Book Review: Empire of Light

I received a free copy of Empire of Light from the author, Alex Harrow, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Empire of Light was an action packed read that was challenging to review without giving away, but I think I’ve manage to come up with something spoiler free.

There was no shortage of action in this book. There were gun fights, fist fights, explosions, and even some of the steamy scenes were a little violent (because the mc and his love interests were into that). Sometimes in books, big action sequences can get confusing, but I didn’t have any trouble with these. The blocking was clear and well executed. I never lost track of who was who and where everyone was.

The downside to all the action was that it distracted me from the characters. Despite all the excitement, I was at least third of the way into book before I really became invested in the characters. They were so busy fighting, never coming up for air, that it was hard to see past their snark, outer shells, and shooting skills to see what growth they needed and were experiencing.

Once I was half way through the book, I couldn’t put it down. When Damian had lost so much and had his back against the ropes and was forced to rest a little because of the injuries that kept battering his body, then I finally got to know and like him a little more. Despite the ease with which killed people and a high tolerance for gore, he was a complex character who grew and matured throughout the book.

The rest of the cast was fascinating, but because of all the action, I felt like I didn’t get to spend quite enough time with them. A lot of these fascinating side characters die, so I guess not getting too invested in them was a blessing, otherwise I would’ve gotten grumpy at the book right around when I ended up getting more invested in it.

I was a little concerned with how violent some of them were towards people they cared about. It seemed standard for the Shadows to beat each other up when they got mad at each other and snippets of flashback and backstory showed their leader/mother figure beating them up when they made mistakes. However, their almost pirate-like status seems to give permission to this and make it acceptable to readers. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it as sometimes I write characters like this too. It just makes me think about what kind of violence and abuse readers tolerate in certain kinds of settings.

The plot and setting were not quite what I expected, but they were still good. Harrow had described this as a gay Firefly with magic, but I found Empire of Light  had little in common with Firefly. Empire of Light  was more dystopian than space western. Still, the plots, assassination attempts, rescue missions, and the romance were well executed and  nicely built to the end and I could never quite predict what was going to happen next. I just knew that no one was going to give up, and that there would be plenty more explosions.

The city Empire of Light  was set in was fascinating and very much a character in the story, though until a few  hints near the end of the book, I was wondering what was in the world beyond this two sided city, where the food came from, and where things were manufactured because the wealthier people in this story did seem to have new things. Because this world was so interesting, I wanted a few clearer hints about the bigger picture of it.

There was a love triangle in this book. I’m not generally a fan of these because they never end well, but I really didn’t mind this one and it was wrapped in a far less painful way than most other love triangles. I actually kind of liked this one.

This may sound like a lot of criticism for a four star review, but in spite the problems I pointed it out, I really did enjoy Empire of Light  and suspect the sequel (assuming there is one) will be even better.

If you are looking for a dark future with plenty of action, a side of romance, and a glimmer of hope, buy your self a copy of buy your self a copy of Empire of Light  .

Book Review: A Blade So Black

A Blade so Black is my new favorite Wonderland story! Instead of simply regurgitating a version of Lewis Carroll’s tale or taking elements of it and twisting them into something far more gruesome, it’s more of a “what happened way later” type of story blended with what I’ve come to think of as classic YA urban fantasy tropes.

Yes, certain tropes are used a lot in YA urban fantasy, but those tropes are what made me fall in love with YA to begin with. As long as the characters are fresh and the plots mix things up enough, I have no problem with tropes.

In A Blade so Black , the two main  tropes are we get tough 17-year-old girl learning to fight  monsters after nearly getting eaten by one and getting a crush on her supernatural mentor who is way older than any human but the age difference is tolerable because the mentor looks young, and his age is sort of rendered irrelevant anyway because it exceeds anything a human could live to. Like Tithe meets City of Bones, but instead of  demons and faeries, there is a world and beings drawn out of / inspired by Lewis Carroll’s tales.

I loved the balance between showing Alice tough and vulnerable. She was competent fighting monsters, but not so competent that I didn’t feel the need to worry and root for her at times.

When she first saw one of the nightmares, I was thrilled that she didn’t automatically assume she was having some kind of psychotic break. It didn’t take her very long to accept it was real and not a literal nightmare.

