reading

The End of Last Year

Well, I didn't make my goal of 365 books before December 31, but I managed a happy total of 230. If you want to see what filled up my reading year, check out my GoodReads page!The reviews for December's reads will be coming, but it's been a very hectic - and exciting! - time in life right now, so thanks for your patience. In writing news, I'm making progress on my next book - yay! It's still in the (very) early stages, so my writing focus will be on that instead of here, but don't disappear! I will be posting updates as well as previews for books that haven't been published yet, and of course reviews for anything I get a chance to read that's already on the shelves. Reading goal for the year - 150 books Writing goal for the year - finish the first draft of my new book. Hopefully this won't take all year, but with a full-time job and all the other craziness in life right now, I'm giving myself plenty of time.

Books of August

Busy, busy month for me this time! Family came to visit, and my sister decided to stay. (Ok, we already knew she was going to be moving here. Actually, that's one of the main reasons my family came to visit - to help my sister move into my spare bedroom.) It was hectic and exciting - and as excited as I was to get to see my sister more, I think my hubby was even more excited. Really! At work we're coming up to the end of our release cycle, which means ultimate crunch time for all of my deadlines to make sure everything is good to be released on time. Between those two major events, I sadly only got half of the books finished for the month that I should have. And, ultimately, a late review. But I did get the word out about the Help for the Haunted giveaway I'm hosting, which is perhaps more exciting. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Become informed and maybe win a book!)

And now, my story devourings for August.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips - 2.5 stars. I really wanted this to be more interesting. As a long-time fan of mythology (especially Greek), I was excited to read this book, but I realized quickly that it was not going to be anything superb. The various gods behaved like a bunch of whiny college frat boys; there weren't even any cool "god-power" moments because all the gods are losing their powers so they can't use them for fear they'll disappear. Athena had at least an inkling of what was really going on, but they turned the goddess of wisdom into the goddess of so-smart-I-can't-use-normal-words, so none of the rest of the gods understood what she was trying to say. Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing, but apparently no one told Athena (or Phillips). The main mortal characters weren't exactly enthralling either. In fact, they were downright dumb. If I suddenly met a woman named Artemis who said her family members had names like Apollo and Zeus and Aphrodite, I would at the very least note that this family is Very Obsessed with Greek mythology. How can no one have put this together? Sigh.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 17: Something to Fear by Robert Kirkman - 1 star. This was just disturbing. And I mean that within the context of zombie-horror-survivalist storyline. Yes, I realize that when the world is infested with zombies, bad things happen. But The Thing that happened in this volume was so gross and so upsetting that I don't think I'll be continuing with the series. The Thing could still have happened in a slightly different way and I would have been ok with it. Not happy, certainly, but I would have understood. Again, zombies. But the way in which The Thing happened completely turned me off to the entire rest of the series.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 4 stars. The pensieve storytelling was really cool. And we finally learn something else about Voldemort besides how evil he is! I liked how Harry was actually not always right about his new book. (Yay!) In other news, I don't think I'm that sad that I can't Apparate. It doesn't sound pleasant.

The Road to Balinor by Mary Stanton - 3 stars. This is the first book for the children's series Unicorns of Balinor. I read them a lot as a kid and loved them all... but reading them as an adult I found some things that just made no sense at all. I will still love these books as a bunch of awesome childhood memories, but in fairness, I think there are better children's books out there. Example: If Chase is so special and important, why in the world did Anne and Frank lease him out? That makes those two the dumbest Balinor citizens in the history of ever. Also, they are incapable of subtlety of any kind. Either that or they have goldfish brains. That's the only explanation I can think of for their constant "milady" slip-ups.

Sunchaser's Quest by Mary Stanton - 3 stars. Book 2 of Unicorns of Balinor. I'm going to be honest - I'm not going to write up a unique review for all of the books in this series, because they are so short (which is fine for children's lit) and they all blended together immediately. Overall: Lori is annoying and dumb, with occasional moments of sincerity and redemption. Finn is fun. There were entire sections that made no sense at all (apparently the animals can't be carnivorous because that's evil?) and times where I just wanted to shake everyone and tell them to wake up and smell the obvious. Even taking into account that, as an adult, I can figure out what's going on in kid's books pretty easily. :) But, I still loved them as a kid, and I'm still keeping them.

Help for the Haunted by John Searles - 3 stars. Possibly 3.5. I liked the main character quite a bit. The book is 1st person POV and Sylvie has some really interesting insights. The flow of the story worked fairly well, once I got into the groove of the more conversational, flowing-thought narrative Sylvie often presented. I laughed at the Dot incident and have officially decided I will never name a child Penny because it is now entirely too creepy. Overall the book felt like it was trying to be a mystery while wrapped up in a coming-of-age story about Sylvie, which would have been great except that it didn’t quite deliver. Still, the ending was good – it was just something I literally could not have figured out based on the rest of the book, which defeats the “mystery” aspect, I think. I’d pin this as part coming-of-age, part thriller narrative.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 4.5 stars. The end of an era. It would have been so much better without the epilogue.

The Blood by D. J. MacHale - 2.5 stars. If this book had ended about halfway through, I would have given it 3 or possibly even 4 stars. But things just started springing up from nowhere. The entire series has been talking about the Morpheus Road and its three parts: the Light, the Black, and the Blood. And suddenly, this fourth piece shows up and is really where things are supposed to end? And why was the Black so... lacking? This was supposed to be the uber-scary, hellish place where the eternally evil literally lived and suffered forever, and the freakiest thing that I remember was the little prison cell where the other Big Bad was stuck - and that really only gave me the creeps because I'm claustrophobic, not because it was particularly scary. The Black was a big disappointment. Also, there was a fairly cheesy (but amusing) crossover nod to MacHale's other big series, Pendragon (of which I have read exactly one book and decided that was enough for me). I would still recommend the other two books in this series, but I don't know that I would bother reading this one. Actually, The Light (the first book) stands really well on its own anyway.

Valley of Fear by Mary Stanton - 3 stars.

By Fire, By Moonlight by Mary Stanton - 2.5 stars. Lower rating because it takes Forever before the first challenge gets issued, and then the second one comes and goes in a matter of a few pages. When I read this one as a kid, I didn't even realize it had happened and I finished the book still waiting for the second challenge.

Search for the Star by Mary Stanton - 3 stars.

Grim Tuesday (audiobook) by Garth Nix - 3 stars. The second installment of the Keys to the Kingdom series. It was much more enjoyable than book 1. I don't know if that's because the backstory is out of the way, or if it was the altered experience of listening to the audiobook vs. reading the printed copy, or what, but I've decided to continue the series in audiobook format. Suzie and Leaf are both extremely cool, and I hope Arthur figures that out pretty soon.

Secrets of the Scepter by Mary Stanton - 3 stars.

Night of the Shifter's Moon by Mary Stanton - 3 stars.

Shadows Over Balinor by Mary Stanton - 2.5 stars. Even reading this the first time when I was little, I was mad at the ultimate showdown. The entire series was building up to this - it should have been awesome! But instead Entia gets whipped in a paragraph and suddenly everything is over. Uh, what? I will forgive the very end (where they Still haven't found Ari's family) since I think there was supposed to be one more book in the series that never got published. :(

Trivia Corner:

"The building was on fire and it wasn't my fault." - This is the opening line of Blood Rites, Book Six of the Dresden Files. I love this series, mainly because of all the awesome situations like this. If you haven't read it, please go do so and spread the word! :)

New quote: "Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas all ran away and hid from one little Did."

Giveaway: Help for the Haunted

I have a brand new copy of Help for the Haunted by John Searles that is just waiting to live in one of your home libraries! If you would like to enter my giveaway contest, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me what is the worst book you have ever read. (Please don't read into that question as a reflection on Help for the Haunted - seriously, I am trying to start a collection of bad books to read.) I will pick a winner at random from all the entrants (which book you "recommend" does not affect your chance of winning) and once I have a winner, I will let them know.

