Tag Archives: fiction

Book Top Recs and Why

Due to me being a pudge this weekend while getting over bronchitis (again), I have a list for this week’s post, one I’ve been wanting to post for a while. My bio has some of my favorite writers listed, but that doesn’t really explain some of my favorite books. I cheat and do a few series, just because sometimes it’s hard to break a single away from the whole (those who remember my Top 10 Favorite Movies will remember this trait of mine). Otherwise, well, welcome to my influences. Not calling this a top 10 list because…well, I had to narrow myself down, and I wasn’t paying attention to count.

Goddess of the Rose by P. C. Cast
As much as I love to flambe The House of Night series (and ohhhh, do I love to use that as bonfire starting fuel), Goddess of the Rose will always hold a special place for me. Not only was it my first adult romance novel, but it combined so many of my own personal quirks that it still has a pride-of-place position on my bookshelf. If you’ve read too much of Cast’s work, the magic system is going to seem painfully familiar, and there are obvious romance tropes that are just going to have to be suffered through, but it still remains a personal favorite for the characters and plot.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
I use a specific book, because I am surprisingly apathetic about a large chunk of the rest of the series at this point in my life, but Half-Blood Prince for some reason hits this perfect balance of the personal problems that are always on Harry’s mind at the same time as trying to save the world from an evil wizard. It helps that Voldemort finally gets some much needed back story and character fleshing out that he becomes a real villain to my mind. The characters are also at a more relate-able age, rather than being pre-teens or very young teens. It isn’t an easy book to just jump into the series with, but if you’ve been in it for the long-haul, it hits you right in all the emotional weak spots.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The first classic to find its way on my list, yes, you are going to have to wade through literature language to get through it. (Give these poor folks a break, they were paid by the word.) But Mary’s and Colin’s character growth will make it totally worth it, as you watch these two children find family in each other and grow beyond what is expected of them. The ending is a tear-jerker, and just brings it all together. At times the spoiled behavior in the beginning and the cold attitudes of the adults can be really wearing, but the moments of goodness makes up for it in my mind.

The Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher
So far a quartet (though I suspect this is a come-back-to-when-I-have-ideas series for Fletcher), there’s a lot to like about this series in my opinion and a lot to be irked about it. It’s sort of a pick-and-chose thing. I wish the romances were better written, since sometimes those plots feel forced. It does this weird jump from medieval, high fantasy to urban fantasy from book three to book four, which takes some twisting of the brain. But at the same time, it’s dragons. I’m easily pleased by dragons.

Green Rider by Kristen Britain
See my review for a more thorough review, but yes, this makes high on my rec list. Just so many moments I love in this book, and the character growth is awesome.

The Unicorn Chronicles: The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville
This series was the one that got me into fantasy and my big unicorn kick. The relationship between Cara and Lightfoot in Song of the Wanderer just struck me for some reason, and The Last Hunt is the conclusion I’ve been waiting for half my life for (literally in two senses: it took him a while to finish, and omg, my eleven year old fanfic idea actually came true, I died when I found out, just died). I feel like there’s a lot more to this world that could be fleshed out, but at the same time it gives a sense of completion to things that I don’t want him to mess with. (Okay, I want Lightfoot/Cara fluff. But I’m a sap, this is a given.)

Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce
Female power figures are sort of my jam, and Kel is a perfect fit. The first girl to publicly go for her knighthood after the king passed the law allowing it, she faces bullying and sexism while she goes through the physically and mentally exhaustive process of being a noble warrior. She faces the trials of war, and proves her character when everyone sane would have turned back. But don’t let that fool you, there are moments of pure  humor in these books, particularly Squire, that always make me giggle.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Classic number two, and if you are surprised to see it here…do you read this blog? Because I think my horse-obsession is pretty clear, and it actually used to be worse before I was a teenager (if you can imagine that). I’ve read multiple versions of this story, seen multiple films, and all of them have at least a touch of the charm that makes the whole thing so enjoyable. There’s some preachy moments and getting used to the narrator being a horse, but I think it is an excellent story with heart.