At first, the crush on Hatta annoyed me, but then it grew on me as Hatta became more complex of a character.

The plot was less predictable than I thought it was going to be — a couple things actually surprised me.

A Blade so Black wasn’t a “so intense I must read the whole thing in one sitting book” but not every book has to be.  Had half stars been a thing on Amazon and Goodreads, I might have called this 4.5 instead of 5, but they aren’t, so I just rounded up.  Plus, I liked this better than the last two Wonderland adaptations I read. The characters and pacing were much better than Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, and the world was far less disturbing than Christina Henry’s Alice. 

I’m looking forward to the sequel.

IWSG Blog Hop: Creative Outlets

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

December’s Question is:

Besides writing what other creative outlets do you have?

Other than writing, photography has been my most consistent creative outlet. I loved taking pictures even when all I had was a disposable film camera.

I remember having at least one 35mm and  one 110 film camera as a child. I can’t quite picture the 35mm, but the 110 was long and silvery. I was fascinated by my mom’s polaroid, and eventually, she bought me a couple kid-friendly instant cameras, one of which printed the pictures on stickers.

When my mom started selling antiques on Ebay, she bought a digital camera so she could photograph the objects she sold. When one camera would get old or become obsolete, I remember being able to use that to take pictures of and with my friends instead of my instant cameras.

I loved how digital cameras gave me the chance to see the picture right away without wasting material. If the picture didn’t come out right, I knew immediately. I could delete and retake it. This took away the stress of wasting material because of a mistake and I loved photography twice as much. Now, this is something I take for granted every time I pick up my camera.

I have to sit and think to remember what it was like to not really know if the image was going to be underexposed or blurry until it was developed. It’s hard to remember what it might have felt like to know I wasted material when an instant from my polaroid came out blurry too dark.

These days, the only images I print at all are my favorites.

Much like writing, photography is a medium of story telling with drafts, revisions, and edits.

Simply snapping a picture might be enough to just say “I was here.” Sometimes, that is enough. Other times, I might photograph the same scene or object over and over again at different angles and shutter speeds so I can tell a more detailed story. “I stopped to gawk because this caterpillar because those stripes are fascinating.”

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I’ve never had the patience to really learn how to make the most of my camera’s manual settings, so often, when I get home and load my images to the computer, they fall short of my expectations and I end up in photoshop adjusting exposure and color balance and adding filters.

Sometimes, when I really want to tell a story without words, I’ll let my imagination run wild while I merge and blend different photos into something so strange and abstract that it might be some kind of art.

Mostly, photography and photo editing are hobbies, but I’ve been dabbling in cover art, and that, my friends, is paid work. It means getting paid to tell a visual story. It’s writing with pictures. Well, maybe more like writing a book blurb with pictures.

Some of my favorite photos:

Micro Fiction: Are We Like the Phoenix? 

Are We Like the Phoenix?

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The above image is made from two free stock photos from Unsplash.

“This little venture of yours has got out of hand.” Gracen sat next to the ships wooden helm even though they weren’t steering.

“That doesn’t mean I can stop.” Lisbeth removed her burnt goggles and brushed pieces of ash off of her leather pants.

Gracen closed brown their eyes and pinched the bridge of their nose. “But volcanoes? You can’t fix anything if you’re dead.”

Through the porthole Lisbeth only saw gray – fog and ash blended into a pasty haze that forced them to rely on technology to navigate or to stay put and hope their regular horn blasts kept someone else form crashing into them.

The fog came and went, but the ash stayed.

Even though her and Gracen were making progress towards the equator, it still seemed like the frequency with which they encountered bergs cubes had increased.

“I only get one shot. I need to be certain.” Lisbeth rubbed the round edge of their gold stopwatch. Even over the rhythmic growl of the ships engine, Lisbeth heard thousands of micro gears churning away. Of all the arcane devices she possessed, this one was the most powerful.

“You think it will work?” Gracen ran his hands through graying hair. He wasn’t even thirty, but like most of the surviving humans, he looked twice his age.

“It has to.” Lisbeth had been on land six times this month. She hadn’t run into another living person, and as far as she could tell from the instruments, they’d only passed two other ships.