You don't have to pay for shipping or anything. You will, however, need to provide me with an address to which I can send you your new book! (I will arrange this with the winner - I don't think anyone wants to post their address on a public website. :) )

Want a quick, spoiler-free review before you enter?

My thoughts: 3 stars. Possibly 3.5. I liked the main character quite a bit. The book is 1st person POV and Sylvie has some really interesting insights. The flow of the story worked fairly well, once I got into the groove of the more conversational, flowing-thought narrative Sylvie often presented. I laughed at the Dot incident and have officially decided I will never name a child Penny because it is now entirely too creepy. Overall the book felt like it was trying to be a mystery while wrapped up in a coming-of-age story about Sylvie, which would have been great except that it didn't quite deliver. Still, the ending was good - it was just something I literally could not have figured out based on the rest of the book, which defeats the "mystery" aspect, I think. I'd pin this as part coming-of-age, part thriller narrative.

I hope you give me good "worst books ever" and that you all enjoy Help for the Haunted - looking forward to mailing this straight-from-the-printing-press copy to someone! :) And if you don't win, there may still be time to enter the sweepstakes giveaway on Searles' website.

 

As always, I receive no compensation from author or publisher for any reviews, publications, etc. related to any ARCs. My opinions are wholly my own.

 

 

Trivia Corner:

“It was all imaginary, anyway – not real. It was only in the fairy tales that people were called upon to be so brave, to die for one another.” - Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I read this book in grade school and loved it. It's a children's story, told by a young girl living in Denmark, during WWII. I've read and re-read this book numerous times - I know it was the best assignment I can ever remember.

Next up: "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."

Pre-order Book, Enter Sweepstakes

One of the Advanced Reader Copies I received from William Morrow publishing is John Searles' book Help for the Haunted. Currently, he is hosting a sweepstakes where, when you pre-order Help for the Haunted and fill out the form on his website, you are entered to win tickets to the Broadway production of Matilda. (The book is due to be released on September 17, 2013.) I just finished reading Help for the Haunted last night and will put up a special review post soon so that those of you wanting some more information can get it. Short version: I give it 3 stars for an overall good story with a really solid main character, but with a slow beginning and an ending that left me a little disappointed but not unhappy that I'd read it.

If you don't know the story of Matilda, you are missing out. I grew up with that movie and I would love to see it on Broadway! Matilda is a young girl who loves books so much she takes her wagon to the library with her (something I tried to convince my mother to let me do). She's also a genius with more than your average genius-born gifts. But she also has a horrible family and a horrible principal/headmistress and has to rally her friends and classmates together to save their sweet teacher and themselves. It's a story about how being a little weird isn't a bad thing, about how the choices we make affect the people around us; it's the story of how children can grow up to be better than their parents, not trapped in that same crappy life.

John Searles says this about his book and Matilda: Matilda and Help for the Haunted are each stories about a young girl who loves books, is smart beyond her years, and must rely on her intelligence and curiosity in order to set things right in her world.”

 

As always, I receive no compensation from author or publisher for any reviews, publications, etc. related to any ARCs. My opinions are wholly my own.

 

Trivia Corner:

“I make cherries jubilee and I volunteer for dragons and I conjugate Latin verbs – or at least I would if anyone would let me!” is from Dealing with Dragons, the first book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. I absolutely love these books. My sister and I actually made our own audiobooks of these, taking turns lying on the floor in front of a tape recorder, reading into the microphone, and then listening to the tapes at night when we were supposed to be going to sleep. I think I still have those tapes somewhere...

Up next: "It was all imaginary, anyway - not real. It was only in the fairy tales that people were called upon to be so brave, to die for one another."

Books of July

July was a heavy manga month, but I mixed it up with a variety of full-length novels (one of them written by a fictional character!). I've also decided to call out when I have an ebook copy of something - I'd already been calling out audiobooks, and I think it will be interesting to see how many books I read are purely digital versions. This month held one. As always, check out GoodReads for other books I've read, books I own, books I want to read, etc. If you want to friend me, send me a message saying you read this blog! I'm also always open to book suggestions/recommendations.

 

The Dead Zone by Stephen King - 3 stars. Ok, it's official - I'm just not a Stephen King fan. The premise of this book was great - a man who can touch things and see their future, but at a cost - but I just wasn't held by the story. In fact, the end felt really flat to me. I wasn't expecting a happily-ever-after by any means, but the entire story felt like I had just read an overly-long magazine article, with no satisfying conclusion. I may pick up a more recent King novel and see how well I like it, but on the other hand, there are plenty of books out there that I know I will like more. I do have an audiobook copy of 11/22/63 so I will at least give that a go.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. An intense addition to the HP series. Harry gets on my nerves at some points, but he's also a 15-year-old boy, so I guess that's to be expected. :) I love hating Umbridge. And the ending is just fantastic.

Black Butler, vol. 2 by Yana Toboso - 4 stars. In the Black Butler volumes of this month, we solve the Jack the Ripper case, gain a rather annoying character (who thankfully grows up a bit before too long), enter a curry contest (that was entertaining, but not exactly riveting), and finally get some more peeks into the dysfunctional relationship between Ciel and Sebastian. Also, Ciel has to masquerade as a girl, which is hilarious. Overall the series is solid and the main characters are intriguing - I think the biggest block I'm hitting right now is that I'm too used to Shonen-style manga, and Black Butler definitely isn't that. The art is absolutely beautiful!

Black Butler, vol. 3 by Yana Toboso - 4 stars.

Black Butler, vol. 4 by Yana Toboso - 3 stars.

Black Butler, vol. 5 by Yana Toboso - 4 stars.

Song in the Dark by P. N. Elrod - 5 stars. This book blew me away. After surviving a particularly gruesome experience at the end of the last book, Jack is now reeling from what happened and what he did to survive. His mind is fractured and he's terrified of himself and of staying close to anyone, not knowing what he might do. Charles and Bobbi, the two people most important to Jack, work extra hard to help Jack work through his trauma, but the strain is higher than ever. On top of that, Jack's other friend Gordy is still out of commission and Jack is running Gordy's mob until further notice - yet another stresser put on Jack, and Jack's relationship with Bobbi. Things Jack has come to take for granted ever since waking up as a vampire are twisted and broken... and with Jack feeling more cornered and horrified than ever, there's no bigger threat than leaving him alone. Some damage can't be undone, even for a vampire...

Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComas - 4 stars. This was an advanced reader's copy I received from the publisher (William Morrow). Of course by the time I'm writing this, the book has already been out, but that just means you can go read it. (I should note that I don't receive any kind of incentive or compensation from anyone for any of the ARCs I review.) Anyway- this book was far outside the kind of novels I typically read, but I found it rather enjoyable even so. The main character (Sophie, an adopted young woman) travels to a small town at the request of a dying old man to hear his last words, but he dies before telling her. She then discovers that he left her something in his will - which is odd, since she's never met the man before in her life. She soon figures out that he knew something about her birth mother, but has no idea what. From then on, she's on the hunt for answers- both about her adoption and the murders that have started popping up in town. Add a heavy helping of romantic interest and you have Something About Sophie. It was definitely more about family and romance than murder mystery, but if that's the genre you love, this book will be a good edition to your library. The one thing that stood out as bothersome to me was how quickly Sophie went from "I know I'm adopted, but that's fine. My parents love me and I don't need to find my birth parents- I must have been made from love, and that's all I need or want to know" to "Everything MUST be about my birth mother and I MUST find out everything!"

