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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Kindle Roundup: Reviewing the Recommendations

Yesterday I gave my paring down process for the recommendations that Kindle gave me based on my buying pattern. Today you get my impressions on the books for which I did decide to download samples.

A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith: Sarcastic princesses who don’t fit the mould almost never fail with me, so this one automatically goes in the maybe folder.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith: This book is a perfect example of how even though one book by an author appeals to me a great deal, another one might not at all interest me. And unfortunately Smith did not capture my interest here (might it have been the explanatory prologue?). Next!

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip: McKillip wrote one of my all-time favorite books (one that I carry with me wherever I move and that I reread often): The Changeling Sea. Her other earlier works like the Riddle Master of Hed and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld are also amongst my favorites. But then she started to get more and more lyrical until she reached a point that for me went too far. Her writing is beautiful and it invokes mythic dream states, but all that lyricism gets in the way of the story, which is why I read. And The Bards of Bone Plain is no exception. Next!

Pegasus by Robin McKinley: This one opens with a history lesson. An interesting one yes, but a history lesson all the same. At the beginning of the book. It lost me right away. Next!

Masques & Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs: Werewolves – as I expected. Not my cup of fantasy tea. Next!

Camille by Tess Oliver: More werewolves I think. Plus I find the sarcasm of the first person female protagonist too much. Next!

Safe Landing by Tess Oliver: An accident-prone first person female narrator with a trying mother (who gave her daughter a sucky name). I didn’t get far enough to decide if I could stomach my way through to finding out the plot. Next!

The Native Star by M.K.Hobson: Honestly I have no idea what it’s about given that it uses a prologue and I didn’t finish it, but the writing is wonderful and I was drawn into the story right away, even knowing that it would jump to something else as soon as chapter 1 started. Finally! Someone who knows how to use a prologue! Into the maybe folder.

Black Wings by Christina Henry: Dead Like Me but still living. Self-absorbed first person narrators work much better on the screen than on the page. Next!

The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint: It’s de Lint. ´Nuf said. BUY NOW!

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn: I found myself skimming although there was nothing wrong with plot, structure, style or anything else. Just not for me. Next!

Except we’re at the end of the list again. So 2 maybes and 1 buy now. In other words I have about the same interest in buying Amazon recommendations as I do in downloading new releases. I wonder if it will change once I’ve bought (a lot) more books.

I’ll be back next week with new releases.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Kindle Roundup: What Amazon Recommends

This week, I went for something different. Given that I’ve bought a lot of books via my Kindle in the last six months, I thought I’d see what Amazon recommended. Not surprisingly, many of the authors are people I’ve been reading for the past twenty-five years: Patricia C. Wrede, Charles de Lint, Mercedes Lackey, Michelle Sagara, Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip. There were also a few names that I recognized but have never read like Sherwood Smith and Patricia Briggs.

In the unknown list are Cameron Haley, Tess Oliver, M.K. Hobson, Chrisitna Henry, Kiersten White, Lauren Burd, Faith Hunter, Rachel Hawkins, Catherine Fisher, Amanda Hocking, Cassandra Clare, and Cliff Nielsen.

Before downloading anything I edited the rather long list. First, I skipped several of the Mercedes Lackey books as I grew out of the Valdemar series years ago and I’ve read all of the Patricia C. Wrede books. Mercedes Lackey, Michelle Sagara and Cameron Haley come in a three-novella pack and I don’t feel like novellas. Given I’m not a fan of the paranormal sub-genre, Kiersten White with her book Paranormalcy got cut. The books of Lauren Burd, Amanda Hocking and Faith Hunter seem like a vampire stories so also got cut. Hex Hall sounds like a highschool witch series which I would rather see on TV than read about. Incarceron is a dystopian prison novel and I’m not into prison novels of any sort, no matter how good it might be (or that it’s going to soon be a movie). And I’ve already previously decided against Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare and Cliff Nielsen.

That leaves me with:

  • A Posse of Princesses & Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
  • The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip
  • Pegasus by Robin McKinley
  • Masques & Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs
  • Camille & Safe Landing by Tess Oliver
  • The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
  • Black Wings by Christina Henry
  • The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
  • Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

So, that’s my first cut elimination process. Tomorrow I’ll go through the actual samples and make further decisions.

Who’ll make the cut? Which of those would you recommend?

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Book Review: Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

There exists a small group of authors that leave me in awe every time I finish one of their books. Jasper Fforde is one, as is Charles de Lint. Patricia C. Wrede writes books that I would happily read over and over for the rest of my life. Another author on this select list is Diana Wynne Jones. Although I haven’t read all of her books, whenever I do read one I finish up almost wanting to cry in appreciation of her storytelling skills.