Time travel was humanity’s last hope.

Book Review: The Seeds of Dissolution.


In The Seeds of Dissolution William C. Tracy does a fantastic job weaving the Dissolution universe together. Every little detail of the world the story took place in was so real and flushed out that it felt like it could be coexisting with reality right now.

The diversity of species and their genders was my favorite aspect of world building. Not all creatures in the universe were limited to binary genders like humans. Some had third genders. Some were genderfluid, switching back and forth between not two but four pronouns.

The whole concept of seeing symphonies and using them to manipulate things like sound, wood, bodies, and even space was also fascinating. I haven’t read a book with a magic (?) system quite like it. I added the question mark because the people who use the symphonies think of themselves as scientist, though to Sam, who is new to the world, and a reader like me, it seems like magic.

As far as characters go, I could relate to Sam and his anxiety. I think we are triggered by the same things. Even though my sometimes anxiety manifests in different ways, Sam’s really seem authentic.

However, I thought the message the book sent about medication bordered on dangerous. Sam’s brief mentions of it were about how it made him feel were negative. It sounded like he was given some kind of sedative — one type of medication used to treat anxiety, and that had tarnished his opinion of all medication.

It’s okay to have one character with that opinion, but then the one who was a psychologist looked down on the idea of medicating anxiety, though in her case, she used the symphonies, not pills, to treat Sam. She called it a bandaid, and its effects reminded me of self-medicating with alcohol so I didn’t have panic attacks at a wedding.

Numbing anxiety with alcohol is a bandaid. Most doctors and psychologist I’ve met see medication is a tool. It should take the edge off of anxiety so a person can get to the root of its cause and learn how to properly cope with it. This perspective was not offered, and I don’t think there was any acknowledgement of the fact that not every anxiety treatment makes everybody feel the way Sam described.

If I had read this book back when I was in my teens or early twenties, it would’ve added fuel to my resistance to medication — something I needed to get my anxiety under control — something I wish I had tried sooner.  

The saving grace with this book’s portrayal of treating anxiety is that it painted talk therapy in a positive light.

This above issue was really the only problem I had with The Seeds of Dissolution, and is the only reason I gave it four stars, not five. Everything else was fantastic!

I loved the dynamic between Rilan and Origon! There personalities were different but compatible, and the tension between them has me hoping something happens between them at some point in the series.

And the twins. They are adorable, and so is their relationship with Sam.

The plot had a slow build at times, but in a good way.  I never lost interest. I had time to linger with the characters while they struggled, triumphed, and failed. Not every story needs to hurtle ahead at breakneck speed, and with The Seeds of Dissolution, the pacing and the story were a perfect match.

If you are looking for a book with secondary world setting and a wide range of LGBTQ+ rep, then check out the The Seeds of Dissolution.

A Reflection on My Reaction to My First Negative Review

Note: As you read this post, you may notice I’m vague about the content of the review. You could probably go on Goodreads and figure out what I’m referring to, but I don’t want this to be seen as a response or rebuttal to the review. My goal is to capture my thought process as a new author seeing a negative review of their first novel.

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At some point over the past day, Link’s face was an accurate reflection of how I felt.

Up until this week, all the reviews that I’d seen for Power Surge have been positive, which of course, made me skeptical. Inevitably, someone was going to burst my bubble.

It finally happened. Someone who didn’t finish the book left a review without a rating.

I disregarded advice I’ve heard across the internet and read the review. I’m glad I read it, even if I was surprised by my reaction.

At first, my brain processed it like feedback from a CP or beta reader. I had to squash my instinct to explain why I wrote something the way I did, and then I had to squash my urge to reply thanking the reviewer.

I thought about what I could’ve changed in a scene the reviewer alluded to. I came to the conclusion that in general, I need to be more careful about how my main character and my narrative voice react to characters who say problematic things or hold problematic opinions.

After a day, I realized that in my mind, the review had shifted from what it actually was something completely different. I had latched onto to a specific phrase the reviewer mentioned and made the whole thing about that scene.

Early in the morning when I just wanted to go back to sleep, I took it personally, as if the characters flaws were my own.