I'm not adopted, so I can't say I have first-hand experience with this. There are a few people close to me who are adopted, and I haven't ever noticed this kind of instant shift in their thought process. I'm thinking Sophie was really trying to convince herself that she didn't want to know about the people who gave her up, and when she had a lead, she stopped trying to bury her feelings. Either that, or that part just got too rushed when McComas was writing it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - 2 stars. I waited a while to write this review, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the book. Amy is a sociopath and Nick is an asshole; Go is the only "good guy" and I wasn't terribly convinced by her, either. I wish we could have met Nick's mother, but the only view of her we get is from Amy's diary. These people are very disturbed. There's no happy relationship here. Amy's parents seem creepily engrossed in each other, to the extent that they don't realize what's going on in the rest of life. Nick uses Go, who takes it like always because she's his twin sister and that's what family should do, right? Nick uses ... whatever-her-name-was because he's angry and horny and wants to be in charge of something (come on, man, I lost my job to the stupid internet because Real Writers won't make the transition over from printed to digital information). Nick and his father despise each other. Nick and Amy... there aren't even words for how f***ed up they are with each other. Amy uses Desi, Nick, and every single person on the planet Because She Can. Seriously. Structurally, this wasn't surprising, either. I did actually enjoy having the unreliable narrators, because there just aren't a ton of books out there that tell stories that way. But the "big surprise" was no surprise to me - I was just glad we'd officially acknowledged it. Really the most annoying thing to me was how casual Nick was about his cheating. And yes, there was a part of me that wanted the darker thoughts of Nick's to actually come true, because then I wouldn't have to keep hearing about them. I have no idea what emotion this book was trying to evoke. I got disgust, frustration, and impatience. And after reading more about Flynn herself and her motivation for writing this, I have no intention of reading anything else by her. Or seeing the movie of Gone Girl. Something this nasty doesn't need visualization. Hey, I think I figured out how I feel about Gone Girl now... I can't remember a single part I actually liked for its own sake.

Heat Wave by Richard Castle - 4 stars. This really felt like it was written by Richard Castle (who, if you don't know, is a fictional character who stars the ABC show "Castle"). It was like a peek at an extra episode of the TV show - which, since I love the show, I thoroughly enjoyed. I was a tad disappointed when the author used a bizarre phrase to describe something, only to use it again one paragraph later (things like that pull me right out of the story). But Nikki was fun and Rook was amusing, and the mystery was good. For a fictional author, Castle did a good job. :)

Naruto, vol. 11: Impassioned Efforts by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars. Lots of Naruto this month! Intense battles, old enemies clash and new enemies arrive, the Will of Fire ignites in the hearts of the new Konoha shinobi. The legendary Sannin are together again. Students learn fantastic new justu. Akatsuki arrive and bring torture - a teacher falls. Orochimaru ensnares the Third and the Shinigami comes for them both... I've watched the anime a few times and even knowing how some things turn out doesn't take away from the excitement in each volume!

Naruto, vol. 12: The Great Flight by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto, vol. 13: The Chunin Exam, Concluded...!! by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto, vol. 14: Hokage vs. Hokage!! by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto, vol. 15: Naruto's Ninja Handbook by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto, vol. 16: Eulogy by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto, vol. 17: Itachi's Power by Masashi Kishimoto - 4 stars.

Naruto, vol. 18: Tsunade's Choice by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto, vol. 19: Successor by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Death's Hand (ebook) by S. M. Reine - 4 stars. I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book was. There was quite a bit of tension and no clear-cut "I am the good guy" which was really interesting. There are two parallel story lines going on, split across chapters - one in the past, and one in the present - both involving the same characters. It would have been much easier to follow this with a hard copy of the book, but I own a Kindle edition and I sometimes got confused as to "when" I was. But the two story lines did an excellent job of both increasing the tension and interest as well as showing why, in the present, the main characters (Elise and James) do what they do. I'm looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!

 

 

Trivia Corner:

Last post's quote was "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?" which is from Sabriel by Garth Nix. I adore the entire Abhorsen trilogy (of which Sabriel is the first). I have a boxed set and have read them so many times I've cracked the spines in several places. I think I may upgrade to nice hardcover editions soon. My book-buying process usually is to purchase a paperback copy (unless it's one in a series of which I already own multiple others in hardcover), and if I end up reading it so much that the paperback copy falls apart, replace it with a nice hardcover that can withstand multiple readings. And being stuffed into suitcases and purses.

For your guessing pleasure, the next quote is, "I make cherries jubilee and I volunteer for dragons and I conjugate Latin verbs - or at least I would if anyone would let me!"

June Reads

June was an awesome month for reading - everything was good, nothing below 3 stars! I would speculate on how July will be, but since it's nearly over, I'll just hush up and let you get to the reviews. :) As always, if you want more, check out GoodReads. (I will say that one or two reviews are cut-and-paste from my reviews over there, but that's because I wrote them here first and didn't want to write up a separate one for GR. Any time I review a book on GR first, I will still write up a new review when writing these posts - helps keep my thoughts honest about the books I read, and see if maybe I've changed my mind without realizing it in the meantime.)

 

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare -5 stars. I didn't realize there were more than three books in this series, and I was nervous about reading this one after the way everything seemed tied up and over at the end of the third book. But, having liked them, I gave it a go - and it was fantastic. This isn't a pretty little YA paranormal romance. Decisions that were made, deeds that were done, have serious consequences, and this book is all about dealing with them and figuring out what to do afterward. A good reminder that things are never perfect, and in fact they can go pretty badly, even from a good intention.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 4 stars. Do I really need to give this a review? It's a solid book in the HP series. A few of my favorite characters are introduced here - Sirius and Lupin.

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley - 4 stars. The main character, Myfanwy, begins her story with no memory, surrounded by a circle of dead bodies, and a letter from her former self telling her that someone is after her. The way her amnesia was handled was very interesting. The letters and notes Thomas (the old Myfanwy) left was a neat trick - this way we got to avoid the over-used "flashback" pieces along with a ton of infodumping. The end, however, needed some heavy editing help: the story built itself up well, came to a great climax, and then fell apart in the last 20 pages. Way too much relatively useless exposition. I think it's supposed to be setup for the next book, but it should just have been cut from this book and made the beginning of the next one.

Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown and (Sneaky Pie Brown) - 5 stars. Written by a cat. Narrated by a cat and dog (third person POV). Fun murder mystery novel for anyone who ever wonders what goes on inside their pets' minds. I'm going to thoroughly enjoy this series.

Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers - 3 stars. Not as much fun as I'd hoped it would be. Starring an assassin nun, said to be the daughter of Death himself, this held so much promise but just failed to deliver the thrills. The story was decent and solid, but there weren't any big twists or surprises that a half-awake reader couldn't see coming. I might continue the series, but there's definitely better stuff out there.

The Andalite Chronicles by Katherine Applegate - 4 stars. Finally, a book that doesn't automatically assume that the Andalite race is infallible. Elfangor rises from cadet to Prince and learns firsthand what the "backwards" human race has to offer. This story sheds some interesting light on the Animorphs and makes the series much more intriguing.

Bleach vol. 25: No Shaking Throne by Tite Kubo - 5 stars. In the four Bleach volumes I read this month, Ichigo realizes he can't run from his inner demons. Orihime has a confession to make with time running short. Ishida uses a loophole to his advantage, and the group sees Las Noches for the first time. A strange little Arrancar meets them in the desert-like plane. This story is moving along!

Bleach vol. 26: The Mascaron Drive by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Bleach vol. 27: Goodbye, Halcyon Days by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Bleach, vol. 28: Baron's Lecture Full-Course by Tite Kubo - 4 stars. Small note - Kubo has some of the strangest titles ever. I love them.

Naruto vol. 7: Orochimaru's Curse by Masashi Kishimoto - 4 stars. In these four volumes of Naruto, we survived the Forest of Death and proceed directly to the preliminaries for the third and final round of the Chuunin exam! Lots of character development scattered into the one-on-one battles. We see Kakashi get a little freaked out (which cannot ever bode well), and, at long last, one of my most favorite characters in the series joins the scene: Jiraiya!

