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Something Like a Review – Jane Yellowrock Series by Faith Hunter

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Ok, so I’m totally cheating, but it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, either. Every so often, I consume a series of books so fast that they all run together a little bit for me. Instead of trying to go back and figure out where the edges sharpen (especially since I listened to all of these as audiobooks, which would make it a little more difficult), I’m compiling Something Like a Review about the whole series. For those who are looking for a good series, this may be a more helpful approach rather than the piecemeal book-by-book evaluation.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Faith Hunter and listening to her speak on many panels at my local sci-fi/gaming convention, ConCarolinas. She’s a wonderful, funny and insightful lady and has a devilish sense of humor. She is one of the people I look for when scanning the panel participants because I’ve learned a lot from what she’s had to say over the past few years, and I look forward to her posts on Magical Words as well. And how, you may ask, does she become such a resource? A deceptively simple answer – she writes good stories.

Jane Yellowrock is a strong female character with all the hallmarks of being a badass without being a male masquerading in a female body. She’s not all girly, but she’s capable of the tenderness and vulnerability that said masquerading males seem to lack. There have been characters that were supposed to be female in stories that I didn’t believe were female; Jane is not one of those characters. She has depth and layers from her unwillingness to curse in most scenarios (damned woman has me saying “crap,” as my go-to mutter of frustration and annoyance), to her reaction to several scenarios that I will not spoil here. Not only does Jane have depth, her inner Beast has depth, and there’s comedy, affection and intimacy in the dance between them. Their partnership inside her is another layer to the depth that makes Jane such an intriguing character.

What I’ve enjoyed most about the series is seeing her growth, her change and even the areas where her denial stagnates her. Probably especially the latter. The way she struggles against herself, against her denial and against the things that she probably “knows better” just makes her more human, more credible and more vital in a world slightly different than the one we expect.

The cast of characters that swirls around her highlights her strengths and are as layered as herself – Leo Pellisier, Ricky Bo’, and Bruiser, just to name a few. Hunter does a great job developing not only the characters but the complexity of the story and world over the series. There are a couple of little things that bugged me were intrinsic parts of reading a series; the little repetitions of information I’ve read before, and the brief rehashings of previous events. They weren’t obtrusive and if I wasn’t reading them all back to back, they’d probably be helpful.

Overall, this is an enjoyable series, and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series, Blood Trade, which is due out in April.

Medium: Audiobooks from Audible.com

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Not sure, but only because the TBR pile is extensive. I wouldn’t object to it, but I can’t see squeezing in a growing series every time I need a fix.

Dead-tree worthy?: Not for me. Shelf space is at a premium, and while I enjoyed them, I don’t have the room to dedicate to them.

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Something Like a Review – Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

January 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I could mince words, but it would be a waste of both of our time. Succinctly put, this was a very disturbing, disorienting book. It was recommended reading somewhere along the line, but the source escapes me. I was intrigued by its rave reviews and the assurance that it was brilliant and terrifying.

A few disclaimers  –

* I’ve read a lot of horror (some of it REALLY bad).
* I’ve read a lot of captivating stories (some that make me want to quit writing because I feel as though I’ll never measure up).
* I’m picky about what I like reading and getting pickier.
* I am not a parent.

Simmons has crafted an incredible story and it twists and winds it way from normalcy to chaos and confusion. It feels like a nightmare tangled in the oppressive heat and chaos of the subcontinent. What got me most was the disorientation and the fear of the idea of being in a country where I couldn’t function well (not speaking the language, not understanding the culture) and being caught up in overwhelming trouble. This was the scariest part for me, however I understand where the stomach-curdling terror comes in for a large part of the population. I will not, however, give in to the temptation to spoil the story. This twist was something I had vague premonition of , but the resolution of it was not something I expected and I don’t want to ruin it. My caveat is that this will freak out parents. Bad. Never-gonna-let-the-kid-out-of-the-house freaked out. I would say that the freak out is totally worth it for the quality of the writing and the quality of the story, but YMMV.

I understand why this was an immediate sensation, and why this won the World Fantasy Award the minute it was published. I can’t imagine how hard a sophomore effort would be after that kind of splash into the shark tank. I will definitely be looking for more of Simmons’s work after reading this.

Medium: Dead-tree version from a long gone brick & mortar. Still makes me sad. I almost left the sticker on it for the sake of nostalgia.

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com.

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely, even if only to figure out how the hell he did it.

Dead-tree worthy?: Depends on the reader and what they’re after. A good scare and one to revisit? Sure. Looking to ride the crest of one big bad scare and then get it out of the house so it can’t be revisited? Probably not. I have to say this is one I can’t make a sweeping judgment on. Sample it first, or get it from the library and see how deep the hook goes. Beware, though. The gotcha is close to the end of the story…after you think “this can’t get any trippier…”

Something Like a Review – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

January 13, 2013 Leave a comment

This bizarre little book is enough to capture the attention of most curious bookstore browsers. Quirk does a great job with visually stunning covers, and this is no exception. At first glance, it seems normal, but even the most cursory of glances will have you looking back to figure out what it was that didn’t quite meet your expectations. And then you’ll see that the disturbing little girl’s feet don’t touch the ground.

