Book Review – Ardulum: Second Don

Ardulum: Second DonArdulum: Second Don by J.S. Fields

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book was just as good as the first, and I am very thankful I was able to get a free digital ARC.

The characters were constantly growing and being pushed to evolve. They were all flawed in ways that made me want to root for them. The obstacles thrown at them were believable enough to accept but big enough to pose a significant challenged.

The romance subplot is is picking up a bit, though it is still going at an incredibly slow, frustrating pace. This really puts the slow in slow burn. However, the romance really is a subplot, and there is so much more to this book.

The main plot was faster than the romance. I was reading on my kindle. One minute I was at 54%. The next time I looked at my progress, I was 77%, 95% and then I was done. It flew by, and I really wish book 3 was already out. The little teaser at the end of this made me want to read it now!

I may have already said this in the first review, but I loved how different pronouns were used for different species who had members that were neither male nor female, but while the idea of a true third gender was awesome, it wasn’t with the humans.

I have no complaints about this book. I had been reading more fantasy than science fiction, but the authors and editors at NineStar press, with books like the Ardulum series, Dalí, and Trans Liberty Riot Brigade, are reminding me how powerful science fiction can be when it involves complex characters and issues.

Ardulum was entertaining. It kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was going to happen next, and got me through a bad day, but it also made me think. It made me think about gender and sexuality, about human rights, religion, faith, diversity and where technology and advancement can build society up and break it down. Second Don was a little darker than First Don, but it wasn’t bleak and hopeless. Yes, it exposed some nasty flaws, but also offered hope that they might begin to heal in Third Don.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

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Book Review: Phaethon

PhaethonPhaethon by Rachel Sharp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Holly Black to Jim Butcher, I read a lot of books that involve Faeries of one kind or another. Still, this one felt fresh. It had the folklore grounding of a Holly Black novel, but a tone and humor more likely to appeal to Butcher fan’s.

The characters were cute and believable – people I could picture myself being friends with.

The plot was fast paced, and for the most part, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride.

As far as flaws go, sometimes things seemed a little too easy. I laughed a little when one of the characters said humans were fixing Earth, but reminded myself that the political climate may have been more…optimistic…when this book began.

The rest of the story was fun and well thought out, so I can forgive those flaws.

If you like a good blend of science and fantasy, then you will enjoy Phaethon.

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A Review of Wings Unseen

Wings UnseenWings Unseen by Rebecca Gomez Farrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an early copy from NetGalley for a fair, honest, review.

Wings Unseen got off to a slow start with a first chapter that almost made me put the book down. However, I am glad I kept reading. I loved watching how a character that repulsed me on the first page transformed into someone I was rooting for, and she was just one of many fascinating characters.

Characters were one of many things I liked about this book.

The juxtaposition of two opposite realms was a fascinating way to explore gender roles, the relationship between the people and the government, and what people can come to accept as normal.

The world was exquisitely developed and describe with language that was beautiful and readable.

Once I got past the first quarter of the book, the pace picked up and suspense made me want to keep reading. The romance subplot was not what I expected, and near the middle of the book, when combined with the pacing the way the writer alternated between pov’s, made me want to cry, yell, or throw the book across the room.

Even though I wanted the characters to take different paths, but the end, the author convinced me they had made the right choice, and the emotions I experienced mid book were probably just a smidgen of what the characters would feel were this real.

Overall, it was worth read, and I would reccomend it to anyone who likes epic fantasy and has patience for a book that burns slowly.

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Professional Reader

Don’t Judge this By Its 1st Chapter: A Review of How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days

How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' DaysHow I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days by Megan O’Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you enjoyed Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon, you will probably enjoy How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days as they both feature a snarky, sort of whiny, self-aware narrator who wants to be like Deadpool but isn’t quite as cool.

At the beginning, I was not a fan of this book, or Bryant, its narrator/main character. My first impression was that he was a racist dick because made a comment about “old black ladies” watching out for him. That opening chapter really made me think the book drew unnecessary attention to race, and made me want to punch Bryant in the face.

But Bryant grew on me. He made me laugh. I loved the idea of the magic cell phone, and the world was well built. That first chapter was really the only one that had a racist vibe. There were some lines that were a bit too corny, even for this character, but in the end, the plot and the world drew me in. Bryant did grow and change throughout book, and he learned something in the end, which more than I can say for the characters in Valerian.

Speaking of the end, it wrapped up the main storyline, but left plenty room for a sequel, which I would probably read. However, I never read the second book in the Chronicles of Nick, so maybe I will be content to leave Bryant with one book. Books, like all arts, are subjective, and Bryant’s voice just wasn’t one I connected with. That doesn’t mean it was bad — just not my cup of tea.

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P.S. I received a free copy of this through NetGalley.

Book Review: The Dying Game

The Dying GameThe Dying Game by Asa Åvdic

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

This one is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but I’ll do the best I can.