Naruto vol. 8: Life-and-Death Battles by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto vol. 9: Turning the Tables by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

Naruto vol. 10: A Splendid Ninja by Masashi Kishimoto - 5 stars.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - 5 stars. Fforde is a great writer. I think the biggest problem I had with this book was actually the blurb on the back cover that is supposed to get you pulled in to the story. In this case, it was all about what happens when a character gets pulled out of her novel and into our (ok, a parallel version of our) world, and how Thursday (the main character) has to deal with it. But that wasn't really what the story was about - that didn't even happen until almost the very end. It was more about Thursday trying to prevent that from happening and seeing what kind of tools, powers, and friends were available to her, and who was chewing up all her attempts to set things right. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the book and have Fforde on my short list of "I need to read everything written by these authors". I just want the blurb changed. Maybe this is a sign that I should stop reading them...

Cold Streets by P. N. Elrod - 5 stars. Holy crap. I don't even care about the plot (which was still good, by the way) - this book was all about character. Jack may be a vampire, but he's not immune to the things that haunt us as humans. I was expecting another dramatic escape (as these types of novels have commonly given) but it was so much better. You want to talk about serious consequences? I cannot wait for the next book!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. Still HP. Still love it. Although there are some things I still want to know - why did Moody have to wait until the end of the year? All this time, Voldemort is so antsy to get at Harry - there was never anything that gave a reason for why they had to wait until the end of the year. The only reason I see is because there needed to be time so that there would be a book - but a couple of added lines would have fixed things. Voldemort had to wait because that's how long the process took to complete. Something. But I still love this book - I think it is my second favorite after the first book.

Black Butler vol. 1 by Yana Toboso - 3 stars. I've seen the anime for this series - season 1 sticks to the manga more or less, while season 2 goes off and does its own thing. I loved season 1, so I figured the manga would be good, too. Luckily, that kept me going through this volume - it's a pretty slow start for a new series. Although there are some funny bits and a really cool action episode when Sebastian visits an Italian mobster. I especially liked the line, "Allow me to return these to you." Trust me, in context, it's funny and freaky. :)

And Then You Die by Iris Johansen - 3 stars. For loving the other books by Johansen as much as I did, it took me a long time to get around to reading this one. And when I did, I kept inadvertently making excuses not to finish it. I'm not sure why - there wasn't anything wrong with it. I actually liked it quite a bit. But Bess annoyed me, and it's not easy to finish a book when the main character ticks you off. Her decisions seemed shallow and selfish even while she was claiming them to be because of her love for her sister and the unlucky baby girl they rescued. And the conflict between Bess and Kaldak was weird - and pretty straight-forward (which I don't think is a good thing when trying to describe a conflict). Still, this was Johansen's first attempt at a thriller/mystery after so many successful romance novels, so I expected it to be a bit rough around the edges. And knowing that I like her later works more convinces me to keep reading her stuff. I like watching authors grow.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin - 4 stars. Now here was an interesting concept. I can't really discuss it at length without giving away a major spoiler point. But I will say what I can - I picked this book randomly off my list of vampire books I hadn't yet read and gave it a go. I will definitely be reading more in this series. I'm intrigued by some of the concepts, I liked the storytelling, and I liked the slow reveal of character development and backstory instead of holding everything back and then infodumping on us (seriously, does anyone like getting dumped on?). I took issue with one mechanism employed near the end of the book - the reasoning for why Jaz is still standing - although it was better than having her secretly turn out to be a vampire who just didn't know it (again - seriously, how could you be a vampire for any length of time and not know it?). Even so, I'm excited for the sequel.

 

 

Trivia Corner:

Last post's quote was "Home, James!" and is from a little book called The Wednesday Witch, written by Ruth Chew. I must have read it about a thousand times. I actually borrowed it from the library and lost it on a vacation, so of course I had to pay the library for the book - and then I found the book, about 6 months later, caught in a fold on the inside of my suitcase. So then I became the proud owner of a somewhat battered, and very loved, copy of The Wednesday Witch. I still have it, and it's still awesome.

So... what book is this quote from? "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?"

May Reading

Writing is coming along, more slowly than I'd like for now with a few other things having been added to my plate. I have a solid outline and some good chunks done for my story about Jonathan Harper, vampire and artist. I also got the kinks worked out with a writer friend of mine about some possibilities for Akitis' story, and I'm very pleased to have the green light for that! Writing Akitis is probably one of my favorite characters right now. I've also gotten a few more scenes done for a very new story that has bullet lists and character sketches littering my hard drive. No news on Fire in the Blood yet, but I'm still hopeful for Kallizar's story to be published. As always, the effort continues and in the meantime, I keep busy with other things.

In reading news... I'm at 101 books read this year, which is very cool as that's already more than I read during all of 2011. Sadly, I'm 56 books behind schedule to make my goal of 365 by Dec. 31, but I maintain hope. And so, here are the books I read during May.

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - 3.5 stars. Ok, so I lied in my previous post regarding this series when I said I was reading the final book. Somehow I got the impression that it was only a trilogy, and the ending of this bok (#3 in an ongoing series) certainly seemed to close things up nicely. The ending felt very solid and the series could have ended there, easily. That said, I'm looking forward to what the next book does with the situation. Would have been a straight 4-star review if the foreshadowing had been subtle in some way, but since it more or less bashed you in the face, big parts of the Big Reveal fell flat. Still a good series- excited for more.

C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton - 3 stars. Much better than the previous book. I actually cared about the characters and the fact that we knew going into the story that one of the characters was going to die (seriously not a spoiler- the first intro page tells you this person is dead) made it easier for me to connect with him and want to see justice. The end was rough and more confusing than the other two books, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in continuing the series. We'll see.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. I've read the books, listened to the unabridged productions (I love Jim Dale!) and seen the movies, and I really just love the story. There's great character development and just a lot of fun going on in this first book.

Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick - 4 stars. Fun, quick read. (And yes, I enjoyed a piece of chick-lit. Surprising, but it does happen.) This tells the story of three couples who all get married by the same pastor, only to find out that the pastor has died days later- without having signed their marriage licenses. As each couple is already having serious problems, they have to decide whether the relationship is worth saving, or if they are going to go their separate ways. I'm fairly certain I had some life lessons snuck upon me while I was reading this, but it was cleverly disguised by humor and fun, so I will accept it. Adam dearest, if you are reading this, I did not question our decision to get married, and if our paperwork had been bad, I would have married you again in a second. :)

The Black by D. J. MacHale - 4 stars. This is the second book of a trilogy. It tells the same story as book 1, but from Cooper's perspective instead of Marsh's- which is a big deal, considering the circumstances. I found it very clever and thoroughly enjoyable, building on what we learned in book 1 and filling in the other side of things, while still pushing the overall plot forward to the Final Showdown that I assume will happen in book 3. Really looking forward to reading the end of this trilogy!

Individually Twisted by David Pickering - .5 stars, and even that is generous. I read this on a bet with a friend, who prefaced it with "this is probably the worst story I have ever read. You must read it so we can discuss its badness." The only good thing I have to say about this is that it was short, so the torture didn't last long. The structure was crap, the characters were laughable and couldn't even hold continuity with themselves, and there was No Plot. Really. There were times when it seemed like something *might* happen to the kids, but nothing ever did. Supposedly written to be a warning against letting your kids do drugs, this "book" not only failed to deliver a warning but actually ended with the message that if you go sell drugs, you can be millionaires and retire at the age of 20. I kid you not. Do yourself a favor, people (two, actually): don't do drugs, and don't read this book. Ever.

Naruto vol. 6: The Forest of Death by Masashi Kishimoto - 4 stars. I don't want to give any spoilers for ongoing stories, so reviewing the manga volumes I read is going to get more and more vague. This book has Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura in the middle of their Chuunin ninja exam in a dangerous place called the Forest of Death. They run into one of the main antagonists of the series, a rogue ninja named Orochimaru. and Sasuke and Naruto both get more than they bargained for, and Sakura steps up.