I realized one assumption the reviewer made was literally wrong.

I thought that it was the only review people are going to pay attention to. No one else would buy my book. No agent or publisher will represent future works of mine.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief is good at keeping me from writing things I shouldn’t. Sometimes.

I thought the reviewer was wrong. I thought the reviewer was calling me out on an important issue. I wanted to thank them. I wanted to argue. I wanted respond, to know more, but I didn’t because writers need to leave readers and reviewers alone.

Instead of  filing the feedback aside for future work and moving on, as you can see, I obsessed over it.

But something good did come out of it.

It reminded me that just says they don’t like a character or can’t connect with a character in a published work, I’m shouldn’t think much of it, especially when I know other readers have connected to that character. That type of thing is subjective and varies from person to person.

If a character makes someone uncomfortable? That’s okay. I’ve read books with characters that made me uncomfortable too, but that didn’t mean that book was bad.

Different people react differently to different characters. A good chunk of this bad review was based off of things I think of as subjective, and some assumptions the person made because they stopped reading too soon.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief does not approve of something I wrote.

However, when I see a reviewer mention something harmful, like misogyny,  it is worth reflecting on. The reviewer mentioned a phrase a character used in a scene, and I think I could’ve done a better job showing the main character and the narrative voice’s disapproval of that attitude.

Now, that might not have fixed it for the reviewer, who might have perceived an overall tone that I’m somewhat oblivious to, but to me, that change would’ve helped.

If a reviewer calls an author out on problematic or harmful ideas, then the author needs to listen. They need to take that into account and reflect. Maybe the reviewer is onto something. Maybe they are misconstruing it or their reading is being influenced by some outside factor. Either way, it’s something for me to keep in the back of my head when I’m revising the sequel and other works, especially since I do tend to include characters who hold problematic opinions or say harmful things in some of my works.

Sometimes those characters change.

Sometimes I kill them.

Sometimes they don’t actually mean the things they say, but feel they are expected to act that way fit a certain mold…or they are just trying to piss someone off.

In future science fiction and secondary world fantasy, I’m open to leaving those characters out and writing about societies that have out grown a lot of the problems that plague Earth today. On the other hand, when I write books like Power Surge, urban fantasy with a contemporary setting, the nasty side of present-day humanity rears it’s ugly head.

Sometimes problematic ideas creep in unintentionally, stemming from things I may not realize I internalized. Other times, I think I am deliberate exposing the dirt and raking up the muck, yelling “Look! This is a problem! Do you see why?”

I need to careful that the narrative voice isn’t endorsing their harmful words and to remember that silence equals endorsement. I need to acknowledge that some readers don’t want to see certain harmful concepts represented on the page in any way, shape or form, and that if those readers pick up a book like Power Surge, they might have a problem with.

Books that ignore problematic concepts and try to show us a better way to live and think and act are incredibly important. Books that get messy and roll around in humanity’s, books that acknowledge harm ideas and punch them in the face are also important.

Reading a critical review of my book ended up being a thought provoking excercise that was worth the stress it created.

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Sometimes, I just need to keep swimming against the current, whether it is made of rejection, reviews, or anxiety.

If you are interested in reading Power Surge, for yourself, here are some buy links.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TodlCV

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729

NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

Book Review: The Year of the Knife

A few months ago, Meerkat Press had giveaway running: sign up for their newsletter and get a free ebook. I signed up and got a copy of The Year of the Knife  It sat on my kindle for a while, on my growing list of things to read. After a big stretch of reading YA, I finally wanted to read something “adult” again, so I picked up this. I started it just before dinner and finished a little after midnight. I loved the explosive magic, a hard boiled lesbian witch main character, and the fast paced plot with a mostly well set up twist.

The magic system in the book was my favorite kind.It had well established rules, limits and costs, and an almost mathematical set up, but the way the author showed it on paged in a way that didn’t bore me with the technical details of actually showing all the calculations. There would be a sentence or two more focused on what was going through Sully’s head while she did calculations, but the reader didn’t actually see the numbers or symbols.  

Speaking of the main character, Sully, is quite the badass. If you ever read the Dresden Files, picture if Harry Dresden and Karin Murphy were actually one character only more Irish and queer.

