doesn’t quite grasp, Melli is the spoiled young noblewoman who discovers a strength and resolve no one gave her credit for, and Prince Kylock is the cold and ambitious heir who kills the ill and bedridden king in order to take over the throne. There is some growth in a few characters, but nothing too far outside the expected. I still find the interspersed fill-in-the-blanks scenes with Bodger and Grift a bit on the annoying side, despite the humor in their exchanges. The one character I do enjoy is the boy, Nabber. He is fun and interesting, with a bit more personality than some others, even though his is not a main plot line.
There is not a lot of in-depth world building in the book, as well. The world is made up of the usual rival kingdoms, each vying for dominance. It’s a decent setting and serves the story well.
All that aside, A Man Betrayed is still not a bad read, even with its shortcomings. The plotlines around the various major characters, as well as some minor ones, are drawn rather nicely together, pulling the story to its climax. It reads fairly quickly with good pacing. I would recommend the two I have read so far (and I will go on to the third to see how the whole picture plays out) for those looking for a decent, but not extremely deep, fantasy series.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

On NaNoWriMo and What I'm Doing For the Next Month

So November looms just around the weekend and you all know what that means: It's NaNoWriMo time again! For the unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the idea is to start on November 1st, and write a 50,000 word novel by November 30. For more information, see

I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year, although I am hanging around on the forums a bit, and I will be concentrating on getting some writing work done. Since I am going to be revising and editing, and not writing something new, I am not officially a participant. But there are always questions from those who are. Not that I consider myself any sort of expert, but I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times, and made the 50k all three times. I'm just going to outline a few things that have worked for me. I hope you find something useful, and good luck!

First, don't be intimidated. Sure, it looks like a huge thing. Write a whole book in just one month? Don't think of it like that. Actually, a lot of people don't completely finish a novel in that 50,000 words, But it does get you a good start. It will need work and revising and probably a good bit of rewriting afterward, but this month of drafting gets you off to a good start.

Second, tell people you are doing it. This accomplished two things. It helps those around you, the poeple who will be most affected by your sudden need to lock yourself in your room and write, to adjust to your month of writing. This applies to anyone you interact with regularly: parents, siblings, spouse, roommates, friends. if they are warned ahead of time, they will have time to adjust. The other thing it will do is keep you honest- and working. If people know you are writing for the whole month, they will ask you about it. That alone can keep you writing when you hit those inevitable slump periods.

Third, set daily word count goals. Try to set your goal at above the 1,667 minimum you need to make the 50,000. For example, when I do NaNoWriMo, I set my daily goal at 2,000 words. It's a reasonable goal that I can usually make in a few hours work. At that rate, I would hit 50,000 words on November 25. This has real benefits. If you can write more than you need to at the beginning of the month when your energy and enthusiasm are peaking, you will build up a stockpile of words for those days when you can't get as much done, And don't kid yourself- it will happen. Your day job demands overtime, you get a bad case of the flu, your kid gets a bad case of the flu- you name it. It will happen. And if you are in the United States, you also have Thanksgiving in November, and that can interrupt your flow. For me, we are the ones who host Thanksgiving dinner, which means I have company for a few days, and can't always sit down for the time it takes to up my word count. Having a backlog of words done helps get me through those few days without alienating any relatives!

Fourth, set aside a specific time to write. Don't just assume you will sit down and write your story at some point. Because you won't, If it's not a habit now, it will be almost impossible to ingrain that habit if you made it part of your scheduled day. I'm luckier than most in that I do not have a day job to worry about, so I can pretty much schedule my writing time when I am at my best. (For me, that is mid-afternoon.) Look at your day, and look hard. Find the best time to set aside a couple hours to write. Early AM, before everyone gets up? Lunch hour? Afternoon, after school? Evening, after the kids are in bed? The point is, set the time aside, and make sure everyone, yourself included, knows that this is your writing time. Hang a sign on your bedroom or office door, if you need to. Making writing a regular part of your day will help make it a habit.

And last, stop obsessing! Just write. Don't worry about the details now. Plenty of time for that later. Tell the story. Draw the characters. Move the plot along. Add interesting bits and pieces. Just write it. Keep going. Don't edit. Don't re-read unless you must to jog your memory on where you are (especially helpful if you've jumped around in the story a bit). But only read what you have to. Most of all, write, write, write. This post is just a few tips I've learned in past Novembers. I'm no expert, nor am I trying to say this is the only way. Everyone has to discover what works best for them in this writing game. Best of luck getting that 50,000 word novel done! Start on Tuesday, write every day and you WILL do it! Oh, and have fun, too!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Sword Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

The Sword-Edged Blonde (Eddie LaCrosse #1)The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like sword-and-sorcery? Mysteries? Raymond Chandler? Sam Spade? Humphrey Bogart? If you answered "yes" to any of those (or even if you didn't), you should read this book. It's just that much fun to read- a fast-paced, solid mystery that does not disappoint.

The plot revolves around Eddie LaCrosse, an aging sword jockey for hire. He accepts a seemingly run of the mill job to locate a missing princess, which leads him to his homeland, a place he has avoided for many years due to the memories of his own past that remain there. But his childhood friend, Phil, now king, enlists Eddie's help to clear the queen's name. She has been accused of killing her own child, the heir to the throne. In the course of his investigation, Eddie must come face to face with the past he's tried to forget.

The story is narrated by Eddie, and the first person POV works quite well here. There are touches of humor, plenty of action and a complex enough plot to keep you reading. The mystery is well served. All the clues are there, and the ending builds from them nicely.

The real strength of the novel is the characters. They are real and believable, even if there are some bits that might seem a little far-fetched in the world building. (Parking tickets for horses?) But they are forgivable in the context of this story. There's a bit of romance, a bit of tragedy, a bit of revenge. Sometimes, characters make bad decisions, just like real people.

The plot moves along at a fast pace, making this an easy read. If you are looking for a good fantasy/mystery, with interesting characters and a decently complex plot, this is definitely a book to check out.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher

Postcards from the EdgePostcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher

It's been a while, and I apologize. Life has just been very busy over the past few weeks, and my attention has been elsewhere. I've been too tired to actually sit down and write up these posts. Things have settled now, so I should be back to posting more regularly. And to reading, as that has suffered, too! This book was a departure from my usual fantasy and science fiction reading material. I could claim the Carrie Fisher/Star Wars connection, and there is some truth in that, since it was knowing that Fisher was in Star Wars that made me look at the book. I also have to admit that I didn't have really high expectations, but the book surprised me.

It is the story of Suzanne Vale, a young Hollywood actress, who details her life as a drug addicted Hollywood starlet trying to cope with the glitzy, glamourized world she lives in.

The book starts with Suzanne in a drug rehabilitation facility, a place where she really doesn't think she belongs. The first part of the book is written as a series of short (postcards?) diary entries from Suzanne and another addict, Alex, who is a screenwriter and thinks he is in love with Suzanne. After her discharge, the story turns to a more conventional narrative style and follows Suzanne as she tries to fit back into the world of Hollywood: shopping, making a movie, even spending an entire depressive week without getting out of bed. It's funny, sharp, emotional, and told as only someone familiar with Suzanne's world could. It is fiction, but Fisher's life experience certainly plays a large part.