Vampire Knight, vol. 1 by Matsuri Hino - 4 stars. I'd never heard of this series and came across it randomly, and I'm glad I picked it up. The art is gorgeous and the story seems promising- there's a boarding school with two groups of students: the day class and the night class. The day class is regular kids, and the night class is all vampires. The day class doesn't know this; they've been told that the night class is made up of the "elite" students. The story centers around a girl named Yuki and her friends- Zero, fellow human and guardian of the students keeping the two classes separated, and Kaname, vampire who saved Yuki from a rogue vampire when she was young. There was a twist at the end of this volume that I saw coming a mile away, but I'm definitely going to continue the series.

Red, White, and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth - 4 stars. Loved this one. Cade grows a lot, which is pretty cool considering he, as a vampire, doesn't change in a lot of ways. The enemy was fantastically creepy and reminded me of someone straight out of the TV show Supernatural (which is also excellent, by the way). The ending was solid and made me angry that the next book isn't out yet. I'm actively watching for it now. If you are squeamish, do not read this. It gets pretty grizzly.

Mister Monday by Garth Nix - 3 stars. It's a Nix book, so there was no question about whether to read it. Overall, it has promise, but the symbolism gave me whiplash. I plan to read more, if only to spend time in the awesome world Nix has created (his strongest point, I think) but I don't know when book 2 will make it to the top of my "on-deck" list.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. I still love this world. Lockhart really annoys me (as well he should). The Chamber part was also excellent. One thing that I've never understood is how Hermione, as smart as she is, managed to confuse a cat hair for a person's. :)

The Dark Sleep by P. N. Elrod - 4 stars. Book 8 in the series, and it spends a lot of time on the supporting cast, letting Jack step out of the limelight for a bit. We learn a lot about Escott, something I've been dying for since we met him. The story itself was great, but there's one part - just a few paragraphs - that kept this from being a 5-star review. Jack is a former journalist, now trying to write and someday publish a fiction novel. Fine. But Elrod took a few paragraphs to basically say, "look how hard it is to write something cool that will get picked up by a publisher! It's so much work. It takes a lot of perseverance and the author should really get a pat on the back for being so determined and pushing through the struggles." That really annoyed me. Yes, it's true that it can be hard to write something good, and even harder perhaps to get it printed. But that's what writing is about - what any kind of art is about. You create it because you want to, you polish it because you care and you want it to be the best it can be. When you present a piece of artwork, you want people to notice how nice it is. You don't then pull out the fifty failed attempts and shove them under their noses to tell them how hard it was to get right. Effort is behind-the-scenes stuff. Or at the very least, if you want to talk about the process of creating it, you find an appropriate time - and the middle of a novel is not the place for telling readers how hard it was to get the script done.

Anyway. Aside from those paragraphs, it was very good.

Bleach vol. 22: Conquistadores by Tite Kubo - 4 stars. I'll combine my review of all three Bleach volumes here. Basically, Ichigo is having some serious problems with his Hollow, and the Visoreds know it. Then some new enemies drop in from Hueco Mundo and go after the scouting Soul Reapers, breaking into  five different battles across the night sky of Karakura Town. Arrancars are tough, and these ones are led by the even tougher Espada 6, Grimmjow (who, incidentally, is one of my most favorite characters to date). The Soul Reapers realize they are in some serious crap, and Ichigo finally realizes what must be done to save himself.

Bleach vol. 23: Mala Suerte! by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Bleach vol. 24: Immanent God Blues by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Reached by Ally Condie - 3.5 stars. The introduction of the plague saved this book from the brink of oblivion. Just by the nature of the other two books in this trilogy and the way things were heading, it was obvious that not one of the main characters was in danger of dying, so that killed a lot of the suspense. But the way the plague was introduced, and the explanation of the viral growth and mutation, was very cool and accurate and brought something new and interesting to the table. Overall, a stock ending to a stock YA storyline. Worth reading once if you are looking for something to pass the time, but I think there are better things out there.

Sushi 101: The Fundamental Ingredients, Techniques and Concepts of Sushi by Cooking Penguin - 4 stars. This rating comes from ease of use, not from actual book formatting. This book can get away with being more conversational because it's a short little ebook on the how-to of sushi-making. Being a big sushi lover, I was happy for this book's existence, because I now know the basic ingredients and needed preparations to try making a few maki rolls at home. Yum!

Up next I've got plans to continue with the Harry Potter audiobooks, as well as a book called The Rook by Daniel O'Malley that's on the agenda next for my book club. Bleach, Naruto and other manga will also continue, and beyond that, I intend to keep on raiding the library. I also have some advance copies of novels soon to be released for sale that I have on the schedule to read and review. For more info on any of these books, or to see what I've said about other books in the past, check out my GoodReads read shelf. Anything read this year has a review along with it. Feel free to send me recommendations, either on here or through GoodReads messages - I'm always looking for new books! (And if you have a horrible book like Individually Twisted you think I would enjoy tearing apart, let me know- just be sure to warn me that it's terrible or I may question your sanity.)

Books I've Devoured Recently

I'm still going for my goal of having read 365 books by the end of this year. According to my calculator, I'm slipping, at only 80 finished out of the 118 I should have read by now. But that's only 11% - I can make that. Interested in what I've been reading this month? A fun variety, and all brand new to me:

B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton - 2.5 stars. Easy to pick up, easy to put down. Not bad, but sadly forgettable.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson - 5 stars. No, I don't actively follow her blog, but I have read it occasionally and this book reads like one giant blog post. I found it hilarious. Not for those opposed to *ahem* colorful language.

Crossed by Ally Condie - 3 stars. Book 2 of a trilogy. Pretty much what I expected: boy and girl are in love but are cruelly separated at the end of book 1. Girl goes to find boy. Finds boy, but along the way becomes unsure if she's not still also in love with Previous Boy, because she gets jealous when girl friend expresses interest in Previous Boy. Also gets upset to discover boy doesn't want to go somewhere with her. Massive drama and angst against a dystopian backdrop. I'm hoping book 3 closes things nicely. Worth the read once, but nothing I'm going to buy.

Hug a Teddy by Jim Erskine - 4 stars. I found this at a book sale and recognized it because of its sister book, Throw a Tomato (which I own and love to death). Super-quick, fun read about things to do when life is being mean.

Soulless by Christopher Golden - 4 stars. Really cool zombie novel. The end was a bit lacking, I think, because there was no reason why the main characters had to be the main characters. The dude who was going nuts in the studio the entire time would eventually have done the same exact thing and the same outcome would have happened, but hey, whatever. The lore of the zombie in this novel was very interesting. I would read a sequel.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare - 4 stars. Second book in a trilogy. It managed to break the perpetual "the second book always sucks the most" by holding up to the first book. I love Simon and I hope his story comes to a satisfying conclusion. I'm reading the third and final book right now.

Naruto, volumes 1-5 - 4.5 stars. I have seen the anime, but there's just something so incredible about reading manga. I think it might be my appreciation for the art, because I can't draw worth crap. Going back to the very beginning of Naruto's story is pretty cool, knowing how he grows much later in the series. I will be reading this entire series, probably as fast as the library can get copies for me. They also went on my to-buy list on Amazon.

The Andalite's Gift by Katherine Applegate - 4 stars. The first in the Megamorphs side series (they go with the Animorph series). Narrated by all the main characters, one each chapter. I liked it about as much as the rest of them. Again, going to keep reading the series. It's too bad I never read these when I was little, but I can keep them on a list of books to make sure my kids know about!

How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!! by Neil Zawacki - 4 stars. Completely fun. Beware, I now know everything I need in order to act upon my evil schemes! Note: I would highly recommend anyone interested in becoming a super villain take to heart the Evil Overlord checklist.