I received an ARC of The Dying Game through the First to Read program. I initially chose it because I thought it might eventually be a good comp for one of my novels. It was thriller set in the near future and it had a female protagonist trying to get over something bad. That part of the concept seemed neat. The whole set up with people disappearing from a secluded house filled with secret passages was cliche.

Overall, the book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I get part of the thriller genre is to keep people guessing, but some of the details the author choose to leave out were downright distracting. For example, I never quite figured out the main character actually did at her job. I was constantly thinking about this instead of the story, and as a result, found myself constantly getting pulled out of the story. While the author skimped on details that seemed important, there were large swaths of back story that was just told, and more info dumps than I could count.

I kept thinking that all this was going to be relevant when I got to the end. Some of it was — but the end would have been far more surprising had the backstory been woven through in a more subtle way. Because of the info dumps and long, told, segments of flashbacks, the end was pretty much exactly what I was expecting, though, I admit, there were a few times in the middle where I thought I was wrong, and found myself hoping in vain for a more optimistic ending.

I also felt most of the characters were unnessarily sexist and binary. After reading two books with intersex and genderfluid leads, this felt like a slap in the face. I can see a female writer making the men seem a bit misogynistic to make a point, but there could have been at least one female character who wasn’t a stereotype of one kind or another…

Despite the many flaws of the The Dying Game, I did keep reading until the end, even though I considered giving up a couple times. The prose were pretty — there was good literary scenary that made it a little less painful. I also wanted to know if I was right about where the plot was going, and really hate to leave a novel unfinished (House of Leaves is still siting on my book case, mocking me. It doesn’t need a friend.) So I kept reading, and got to the ending I really wished I had been wrong about.

I my head, this book is 2.5 stars, but Goodreads and Amazon don’t give that option, so I’m rounding up when I review on those sites.

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Book Review: Dalí

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 9.32.00 PMI received a free, electronic copy of Dalí from NineStar Press in exchange for an honest review.

I admit, I haven’t read much space opera, if any, since Karen Traviss stopped writing for the Star Wars franchise. I stuck to fantasy, and to science fiction that did not involve space travel because nothing quite compared to the Star Wars universe and the 40+ books I had read in it.

Dalí restored my faith in that particular sub-genre. The world building was exquisite, and done so smoothly that it did not distract from character development and plot. There was just enough description to help me picture the world, but it was concise and didn’t slow the story down. But most importantly, the characters were alive, diverse, fluid, and complex.

I am envious of Dalí’s ability to change gender to suit the their mood or the situation but remain neutral when they are just being theirself. I have a soft spot for characters that do not conform to the binary gender, and for characters that bounce back from trauma.

All that I mentioned above combined with the fascinating galaxy and the well woven Princess Bride references made this book a definite five stars.

There is so much more explore with this galaxy and its characters. I really hope this becomes a series!

Book Review: Trans Liberty Riot Brigade

I got an ARC of Trans Liberty Riot Brigade by L.M. Pierce for free in exchange for an honest review. Here is what I thought about it:

The title and cover of “Trans Liberty Riot Brigade” told me the book was going to be something special. The teaser on the back was further evidence supporting that theory. The novel did not disappoint. Once I started reading, I had to finish in one sitting.

At first, the slang made it hard for to engage with the character. I had to stop and figure out what some of the words meant. They were familiar enough, that between context, and remembering how my friends from high school used to talk, I could figure them out, especially after I let my mind wander into the metaphorical gutter. They were foreign enough to feel like they were part of a true future, but familiar enough to decipher. Once I got through the first few chapters and learned their rhythm, I flew through the book.

The truth that potential future portrayed in Trans Liberty Riot Brigade  holds too much truth; it was the most terrifying part of the book. The dark, gritty, dystopian landscape seems all to possible in today’s political climate. There was just enough truth to make it seem plausible…and give me nightmares about where the the current president could steer our country.

The world building was good – but the main character was amazing. I always find myself complaining that character in some of my favorite books are too binary, but this one featured two who truly transcended the binary idea gender.

I can forgive the occasional moments of preachy-ness, characters occasionally recovering too fast from injuries, and the work I had to do to learn the language of the book. The plot kept me on the edge of my seat. I could really engage with the characters, and I believed the world.

If I had to compare it other books, I say it’s a mix of Christina Henry’s Alice, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, and George Orwell’s 1984.

Read it!

A few words about Alternative Truths

I’ve been in my fair share of anthologies, but none of them compare to my experience in Alternative Truths. I’ve worked with good editors and great editors. I’ve been in the company of writers better than me. However, I have not previously had the pleasure of working with a group as engaged and enthusiastic as the Alternative Truth team.

Every time I log onto Facebook and see a new notification, I hope it is for this anthology’s Facebook page. I love knowing that even in the face of a political disaster, people are still writing, and using that as a way to resist.

The writers and editors are committed to this book. They do so much more than share it on social media. They brainstorm places that might review it, they help write press releases and go out in the world and do readings.

Because of the timing, I haven’t been as involved as some of the others, but I have tried to read and participate in comment threads between students and share it on social media when I can.