This was a good break from my normal genre, and generally, a fun read.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blood of Ambrose by James Enge

I'm a bit behind on reviews. Sorry about that. I am trying to catch up as I can.
Blood of Ambrose (Morlock Ambrosius, #1)Blood of Ambrose by James Enge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve year old Lathmar VII is heir to the Empire of Ontil. Standing in his way is his Lord Protector and uncle, Urdhven, who wants the throne for himself. Urdhven has killed Lathmar's parents and many of the royal household, and Lathmar knows his own days are numbered. He is rescued by his ancestress, Ambrosia Viviana and her brother, Morlock Ambrosius. Together with Morlock's apprentice, the dwarf Wyrtheorn, they must not only defeat Urdhven, but also the dark magic force behind him to restore Lathmar to his place.

I found this a very interesting book. It has some plot twists and turns that keep the story moving along and kept me reading, but the real fascination is in the characters. On the surface, the story is Lathmar's coming of age, and he does grow in many ways by the end. It is also in large part, Morlock's story, even though much of what we learn about the one known as The Crooked Man is through flashbacks. It is not a bright, happy story for the most part. There is a definite somber edge that permeates the entire book. Oddly, despite that, there is a lot of humor there, as well. The exchanges between Morlock and Wyrtheorn are especially amusing, as is the almost constant affectionate sibling bickering between Morlock and Ambrosia. Even Lathmar seems to have a healthy dose of his family's dry, cutting humor.

The magic system is well drawn, and the world building is good. The style of the prose is crisp and dry, but reads quite well. The omniscient point of view can be a bit hard to get used to, and I found it leaving a slightly disconnected feeling as I read, but it does work well for this story. There are hints at Arthurian legend sprinkled throughout. There are some very intriguing details in here: a screaming, flying horse and a mechanical spider, to name two. And crows- murders of crows that are used by Morlock as messengers and spies. All in all, a good story that kept me interested and eager to read to the end.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Well of Darkness (Sovereign Stone #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Well of Darkness (Sovereign Stone, #1)Well of Darkness by Margaret Weis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is apparently based on a role-playing game, but since I am not into RPGs, I've never heard of it. I have, however, read many of Weis & Hickman's books, and generally enjoy them. This was no exception.

I will warn readers that this is a very dark story. It begins with the choosing of nine year old Gareth to be the whipping boy for Prince Dagnarus (the authors will forgive me, please, for wanting to read that as Prince "Dagnabit" every time! I do have an odd sense of humor.) The whipping boy soon falls under the control of the charming, spoiled and selfish Prince. When Gareth shows an adept's talent for magic, especially the forbidden Void magic, the prince sets out to use his whipping boy to wrest the kingdom from his older brother, the Crown Prince.

The story uses the four familiar races in fantasy: human, elf, dwarf and ork. But all three are given a twist. The elves have a very complex political and social system, dwarves are master horsemen and orks sail the sea and are fishermen. It makes for interesting reading, and puts enough spin on each race that they don't fall into stereotype.

The main draw to this book is the world building, something these authors do excel at. Each race is distinct, with its own politics, religion and social structure. Where they come together, the overlapping differences and divisions make up the background for the main story. The setting is confined and we don't see a lot of the other races' homelands, but the human world (where most of the story takes place) is well-drawn and detailed.

There is little to relieve the dark tone of the book: Gareth's parents care more for their position in court than for their son, Dagnarus is vain and bent on defeating his brother and becoming King, Gareth is torn and guilt-ridden, unable through most of the story to face up to Dagnarus. It could be a bit off-putting to some readers because of the tone. I found it fascinating.

I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy at some point.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Progress Report, and a Warning

No book review this week. Sorry. Next week. Maybe even two.

Thought I'd update my progress this time around. I've just about done with the first pass through the Work-In-Progress. That's the one where I try to pick up the misspellings and egregious grammar errors, as well as the really obvious bits and pieces of story. Reading through that draft now to make notes on what needs changing, filling in, expanding, cutting, etc. Oh, yeah, and I still have to finish the ending!

I've got the first 2 chapters out to a reader for crit. Always important to get another set of eyes (or two) on a work in draft. Too often, what seems obvious to me is a "Huh?" moment for the reader. And there are always a few mechanical errors I miss. The goal is to get this thing in finished form by the end of the year. Right now, that seems like it should be on track.

And the warning: It's one that you hear a lot. We all know it, and at one time or another, we all get bitten by not doing it. What happened? Well, yesterday, we had no internet service here at the house all day long. Ok, I thought, that is probably a good thing, since I will have to get some work done and I will not have the temptation of social media to distract me. (Yes, I close all that stuff when I am working, but the possibility of it is still there, niggling at my mind.) And I did get a fair bit done. I had moved the laptop from my desk to the living room, where I could put my feet up to work. Put the computer aside, and got up, WITHOUT HITTING THE SAVE ICON. Oh, yes, I see you all cringing out there! Of course, I came back and the thing was frozen. Couldn't get it working again. Thankfully, when the BaldMan looked at it after work, he managed to get it running. Took a remove and replace of the battery, and why that worked- no clue. But I did lose a chunk of work. I am not happy, but I have only myself to blame. And I lost the time twise- once yesterday, and again today when I had to redo it all. Will I do that again soon? You can bet not. Will I do it again eventually? Probably. Will it bite me in the ass again? We'll see. Until then, I repeat, as a warning to you all: Save early, Save often!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott

Spirit Gate (Crossroads, #1)Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spirit Gate is the first book in Kate Elliott's Crossroad's series. The story is set in the Hundred, a land in trouble. For many years, the Guardians, an almost god-like group, dispensed justice and kept the peace. Now the Guardians are gone and presumed dead. The reeves, who ride giant eagles, patrol the land and have been the peace keepers for many years. But now, the reeves are losing the respect of the people and are becoming unable to do protect the people. A deadly, mysterious force has invaded the land, with an army that kills and lays waste to everything in its path. One reeve, named Joss, after suffering the loss of his fellow reeve and lover and sinking into years of rebellious, self-destructive behavior, is beginning to regain his resolve. A band of trained militia from outside the Hundred, led by the resourceful Captain Anji, come into the Hundred in exile from their own land. With Anji is his wife, Mai and one of her uncles. Together, they try to combat the forces intent on ripping the Hundred apart.

Sounds like a pretty standard plot, but the real interest in this book lies in the characters. There is a whole cast of people involved in the story, to more or less degree, but even some of the minor characters are well-drawn and personal. The female characters are strong and resourceful, and able to forge a place in what is, for the most part, a male dominated world. Mai in particular shows growth, appearing at first to be rather biddable and unassuming, despite an inner resolve. As she realizes that her new husband chose her because he recognized many of those strong traits in her, she grows more confident and willing to use skills learned in her family's merchant business to help Anji as he and his men get pulled deeper into the conflict.

The world is interesting and well drawn, with mythologies and religious aspects that come into conflict as the outlanders make their way into the new land. At times, the details can become a bit confusing, but don't take away from the enjoyment of the story. There is some introspective narrative, especially with Mai's uncle, as well as some instances of info-dump, but no more than with any first of a trilogy novel.