Wool by Hugh Howey - 5 stars. Incredible. I read the omnibus, books 1-5, which is available in paper and on Kindle. Each story gets longer than the previous, as they introduce the post-apocalyptic world and the characters living therein. By the time I was in book 4, I had a really hard time putting it down. And partway through book 5 I was sure Jules was braver than I ever would be, trusting that tube after just having gotten through the door the way she did just a few days or so ago. I'm looking forward to reading Shift, the next chunk of stories.

The Alien by Katherine Applegate - 3.5 stars. Animorphs again, this one from Ax's perspective. Very funny - especially his reaction to chocolate. But I just didn't get into the meat of this story as much as the others. Still, looking forward to more.

Soulless by Gail Carriger - 4 stars. Victorian London, with the supernatural not only out in society but actually so firmly engrained that there are specific societal rules regarding behavior at dinner parties and other such events. The concept for these supernaturals, and their opposite, the preternaturals, is very cool. Alexia, the main character, is a preternatural, which means she renders all supernatural powers useless (in fact, it's as though they never existed) so long as she keeps physical contact. The plot was a bit straightforward but very enjoyable, and the writing made the setting very, very real. If you're looking for a quick read, this is not it, just because of the writing style. But it's very funny and I'm looking forward to more of the Parasol Protectorate series.

 

If you want to see more in-depth reviews of any of these (or any previous book I've mentioned), head over to GoodReads and check out my Read shelf.

 

 

I'm A+, BTW (And Armed)

For one of my senior capstone projects in college, I did a presentation on the link between somnambulism (sleep-walking) and vampirism in English literature. And it was awesome.Surprisingly, there were still some of my friends who were surprised to discover my love of vampires. Ok, granted, I don't wander around all day with a cape and specially-molded fangs, but a cursory glance at my bookshelves and DVD racks should have made this apparent anyway. (Although I do own a cape, and have worn it before. But that was for Ren Fest and Halloween parties... and, come to think of it, I've never actually dressed as a vampire.)

The reason this all came up is because of a book sale I went to on Wednesday. There were two books that I used during that presentation as research sitting on the genre fiction table: Dracula (this one was even the annotated version) and The Vampires by Montague Summers. I grabbed them so fast I might have broken the speed barrier. (Just like a vampire! Ok, enough of that.)

The real point of all this is that I have a lot of vampire-centric books and movies and love many different kinds of vampires. I'm all for creative license and new variations on old classics. Yes, I have my favorites as well as the ones I really would like to let burn in the sunlight (or decapitate, or stake, or in some other way destroy them).

I'm also a fan of werewolves and other weres, shifters, zombies, demons, angels, ghosts, and basically anything that lives in the supernatural/paranormal realms.

Check out my posts of Alec and Akitis for some of my vampire stories, and keep watch for a post about a new vampire friend, Jonathan Harper.

If you have any suggestions of vampire stories, movies, whatever, please leave me a comment!

Here's my off-the-top-of-my-head  list of vampire-related books and movies I have read/seen, in the hopes that they will gain more fans:

Books:

Dracula (book and movie)

The Vampires

The Vampire Files

Twilight (books and movies) (I am not a fan)

Dead Witch Walking

Wicked Game

Blue Bloods (vampire concept was interesting, but I wasn't a fan of the story)

A Whisper of Blood (anthology)

Blood+ (books and anime) (although not technically called vampires, the concept is the same)

The Vampire Chronicles

The Dresden Files (books and TV)

The Mortal Instruments

Soulless - Parasol Protectorate

Carpe Jugulum - Discworld

Nathaniel Cade

Mercy Thompson

You Suck

 

Movies:

Blade trilogy

Daybreakers

Underworld series

Van Helsing

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV)

Angel (TV)

Moonlight (TV)

Bleach (the anime-only arc about the Bounts)

 

 

 

 

Screams in the Red Rain

How has it been so long since my last post? Shame... But here's some quick tidbits of cool info going on in my writing/reading world, followed by another character sketch I wrote for my time travel story. (The other sketch for the character named Millie can be found here.) - I set a reading goal for myself this year: finish 365 books before midnight, Dec. 31. Bonus points if they are all first-time-reads. So far, I'm only 1 book behind schedule. (Want to see what books I've read and check out some reviews? Look me up on Goodreads.) (Interested in other fun shenanigans my brain decided? Check out and sign up for my other blog, RealmwalkerWriting!)

- I have a list of literary agents who are looking for work by new authors or my genre and will be submitting queries and such to them very soon.

- When I go to the library on Monday to pick up a book that's being held for me, I will have to pay my first-ever fine for having a book too damaged to return. Sadly, my puppy found a way to get onto my dining table while I was out getting groceries, and slightly mangled The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay. Sad. At least I got to finish reading it, though.

- Two of my friends recently had me over for dinner and decided we would watch My Little Pony. I later went home and read Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. Consequently, I had Applejack from My Little Pony narrating this book set in post-Civil War Texas - extra funny when the zombies showed up. :)

Enjoy the character sketch!

-----

My first thought was, it’s raining. But that didn’t make much sense – I was in my house. How could it be raining in my house? My second thought, that the roof had a leak, didn’t make sense, either. No self-respecting builder would have a leaky roof on a house he built.

But I was lying on the floor, on the soft rugs covering the hard wood, and I knew there were drips of water on my face. Had I been crying? No. Besides, if I had been crying, the drips wouldn’t have hit me from the ceiling – they wouldn’t have startled me awake.

Well, lying there wondering wasn’t going to solve the mystery. If I wanted to figure out why it was raining in the house, I’d have to open my eyes. I expected to see one of my siblings – probably my younger brother – standing over me, holding a glass of water and giggling at me.

He wasn’t there. No one was. I felt another drip and looked up at the ceiling, but with the late hour and the fireplace too far away, I couldn’t see. Sighing, I stood and grabbed one of the candles from the dining table. Mother would be annoyed that I disturbed her decorations, but I would put it back and just pray she didn’t notice. Mother always liked to have things perfect for the holidays, especially for Christmas. The tree, with its own decorations of carefully hand-carved ornaments, painted by my siblings and me as we had grown throughout the years. The garlands of evergreen boughs tied together with silk ribbon – expensive, Father said. Pretty, Mother said, and worth the money to ready our house for the coming of the Baby Jesus. It’s funny… I never saw him actually show up. With only a few days left before Christmas Day, the area beneath the tree was stuffed with presents wrapped in shiny paper, bright scraps of cloth, or tucked away inside pouches that Mother and I had sewn new for this year. Our stockings were hanging over the fireplace, just like always. I had stitched the names on them myself this time, instead of having to follow Mother’s patterns. From this far away, I couldn’t read them, but I knew they were there and I smiled nonetheless.

Even holding the candle up toward the ceiling didn’t help much. We had a big house, and the ceiling was too far away. I looked around, but since I didn’t see anyone, I decided to chance it and climbed up onto the table, my bare feet stepping carefully around the other candles and the fragile manger scene that decorated the tabletop. I held the candle up again…

…and screamed.

I was right. It was raining inside. Only it wasn’t water… it was blood.

Where was my family? My brother, my sister, my mother and father? Whose blood was this, leeching down from the roof? I looked down at myself and had to clap my hand to my mouth to keep from screaming again. I was covered in drops of sticky blood. I had been lying on the floor for a long time… had I slept through some terrible nightmare?

No… Now that I was awake, filled with adrenaline, I could feel the pounding in my head. I hadn’t fallen asleep. I’d been attacked.

I jumped down from the table, making the manger scene rattle. “Mother!” I yelled. “Where are you?” I was terrified. Where was everyone? Had they run away, thinking I was dead?