Her latest awe-inspiring story is Enchanted Glass. It’s more middle grade than young adult, but it’s a story that transcends labels. It’s quite simply a fun tale full of myth, action and spot-on characterization.

The plot is a common one – an orphaned boy finds out that he’s a terribly power person with lots of baddies after him. After many small adventures (but no quest) everything is resolved and the orphan ends up with a new family.

But as all good storytellers do Wynne Jones takes this well-known (and overdone) to tale and turns it into something brand new and exciting. She also does it in a way that most writing dbooks tells new writers to avoid like the plague.

She headhops. She doesn’t stick with a single character. Instead we finding ourselves inside the heads of several different characters. However, it’s not random. Wynne Jones has obviously chosen whose head we get to see into as well and when. New authors are warned away from this omniscient writing style because it can easily appear slopply, but Wynne Jones, being a master storyteller, uses this much malaligned way of writing with superb skill.

I can only wish to reach her level of skill one day.

Get yourself a copy Diana Wynne Jones’ Enchanted Glass today (in print or for Kindle).

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: Like a Bullet in the Back

A very short flash piece today, inspired by having watched too many episodes in a row of the UK version of Being Human and listening too many times to Florence + the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over.

*****

Hannah expected to feel many things when she died, but happiness wasn’t one of them.

To say that Hannah was acerbic would be putting it mildly. Take all the bitter unpopular women from TV shows and movies and remove any of the soft or caring parts and you would get Hannah. She had no friends (they would have just let her down if she had had any). Her coworkers only talked to her when they needed to (besides they were all after her job). And her family, well, her family gave up on her once she reached her early twenties (it was all her mother’s fault, of course).

The medical examiner performing her autopsy couldn’t find any cause of death. “The body just stopped working,” was what he told a colleague although “heart failure” was what he officially said.

It happened at one-forty-six on a Thursday afternoon, just as Hannah was finishing her lunch. As usual, the food wasn’t up to par and she had needed to choke down the nearly inedible stuff with a barely passable Grand Reserve red wine from the Spanish Rioja district. She had paid her bill, in cash, to the penny (without a tip to the incompetent staff) and stood to leave. As she did so, she spied a young couple gazing at each other with an embarrassing level of affection for each other. Hannah rolled her eyes and clamped down on the desire to say something (it wouldn’t have done any good if she had) and began to stalk out of the restaurant.

The thing is, the happiness that was building up between the deeply infatuated couple needed somewhere to go. They were already full up with it and other than their minor annoyance at Hannah’s attitude the two waitresses were pretty happy people too.

This left only one vessel.

Now normally when happiness makes a leap from one person to another, nothing happens. In most chi-chi places like this restaurant, everyone already enjoys a good level of happiness, so excess happiness spreads itself about.

Hannah, however, at that particular moment was like a happiness black hole and all the excess happiness shot into Hannah like a bullet. Her body, so used to bitterness, anger and disgust, couldn’t handle the shock of sudden unmotivated happiness and it did what all bodies do when they’re overloaded. It shorted out and ceased to function.

As Hannah fell, unrestrained joy coursed through her body for the first time in her life, from the tips of her perfectly manicured toes to the folicles of her low maintenance hair.

In her typical manner, her only thought as she went down as “what the fuh” but before she could complete the exclamation she was already dead. Fortunately for Hannah, when her body died it took the bitterness with it.

And that’s when she really started to live.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Friday flash, Online Fiction

 

YA Roundup: A Happy Alex!

Two books this week! And they were authors I know nothing about. It’s very exciting. One reminds me of Patricia C. Wrede and the other is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which given our culture’s obsession with beauty and inner-beauty is the fairy tale of our age. New takes on this familiar tale are always fun to read, especially those with strong voices.

For those new here, here’s the process:

  • I go to the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of Amazon Teen
    (sometimes I add in mainstream SFF titles if something catches my eye)
  • I download samples for all the new titles since the last time I did it
    (well, everything except novels about vampires, werewolves, zombies and/or angels)
  • I read the samples and decide whether I’ll read them or not.

All Just Glass by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes: Someone driving a car wishing to blank out what has just happened. Yes, good we’re right in the middle of something, but I don’t care about this girl who is hurt and driving too fast. This is one of those books where I can’t pinpoint why I don’t like it, but that’s the nature of reading. It’s highly subjective and in this case my subjectiveness says: Next!