In all, it was an interesting and engaging read.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Shift Happens: The New E-Publishing Paradigm and What It Means for Writers by Rick Cook

SHIFT HAPPENS: The New E-Publishing Paradigm And What It Means For AuthorsSHIFT HAPPENS: The New E-Publishing Paradigm And What It Means For Authors by Rick Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great little book, for a few reasons. One, it's short, and can be read in one sitting easily. Two, it's clear. There's no technical jargon or difficult to understand processes. And three, it's honest. It tells you that it is possible, but it's also going to require effort on your part.

What it is not is some sort of get rich quick nonsense. It's not full of special insider info or secrets. It is a straigtforward guide to what is happening in the world of publishing today, and how, with just a little information and the willingness to devote time to doing some basic marketing, a writer can use the world of e-publishing to sell books. It is also written from the perspective of a writer, and not that of a large scale publishing house. There is practical advice here from a common sense approach.

I think this is a valuable book for anyone who writes and who wants to try and figure out this new world of e-publishing. The writing is clear, the advice is sound and the information is presented in an easily understandable way. It will be a book you refer back to more than once.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly

The Time of the Dark (Darwath, #1)The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much as I have always loved Barbara Hambly's work, I've not read the Dawarth books until now. Mainly because I had the last two of the initial trilogy and was waiting until I found the first one to read them. I eventually found it, but by then my to-read shelf had grown a life of its own and I just never pulled this one out. Until now.

And I was not disappointed. As always, Ms. Hambly spins a darn good tale, with action and suspense a-plenty. Though most of the book is set in an alternate world of kings, castles, wizards and creatures of the dark, it begins in modern day (well, modern to the time the book was published in the early 1980's) California, where Gil Patterson, a graduate student in history has been having dreams of a land far removed from her own. One evening, she wakes to find the wizard Ingold Inglorion in her kitchen. He has traveled from the alternate world, seeking a refuge against the day he must bring the only heir to the throne of his land through the Void between the worlds to escape the attacking Dark, an evil force which had lain dormant for thousands of years and was now waking to attack. Gil agrees and when the final attack commences, Ingold brings the baby Prince with him across the Void. They meet a young drifter, Rudy Solis and he and Gil are drawn back with Ingold to the wizard's world, where they will be trapped unless they and the survivors of the Prince's devastated realm can figure out a way to defeat the Dark.

One of my favorite things about Ms. Hambly's books has always been the characters, and they don't disappoint here. Rudy is likable, despite his somewhat flip attitude at times, Gil develops in character along with her newly found ability with a sword, Ingold is at once mysterious and powerful as well as gentle and shows a true sense of humor. Even the lesser characters leave their mark: the warrior known as the Icefalcon is aloof and fascinating, the arms master of the King's guard, Gnift, would put any drill sergeant to shame, and the young Queen Minalde is quiet and shy at first, but as fiercely protective of her son as any mother.

There are times where the story seems put on temporary hold for some background filling and building, but that's not unusual in a first of a trilogy story, and the lags are never too long before the action picks up again. The main conflict of this story is nicely resolved at the end, but leaves much to be told before the bigger story is done. And it leaves me eager to press on and read more.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Eden Moore, #1)Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a bit reluctant to read this. Many of the online reviews I looked at classed it as horror, and I am not usually a fan of horror stories. But so many people also said that Ms. Priest is a good writer, and I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did.

For one, it is not a strict horror story. Yes, there are ghosts all through the book, but there is really only one scene that could be called scary. (The one in the girl's bathroom at summer camp, but to me, it was more creepy than scary.) And there is killing and blood, but nothing that doesn't fit the story and it is not particularly gruesome. I've read worse.

The story is about Eden, a young woman who sees ghosts. She has been "haunted" by the spirits of three sisters, who are relatives of hers, since she was a young girl. Her aunt tells her that the ladies will never hurt her, and they don't. But the do raise questions for Eden, who has been raised by her aunt since her mother died when Eden was a baby. Eden's aunt is reluctant to answer Eden's questions about her mother and family, so Eden takes it upon herself to find out. As she digs deeper into her family tree, complex relationships are revealed and mysteries compound.

The story is told from Eden's point of view. She is a brash young lady, with a definite sarcastic edge. While a likeable character, her biting commentary on everything and everyone can get to be a bit much. The old Southern family value system is well done here, with secrets aplenty and family pride getting in the way of honesty. The closer Eden gets to the truth, the more walls she has to break down to find it.

The Southern gothic feel to the story is well written. It moves at a pretty good pace, with only a few points where there is some drag. It was an enjoyable, easily read book and a pretty decent ghost story.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Reiffen's Choice by S.C. Butler

Reiffen's Choice: Book One of the Stoneways TrilogyReiffen's Choice: Book One of the Stoneways Trilogy by S. C. Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reiffen is a young boy living in partial exile. He is the true heir to the throne, but because of an attack by powerful magician's before his parents' marriage could be formally akcnowledged, there is a question on his claim. The doubt allowed his uncle to usurp the throne. His mother has raised Reiffen to one day claim the throne as his own. She is preparing to take him to the capital to challenge his uncle when Reiffen is kidnapped by agents of the Three, the only remaining Wizards in the land, who have plans of their own for domination of the world they live in. Reiffen's two best friends, as well as a Dwarf and a shapeshifter who is most comfortable as a bear, set out on a secret mission to reacue him.

This was an enjoyable book. I was a bit confused at first, because the story seems to be more about Avender, Reiffen's best friend, than about Reiffen himself, and I wondered about the title. But it is resolved well in the end, and I put the book down with more "Ah, ok, so that's what it meant" than "So, why is it called that?"

The story moves along pretty quickly once the rescue party sets out, and is not held back by the long trek through underground caves and tunnels they must make. There's enough action and the pacing is good so it does not get really boring. The point of view does shift to Reiffen at times, so we don't lose sight of him and what is happening to him.

The world is fairly well drawn, and the culture and lives of the Dwarves is interesting, if a bit short changed, in my opinion. I would have liked to know more about them, although I must admit that might have held the story back a bit.

Characters are interesting and well-drawn. The Dwarves are solid and stable, with a sensitivity to stone that borders on magic, although in this world, true magic has no effect on them. The children are brave and at times heroic, which is to be expected, but are not above real fear and doubts that keep them truer to their ages than some books I've read. The shapeshifter, Redburr, provides some truly funny scenes.

This is the first book in the series, and it left me wondering what the consequences of Reiffen's Choice will be. I guess I will have to read the others to find out.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's On The Telly?

No book review this week, since I haven't finished the book. I think this week I shall talk television. There isn't a lot I watch, really. A few network crime dramas, and both Food Network and the Cooking Channel, with a little Travel Channel thrown in there, as well. No, I do not watch "reality" shows. There is nothing real there to watch. Nor do I watch the so-called talent shows on the major networks or much in the way of what passes for comedy these days. What I am going to talk about here is a many year obsession from the BBC. And that is Dr. Who.

For those who have been living in a television vacuum filled with American Idol and Survivors, Dr. Who is a long running British science fiction show about a time traveling fellow who gets in and out of scrapes large and small with the help of his wits and intelligence. Oh, and a companion or two. The show began in 1963 and ran regularly until 1989. There was a movie done in 1996, and the series was restarted on a regular basis in 2005.

There have been eleven actors who have portrayed the Doctor over those years, and that is one of the most intriguing aspects of the show. When a change is necessary, the character, as an alien humanoid Time Lord, has the ability to regenerate a new physical form, and, to some extent, a new personality, freeing the show from the usual problems of losing a lead.