In spite of the old adage/cliche that wore us all down as kids, the cover gives you a good feel for the rest of the story. Unearthly. Unsettling. Not quite right. Of course, I mean that all in the best possible way. This story was more disturbing than I expected, yet positively so. I was enamored of the concept when I caught wind of it last year, and was very happy with what they did with it. The story of Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children was carefully woven around the old photos scattered throughout the book. The story was so well written that the photos gave it authenticity rather than being the obvious seedlings from which it grew. As a writer, I’m envious of what Riggs has accomplished here and I have to agree with this book’s appearance on the New York Times Bestseller List. Kudos to you, Mr. Riggs. A job very well done! I look forward to more from Riggs and Quirk, hopefully together.

I’ve enjoyed Quirk’s offerings previously, but I have to say that this has been the best so far. It is a great, quirky tale that I will enjoy reading again and probably just as much as the first time. After I set it down and reflected on the chills it gave me in parts, I have to say that this is a great intro to horror for the middle grades group. It’s creepy, but not overwhelmingly so, and the combination of an undeniable darkness against the brightness of childhood reminds me of the role playing game Little Fears. The only thing is, I wish I was in a loop like the children; I read this at the beach while on vacation, sometimes curled up under a blanket on an outdoor swinging in the wind to the sound of the crashing waves, sometimes curled up in front of the fireplace. But then again…Well, you’ll see what I mean. Personally, I’d recommend long stretches of unscheduled time for this. You won’t want to put it down once you get going.

And heads up…there are official-type rumors of a sequel… (source and second source) but as funky as the publishing world can be, I won’t start squee-ing until there’s a release date. 😉

Medium: Dead-tree version from Amazon.com

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com.

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes. Definitely.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. Given the nature of the story, I would recommend the dead-tree version unless you have an e-reader that would have really high quality graphics. While the story alone is great, the photos used throughout are a real kick in the pants. The better you can see them, the more of an effect they will have on your enjoyment of the story. I have a 2nd generation Kindle and I can’t imagine that the quality of the pictures would have translated well. Maybe on the iPad version? I’m not sure, but consider this your caveat emptor.

Something Like a Review – Supernatural Noir : edited by Ellen Datlow

January 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Supernatural Noir

I will admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with “noir” stories or movies, but not because I’m not interested in them. Like many things, since they haven’t been much on my radar, I’ve never made the effort to seek them out. The most “noir” story that I’ve ever read is Falling Angel by William Hjorstberg and I enjoyed it. I’ve read some of the Sin City graphic novels. Their gritty nature, the way they handle the gruesome, grisly aspects of a dangerous world. Reading this book makes me regret what I’ve missed and make me want to seek out more of these stories.

With any anthology, there are always stories that are just not up to the taste of each reader. I expected there to be two or three that just didn’t keep my interest or that the quality just didn’t compare to the others. Surprisingly, I didn’t encounter that with this book and that impressed me more than I can say. There were a couple that took me off guard and one I did need to take a break from for a little bit, but this is a very well put together anthology. Each story strongly carried both the noir and supernatural themes and while there were repeated elements (as a result of the supernatural aspect), each story was unique and fresh. Another thing I’ve discovered is that the repetitive nature of anthologies will grate on my nerves and take me a long time to get through. Yet another paradigm changer, this was a surprisingly fast read because each story was unique enough to keep it moving, to keep me hungry for more. I think this was the ideal length for an anthology; the themes didn’t get wearisome, the stories were inventive and appealing and avoided the redundancy that can happen in some anthologies.

I highly recommend this anthology to anyone looking for something a little different, or has a love of good anthologies of short stories. I am intrigued about other Datlow anthologies I have on my list to read and am eager to get to them soon!

Medium: Dead-tree version from a long-gone brick & mortar (sad face)

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely. I read this as a part of my 2012 reading list. Not only were the stories great, there were perspectives and voices in this volume that I haven’t encountered elsewhere and really enjoyed. I’ll be coming back for more.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. No question.

Recap of 2012

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

So, 2012 is officially over and 2013 is crawling through the door with a throbbing head. Well, some of 2013. I won’t judge the revelers, even though I abstained and spent the night working on my big rock – killing the procrastination beast. A low key night churning out words, accomplishing things and crossing them off the interminable list was a win in my book, though perhaps not something most people would understand.