The rest blurred together in my memory, too much to take in so fast. Somewhere, out of the darkness, a hand snaked out and grabbed my arm, pulling me in. I began to scream when a second hand quickly covered my mouth. My nose caught the scent of soap and lavender and I realized these were my mother’s hands. I remember her whispering to me in a frightened voice. We had to get out, she said. They were still very near, and they would not let us leave alive. I asked about my siblings in a whisper crushed by my own emotion, and my mother’s choked-back sobs were answer enough.

Most unluckily, the flickering light of my candle lit up a sliver of the room for a moment and I saw a flash of what had happened to my siblings. They were not dead. They had been murdered, brutally and savagely killed and tossed aside like garbage. I was angry and scared… and then I was sick, all over the floor of Mother’s closet where we were hiding. I had never seen a dead body before.

Mother and I made it out of that house. We had to climb out onto the roof because we could see dark shapes blocking the stairs leading down to the first floor and to safety. I could tell Mother was scared. I had not told Mother about the blood-rain in the dining room. I hoped I was wrong, but I thought I knew whose it must be, if Mother and I were here and my siblings were still inside.

Mother did not look. She did not know to look. I think if she had known, she never would have left, and we both would have died. Instead she let down the escape ladder my father had built into the roof, in case there was ever a fire, and began to climb down. She called for me to come after, but her voice was small and far away. I was caught, stunned and terrified, by the scene on the roof.

My father was dead, that was certain. Whoever had attacked us had made it clear that he was not able to protect his house or his family. Spikes, like the big ones they used down at the railroads, gleamed red in my eyes. My stomach heaved again even as I ran over to him and grabbed the slick iron with both hands,  begging my father to get up. I don’t know why. I knew he couldn’t hear me. I knew.

My mother called again, frantically, and I heard her. I jumped to the ladder and slid down the sides, getting splinters in my hands. Mother grabbed me and dragged me along behind her, running as fast as she could away from that house. I was running, too, but my legs were too slow to keep up with her, so I mostly stumbled and slowed her down.

I don’t know how long we ran. I remember looking back and seeing the black shadows moving around that house, hearing voices that faded away as my panic overtook them and turned them into howls of demons. We finally stopped, what seemed to be miles and miles away, and collapsed, panting hard and trying to uncramp our exhausted lungs and limbs.

Mother looked at me. You look a mess, she said, attempting to smile, but instead she began to cry. I felt a mess. Blood, vomit, sweat all clung to my clothes, splinters dug into my hands. It didn’t matter. Mother wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close, crying low sobs that rattled the soul to hear them. I buried my face in her shoulder. This time it was raining inside, and leaking out through my eyes as tears that soaked my mother’s clothes. Why did it happen? I remember asking her through my hiccups, trying to control myself and failing miserably.

My mother pulled away a little so she could look at me. Cupping her hands around my face, she smiled. It was a real smile, even though her eyes were so sad. She didn’t know, she said, but she was thankful that she still, at least, had me, and I had her. We were not alone.

I cried again. My mother frowned and brushed the tears away, making them mix with the blood on my cheeks and leave sticky trails behind. She said she understood, and she knew it would be hard, but we would get through it. God always had a reason, and he was watching over us.

I looked up at my mother and asked a question that had been burning in my heart for all the years I could remember: Was this my punishment because I was different?

I had always felt responsible for everything when I realized I was different. When my brother was born, I knew he was not like me. When my sister was born, I knew she was like my brother. Like Mother and Father. Not like me.

My mother gripped my hands tightly in her own and pressed them to her heart. She looked at me and told me to listen very closely, that I must never forget what she was about to tell me. I was different, I was special. I had power inside of me. God would never give His child such a gift and then punish her for having it. I had this power, and I should remember to always, always, do good with it. Use it to honor her. Use it to honor my family. Use it to honor God.

I felt safe there, with my mother, sitting beneath the trees. She had told me that I was not the reason we were alone now. It had been a cruel act of violence, but it had been random. There was nothing we could have done.

Lies.

Although my mother did not know it, the fear I had harbored since I had been a child, the fear that my difference, this “power,” would bring pain to my family, had come true. Those shadow-men had been after me, and it cost my brother, my sister, and my father their lives, and my mother her husband and her children.

I left my mother with some family friends who promised to take care of her. We did not explain everything, only the bare facts – that we had been victims of a terrible crime and were all that was left of our family. I left. My mother begged me not to go, but I could not bear to stay. This power, whatever it was, had killed my family. I would not let it hurt her, too – not any more than it already had.

***

Memory fades with time. All these events happened so long ago, I cannot remember much. I cannot remember the sound of my mother’s voice, my father’s face, or my sibling’s laughs. I cannot remember the town in which we lived, nor even the country, anymore. I cannot remember my family’s names… I cannot even remember my own name.

I can remember my scream, when I first saw the blood-rain oozing through the ceiling. I can remember the shadow-men darting around that house.

I can remember because I still see them, I still hear them, in my dreams, sometimes… and it always ends the same way: I am running around that house, trying to catch the shadow-men and see who it is that has murdered my family. I lock eyes with one of them through the darkness, and it is as though he can see me through my own dreams, from within my own mind.

I do not wake screaming anymore. One grows used to such nightmares, when one has them for so many years. But the unsettling feeling never grows dim, and I fear that one day, soon, all that will remain of my memory are those soul-piercing eyes and a child’s scream as blood rains down.

4 Stars: Silver by Rhiannon Held

Silver is a very intense book. Newly published (June 2012), it tells the story of a lone woman struggling to regain her werewolf form even while she runs from the past that stripped her of it. Andrew Dare, the local Were pack's enforcer catches her scent and brings her in, intending to kill her because she smells of silver - poison to Weres and a torture only used by the cruelest of their kind. When Dare discovers that this lone wolf was a victim instead, he tries to get her back to wherever her pack is... and finds himself thrown into the middle of a gruesome mystery that threatens all the Weres in North America. The wolfless werewolf - she goes by the name Silver, having forgotten her name and her past in what seems to be severe PTSD. Silver is a very sympathetic character; her struggle to regain her "wild self", her passionate discussions with Death (a black wolf that only she can see), and her strength to face what she cannot even remember for the sake of her friend are believable and real.

The cold enforcer - Dare is the enforcer of the Roanoke pack, the head security for all the Weres on the eastern US. When he runs into Silver's scent, his first instinct is to take her down; she smells like silver and she's clearly unhinged. But when he realizes the truth, his protective instincts as a strong dominant wolf kick in and Dare tells Silver he will hunt down her monster before he can find her again.

And that's only the first thirty pages.

So many twists and teasers and secrets lurk in these pages. I backed up entire chapters to re-read them, just to make sure I'd gotten everything I could out of them. Held does a terrific job of weaving Dare's past into the present predicament without chunks of obvious infodumping (thank you!). What I found most interesting was the aspect of the werewolves themselves. The story is excellent, but the fact that the characters are Weres isn't essential to the plot - meaning anyone not overly interested in shapeshifter stories will still enjoy this book, and anyone who likes shifter stories will appreciate Silver's unique view of the legends.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope for a sequel. The reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is because there were a few things that I felt weren't wrapped up very well in the end (not mentioned to keep things spoiler-free). Nothing major, but it would have been nice to see. Be aware, the story is a bit dark, but it is an interesting view of someone suffering from PTSD and the things they will endure to ensure their monsters don't go after their friends.

Favorite quotes:

"I lost my name. The Lady has turned Her back on me, and my wild self is gone. I walk only with Death." -Silver

"Ah, come on." The boy pulled a face of mock disappointment. "Don't tell me anyone broke my record for being the most colossal pain in your ass since I left." -Tom, to Dare

"The Lady is white, you know. Her wild self. And her face up there." Silver pointed to the sky. "Like Death is black. She creates the light and he absorbs it."

The girl pressed her thumb to her forehead, automatic. "Well, Death is evil."

Silver laughed... "I suppose I thought that at one point too, but mostly he's full of himself."

One Step Closer: Submission Complete!