I have known eight of the eleven Doctors and am slowly working my way through the others. All have had their good points, some more than others, and if you put 10 Whovians in a room, you will probably get heated discussion on the “best” Doctor. The 2005 revival of the show is a direct continuation of the earlier series, with the ninth incarnation of the Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston. He was followed by David Tenant and the current eleventh Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith.

I will say that my favorite Doctor is the fifth, as played by Peter Davison. But David Tenant’s tenth Doctor had me hooked at about five minutes into his first episode and he is a very, very close second favorite. I also have to say that it took several episodes to warm up to Matt Smith, but I am now a firm fan. He absolutely soars as the Doctor, getting better and more comfortable in the role with every episode. His Doctor is frightening and comforting, frenetic and calming, brilliant and completely missing the point, all in the space of one or two sentences. In a recent episode (The Almost People) where he played dual roles as the Doctor and a doppleganger Doctor, his timing was spot on playing against himself. It’s a real pleasure to watch him perform.

The new series is much darker in tone than a lot of the older shows. It is far more grown up and the stories are deeper, with many continuing arcs embedded. Still, most of the individual shows are self-contained and the main story is told in one or two episodes. We’re given hints at the larger themes along the way. Current show runner Stephen Moffat is brilliant at dropping just enough information to let you think you almost have it figured out, and then he drops yet another bombshell. The writing is generally quite good, although there have been some misses (this season’s pirates episode, The Curse of the Black Spot, for one) and some quite wonderful stories (The Doctor’s Wife, written by Neil Gaiman) as well. This show is television as it should be: entertaining, engaging, it makes you think, laugh, cry, it frightens you and gives you hope. You should be watching it.

Oh, and just so you know- if a big, blue police box suddenly appears in my backyard… Well, I may be away for a while. Or I may be back yesterday. You never know with the Doctor.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Where Did I Put That Thing???

I started a new story a couple days ago, and I'll be damned if I can figure out where I saved the file to! Not a good situation to be in.

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by P.K. Dick

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly AlikeThe Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by Philip K. Dick

I follow all the Tor Books Facebook feeds and one Sunday, they posted a giveaway where if you were the first person to comment, you got three P.K. Dick novels. I was that first person and that is how I got this book.

I knew P.K. Dick primarily for his science fiction work, particularly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and it's movie adaptation, Blade Runner. None of the three books I got were science fiction, but I knew I liked his writing, so decided they were worth a try.

The book was written in the early sixties in CA and is set in that time period in Marin County. It is bascially the story of Leo Runcible, a middle class Jew living in a typical '60's WASP neighborhood near San Francisco. Leo is a real estate agent, the "new guy" in a town full of old timers, who have lived there all their lives. He dreams of being the one to bring development to the town, and turning it into a suburban mecca for San Franciscans looking to escape the city. And turning a nice profit for himself. He is set to close a deal on a house, when it is noticed that a nieghbor of his has a Negro as a guest at his house. The ensuing discussion turns racial, losing Leo both the deal and a friendship. In a fit of retailiation, he reports the neighbor, Walt Dombrosio, for drunken driving, causing Walt to lose his driver's license. All of this sets up a sort of fued between the two, and their wives.

Walt decides to have some work done on his septic field and uses the opportunity to set up, with some other townsmen, an elaborate practical joke on Leo. They plant what looks like the remains of a Neanderthal man on Leo's property and lead Leo to discover it after picking up some Indian artifacts at the leach field diggings. Leo believes he has a real archaeological find and calls in experts from universities to verify the finds. They, of course, identify them as faked. In tracking down the source of the actual skeletons used to make the fakes, it comes to light that there is a problem with the local water supply. What started as a neighbor's fued ends up affecting a whole town.

This was an interesting book. It was well outside what I normally read, but the characterizations are quite well drawn and have depth. The setting is very much a late '50's- early '60's lifestyle, with the morals and conventions of those time periods. Women were expected to stay home and raise children, or be active in local clubs and organizations. When one of the wives gets a job, it affects her relationships with her husband and the community. The racial prejudices of the day are present, though not a main theme in the story. They do drive some of the plot, and give insight into Leo's character.

All in all, it was an interesting read. Not an easy one and you will have to think a bit while reading. For those who only know Dick for his science fiction, this early work shows a different side of the author and his talents.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Sun of Suns (Virga, #1)Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few years ago, Tor made some of their back catalog available for download as .pdf files.I don't recall how many I got before they stopped, but it was a good list. The problem has always been that I really don't like reading on the computer, so they have sat in a folder. I got a Kindle for Christmas this past year, so I have finally got around to reading some of these. Sun of Suns is one of these downloads. It is also the first book I've read that can be classed as steampunk.

The setting is a world that exists inside a fullerene sphere. Countries within the sphere are made up of cities composed of structural wheels that spin to produce gravity. Light and warmth is provided by artificial suns. Countries that have their own suns have more power and influence, and those that don't are dependent on the ones that do. Airships and fan-powered "bikes" are common. I found the concept to be a little hard to envision, although you don't need to have a perfect grasp of the structure to understand the story. Most of the story is concerned with the political goings-on among several of the worlds inside the sphere. Characters are not deeply developed and, in some cases, edge on stereotypical. The main protagonist is the young man out to revenge the death of his parents in an attack on his country which was trying to construct a sun.

The main story is a quest undertaken by a group from one country to find a "weapon" that will give them the advantage in the current war. One of the enemies has built a huge warship and they are trying to find a way to defeat it. (Yes, I'm being vague, but I don't want to give to much away.)

The story itself was interesting enough to keep me reading, despite the lack of depth in the characters. The technology stays true to the steampunk idea- there are no hyper-warp drive ships, communication between airships is via semaphore flags, and more of that sort of thing.

It read through pretty fast and I may look into the sequel, if only because it tells the story of one of the two most interesting (to me) characters after the climactic battle in this one.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only started reading Neil Gaiman a short while ago. I knew of him, but mostly the Sandman works, and, really, comic books, er, graphic novels haven't been my thing for a long time. But everyone talked about how GOOD he is. Then I found myself with a copy of Stardust on my to-read shelf. I enjoyed it. (No, I have not seeen the movie.) Since he is coming to my area in June to do a talk on American Gods, and I plan on going, I decided I probably should read it. And I am very glad I did!

(There may be some minor spoilers in the following, so if you have not read, and do not like knowing, you may want to skip. Fair warning.)

"This is not a good country for gods." I think that quote, which appears in several places in the book in various forms, pretty much says it all. The story involves gods, ancient and new, in America. The old gods, who are drawn from many mythologies, are faded, almost caricatures of their former powerful selves. The new gods, born of the modern world's love of technology, are rising. They are all gearing up for a final battle for control. Or so it seems.

But the story really is about Shadow, who is not a god. He just works for one of them, although he doesn't, at first, realize what he is getting into. It's a coming of age story, even though Shadow is something like thirty-two in the book. It's a road trip story, on several levels. Shadow criss-crosses the continent several times during the course of the story. It is also a "road trip" through his inner self, where he finds as much that is surprising as there is that he already knew.

There are little vignettes starting many of the chapters. Some of them expand the stories of some of the gods. Some of them delve into the character and development of America, as much in explanation of why this is not a good country for gods, as why perhaps we need them. Some found these distracting. I did not. I felt they added a lot to the overall sense of the story.