I haven’t even read the whole anthology yet. I haven’t read much that wasn’t written by students in a few weeks, but I’m trying to sneak stories from this anthology in whenever I can.

The first story is absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait to read the rest!

The groups’ enthusiasm, dedication, talent, and love for the work has made this a success. Please support us by buying a copy and leaving a review.

I’m honored to have my story surrounded by the words of these amazing people!

Publication and Politics

For the past few years, I had been living under a metaphorical rock. Things like the news, current, events, and politics gave me panic attacks. Last year, I had a wake up call and realized that ignoring  the news wasn’t making it any less scary.

I used to show my students a documentary called “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” shortly before having them write an essay about marketing and advertising. Donald Trump is briefly interviewed in that movie about the profitability of co-promotion. The first few times I showed, no one really even noticed him, but in Fall 2015, that changed. The second he appeared on screen, my students booed him.

At this time, I knew Trump was running for president, but I didn’t take him seriously. I had heard he was racist, and that he was ignorant, but I knew very little about him.

As the semester went on, I heard the students talking more and more about him, his racism, his anti-immigration policies, and his wall. Soon enough, I found my self slowly getting pulled back into the world of current events. I had to know if this guy for real, and if he had any chance of winning.

I started by reading articles that my more educated friends had shared of Facebook. As I reinvented my twitter account to network with other writers and publishers, I followed politicians and news organizations. Eventually, I was looking at their tweets and reading articles on a daily basis.

I came out of my cave. I became informed about the elections, about the environmental issues that were keeping me up at night, and about the human rights / labor rights violations taking place around the world.

Then some beautiful happened. I realized I didn’t need to go out and campaign or donate money to foster change. The bits and pieces of news I consumed were starting to seep their way into my writing. Whether I was imaging an America where health care was sold like a phone or vacation package, an earth without bee’s, or steampunk America where woman never won the right to vote, I could take my fears, my nightmares of a world gone wrong, and share them with everyone.

The first of these stories was published today in an anthology titled “Its All Trumped Up.” This is a collection of stories from writers all around the world that uses fiction to explore nine different ways a Trump presidency could affect the world. Please support us by read and sharing!

No matter what your political views are, please, please, please exercise your right to vote this November! And if your not American, you can still read, and you can use the social media to make your voice heard. We live in a globalized society. This election will have implications far beyond American borders.

 

Thoughts on Cursed Child and a Lesson or Two on Character

In spite of all the hype about Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to read it. Was this going to be one of those instances where the author just couldn’t let go and ruined the series? Was the format going to give me a headache? Was it going even come close to the magic of the original series?

All these questions were shuffling through my mind while I walked the quarter mile back from my mailbox to my house. Even when I got home, I was hesitant to open it even though I was dying to know was inside. I went outside, picked some zucchini, then gave into curiosity and opened the package. After running my hands over the cover and smelling the pages, I started reading.

I had to work hard to keep up with the first few chapters as they quickly moved through time. Then, as the prologue-ish section ended and the action took off, I was once again under J. K. Rowling’s spell. The next five hours flew by, and I reached the inevitable words “The End.”

After months of anticipation, it was over in five hours. At first, it seemed a bit anticlimactic for the story to pass so quickly. However, I was left thinking about the piece long after I read the last page.

In the end, the book was more than a fast ride through a twisty time traveling plot. It was a lesson about character.

Too often, I read YA books and middle grade books in which the characters undergo rather terrifying adventures that would leave a real person traumatized. By the end of the book, the adventure is over and the character is changed but whole. A little epilogue shows the reader that things are going to be okay. Even the Divergent series, whose ending left one of the main characters grieving, had an optimistic, hopeful ending.

Now, there is nothing wrong with these endings. The make me, as a reader, feel satisfied. However, I always get the gut feeling that there is more to the story.

At the end of Deathly Hallows, when there was that scene with everyone grown up sending their first child off to Hogwarts, it felt a little too neat and tidy, like they survived a traumatic battle just to go on and have perfect lives. It was too much of a happily ever after ending for a series that got so dark before it ended.

It was a relief, then, to see that in Cursed Child, Harry was still struggling with what happened in his youth. He wasn’t a perfect dad or perfect wizard. He was flawed, human, and still haunted by the terrors of his childhood.

Cursed Child made Harry and his gang more real for me. It reminded me that the best characters are the ones who are flawed and who make human mistakes. They do stupid things that make me cringe, and because of it, both the characters and I learn something profound.

The lines were blurred, not as black and white as the earlier books. Dark Magic didn’t go away just because Voldermot was dead. It reminded me that I don’t have to write perfect endings or perfect characters. My protagonist doesn’t have to be likely or do the right thing. The more fuzzy and gray I can make things, the more interesting it gets.

Remember, if you feel like your stuck, or need to improve, the books on your shelf can be the best teachers. Read and re-read your favorites, noticing the moves they make as they describe the setting, move you through the plot, develop characters and bring you to the end. Read to learn just as much as you read for fun.

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©Sara Codair