Rangers Apprentice by John Fletcher
Speaking of heart, ugh, this series. This is the series that I actually ordered a dinky little book from New Zealand for an outrageous amount of money because I couldn’t wait for the American print of the next one in the series. I read the stories in chronological order, so short stories before the last book, and that made the knife to the heart that much harder. I was crying, I was throwing things, Ginny can testify that I did not handle this well…because that’s how hard Fletcher makes you feel. I haven’t read any of his other works (I’m still nursing my broken heart, okay?), but I highly recommend this one, obviously.

White Fang by Jack London
The last technical classic, I don’t know why this book jives with me as much as it does. I’m not a dog person, I’m not a wilderness person…I’m a snow person, but only if I don’t have to drive in it. Maybe it’s because it’s the exact opposite of Black Beauty, and makes no apologies that it’s central protagonist is an animal who doesn’t understand humanity. Maybe it’s watching White Fang grow, and change, and adapt. I don’t know, but I recommend reading it.

The Immortals by Tamora Pierce
…She’s my favorite writer, she’s going to be on this list twice. Deal with it. 😛 Daine was actually the first of her characters that I read, and hooked me on the whole world. It combines this whole magic-and-animals-and-character-growth theme I’ve been having on this list. Emperor Mage has my big moment of heartbreak, Realm of the Gods has my moment of squee, but without Wild Magic and Wolf Speaker, we never would have gotten there, and it’s so important to see the growth and change that happens. Also, Daine is sassy and Numair gives as good as he gets, it’s hysterical.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
I loved the movie, I’m gonna love the book. I have the special edition with the short story that serves as a sort of epilogue, which I think helps with my satisfaction level. Everything I love about the movie is still true about this book, though I feel like the plot is a little heavy with the additions that text allowed him (such as all the business with Lir and the prophecy and whatnot). The extra fleshing out is great if you are already familiar with the story, but might be a little hard on those coming in blind.

Brightly Burning by Mercedes Lackey
Another first for me as far as this being the book that introduced me to Valdemar (boy, that was a mistake), I picked it up on clearance and never looked back. Lan really just resonated with me at the time. I hadn’t dealt with the bullying history I had in an emotionally healthy way, and Lan went through such a similar experience that it almost made me cry right from the beginning. Then just when things start to get better…war came, and ruined everything. Just all the feels. All of them. I wouldn’t call the ending happy…but it is satisfying even in the tragedy, which is all I can ask of it.

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Writing: Fanfiction is Awesome! (But I can’t read fics for my own stuff)

So, as a writer, I actually love fanfiction. For those ignorant about what that is, it’s when you write a story about another’s work, basically playing with their toys, sometimes with your own thrown in for funsies. And there is a rule about it. Eighty percent of it, if not more…is crap. Pure and simple. But the other ten percent is usually just as rewarding as the original medium, if not more so (spoken as someone who used to stroll through the Twilight fanfiction sites until the fourth book came out and ruined any tolerance I had for the series). Fanfic can be written about almost anything, from books to tv shows to movies to plays. The sky is the limit.

What is it about fanfiction I like so much? Well, some of it is a personal thing. I like cute fluff, and most writers don’t indulge me with enough of this. For completely understandable reasons, of course. You have to keep the plot moving, even in romances (which is usually sex, but that’s another need entirely), and in other books your romance is very much a subplot. Sometimes, writers frustrate the tar out of me and I want to read more about the characters and the world without their personal quirks or writing style frustrating me (Hello, Butcher…). In some cases, the series ends and I need more for resolution (Hello, Blood +).

But the biggest reason is because of what it does for aspiring writers or even people who just write for a hobby. I was almost completely self-taught until my junior/senior year of college, and fanfiction writing was really the best practice I could have ever asked for. I didn’t have to try and world-build, which is something that really takes practice and time that when I was first starting, I didn’t have the patience for. Learning how to write a character (even if they weren’t mine) and keep them consistent with their already determined personality, how to plot a story from beginning to end (admittedly not the best of plots at times), and even how to write believable dialogue, were all skills I developed when writing fanfiction. I also learned more about fleshing out original characters to match the ones in the fanfic (and developed my hatred of the term “Mary Sue,” but see this post for that.)