The story doesn't end where and when you think it will. Many find the ending unresolved or lacking. And perhaps if you read with the anticipation of the Most-Epic-Battle-Ever, it is. For me, it was an excellent ending, if not what I expected.

I guess some of the reason I liked this as much as I did is that I have always been fascinated with mythology and ancient gods. American Gods draws on much of what I have read about for years, and adds to it. It also brings some fresh ideas about how gods are formed and kept alive, and brings a modern interpretation to all that. There were some things I was able to figure out based on what I knew, but plenty of surprises, also.

I also find Mr. Gaiman exceptionally easy to read. Not that this is a simple story. It is not. But his writing style flows very well and makes for comfortable reading.

All in all, I recommend this book highly, with a couple warnings. There is some "bad" language and explicit sex, as well as some violence. If those are not to your taste, this is probably not the book for you. If you can tolerate the above, it is a wonderful read.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: The Baker's Boy by J. V. Jones

The Baker's Boy (Book of Words, #1)The Baker's Boy by J.V. Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this after reading and fully enjoying Jones' later novel, The Barbed Coil. It was a good, but not outstanding book. Most of the characters were interesting, the political manueverings were many and the writing style easy to read.

The problems, for me, were in the two main characters, Jack (the baker's boy of the title) and Melli, the daughter of a Lord. They seemed a bit flat and one-dimensional: Jack was the lowly kitchen boy with an unknown and powerful talent he can't easily control, and Melli was the apparently spoiled daughter of a rich noble who discovers she is stronger and more resourceful than she ever thought. That said, they are not completely lost as characters. They have their own voices, and I did want to find out what happened to them. Far more interesting are the bad guys, though. Plots and counterplots, intrigue and cunning, greed and hunger for power are all driving forces for these fellows.

The plot never really seems to get going. It is pretty evident this is the first book in a series, as all the plotlines are left dangling at the end of the book. The end really didn't seem like the end of a book to me. It was more like a chapter break, really.

It is easy to read. The dialogue is well done with no stiff or too high handed feel to it. Action scenes are fast and there is a fair amount of tension. The book does tend to want to wander into the fringes of a romance style, but never goes there completely.

All in all, it was a decent read, and though I will read the last two in the trilogy, it did not leave me needing to grab them off the shelf right now.

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30 Day of Genre, Day 29- A Genre Novel You Thought You Wouldn't Like, But Ended Up Loving

The first one that springs to mind is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove. I'd been told for years that Turtledove wrote really good stuff, but, honestly, historical, alternate universe stories have never been at the top of my favorite list. I found this one day browsing a used bookstore, and decided to give it a try. It was a good choice. The story is set in a world much like our own, except magic works instead of much of the technology we use today, and there are waste sites for spent magic, much like our toxic waste dumps. When there seems to be a leak at one of these dumps, Environmental Perfection Agency agent David Reynolds is sent to investigate. From there, the plot, well, thickens.

It's a fun read, to be sure. There are jokes and puns a-plenty, but there is more to the story than just humor. Turtledove creates a world that is at once fantastical and believable. The characters are interesting, with personalities that are not just cut-out comedians. There is obviously a fair knowledge of several religions and their traditions, as well as good use of fantasy magic.

I enjoyed this one so much, I've since read several more of Turtledove's books, and have liked most of them.

30 Day of Genre, Day 28- Favorite Publisher of Genre Novels

Gotta be Tor. Glancing at my shelves, I see more Tor logos than any other.

30 Day of Genre, Day 27- Most Epic Scene Ever

Leila tore desperately free of whoever was holding her. Shalhassan of Cathal staggered back. He saw her stride, stumble, almost fall. She righted herself, reached the altar, and claimed the axe.

"In the name of the Goddess, no!" one of the priestesses cried in horror, a hand before her mouth.

Leila did not hear her. She was screaming, and far away. She lifted Dana's axe, which only the High Priestess could lift. She raised that thing of power high over her head and brought it crashing, thundering, echoing down upon the altar stone. And as she did, she cried out again, building the power of the axe, the power of Dana, climbing on top of them as upon a mighty wall to hurl the mind command:

Finn, I command you. In the name of Dana, in the name of Light! Come away! Come to me now in Paras Derval!

She dropped to her knees in the Temple, letting the axe fall. In the sky over Andarien, she watched. She had nothing left; she was empty, a shell. If this was not enough it had all been waste, all bittersweet waste.

(from The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay)

I chose this because this scene always leaves me as drained as Leila. No, it's not a huge battlefield of knights and warriors, nor is it wizards or mages throwing spells at each other. But it follows several other climactic (for the individual characters involved) scenes and is, for me, that last, stomach-churning drop on a long roller coaster ride. I can't read it without feeling elated and exhausted at the same time.

Monday, May 9, 2011

30 Day of Genre- Many Days

Since I am so far behind, I am just going to list my choices without much in the way of explanation.

Day 20- Favorite Genre: High Fantasy of the sword and sorcery type
Day 21- Genre Novel with the Most Interesting Character Interactions: Sardonyx Net by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Day 22- A Sequel Which Disappointed You- King Kelson's Bride by Katherine Kurtz
Day 23- Genre Novel You Haven't Read but Wish You Had- A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin ( it is on the tbr list)
Day 24- Favorite Classic Genre Novel- The whole Amber series by Roger Zelazny
Day 25- A Genre Novel You Plan On Reading Soon- Dragonquest by Donita K. Paul (it's the next sf/f on my shelf)
Day 26- Best Hero- I'll just say one of my favorites is Sparrowhawk from Ursula LeGuin's Eathsea books. I tend to like my heroes a bit internally tortured.

And that brings me to today. Later for that one.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 19- World/Setting You Wished You Lived In

Much as I like to read sword and sorcery fantasies set in Medieval-like settings, I don't think I would want to live in one. I am far too comfortable with indoor plumbing, hot running water, heat and air conditioning, and all the other amenities of modern day life. I can certainly understand those who chose Star Trek, and I think I could live quite nicely in the TNG universe. But if I get to choose, I would pick the Babylon 5 setting. Just a personal preference. Or Zelazny's Amber, but only if I could live with Mandor. Yeah, yeah, I know- Lord of Chaos and all that. But the guy has great taste. Being a bit of a "food snob" (as some would call me!), I think I'd enjoy dining there!

30 Day of Genre, Day 18- Favorite Protagonist

For this one, I'm going back to Day 3, and saying that one of my favorite protagonists is Melacha Rendell (aka Skyrider) from Melisa Michaels' Skyrider series.

At face value, Skyrider is a rather stereotypical seeming "tough guy" (nevermind that she's a girl) heroine. She's a daring pilot, a bit of a scoundrel and rather enjoys her reputation as a swashbuckling mercenary. But she has flaws, as well. She carries a lot of guilt under that tough exterior, both for her non-role in the Colonial War and the death of her lover in a shuttle malfunction. She tries to hide her feelings under a brash cover. She is as likely to start throwing punches as she is to buy a teddy bear as a present for a relative's child. And she has a soft spot for cute, blue-eyed six year olds, which leads her to the two people who manage to get under that tough hide. Oh, and sarcasm.  Did I mention sarcasm? Yeah, something near and dear to my heart!

