Friday, January 31, 2014

Literary Tattoos


I am a fan of the idea that you can personalize your body to suit your own tastes. I think everyone has run across at least one book, poem, essay or passage that has fundamentally impacted their lives, and some have chosen to personalize their bodies with images from those books that have become part of who they are. Here are some awesome tattoos that were inspired by literary works.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: "Avalon" by Mindee Arnett

Not all space adventures are created equal. That's something I forget sometimes whenever I pick up a new sci-fi novel and settle down for an epic space adventure. I'm admittedly a little bit picky when it comes to this genre and there are a few things that will ruin a book for me, like when the answer to everything is "aliens" or there's no science to back up the miraculous devices that have made life in the distant future so strange and magnificent.

Avalon by Mindee Arnett managed to dodge both of those troublesome hangups and tell me a great story in addition, full of emotion, adventure, and creative settings far from our pale blue dot. Living on a space station and in the employ of an intergalactic crime lord, Jeth Seagrave heads a group of elite teenage thieves. But none of them are expecting their latest assignment: to recover a missing ship from the Belgrave Quadrant, the Bermuda Triangle of space. Jeth and his sister Lizzie, also part of the crew, have a history with the Belgrave: it's where their parents were exploring on their ship, the Avalon, before the Interstellar Transport Authority arrested them, and they were executed by the Confederacy. Jeth and Lizzie were too young to remember much, but this assignment might mean they can finally look for some answers.

For Jeth, this mission also means getting himself and Lizzie out from under crime lord Hammer Dafoe's thumb. If he succeeds in retrieving the lost ship from the Belgrave, Hammer will give him back his parents' ship and let him leave on his own adventures. But Jeth doesn't trust Hammer to follow through on his end of the bargain, and so when the abandoned ship in the Belgrave turns out to be more than Jeth was told to expect, all bets are off. Caught between warring political giants Hammer and the ITA, Jeth's primary concern becomes getting Lizzie, Avalon, and the rest of his crew away from the assignment alive. His own future is far less certain.

Arnett's vision of the future, with metatech that allows for interstellar travel and people who spend their whole lives on space stations, was to me both engaging and entirely conceivable. I especially liked how she described the recycled air of the space stations, and how the gravity drive didn't feel quite as real as being planetside. There's also some good subtext concerning resource exploitation when it comes to metatech, what it really is, and how humans (specifically the ITA) use it.

Jeth's family history plays into the story line perfectly, informing a lot of the decisions he makes in a very genuine way. I admired how smoothly his perspectives and goals changed as the book unfolded, revealing new information to him that changed his priorities in ways that didn't take too much explanation, given what we already know about him as a person. Sierra was another dynamic character whose development I really appreciated as a reader. While Jeth is an open book to us from the beginning, his hopes and concerns presented honestly to us from the beginning, Sierra is a mystery. What we know about her, her past, and her intentions, we find out as Jeth does. Trying to guess which parts of her character were genuine and which ones were misdirection or facades added another good dimension of suspense to the book, in addition to the more direct ones between Jeth, Hammer, and the ITA.

The end of the book is set up perfectly for a sequel, with two (to my mind) key issues left unresolved: Dax's intentions and the ITA's experiments with new metadrive technology. These are hefty issues with huge implications, some of them very personal for Jeth, Lizzie and Sierra, but the main conflicts in the first book are closed quite neatly by the end of this installment of the bigger story. I feel like I know there's another book coming, but this is the perfect for the characters and I both to take a breath before tackling the next part of the adventure. I'm interested in how the larger issues pan out, but I'm not slavering for the next book like I sometimes am (see my review of Shadowand Bone by Leigh Bardugo).

If you like sci-fi in the vein of Ender's Game that focuses on humanity in the context of a wider universe, with little to no romance and characters that draw you into their futuristic world, their situations, pick up a copy of Avalon by Mindee Arnett. You can get your copy from a friendly bookseller at your favorite independent neighborhood bookstore. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fantasy Writing Tips from George R. R. Martin:

While I may not have read his best-selling Song of Ice and Fire series, there is no way I can't admire the success he's had as a writer. I'm not just talking about his sales numbers or the HBO show, either; I'm really talking about the way in which Martin captures his audience, drawing them into the world of the Seven Kingdoms to the point that they become almost fanatical about the story. That kind of writing deserves respect, so when Martin releases fantasy writing tips, I as a writer sit up and listen. Here's hoping these suggestions give you some insight into your own work as well as Martin's!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo

The great battles between Good and Evil are part of the quintessential appeal of fantasy books. But that much-loved trope needs to be presented in new and exciting ways to keep us intrigued and actually wondering which will triumph this time: darkness or light?

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo offers all this and more, with some of the most creative and engaging world-building that I've read in recent memory. The dream in Ravka is to be discovered with a magical talent and taken to join the Grisha, a collective of sorcerers who form Ravka's Second Army. But orphans Alina and Mal, raised in the same home, have no such powers to help lift them out of their harsh life in the First Army. But while he is making a name for himself as a talented tracker and ladies' man, Alina remains a relatively untalented cartographer without much promise for greatness.