The weeks of disappearance and sleeplessness have paid off: I submitted my manuscript to a publisher today! This is a huge step for me and I am thrilled to be able to share it with so many people who support reading and fantasy fiction writers.

I will find out in a few months whether or not I am accepted. In the meantime, I'll keep right on writing and posting!

 

P.S. Watch for a few more big announcements in the next week or so. Exciting times...!

I Think I'm Having an Identity Crisis

More difficult to answer than you might expect, and a question I've been mulling over for some time now: Do I want to have my books published under my real name or under a pen name? I have reasons for liking (and disliking) each option and I haven't made much progress toward an answer.

What do you think about pen names? Do you "judge a book by its cover author name"? Are you more interested in unusual names (especially if the name sounds like it really fits the genre to which the book belongs)? Or does the author's name not matter to you?

In short - when you wander down the aisles of your local bookstore or library, does the author's name have any weight in what makes you pull an unknown book off the shelf for investigation?

Capitalization is Evil

I'm an organized person. (My sticky notes might argue otherwise, but I never listen to them anyway.) I like it when things have a set of rules or guidelines and actually follow them. English grammar is not one of those things. My beef today is specifically against capitalization. It is evil because it is fairly arbitrary and never agrees with itself. During the proofing of EUD, I realized I didn't know the rule for capitalizing a noun like "king" or "commander" in certain situations. So, like all good writers, I investigated.

The internet informed me that, in short, no one knows. I checked sites built specifically for simple understanding of grammar (like sites geared toward learning ESL - English as a second language) and sites discussing grammar rules as they applied to college and beyond with rules and exceptions so precise I'm still not convinced they really exist.

The best I could come up with is to treat it like we treat the words "mom" and "dad" - that is, when the noun is used as the person's name, it's capitalized. When it's not, it's not. While not all sites agreed with this (and gave me bizarre examples of contradictions that I unfortunately can't find to link here for your amusement), I think it reads the best that way and is easier on the eyes and the brain. I think of it like I do the rule about possessive apostrophes on words that end with an "s" sound - pick a type and stick with it. (I am in favor of the "no 's after s, z, x, or other s-sounds" so my book has it written as Mahliz' instead of Mahliz's. Argue amongst yourselves; you're both right.)

Personally, I wish we would adopt the German rule for capitalization: if it's a noun (of any kind) or the first word of a sentence, capitalize it. If not, don't. Easy peasy. Rules like that make it easy to pick out the important Words in a Sentence and eliminates Confusion about when Something should have a capital Letter.

Since I find this change to be highly unlikely, I will suffer through it and continue with the theory of picking what seems to work best and staying consistent.

Beware the capitals. Down that way lay frustration and madness.

Exactly Right!

Short but sweet - this goes out to all the over-analytical readers of the world, to remind them to pay attention to what the author is actually saying. Fair warning: Language may not be suitable for children (but then again, kids shouldn't be reading most of the other stuff on this post, so...)

Enjoy!

To Read: The Looking Glass Wars

I was on a plane trip recently - not very long, and I'd be busy once I got where I was headed - so I only packed one book: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. It was great! But I was sad when I was finished with the book and I still had another leg of the flight to go... If you don't know anything about Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, you will enjoy this book. (Series, actually, but I've only read the first one so far. Have to borrow the second from a friend tomorrow!)

If you don't particularly enjoy Alice in Wonderland, you'll probably enjoy this story even more. The tag on the front of the book reads, "Fantasy just declared war on reality." I mean, what more do you need?

Beware the card soldiers!

Well, here's a few more tidbits in case you remain unconvinced:

The Mad Hatter is actually a great warrior and staunch protector of the Queen of Wonderland. His name is Hatter Madigan (and he is fantastic).

Alyss is not insane or dreaming. Nor is she named Alice. But she does have a powerful imagination (and I've yet to meet a writer who isn't a sucker for that).

There is art in the book (center section). Very well done art.

There is a timeline that charts the events of Wonderland in correlation with the events in our world. Also fantastic.

The Cat.

Beg, borrow, or steal buy a copy and enjoy a light but engaging read in the real Wonderland.

And then come tell us what you thought. I'm excited to hear!

What Makes You Read?

Dragons.   Vampires.   Werewolves.   Ghosts.   Faeries.   Sorcerers.   Beasts of myth, heroes of legend. Fate and destiny taken up or broken down. Worlds and creatures that simply are. Magic.

Fantasy fiction is a pretty broad genre that holds all kinds of crazy, mysterious, and, well, fantastical, ideas. But what is it that draws us to it?

I've read hundreds of books with their own twist on fantasy fiction, and each one brings something new to light. In fact, I tend to mentally categorize the books I read - and the ones I intend to read - by what kind of fantasy devices are most heavily used. Real-world setting with a heavy dose of magic and murder mystery? The Dresden Files. (A series which I cannot recommend highly enough and have two friends engaged so thoroughly they are racing to see who can finish the entire series first. It's highly entertaining to watch.) Another good choice, with more intense focus on the supernatural creatures like werewolves, shapeshifters (or walkers in this case), and vampires, are theMercy Thompsonnovels. Both of these series also have a bunch of other things I'm a sucker for: suspense, action and fighting (with everything from guns to swords to magic), good internal conflict, and a hint of romance (but let's not overdo anything. If I sense teen angst in a book, I hear the sirens go off and the ever-so-perky warning system advising me to Abandon Ship.)

I love strong characters. Some people prefer to always read a book with a male lead, others a female lead. As long as it's someone I can zoom in on and really get invested in, I don't care. But the second that lead is someone I can't identify with, I'm gone. Then I'm not reading a story about a real person anymore - it's just a canned shadow. And there are too many good books out there to spend my time on a mediocre one. (This may be the only time I will ever call myself a real people person!)

Plot is crucial - surprise, surprise. Without it, the characters have nothing to do. Fortunately, with strong characters, there's always some kind of plot, because real people don't just sit around with no reactions to themselves, each other, and the world at large. It's what they do that drives the story.

Setting is important too, but I know there are plenty of people out there who love it more than me. If you asked me about "the scene in this one book where the two characters are talking when the lights go out," I'll probably be able to tell you where they were, but that's about it. Way more likely is that I'll recall the actual discussion going on, how the characters were feeling while they were talking, what they were trying to get from each other, etc.

Good books of all genres have these three basic tools and use them well. And there are a lot of genres and sub-genres to pick from. So why fantasy fiction? I know for me, it's the thought of something more- something beyond what happens in my day-to-day life. Something just a little mysterious and unexplainable. As a kid, I played make-believe and told bizarre stories and read like crazy - and all of that all had some kind of magic. (I blame my parents. They read to me when I was little and then I never stopped. My favorite story from when I was young even had magic in it - the animals were crazy smart and helpful. But No Elephants - check it out, even if you're not a little kid. I still have my copy and I still love it.)

One of the hard things about editing a book is trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together - and whether all those pieces are even right. I write like I read, so I'm more inclined to focus on characters and leave the setting to the bare-bones. So, as an author and as a curious fellow reader, I'm asking: What do you like most about fantasy fiction? (Got any good book suggestions?)Really... What makes you read?

Drowning in Books! (Save Me!)

I have a Plan.Starting this weekend, I will begin the frightening process of re-working part of book 1, which could really use some TLC.

However, I also have a Problem. I have been engulfed by other books! Help! I just meant to read one, I swear! But then it sort of grew and morphed and took over and now I'm drowning in books! I just can't stop READING!

The Plan will still happen. But it will be easier if I can somehow pull myself out of the sea of stories... so if you see me, throw me a rope! You can look for me in any of these books:

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher Bleach by Tite Kubo The Mercedes Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs The Vampire Files by P. N. Elrod The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin Myst by Rand and Robyn Miller and David Wingrove

Alternatively, you can throw another book recommendation my way. I may drown, but I will drown happy! :)