Again, these are not deep books, but they are really fun reads. And gave me a character I truly enjoy reading (and re-reading).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 17- Favorite Antagonist

Yes, I'm way behind! Was out of town for 5 very busy days, and although I had the computer with me, it was out of its case only on the last night we were there and I was so tired, I just wanted to browse mindless stuff. So there will be a flurry of posts-

My favorite antagonist is from an older sci-fi novel by Elizabeth A. Lynn called Sardonyx Net. It was one of only two (I believe) sci-fi books she wrote. It is a story set in a world of slaves and drugs, smuggling and corruption, with very overt sexual overtones. The character that won't leave my mind, these many years after reading the book, is Zed Yago. He's cruel, has some rather disturbing sexual preferences and has a deeply sadistic side. But there are undercurrents and deeply buried motivations there, too. I can't actually say I liked Zed, but he still haunts my memory, so I guess that makes him a favorite of sorts.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 16- Genre Novel With the Most Intriguing Plot

I don't know what I would pick out of all the books I've ever read, but I think out of the ones I've read recently (since the beginning of the year), I would have to say it was David Drake's Lord of the Isles. It was either the most intriguing or the most confusing plot I've tried to unravel lately. It had an ensemble cast of characters, and it was clear they all had a part in what was happening, but very early into the story, everyone scattered in different directions. It was unclear for much of the book how, or even if, they were going to get back together and work things out. Add to that the sorceress tossed back in time by a magical maelstrom, a young man from a small village who channeled a king, and the young woman possessed by a vengeful demon and the plot, well, thickened.

I have to say that this was not the best book I've read this year. It fell flat in several ways for me. A few of the characters just didn't resonate well, and the one I really liked got killed. It was a good death, and fit him and the story, but still that lost that point of interest. I kept reading until the end to see how all the plot convolutions were going to work out, so I guess that puts this one at a pretty intriguing plot.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 15- The Cover From Your Present (or Most Recent) Genre Novel

This is what I am currently reading. I picked it up after reading her later written novel, The Barbed Coil, which I really enjoyed. I guess I should have been prepared for an earlier work, since the writing is a little less compelling. But many authors do find their voice in later books, so it is not surprising. It's still a pretty good book.

The last two I've read are:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 14- Favorite Book Trailer

Well, I've got to say that I don't have one. I don't really pay that much attention to book trailers. Honestly, until very recently, I had no idea people even did book trailers! I don't even search out most movie trailers. We record most TV shows and run through commercials, so I don't see most of them there, and I really don't search them out for many movies, even the ones I want to see. If I happen to see a link to the trailer online somewhere, I might watch. And you just don't see links for book trailers all that much.

I am not sure that a trailer would influence my choice to read or not read, anyway. I can think of only a few movie trailers that have done that. Most of the time, I'm watching them for things I already know I want to see. And if I don't, well, I doubt the trailer is going to change my mind. I suspect it would be the same for books. I look for books by authors I've read, ongoing series I'm reading, recommendations from friends, or reviews. If I am browsing a bookstore, then cover art and the book flap are going to sway me.

I don't know. Maybe I should look at some trailers. At the very least, I'm sure there are entertaining ones to be seen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 13- A Genre Novel You've Read More Than Five Times

I don't really know if there is any book I've read more than five times. I don't actually keep count. But I would have to say the ones I've re-read the most often over the years are either The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin or A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'Engle. All of those are quite well worn on my shelves, and I still get the urge to read them now and again.

I guess I like the dark overtones to the Earthsea books, and the way LeGuin packs so much detail and emotion into what are really rather small books.

And the L'Engle is just one of those books that feels good to read. I found it very early in my fantasy reading years, and it always just gives me pleasure, even though I know the story inside out by now. Again, the author manages to put a lot of story in a relatively small package.

30 Days of Genre, Day 12- A Genre Novel Everyone Should Read

The obvious answer is, of course, Lord of the Rings. It is the standard by which many (rightly or wrongly) judge every epic fantasy since. If you are going to say you read fantasy, you need to read this.

For a lesser known work, I would say The Rose of the Prophet by Weiss and Hickman. I liked the setting- a nomadic, desert world, and the interaction between the world of men and the world of the gods. You also don't see a lot of fantasy with a more Arabic twist- there are djini and coniving spirits, oases and sandstorms. The three are an enjoyable read, imo.

30 Days of Genre, Day 11- Favorite Genre Series

Hmm, a tough one, once again. Not that I don't have favorite series, but I guess it depends on what you are talking about when you say "genre." There are so many genres out there, and if your taste runs hard to one or another, you may not like what is a very good book that falls into another.

That said, I will say up front that I pretty much stick to SF and F for reading, with a smattering of mystery and once in a while a non-fiction book thrown in, so my choices will fall in the first two areas. And it's still a hard choice, as there are so many series I've read and enjoyed over the years; Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, Terry Brooks' Shannara series, Zelazny's Amber, even the Hitchhiker's Guide books by Adams. I'm not sure I can call any one a favorite, since a lot depends on my mood and what I feel like reading. But those are the ones that I will go back to again and again, and for those that are still continuing, I look forward to a new release always.

There are also plenty of series that are well recommended but I just haven't gotten to them yet: The Wheel of Time (on my to-read shelf), George R.R. Martin, and Terry Goodkind to name a few. And it looks like, from reading others' posts in this meme, I am going to have to look into The Dresden Files.

So many books, so little time!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 10- Best Writing Style

(Or the style that resonates with you most)

I think I have to say Guy Gavriel Kay. His use of words is just lovely. I find myself stopping in my reading to just savor the last sentence or paragraph. I always look forward to a new Kay novel, and even when the story is less than I might want, I find myself reading to the end just for the prose. I guess some would find him "wordy" and usually I don't like overly wordy stories myself, but I love the way Kay describes people and settings and worlds. I simply enjoy reading the words he puts on paper.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 9- Saddest Scene in a Genre Novel

A tough one. I looked up, re-read and decided against several scenes. In the end, I chose this:

But then he saw another mounted man urge his horse around behind Rhys, shouldering him aside with the heavy destrier and sending the Healer sprawling. Rhys slipped in blood and fell without being able to break his fall, the back of his head hitting the edge of one of the altar steps with a sickening, hollow crack.

And after they have manged to escape:

But while he argued with himself, and agonized, and even made a tentative probe to see whether he could work the spell on an unconscious subject, he realized that it was too late. Rhys was dead. As Niallin's voice wrapped around him in the traditional prayers, joined by the responses of Dermot and a handful of priests in the white of the Gabrilite Order, Camber felt the bleak emptiness and knew that Rhys was gone.

He waited until Niallin had finished, his hands still resting on the thick red hair which hid the damage done to the skull beneath, then signalled minutely that Joram and Jebediah should cease their ministrations. As they sank back on their heels, drained and exhausted, he gently gathered Rhys into his arms again, cradling the red head close against his cheek.

"Dear God, why?" he whispered, his voice breaking as the tears began to come. Forty years to make this man and now- this! A fall! Death should be more difficult!"