But all that changes the day that their company is sent through the Shadow Fold, a band of dark magic that spreads across the middle of Ravka, bisecting the country. Despite the protection of the Grisha, parties passing through the Shadow Fold are often attacked by the horrific creatures who live there in the dark. When that happens to Alina and Mal's group, a long-dormant power bursts forth from Alina, catapulting her into the world of the Grisha as a hero, as the key to banishing the Shadow Fold, and as the pet of the most powerful Grisha of all, the Darkling.

The evolution of this great story feels truly natural, with a nervous and out-of-place Alina becoming accustomed to her new life of combination hard work and luxury. She catches herself enjoying it even as she guiltily thinks of Mal, how he was left behind when the Darkling spirited her away to the capitol. Alina experiences rites of passage like new friendships, old aches, misplaced emotions and self-discovery, all while working with the Darkling in search of an end to the Shadow Fold. I felt like I was there with her every step of the way, learning and actively wondering what the ultimate outcome would be.

I'm usually pretty good at guessing who the antiheroes are in books like this, but at least partially because I was so invested in Alina, I was totally blindsided by the big betrayal here. I was honestly upset by it, which also served to feed my connection with Alina as she tried to find her way out of the nightmare her life had just become. But by the end of the book my heart was mending right along with Alina's in a turnaround that was fast but genuine, with no forced feeling at all in the writing or between the characters.

The only disappointment for me came when Alina was trying to find away around the device controlling her power toward the end of the story. Without giving away too many details, the person who betrayed her seems to have an unbreakable hold on Alina's unique magic. It looked like such an impossible situation to escape, my mind was teeming with all sorts of ideas, plans, and speculation about how things would turn around. The simplicity of the answer really did help underscore the separation between good and evil, but it was also a bit disappointing compared with some of the ideas that my imagination had cooked up in the suspense.

Shadow and Bone and its sequel, Siege and Storm, are available right now, and the final book in the trilogy will be released in June. To illustrate how excited I am about these books, I'll tell you that I already have my copy of the third book pre-ordered! If you like City of Bones, Divergent, or other dark, intrigue-heavy fantasy, you'll want to pick up a copy of Shadow and Bone right now. You can do that at your favorite local, independent bookstore.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Harry Potter Jokes

In September of 2013 new cover art for the Harry Potter books was released. If you haven't gotten around to looking at the latest editions yet, check them out here! I'm not a particularly avid Harry Potter fan, but I was disappointed when it was announced that Harry Potter postal stamps would only feature images from the movies. It doesn't seem the proper sort of tribute for an iconic series. The new covers, on the other hand, feature impressive original art by Kazu Kibuishi. And you get a pretty cool image of Hogwarts formed by the spines when all seven are correctly ordered on your bookshelf, which is a nice touch.

Just in case looking at these much-beloved books gets you feeling nostalgic, here are some Harry Potter jokes to lighten the mood!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: "Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince" by Bree Despain

Honestly, I have never been a fan of the "teen rock star" theme in some YA literature. I mean, most of us wanted to get out of our hometown and be successful after high school, but having never cultivated an interest in celebrity lifestyles, I think I somehow skipped that particular teenage dream of life as a rock star. Which made me a little bit hesitant to pick up Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince, the latest from Bree Despain, since it deals in part with a teenage music prodigy trying to make a name for herself. But the rest of the premise, full of re-imagined Greek mythology and dire fates, made me try it out anyway. Boy, am I glad I did.

Our protagonists play out a modern version of the ancient tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, with some very well-executed adjustments. Haden is an Underlord trying to regain his honor by completing a task that will save the Underworld from losing its power, and possibly reignite an ancient battle between Underlords and Sky gods. But Daphne, the girl with whom Haden is tasked to return to the Underworld, isn't wild about her supposed fate. She'd much rather continue to hone her musical talents, earn a scholarship to university, and start a career in the music industry. But the farther she tries to run, the more she finds herself caught up in events with Haden and his bizarre mission. Soon they're uncovering secrets about missing girls, consulting oracles in Las Vegas, and finding out that their fates go deeper than either of them was ever told.

In this first installment of what's sure to be another successful series (Despain is also the author of The Dark Divine books), the author takes a lot of inspiration from the original Greek myth but doesn't copy it exactly. She adds her own twists and details, both about Orpheus's escape from the Underworld and what took place after the myth ends that seamlessly build into and inform her tale of present-day Haden and Daphne. Granted, some of the connections to the Greek myth are almost painfully literal, like their Hollywood neighborhood being called Olympus Hills or Daphne's mother being a representation of Demeter, the Greek earth goddess. But other parts, like Orpheus's child and the key to the gates of the Underworld, are pretty darn creative and interesting.

Daphne's particular talent with and affinity for music are also a great touch that turns out to be more and more important as the story progresses. She's a great role model for teen readers in that instead of breaking out as the next big teen rock idol and becoming an overnight celebrity, Daphne wants to pursue an education while she works her way into the music world through her own talent. Granted, she has an absentee rock star dad to model exactly who she doesn't want to be. But that sort of connection in the musical big leagues can be a real asset, not to be rejected out of spite, and I was very much impressed when another character made that point to Daphne. For a dramatic YA read, Into the Dark does a great job of balancing viewpoints, which is a testament to Despain's writing talent.