Alice at Heart by Deborah Smith: Well, could be interesting. It seems to be about some sort of selkie/mermaid. The writing however doesn’t appeal to me. I had to read some sentences a couple of times to figure out what the author wanted to say. While I’m certain that this won’t be the case for everyone, if I have to work at getting meaning out of the sentences, then I don’t want to read it. I’m an escapist reader. Next!

Elysim Burning by DDD Bryenton: “DDD”? I’m hoping that’s an Amazon error because as a non-de-plume it’s about as appealing as drinking swamp water. Oh dear, a prologue and one that’s set at some time in the past which I sure could have been put into the story itself in an interesting way rather than setting it apart at the beginning. Next!

How to Slay a Dragon by Bill Allen: The book starts with a discussion of the main character’s name. Two lines that got me, the first and one two paragraphs later: “Greg Hart’s name had never caused him trouble before.” and “Problem was, for twelve years now Greg’s name may have simply been biding its time.” How could I not want to read more?

Test by William Sleator: This is a formatting thing I know, but if most Kindle books can manage to open up the sample at the first page fo the story, then it can’t be that hard. I might understand if it’s an indie-published book, but for one from a big name publisher? Not acceptable. And if you’re going to start the chapter with a large logo the first (and only) line of text (based on the font size I use for my Kindle) needs to be really catchy. “The first time the black motorcycle followed Ann on her way to school was a Wednesday in early May” is not a catchy opening. Next!

Slice of Cherry by Michael Frost and Dia Reeves: Really well written with strong voices and super sharp characterization. However the casual attitude to violence in the first few pages is just not my style. I’d recommend it to those who like that kind of thing though. But for me it gets a “Next!”

Belle by Cameron Dokey and Mahlon F. Craft: First person narrative and yet I wanted to download it as soon as I started reading. The book starts with a philosophical discussion of what’s beauty and a rather meandering description of how three sisters came into the world and got their names, and yet the voice is so compelling I can’t wait to find out what happens next despite already knowing the whole Beauty and the Beast story inside out.

Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer: First person narrative from the point of view of a girl who gets ridiculed for always wearing black. Even when I was a Goth as a teen I’d poke fun at the only-black Goths (by doing things like wearing purple tye-dyed jeans) so now, more than twenty years later, I’m not about to hang around long enough to get to know this latest black-only teen. Next!

Shadowspell by Jenna Black: More first person narration (when will this trend end?). I also think this book is a second book in a series based on how it starts and I don’t feel like trying to figure out what’s going on if it is. Next!

City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton: And the last book for today starts with a prologue in which a giant spider retches spiderwebs across a city. Beyond the obvious error (spidersilk doesn’t come out of a spider’s mouth) the language is too overdone for me to enjoy myself. Next!

Except there is no next.

See you next week!

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Book Review: Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

I’m not a fan of first-person narrative in YA fiction these days. There’s nothing wrong with it, but after seeing almost nothing but first-person stories recently I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s overdone and well on its way to being cliché.

Fortunately for me I didn’t dismiss Jeri Smith-Ready’s novel Shade out of hand for following the trend. The character is a whiny teenage girl (like many other protagonists in the YA market) but unlike like most other characters, Smith-Ready’s protagonist Aura has a really good reason to complain. She, and everyone else her age and younger, can see ghosts. And it’s nowhere near as cool as you might think. They get harrassed by the dead who want to settle up before moving on, and when loved ones die as long as the dead hang around the living can’t move on.

Aura’s voice is clear and her intentions and actions kept me going. At no point did I feel like an action was placed there just to move the story along (shoved in with a shoehorn as my fiancé says). Smith-Ready kept me on my toes the whole time. Throughout the whole novel I had an idea as to what was going to happen next and while I was more or less right about the big picture, Smith-Ready slid the plot around under me just enough to keep me unsure of my guesses.

My only complaint about the novel (which isn’t even a complaint really) is that it’s an origin story. And just like most origin stories whether in print or in film, a lot of the book is taken up with setting the stage for events in later books. If this had been a science fiction or epic fantasy novel, I would have expected these seed-sowing moments, but they aren’t as common in urban fantasy, so while I loved the main story, the bigger plot distracted me with questions about relevance to the story-to-be-resolved in the current book.

But, in the end, these questions did the job they needed to. As soon as I finished the last sentence I sent a message off to Smith-Ready asking if there was going to be a second novel.

Which is exactly what any author wants the reader to do: ask for more.

Pick yourself up a copy of Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready (in print or for Kindle). Don’t worry you won’t have to wait very long before the second volume is out.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: Boys

“What’s his name, Paula?”