I honestly think there are some real gems out there, even for series that I might hate for some reason. For example, Naruto about drives me nuts in the series (and I hate the couples revealed at the end, or at least some of them). But House Calls is amazing and full of fluff and squee. I write fanfiction myself, at the moment mostly whenever something in the original series starts frustrating me (Dresden and Sly Cooper) rather than out of practice. I always encourage beginning writers to start with fanfiction before tackling their own stuff. It helps them get some basic tools before they tackle the huge amount of work an original novel, or even an original short story, can be.

The strangest part of the fanfiction world, at least in my opinion, is writers who take extreme steps to make sure that no one writes fanfic for their work. it blows my mind, if only because… Well, first off, it’s going to be written regardless. It’s a pointless fight to pick. And for another, it’s really a compliment, if you think about it. Someone loves your characters or world enough to write stuff about them. Take the compliment and enjoy it, really. But I can respect some writers feeling like it’s a back-handed compliment (remember why I’m writing it right now?).

That all being said, I have policies about writers and fanfiction. It’s actually one of my Cardinal Rules. (I have three of them.) It’s a big one. It’s simple really. Writers can’t read fanfic for their own stuff. Seriously. No. I have a couple of reasons behind this. For one thing, while there is no such thing as a completely original idea (and there isn’t), reading fanfic could give you ideas you wouldn’t normally have. Or even if you don’t have the same idea, just reading any fanfic gives someone who does have same idea as you the grounds to claim you read their work and stole it. It’s a giant legal nightmare. On the other side of it…remember that first paragraph? Eighty percent. It’s almost impossible not to cringe when it’s characters you love. If it’s characters you make? Oh lord, that just makes me shudder.

So I gave one of my favorite fics a shout out. Anyone have their own to call out?

As a bit of news, I will be changing my posts to Sunday, and maybe a random one in the week. I’m just stupid busy the rest of the time in the week right now with fair coming up.


Review: Dresden Files 15–Skin Game

Sorry this is a day late. I had a bit too much good news yesterday, and the excitement wore me out. So. The final Dresden File book! At least until Peace Talks comes out. 😛 BTW, a friend and I have official reached the level of, “Okay, we’re going to make this crack fanfic verse out of FRUSTRATION!” And because I’m a King Arthur story nut. Anyway.

Skin Game starts off with Harry running around the prison doing…Parkour. Yeah, you read that right. But it doesn’t last long. Mab needs him to step up as Winter Knight to work with Nicodemus. And to insure it, she has leverage over Harry. If he doesn’t, he will die from the parasite living in his head that helped save his life during his attempted suicide. So he has to struggle to keep his white hat on straight. In the meantime, he worries over the effect the mantle is taking on him and how it is going to change him. Will he become a monster, or is he just too much in his head? (Though he’s obviously not that either!)

So, to begin. Butcher gets huge props for this book. Seriously. Okay, the tone starts off a little weird and disjointed from the rest. But it gets better, and I mean lots. It was exciting, constant surprises and conflict. And the ending was perfect. I knew something was going on, this time, but Harry was suitably quiet about it. Did it sometimes irk the tar out of me that Butcher used the same turn of phrase the entire book? Yes. I wanted to whack him if he mentioned keeping something close to the chest one more time. But I didn’t suspect what the twist was, and yet it didn’t feel out of left field. He finally found a balance to the suspense and mystery aspect.

Character wise, the little girls stole the show. Maggie, obviously, and the parasite. (Yeah, I’ll spoil you on that one.) Maggie seemed a little too young at times (she’s supposed to be ten, Butcher, not seven), but her personality was great. She was very much her own character, and I worried she’d be too much like Ivy. A concern I no longer need to have. I like how she was this source of conflict for Harry and the worries he now has as a father. Though speaking of being a father.. The parasite, we didn’t get to see much of her, but the entire concept of it was hysterical. I just hope Butcher gives her an actual name in the next book. (I’ve been calling her Suli, an epithet for Minerva. It seems appropriate.) I have to wonder where he’s going with this creation. Was she just a loose end? Is she a part of something much bigger? I don’t know.