Hayden's character is also fairly genuine, and I get the feeling that the author had some real fun imagining all the human things with that an Underlord would struggle to understand. Chimichangas and girls seem to especially confuse Haden, which feels about right to me. I had a hard time with some of the references that he made to creatures from the Underworld, though. Of course it's been a while since my last lecture on Greek mythology, but I had to look up what the heck the Keres are, as there was a great back story but no real explanation in the book. I found the same problem when the character Brimstone was introduced, and for a while had absolutely no clue what kind of a creature she was.

As I mentioned, this is the first what will be a new series by Despain. It left off at a point that was well-balanced between anticipation for what happens next, and a natural break in the series of events. Even days after I finished the book, I'd be brushing my teeth or folding laundry and think "Ooh, I should find out what happens next!" Then I'd have to remind myself that I'd already read everything so far. It's not a driving, obsessive interest but rather one that sneaks into your subconscious and snags you there, which to me is even more impressive than something that keeps me up all night to finish. I'm wondering about characters that Despain has created even when my mind is at rest, which to me really indicates that the author has made me care about her book more than I maybe intended to at the onset.

Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince will be available at your favorite local, independent bookstore starting on March 11, 2014. If you love the power of music, like new takes on Greek folklore, or are just ready for some paranormal action that doesn't involve vampires or werewolves, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014 Reading Bingo

Reading Bingo Card

Anyone want to join me for a Random House reading bingo challenge this year? And if you're really feeling confident, try replacing that Free Square with either "A Book by a Male Author" or "A Book by a Minority Author," whichever one you find you read less. Because who doesn't like trying to broaden their reading horizons? Some of my favorite books have started out as unlikely candidates.

On another note for regular readers of this blog, there are some exciting sequels being released soon! Here are some that you might recognize:

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, sequel to A Natural History of Dragons

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: "Silent Sky" by Cate Mighell

Maybe you're one of those lucky people fleeing the dreary winter for a week of vacation time somewhere warm and sandy. We Pacific Northwest natives love our little corner of the world, but we pay for it with some of the lowest Vitamin D levels in the nation. But before you go jetting off to your hard-earned vacation in the sun, you'll need to pick up the perfect book to bring along with you.

That book should be Silent Sky, a self-published mystery novel by Cate Mighell. In the story, Seattle-based public defender Reina Dessiner has been handed an impossible case: her client, the wife of a prominent and wealthy evangelist, has been accused of trying to poison her husband. But she hasn't spoken a word since her initial arrest and the confession that she blurted out at the time. Reina is convinced that there's more to the story, especially after her investigation results in escalating attacks against herself and her friends from shadowy people involved with the evangelist church. Soon Reina and company are dodging sport boats on Lake Union, getting locked in industrial freezers, and escaping to remote cabins on the Olympic Peninsula while they try to unravel what really happened between the client, Maria, and her husband.

In addition to being a public defender, Reina is an accomplished personal aircraft pilot. Aside from providing her with an outlet for stress and a place to think, it serves as transportation for her and her companions as they work to uncover the truth behind the court case and Maria's confession. Small aircraft enthusiasts will appreciate Mighell's experience with and obvious love of flying, as both are reflected in the detail with which she discusses flying, from the exhilaration down to the mechanics and protocol.

Mighell pays great attention to setting details, too. She refers to and includes well-known Seattle settings like Pioneer Square and the restaurant atop the Space Needle. These details add a lot of immersion to the reading experience, if ones is familiar with the area. But if the reader has no frame of reference for some of these popular Seattle spots, it may be difficult to fully envision the setting.

While there are some deep inspirational messages in this book about finding your voice, writing the story of your life, and other themes of freedom, overall this is an interesting and enjoyable but light read. Bring it with you to stay close to our beloved - if dreary - Pacific Northwest the next time you take that jaunt off somewhere with a little less rain, or decide to curl up on the couch for an evening. Since Silent Sky is a self-published novel, your best bet for getting your hands on a copy is to contact author Cate Mighell directly here, through her website. She'll be able to get you a copy directly, or point you toward a local book store like this one that has her book in stock. Happy reading!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Classics and the Female Reading Experience


Male readers, don't be scared away by the title of this post! As a female myself, I can only comment on my personal reading experience, hence the headline here.

Literature has traditionally been dominated by white men, as is especially apparent in literary canon. Writers from Hemmingway to Kerouac to Joyce are all celebrated, talented writers, and their work continues to have an influence on the writing world today. But they all have particular ways in which they see women, as well, and those are not always complementary. In fact, sometimes they can be downright mean, and that strongly influences the way in which different genders read the same famous texts.

This excellent article by Amanda Hess examines the way some female readers and writers have approached works by the "midcentury misogynists," how they as women interpreted the texts, and their reactions. There is input from male reader/writers too, to keep the topic open to all genders. It's truly a great article, and I highly recommend checking it out! It may give you a new perspective on some classic texts.