It's not a huge scene. There are points in the Deryni books that many may feel are more wrenching, but for me, this is one of the saddest for the reason Camber expressed at the end. Yes, they were trying to escape from the despicable Regents, but a fall? What amounts to an accident? Not a battle, not a sacrifice for a greater cause or to protect someone else. Knocked down by a horse and a cracked skull on a stone step. It seems- pointless. But that's one of the things that makes the Deryni books ring true for me. Things like this happen. People get shoved and fall and die, leaving behind wives and children and loved ones. People die far too young for no real reason.

Reading this scene always makes me tear up, and feel angry at the same time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 8- Best Fan Soundtrack

I'm going to have to pass on this one. I really don't know any fan soundtracks. Suggestions, anyone?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 7- Favorite Couple in a Genre Novel

So many candidates for this one! The one that wins, for me, is Evaine MacRorie and Rhys Thuryn from Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series, specifically, the Camber of Culdi series. Even though my favorite Deryni stories are from the later era of King Kelson, Rhys and Evaine stand out as a couple. And there really isn't much more to say: They adore each other, they support each other, they respect each other. They are good parents. I like them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day6- Most Annoying Character

Ah, another easy one. Thomas Covenant, hands down. When I first started reading fantasy, everyone said: "Oh, you have to read Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books." So I went out and found all six of them. I picked up Lord Foul's Bane and began. Not even 100 pages in, I put it down. Fast forward a few years. I pick it up again, thinking some time has passed and I'll give it a try again. Same thing- not far into it and can't go on. Repeat a few more times, and I just decided they are not for me.

Why? I cannot stand Thomas Covenant. I mean, I get it, fella. You kind of got the short end of the stick, what with the leprosy and all that. Can't be easy, I understand that. But do you have to whine incessantly about it? All I hear in my head when I read (the little I have read) that book is that high-pitched, drony three year old's voice whining: "But I don't wanna take a nap!" And it grates on my nerves. Unendingly.

It isn't even the fact that he's got psychological isssues and is a dark hero. There's one book I've read since that has a character that is quite the psycho type (in a different way) and has some real deep issues as well, but that one, I can't forget. But that's a post for another day. It's the voicing. I have never liked whiners and to me, that's how Covenant comes across. It's not that way for everyone, I know, but I guess that's what makes all readers different, and why there are so many books out there.

Maybe I am missing a truly good series of books, but when the main character's voice makes me gnash my teeth in annoyance, well, I think I'll just have to miss that.

Apologies to any Donaldson and Covenant fans out there. Just not my cuppa.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 5- Character You Feel You are Most Like (or Wish You Were)

For me, this is really two questions. I think it might be for many others, also. Right or wrong, too often what we wish to be is not at all what we feel we are. That leaves me with the feeling I need to come up with two answers to this one.

The Character I Wish I Was- This one is fairly easy. There were a few choices I thought about and tossed aside. In the end, I think the answer here is Samwise Gamgee. I would like to be as honest and straighforward as Samwise, loyal to the end. He made a promise and he was not going to break it, no matter what. Sure, he had some illusions shattered along the way, but which of us doesn't? What mattered is that Samwise never let those things destroy his basic outlook, or his determination to help Frodo in any way he could. He wasn't immune to temptation. He felt the Ring's influence like anyone else. But he was also able to admit that to himself and others, and knowing that helped him to see more clearly, not less. In the end, if I could have Samwise Gamgee's simple, honest outlook and love of life and all it can give, that would be a good thing I think. We may not know where we are going every step of the way, or even if we will survive the journey, but one thing we do know: if we don't stick together, we most certainly will not make it. And that's the way it is, Mr. Frodo.

The Character I Am Most Like- A much harder question, this one. I don't have a good answer. Again, I thought of and decided against many options. None of them quite fit well enough to say that I am like that person.

So I think I am going to leave this on with the "I wish I was" answer. If you know who I am like, please feel free to let me know! (Well, as long as it's not, say, Sauran or someone like that!)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

30 Days of Genre, Day 4- Your Guilty Pleasure Book

I think I am going with Castle Perilous by John DeChancie. Or any of the Castle books, really. Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's a super easy read. Yes, it's not a new, or highly original, or new twist on a old idea plot. But it's just one of those books I enjoyed reading, and still do. It's action packed, funny, has some interesting characters, and is just plain fun to read. And I freely admit to a squeee moment last year when I found the last few I needed to complete the set.

I know, some people I know would say- You actually read those?? But they're so frivolous. They aren't deep. They have no message! They're silly! My answer- Yup, to all!

And isn't all of the above the definition of a guilty pleasure book? The one you enjoy reading, even more than once, but may not actually admit that to other people. Well, I'm admitting it now!

Friday, April 15, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 3- A Genre Novel That Is Underrated

 I would have to say Skirmish (or any of the Skyrider novels) by Melisa C. Michaels. They are not arm-breaking tomes, nor are they heavy, dark reading. They can be read in just a day or so. No, there are no deep meanings, subtle messages, commentary on the world or universe here. It's just plain fun space opera. And not campy space opera. Characters are real and engaging, the plots are well drawn and the writing quite readable. If you like to sit down with a lighter sf story now and again, or just like a nice, quick but enjoyable read, you should grab these if you can find them.

Just a side thought- these first three days topics have all generated sf responses from me, even though these days, I am more likely to be reading fantasy. Not that I don't enjoy a good sf story still, but I have definitely moved more toward the fantasy genre. But I started out in sf. Most of what I read in high school and for a long time after, was sf, so I guess it's not odd to find that genre popping up here. I'm sure these will not be the last sf related answers before the thirty days are done.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

30 Days of Genre: Days 1 & 2

Yeesh, that last post was a downer. My apologies. I will try not to do that again! I thought about taking it down, but decided not to. It points out the frustrations, I guess. You can ignore it. Just me whining. I got over it.

Now, how about something a little more fun? Saw this meme today. Officially this is Day 2, so I will give my picks for both of those:

30 Days of Genre:

Day 1- Very first genre novel

Day 2- Your favorite character

Day 3- A genre novel that is underrated

Day 4- Your guilty pleasure book

Day 5- Character you feel you are most like (or wish you were)

Day 6- Most annoying character

Day 7- Favorite couple in a genre novel

Day 8- Best fan soundtrack

Day 9- Saddest scene in a genre novel

Day 10- Best writing style, or the style that resonates with you most

Day 11- Favorite genre series

Day 12- A genre novel everyone should read

Day 13- A genre novel you’ve read more than five times

Day 14- Favorite book trailer from a genre novel

Day 15- The cover from you current (or most recent) genre novel

Day 16- Genre novel with the most intriguing plot

Day 17- Favorite antagonist

Day 18- Favorite protagonist

Day 19- World/setting you wish you lived in

Day 20- Favorite genre

Day 21- Genre novel with the most interesting character interactions

Day 22- A sequel which disappointed you

Day 23- Genre novel you haven’t read, but wish you had

Day 24- Favorite classic genre novel

Day 25- A genre novel you plan on reading soon

Day 26- Best hero

Day 27- Most epic scene ever

Day 28- Favorite publisher of genre novels

Day 29- A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving

Day 30- Your favorite genre novel of all time

So my answers so far (and they are related).

Very first genre novel- I believe it was The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein. Found that in the library when I was in middle school. Started me on a lifelong reading journey into sci-fi/fantasy genres, and a love of Heinlein.

Favorite character- Maureen Johnson from several of Heinlein’s books. She is my definition of a strong, intelligent woman. She lived her life on her own terms, despite living in a society that tended to frown on strong willful women. She did what she had to do, as well as what she wanted to do. She has always been one of my fictional heroes.