Shout out, because I am also a Greek myth nerd. I loved Hades. Absolutely loved. And this makes how many of us now who subscribe to the theory that Persephone willingly married Hades…?

World building wise, I thought that this actually did some good things. Once again, he brought in one new element, worked on some others, and that works well for him. It seems like as long as he doesn’t devote the whole book to a new aspect, he does better about keeping the information from being completely overwhelming. However, as much as I love Hades… I don’t know how I feel about the Greek myths being brought into the Dresden verse. It was already horribly complicated, and now adding yet another layer to the Nevernever and the power of belief just… It just might be more than even a series this long can handle. We’ll see.

I didn’t have as much bad to say about this book, but now I’m going to talk about the series as a whole. Maybe it’s because I never really got into huge series outside of the Saddle Club, The Babysitters Club, and Nancy Drew, but it seems to me that this is all a really big project that honestly, without a devoted fanbase, would have fallen apart books ago. It’s very hit or miss as far as whether the plot is going to work or the world building elements will be overwhelming or not. I think Butcher is doing the same thing I’m currently doing, where I throw things at the wall and see what sticks. And I think kind of learned what not to do from him, as far as how much new stuff can be handled, how many times can you really almost end the world in three days… I think Butcher really needs a reader who reads a book and knows what they are doing so they can tell him honestly what they think about it. Not an agent or his publisher, but a beta reader. I know without mine, I’d be lost.

Alright, next week I’ll be back with some sort of RPG or writing thing, and then I have a new YA book to read and review. I’ll review Peace Talks as soon as it comes out though, and keep making it a regular occurrence when it happens. See you Thursday!


Review: Dresden Files 14–Cold Days

At last! Family is out of my house, and I’ve had a chance to read Cold Days. Hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, I got a cold, so this post might be short. Now let’s see what trouble Harry has gotten himself into now…

Physical therapy has never been exciting until you’ve had the fae version, or so we start out with. Harry has to recover from his brush with death, which is not easy to do when you are also in training as the new Winter Knight. Mab has no mercy…and for good reason. Her first task for Harry borders on the impossible. To make matters worse, he has to try and find balance with finding his place in the normal world again, despite no longer clearly being on the good side. And what on earth is going on with Demonreach? Oh, only the potential end of the world. And a lot of trouble for Harry even if he does manage to save things again. Nothing major.

A lot of this book was me sitting here, on my couch. Swearing. Loudly. My friend (who has read all of these) laughing at me. Yeah. But…there were a few hiccups, like what I’m coming to realize is always going to be the case with this series. Usually where there was the bad, there was some good though, so it was managed to balance out better than it usually did.

To begin with, there was some issues balancing out the world building. On one hand, we were dealing a lot more in depth with the fae than we ever have before. (And I might regret saying that, but from where I’m sitting… yes, more than ever before.) So that’s a lot of information. But we’ve got Demonreach’s secret going on, we’ve got more information about what happened when Harry “died,” we’ve got Outsiders and Gatekeeper and just… Too much going on, man. And to make it worse, the first fourth or so of the book sets up for basically fae adventures only…and then we’re back in Chicago and it’s total whiplash. And it’s a weird pace compared to the rest of the book. Overall, kind of a clunky transition. I get why he did it, and I like the details it gives us. But it just creates a clear dividing line in the book between sections.

Plot wise, it takes a bit for him to get going. I blame the last book being such a plot-spinner book. It didn’t give him quite as neat of a jumping off point as he normally has. So he had to actually deal with some mess he left behind, and that just takes time. But then once he gets going… the plot is more than a little amusing. I repeat, I was swearing. Not the, “Oh lord, I want to throw this book at the WALL,” swearing, but the, “This is too cool for proper words!” kind. It starts to get clunky at the end, but I’ve about decided that Butcher just doesn’t know how to handle loose ends. He wants to throw all these things together, but he struggles with weaving everything together until he starts knocking out parts so he can focus on two or three.