Throughout the book, Sully is following a string of murders where victims don’t stay dead. The middle of the book, when Sully is knee deep in zombies and demons, was my favorite part. Sully was strongest when her back was against the ropes and she was grasping for leads. 

The opening wasn’t fantastic, but it did its job. It showed Sully’s strength and battle madness with one serial killer hunt, set something up for the end, and then introduced the case shortly after. 

I was a little disappointed that the one non-binary character, the only character with a they/them pronoun, was in the book for a few pages then died.

There were frequent mentions of the sexism the Sully faced, but it never seemed to affect her much, and just seemed there for the sake of being there.

Most pieces of the twist and the end were well set up for, but a couple things seemed a little too convenient, and one thing I was expecting never happened, even though a few things early on almost promised me it would. Still, there are two more books in the series, so perhaps some of the breadcrumbs left uneaten are just setting up for things yet to come. I’m willing to wait and see.

I really am looking forward to the next installment in this series, which comes out later this year. 

So if you read Year of the Knife now, you won’t have too long to wait!

Book Review: The Winter of the Witch

The worst thing about The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden  is that it means the series is over. I could read another trilogy about Vasya and Morozko even though this book clearly wraps up the conflicts that began in the Bear and the Nightingale.  Now, before I wind up spoiling something, I’ll get on with my review.

The strongest features of The Winter of the Witch are definitely the characters and world building.

I love how Vasya resists the gender roles of her time, how she grows into herself and figures out who she really is. Her persistence, pain, wildness, courage, and dedication are tangible things. I loved struggling and succeeding and navigating a myriad of complicated relationships through her point of view. Morozko was my second favorite character, perhaps made more intriguing by the fact that readers really did not get to see much from his point of view. The others were okay, but every time the narrative shifted to them, I just wanted to get back to Vasya.

I did find myself annoyed at the way the book shifted point of view. This varies from reader to reader, but I prefer to read from one point of view for a whole chapter and get annoyed when scene breaks indicate a switch in point of view. On more than one occasion, I found myself rereading to remind myself which character’s eyes the world was being filtered through.

The world building was fantastic. I was smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, and hearing right along with the characters. And it wasn’t boring or overwhelming. Every detail Arden chose to focus on was relevant and added to the tone or mood of the scene. I loved that the magic system and creatures were based off of actual myths, and that some of the characters were named after people who actually existed and fought in a battle the one in the book was based off of.

One downside of historically accurate fiction is that it is often loaded with sexism and misogyny the contemporary world is struggling to shake. Throughout this trilogy, were there was no shortage of sexist men treating woman like inferior beings or objects. However, I was happy  that there were less of those in this book and that Vasya had earned the respect of men who previously looked down on her.

As much as I enjoy escaping to worlds without sexism, to worlds where gender isn’t a rigid binary thing people are judged by, I do believe there is plenty of room for those books to co-exist with novels like this that don’t censor the shitty parts of history. Historical fantasy has it’s value too. It makes me appreciate how far society has come.I’ll certainly miss Vasya, Morozko, and their complex, slow burn romance, but I’ll look forward to reading whatever Arden writes next.

Click here to buy The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Awards Eligiblity Post 2018

Broadswords and Blasters

Because all the cool kids are doing it, here’s the list of work Broadswords and Blasters published in 2018. This doesn’t include the blog posts, twitter rants, or other nonsense we may have engaged in. We would love to hear what your favorite story was from last year, and you can use this if you are thinking about nominating any of the stories below. Stories are listed by issue and by the order they appeared in the table-of-contents. All stories fall into the short story category.

2018 saw Broadswords and Blasters publish 4 issues:

Issue 4 (January 6, 2018)

  1. “Commander Saturn and the Deadly Invaders from Rigel by Richard L. Rubin
  2. “Demons Within” by Karen Thrower
  3. “Monsters in Heaven” by Steve Dubois
  4. “A Brush With Death” by Benjamin Cooper
  5. “Granny May Saves the Day” by Freddie Silva, Jr.
  6. “Regarding the Journal of Jessix Rutherford and Its Connection to the Beacon’s…

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