Every year, I set goals for myself, but I stay far away from resolutions. I set reading challenge goals through Goodreads, determining a list of things I want to read that I think will help improve me in some way (usually in the writerly-type way) and with the help of audiobooks, I’m very pleased to say that I far surpassed the goal, even though I didn’t hit up everything on the list. Here’s the list I selected at the beginning of the year with what I’ve read:

  •     The Ghost Pirates -William Hope Hodgson
  •     The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
  •     Burn, Witch, Burn – A. Merritt
  •     To Walk the Night – William Sloane
  •     Darker Than You Think – Jack Williamson
  •     Conjure Wife – Fritz Leiber
  •     I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
  •     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 1-3
  •     Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
  •     The Dark Descent – edited by David Hartwell (the remainder)
  •     999 – edited by Al Sarrantonio (the remainder)
  •     Dreams of Terror and Death – HP Lovecraft
  •     The Watchers out of Time – HP Lovecraft
  •     Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos – HP Lovecraft (and others)
  •     The Road to Madness – HP Lovecraft
  •     The Horror in the Museum – HP Lovecraft (and others)
  •     Book of the Supernatural – edited by Stephen Jones
  •     The World Without Us – Alan Weisman
  •     Book of the Supernatural – edited by HP Lovecraft (duplicate)
  •     Lovecraft Unbound – edited by Ellen Datlow
  •     The Dream World of HP Lovecraft – Donald Tyson
  •     Danse Macabre – Stephen King
  •     Supernatural Noir – edited by Ellen Datlow
  •     Song of Kali – Dan Simmons
  •     Necronomicon – Donald Tyson
  •     Alhazred – Donald Tyson
  •     11/22/63 – Stephen King
  •     Inheritance – Christopher Paolini
  •     The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making – Catherynne M. Valente
  •     Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

In addition to this, I also read a truckload of other books for a grand total of 57. Burning through all of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie books helped buff that count considerably. They were serious brain candy that I devoured during my commute by way of audiobook. I was also able to keep up with some more contemporary releases to see what’s selling and being eaten up by a (sometimes) less than discerning public. I’m looking forward to finding new things to get in to this year, of following through with ongoing series and of seeing if I can at least meet that number.

As with last year, I’m keeping my goal modest and setting it at 30 books. It’s not that I think I can’t attain it, but I have school to contend with, and I know of a few things that will take considerable time, from travel to more writing and editing and such. I’m trying to be realistic, which is something I’m not always successful at being (but then again, I don’t always want to be, either). But, regardless, here’s the 2013 list:

  1.     The Legend of Eli Monpress (omnibus) – Rachel Aaron
  2.     House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  3.     Lovecraft Unbound – edited by Ellen Datlow
  4.     Darkness – edited by Ellen Datlow
  5.     The Ghost Pirates -William Hope Hodgson
  6.     The Kingdom of the Gods – N. K. Jemisin (the remainder)
  7.     Book of the Supernatural – edited by Stephen Jones
  8.     Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
  9.     Conjure Wife – Fritz Leiber
  10.     Dreams of Terror and Death – HP Lovecraft
  11.     V Wars – Jonathan Mayberry
  12.     The Summoner – Gail Z. Martin
  13.     Mad Kestrel – Misty Massey
  14.     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 1
  15.     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 2
  16.     Richard Matheson: Collected stories 3
  17.     Burn, Witch, Burn – A. Merritt
  18.     Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  19.     Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us – Jessica Page Morrell (the remainder)
  20.     The Trouble with Eating Clouds – Edmund Schubert
  21.     To Walk the Night – William Sloane
  22.     The Dream World of HP Lovecraft – Donald Tyson
  23.     Necronomicon – Donald Tyson
  24.     Alhazred – Donald Tyson
  25.     The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne M. Valente
  26.     Darker Than You Think – Jack Williamson
  27.     The Dark Descent – edited by David Hartwell (the remainder)
  28.     Scattered, Smothered, and Chunked – John Hartness
  29.     Luka and the Fire of Life – Salman Rushdie
  30.     Boneshaker – Cherie Priest

And the writing side? I’ve been toying with this and trying to figure out what is realistic, what would be challenging and what would just about kill me. I don’t necessarily want to settle on “realistic” and I’d rather stay away from what would kill me to do, but I am not quite sure where those boundaries lie, especially with taking on 3 classes during my spring semester this year. There are a lot of variables to calculate, so what I’ve done so far is this:

  • Sucked up my irritation and paid for a year’s subscription to Duotrope (but that is another post/rant altogether) using the gift card I received from my company Christmas party
  • Used said gift card to pick up a copy of the Grammar bible that I’ve had my eye on for some time along with a self-editing book for writers which came recommended by a couple of other writers I’ve seen and respect.
  • Spent some quality time with a calculator to determine that 250,000 words is a reasonable output for me for the year. The bigger challenge? Tracking. Ugh. Tedious, but necessary. I have ideas on how to do this and stick with it, so I’m going to do the best I can with that.

It’s not a monumental list, but it’s a beginning, and that’s what matters. These aren’t resolutions, because those are meant to be broken. They are simply steps in a long evolution. So enough babbling for now, time to get on with the important part…writing the story.

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