Character wise… I have mixed feelings. Some of my favorites get little to no screen time in these recent books. I mean, Thomas at least has his moments, but… I miss Ramirez. I miss Michael. I miss all these characters that helped us remember Harry’s humanity. I think we really need to see more of them, or all that nerfing we just did of Harry’s character is going to be lost. I’m also REALLY getting annoyed over how many female characters keep dying. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have issues with character death period. It’s usually done for shock value rather than anything else. But the proportions of main character deaths between the girls and the boys is feeling off to me.

Overall, Cold Days was a fun read. I enjoyed the excitement of it once it got going, and there were some character moments that shone through. But I think it is possibly the worst book for a first time reader to pick up, making it incapable of existing outside of the series, which I think is a problem. And then on top of that, even for a long time reader, there was some serious clunkiness and issues with the world building.

I would say more, but… Cold. Headache. I have work in the morning. I’m interesting in hearing other opinions though. Any highlights (or lowlights) from this one catch your eye? Comment and let me know!


Review: The Dresden Files–Side Jobs

Since I still haven’t gotten my hands on Cold Days, I thought I would read the short story anthology, since it was published before hand anyway. A collection of various short stories, most were written under the theme of a different anthology that Butcher participated in. Most were through the traditional point of view of Harry, but some strayed into some welcome new POVs, including Thomas and Murphy.

The stories were wildly different from each other. Some were rather humorous, such as Harry struggling with all the petty concerns of his day off which ended up being a normal day. Others were very serious, such as the novella about Murphy handling the loss of Dresden. And some hit my nerves, such as the Night of the Living Brews. But it was quite a collection, and there some good parts to it and some bad to it.

When it comes to plots, some were better and more complete than others. You could tell where Butcher was just throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck, and when he had something actually planned out. Really, of all of them, I only liked two for their plots. One was the one that hit my nerve, the Night of the Living Brews, surprisingly. While I didn’t like Harry making light of what was going to happen to the kidnapped bride, I did think structurally, it was well thought out and equally well executed. It also did what an anthology short story was supposed to do, which is give us glimpses of the characters and world going on behind the scenes, rather than throwing a ton of information at us. My other favorite was actually the one that Butcher wrote for our shared teacher, Professor Deborah Chester. It was also very well structured and I loved the message that was in it. And oh my gee, bet cop Murphy!

The rest were sort of eh. Some I felt like were beating dead horses, such as the one centered around Michael. Others were just far too busy for my tastes, with just too much going on. I get that he was trying to do that to poor Harry and Anastasia, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. And while Aftermath was great… It was too much. I could tell it was a novella, not a short story, and combined with the short blips, it just… It felt too long and too clunky. I thought it had a good point to it, I thought it was fairly well written. I just don’t think it belonged in this anthology. I think it needed either published separately or expanded upon or something. It was just awkward.

I love the depth these short stories helped add to characters. From grown Will and Georgia, to Thomas, to Murphy, to even Uriel. All of them really got a chance to shine in these books. Even Harry got a different take, since we got to see him how Thomas and Murphy saw him rather than just how he sees himself. Considering how important she becomes, I’m surprised we don’t get anything from Molly, or hell, even something from Mouse. (God, Mouse’s point of view, that would be humor.) As I said, I had a few of my old issues with female character portrayals again, but whether because he didn’t have the length or he realized it, it wasn’t so bad that I threw the book.

Some elements in the stories were very obviously from previous books. Things such as the vampire Courts, the Valkyries, even the crime scene in Chicago. He merely expanded upon them, which is awesome to see. I love all the little bits that never make it into books but the author does think about. But all that being said, I think there were issues when he was introducing new things. I don’t remember the Oblivion Wars even being mentioned, and while seeing Thomas do things on his own was cool, I just had issues connecting because I’m going, “What the heck were these and why can’t I remember them? Irony!” It eventually came up again (sort of) with the psychic link via beer goddess, but it was still clunky in my head. But that’s my opinion.