Jared’s voice scared the crap out of me and I nearly screamed, ruining any chance I had of getting out of the house unheard.

“Shhhhh. Do you want us to get caught?”

“That depends. Where have you been going so late at night?”

Jared’s my best friend, so I also heard the unsaid “and why haven’t you taken me with you?” I chose to answer the unsaid question.

“You won’t like it. It’s a fairy thing.” No I don’t mean a gay-lesbian thing. I mean actually fairies. “I’ve been invited to something like a fairy rave.”

“Don’t think you’re going without me,” he said.

“You think you can handle it?”

“I go with you or I wake up your mom.”

Sometimes I hate that our two families live together in this Basque villa. Why couldn’t we have gotten two separate apartments like normal people?

“Just be quiet, okay?”

Jared nodded and grabbed his jacket. The two of us slipped out of the house, easing the door shut. I checked my cell phone. Two-fifteen. It would take us about ten minutes to get over to the park where the fairy party was happening and it was supposed to start at three. No way I was going to be a super-geek human and show up early. Better to get there at, like, quarter after.

“Let’s go down to the beach,” I said. For once, not only wasn’t it raining but the sky was clear. It made the night a lot colder than usual but at least we’d be dry. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of being damp all the time. I’m surprised we haven’t all broken out in mushrooms yet.

When we got to the beach, we saw a bunch of kids our age doing one of their public drinking things. They even have a word for it – botellón – a big bottle. It might seem cool, but they drink this disgusting mix of red wine and cola. And they get really stupid after doing so.

“Let’s go somewhere else,” I said.

Jared nodded, then stopped and jerked his head in their direction.

“Do they look kind of weird to you?”

“What do you mean? They’re just like-” I stopped talking after I got a good look at the group.

They weren’t teenagers at all. In fact, they weren’t even human.

“You see them?” I asked. Jared has only ever seen one fairy before.

He nodded and I could see his hand shaking slightly. Don’t go and panic on me, Jarjar, I thought and I took his hand.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said out loud. “I’m sure they’re cool. They’re probably warming up for the party. Let’s go. We’ll check out the party just long enough to not insult my new fairy friend and then we’ll go home, okay?”

Jared nodded and we started to move away.

Unfortunately we’d been spotted.

“Fee fie fo fum, I smell the blood of some human scum!” the biggest of the bunch roared. Not spotted. Scented, like prey.

Jared tensed and I could tell he wanted to run, but my grip on his hand kept him from moving. There was no way I was going to go all soft and victim here. That’d just encourage them. I’ve dealt with enough drunk boys – American and Basque – and I doubted fairy boys were any different.

Except for the part where they eat us. I repressed the thought as soon as it popped into my head. Fairy tales always ended well for those who were polite but firm with fairy folk.

I started walking again pulling at Jared to move at the same slow pace. Ignore them and maybe they’d go away, or think we can’t see them.

“We know you can see us,” another one said killing that hope. “You both have the mark, so don’t pretend otherwise.”

We stopped walking and I turned towards them as they came up off the beach. I cocked my hip and head at them in what I hope was a universal gesture of boredom, raising my eyebrows to emphasize my impatience. I didn’t bother saying anything. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Jared was trying to wipe the fear off his face. It made him look kind of Forrest Gump-like, but that was probably a good thing in this instance.

They were five in total of what seemed like all sorts of fairy races. The big one was either a small giant or large troll. I couldn’t see well inside his baggy hoodie. A goblin with big green ears wore typical skaterboy clothes and small thin elf had a total Zac Ephron/Justin Bieber swirl haircut. The other two looked like normal humans, but given who they were hanging out with, appearances were probably decieving.

As they got closer, Jared started to tremble and his nervousness almost got me going, but one of us had to stay calm or we’d end up dead. Or worse. I had to speak first, stake my claim as someone with power, without fear. But what could I say that wasn’t totally stupid sounding or pathetic?

Then I remembered the KISS rule – keep it simple, stupid.

“So you guys, like, going to the party?”

I think hitting them with a thunderbolt would have left them less stunned. They all, including Jared, took a step back and stared at me.

“You know about the party?” the goblin asked.

I rolled me eyes.

“D’uh! Like who doesn’t?” I pulled out my cell phone and looked at the time. “And if we’re going to get there before everything gets too wild, we’d better get going.” I swivelled away from them and looked back over my shoulder. “You guys coming?”

They snapped out of their collective trance and hurried to catch as I led Jared away at a quick walk.

Boys, I thought and tried not to laugh out loud.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in Friday flash, Online Fiction