Wanna play? (Twitter hashtag: #30DaysofGenre)

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Or perhaps I should say, the lack thereof. Because it seems lately, I have nothing to say. Not here, not on Facebook or Twitter, not in my stories. It all just seems- blank.

There was a time when I could sit down and simply pour out words on paper- or screen. Now, I sit and nothing comes out. Yep, I've tried sitting and just starting to type, but what do you do when there is nothing to type? Literally, nothing.

I've run dry on ideas. Well, not completely. I still get an idea, but they seem to fizzle out. I have beginnings, I just can't seem to come up with middles and ends. Plots go nowhere, I have no idea what happens next. New or old, doesn't seem to matter. I have close to 60K words in my old NaNoWriMo project. It's not finished, but I can't seem to figure out what or where to go with the pieces that need working on.

I used to think I was a (somewhat) creative person. Maybe it's drying up? I have no idea. I just know I don't like it.

Yes, I'm whining. Sorry about that. Just needed to get that out of my head. I'm done now. Promise I won't come back till I have something positive to say.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Writing Software

And, no, I don’t mean writing the programs that make these computers of ours work! That stuff is way beyond me! I’m talking about the programs we use to write our stories, novels, screenplays, etc. But, of course, you knew that already, didn’t you? ;)

I started out like most people- using the word processor on my computer. For a long time, that was Microsoft Word. It works well, actually, as I think most decent word processors would. You can just open a blank page and start typing, or you can use one of the templates provided in the program to format your work. You can even make your own, if you are so inclined, or need a specific format for your writing. I used it for years, and was happy.

Then, I found out that there are people (and companies) out there who make software specifically for writers. Really? Hmmm, I thought, this may need investigating.

One of the popular writing software programs is called Scrivener. Lots of people use it. Only one problem- it’s always been a Mac program, and I am a dedicated Windows user. I won’t get into that debate now, but I am and I don’t see that changing in the near future. Recently, the folks who put out Scrivener (Literature & Latte) have put out a Windows beta version of the program, with the full program slated to go live this year, I believe. I was already using something else (which I will get to in a minute), but as this one is so popular, and the beta is free, I thought I’d give it a try. I downloaded the program, installed it, went through the tutorials, and gave it a shot with a new short piece I was starting. Early last week, I uninstalled it from my computer.

Why? No issues with the program. It worked very nicely and wasn’t particularly buggy, at least with the features I used. I stopped using it because it just wasn’t that much different from what I have been using for a few years now, and without an overwhelming “Wow” reason to change, I decided to stick with the other one.

I’ve been using yWriter, and I like it very much. It’s shareware, so you don’t have to spend any money, but I wasn’t really worried about that. The price tag in the Windows Scrivener wasn’t going to be outrageous ($40 last time I checked) and if I’d liked it well enough, I would have bought it. The main reason is that yWriter works quite well for the way I write, and I really didn’t find Scrivener to be that much of an improvement, or even really much different as far as that goes. Yes, Scrivener is prettier- the cork board looks nice, but yWriter’s storyboard is much the same, just not as fancy looking. Both programs let you work in small “bits” of a story: chapter, scene, etc. Yes, it’s a little easier in Scrivener to look at the story as a whole, but I usually don’t do that until I’ve hit the end of the first draft, so exporting the whole to a readable full document is fine with me. Both keep track of as many or as few details as you want in your work: characters, places, things, timelines, and more. Both keep your word count, of course. There are a few things that are a bit convoluted to figure out for the first time in yWriter (I do wish there was a more comprehensive user manual!), but there’s a lot of help online and once you figure it out, well, you’ve figured it out. All in all, I decided to stick with yWriter.

I hope the folks at Scrivener do well with their Windows version, and I know lots of writers out there swear by it. But if you are looking for a good, no nonsense, no frills writing program, you might give yWriter a try.

(Disclaimer: I get no benefit from liking the software. I am just a satisfied user.)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reading List

The latest two books I've finished-

Crystal Rain by Tobias H. Buckell
Living peacefully on Nanaganda, John deBrun is basically content with his life. He has a wife and teenage son, and makes a decent living from fishing the local waters. The only unsettling part is that he cannot remember anything before he washed up on the shore of his village, with one hand replaced by a metal hook. He has come to terms with his amnesia and is content with life until the Azteca invade from across the nearby mountain range and overrun his village. John escapes and as he struggles to find his wife and son, he finds out that he is the key to unlocking the secrets of the Ma Wi Jung, a technologically advanced artifact left behind by the old-fathers who colonized the planet long ago.

This was a pretty good read. There was a bit of adjustment to the dialect used by the mongoose men (a Caribbean based language variant). But once beyond that, the story moves along well, with plenty of action and twists. There is a fair amount of violence, as the Azteca, as their name implies, are modeled after the Aztec and Mayan races, and have preserved the human sacrifice aspect of those races.

Characters are interesting and well-drawn. Even John's son, Jerome, is pretty realistic as a young teenager, alternately stubborn and sullen, then emotional and involved. There are military men, politicians, interfering aliens looked on as "gods", bush fighter mercenaries, and more. All in all, I did like this one.

Nightlife by Rob Thurman
When I finished this one, and typed the ISBN into the book swap site I use, it came up as "Cal Leandros, Book 1". I have to admit that my gut reaction to that was: There are more??

The plot centers on Cal Leandros, who is half-human and half-elf, here called Auphe. These are not your typical elves. These guys revel in torture and grisly killing. Cal and his older brother, Niko, have been running from Cal's fathers' people for four years, and they end up in New York city. There are supernatural beings everywhere in the city- a boggle in Central Park, a rich vampire in a swank apartment, a troll under the Brooklyn Bridge, and werewolves everywhere. Most humans are completely unaware of all of them. Cal knows because of his non-human side. His father and his people have been waiting for Cal (whose birth was engineered for just this purpose) to mature, so they can use him and the demon they have hired to possess him, to open a gate to a past world before humanity became the overwhelming majority and pushed the supernatural beings nearly to extinction.

It wasn't the worst book I've read, but it certainly wasn't the best. The plot is an old one. Which is not to say it can't be done well. The ending was not what I expected, I will admit, and that was a nice surprise. Where it fails for me is the characters. The book is first person, told from Cal's perspective, and he is incessanlty whiny. "Poor me, look at me, I'm half a demon, my life sucks." Over and over. Even when the demon has control, he does nothing but complain. Granted, in a more murderous and evil manner, but still it's complaining. Niko is the stony, strong, silent type taken to the extreme. The sarcastic back and forth between the brothers is amusing at times, but a bit stilted and cliched at others. The redeeming character for me is Robin Goodfellow. Yep, the puck also lives in the Big Apple, as a used car salesman, no less. But he's clever and the stereotype car salesman fits him perfectly. And he turns out to be one of the good guys. There's a minor character of a Healer, who has cousin who is apparently a werewolf, but not. Well, he is a wolf, but neither Cal nor Robin can "smell" the supernatural about him. And that's the end of that story, which was a little disconcerting, unless that's the opening left for a future story. It left me feeling a bit left out.

The action is plenty, there is some violence, and lots of angst. This one didn't up my opinion of the urban fantasy genre much.