Overall, I liked these a lot. I loved the little glimpses into the relationships between characters that they offered, and how easy they were to read and track through. Butcher didn’t get tangled up in his own ideas nearly as much, and for me, it made a drastic improvement. Some spots were a little prickly, and I feel like the tone gave whiplash with the way the stories were arranged, but that can easily be placed on when they were published in the writing process and just not thinking about how one story will ready after having followed another. I kinda hope he does some more of these!


Writing: Updates and Arc Writing

So, here’s a new sort of thing… I’m talking my personal writing here, for those who care. It’s been a crazy time, with the move and changing from being a student to a full-time (if temp) job. I had a hard time finding the energy to write.

But then Thanksgiving break happened. I don’t know why my brain suddenly went, “Dude, dude, we should WRITE!” but it did. I pushed through the entire first act/arc at last. And then this last weekend, I’ve not only gotten all of the second act plotted, but I’ve got bits and pieces of the rest now figured in my head. Not to mention all the stuff that has to happen in later books because of time reasons that I’ve come up with. I think Caley’s series is working out to be a fun project. If I can’t get it to sell, I might publish them on Kindle.

Part of what I think is making this so much fun to write is every time I come up with an idea, I figure out a place where it can go. Everything is sticking to the walls, and I have enough story that it isn’t going to be rushed by doing it this way. I’m not even limited by age demographic as much as I normally am. Mind, there is a very clear dividing line where I go, “Okay, twelve through fourteen is now iffy for appropriateness,” and I’m keeping all the adult ideas on a list to do if this series works out well. It’s just…what I can come up with and making it all work. It’s exciting instead of editing myself, going, “Nooo, that’s silly, or inappropriate or just WEIRD.”

The big thing I’m doing different is how I’m doing my plotting. For the future books, I have…one paragraph. Maybe two, if I’ve just been exploding with ideas (which I have for the second and third). It’s really just the very basics: what’s my A plot, what’s my B plot, who are my villains, little ideas that I need to get written down SOMEWHERE so I don’t forget them… That’s it. For the book I’m currently on, besides my paragraph, I’m also plotting by arcs within acts, which is so different from what I normally do, but I’m liking it.

Explanation on what that last bit means: rather than plotting the WHOLE book out, chapter by chapter, I instead break the book into three acts: first, second, and third. First act is all set up for the novel, what the situation is before God (a.k.a. you the writer) throws a monkey wrench into everything. Third is the ending, the climax of the novel and the wrap up, which you want the wrap up to be as short as possible. The second is, put simply, everything in between. But an act is not the same thing as an arc. Why? Because of that silly second act. It actually has a mid-point, a turning point in the plot where things go weird, which divides it in half. So when I plot by acts, I have three…but by arc, I have four.

It forces me to stay with Caley and what her immediate goals are. It’s weird, because I only sort of know what’s going on in the third arc. (I used to not know what was going on in the ending either, but idea explosion and yeah.) Normally, I know down to the detail what happens in the book. But that’s the problem. I’m either so obsessed with my details or the overall picture, I don’t stay with the main protagonist and the scenes become…muddled. It’s easier this time, I think, even with a character like Caley.

Oh lord, Caley. I had to completely scrap one start to this book because she rubbed my proofreader the wrong way. It wasn’t necessarily her personality, but the way I was writing her. I wasn’t letting the reader get to know her under the bad attitude before I threw her worst behavior at them. So making sure I don’t throw my proofreader off again is going to be a continuing challenge, I think. Caley is very much her own person, so I have to handle her in situations the right way or she might go complete antagonist on me and that is not the plan. But she is well balanced by the unicorns… (Yes, there are unicorns. It is amazing.)

So there is where I’m at with my book! Hopefully the writing continues to flow so I can get it out there for you all to enjoy.


Review: The Dresden Files 13–Ghost Story

Sorry for my flakiness. I had some personal stuff going on, and when that happens, sadly the blog must take a backseat. However, I did have a very productive Thanksgiving vacation from work. I’ll talk more about it on Thursday. For now, onwards with the Dresden!

Ghost Story picks up right where Changes let off… Sort of. Harry is now dead, but he isn’t at the gates of St. Peter or about to take Dante’s tour of Hell in a more permanent nature. Instead, he’s being sent back to clean up a few messes lingering after his demise. But there is more at stake than even Harry knows, as more than his ghost returns with him and a few old enemies linger in unexpected places.

So, things that went really well in this book. Characters! It was nice to see Harry knocked down to near-Muggle levels. He needed the wake-up and we as readers needed to see him as at least moderately equal to us rather than so greater than life like he has been the last couple of books. (Didn’t someone call death the great equalizer?) It also broke up the formula of the series in the way he dealt with his problems. For once, at least on his end of things, magic wasn’t the answer.

It was also interesting to see how the other characters dealt with his death. Thomas and Harry handle loss the same way–they wallow. Though I wished we had seen more of him than this little blurp towards the end. The same for Maggie, who was practically unseen. And really, it didn’t take too long for Harry to find out where she was despite him claiming not to want to know. Hello, logic fail. However, it was Murphy and Molly who had the biggest changes. Murphy really tried to fill in the gap Harry left behind in the magical community, but you could see it and her grief were wearing on her. In a rare moment, I felt like Butcher handled Murphy exactly like how I think she should have been as a character.

Molly was her own kind of mess. Without spoiling too much, I did like how Butcher showed her fractured psyche, and some of the doppelganger shenanigans were awesome and weren’t predictable. She really came into her own in this book, I think, even if no one, even herself, was ready for it. She stopped being a child, at least to us non-wizarding types. I have to wonder how this will affect her standing with the White Council. Admittedly, they are on kinda shaky ground with Harry gone the way he is, but I can’t see them leaving her be either. So maybe the mundane world is going to have to meet the wizarding world in a rather interesting clash.

I thought the world-building down as far as the ghost-world and the afterlife was interesting. I loved the angel we met, and how he reacted to some of his underlings (who were also awesome, so happy to see them!). The ghosts were well explored, not only in what lingered but also what they were in the relation to the afterlife…and how this made Harry different. They had some memorable characters, some for bad reasons and some for awesome ones. And seeing inside of Bob’s skull, oh goodness! The villain was also passable, and logical at least. It wasn’t something I had thought about, but with the way Butcher set up his after life, well, it does make the most sense.

When it comes to the plot, I think structurally, it worked. It flowed well, there were clear cause and effects. The villain, again was passable and logical. I thought it was all dramatic and yet adorable. If I was looking at it alone, if it was set up to be a stand alone, I think it could have worked really well. So for once, it could have worked that way instead of being so hardset as a series book…if he had written it that way. Sadly, it was very dependent on being part of this series, bringing up previous events without explaining them clear enough that a newbie reader would understand them. And as a series book?

Well, to coin a weird phrase, this was a wheel-spinner book. And what I mean is, for all the awesome things that happened that I loved… I feel like this entire book could have been skipped. Or it could have been parceled out as subplots, because… Nothing really advanced. Yeah, some stuff happened, but it easily could have happened while Harry was off being the Winter Knight. We’ve established that time flows weird in the Nevernever! Dying nerfed him for a little while, which again, I liked. But he’s going to go right back to normal, ain’t he? Some side characters advanced, but they could have done that in other books. The villain wasn’t even a concern on most readers’ minds! So I’m waiting to be sold on the necessity of this book.


Review: The Scriptlings

I return! BTW, the About Me is now due for a major update after the hassle of the last month. But it’s over, and you all are going to reap the rewards. That’s right, double posts for a while. I HOPE to start this weekend and have a Dresden review up by Tuesday, but we’ll see how fast I can read since I don’t have the book and won’t until Saturday thanks to hijinks… I’m also changing my posting times to SOMETIME Tuesday and Thursday nights, no real promises on what time exactly, but usually before 10:30 pm Central.

On a happier note, I DO have something to review for the weekend to signal my return! I was shocked and thrilled to get hit up by Shannon Thompson and Sorin Suciu’s e-book, The Scriptlings. Despite being a physical book lover, I was more than glad to take the opportunity. It got me back in my reviewing grove, as it were. Here we go: my honest opinion (they were warned, don’t worry).

The Scriptlings tells the story of two apprentice magicians (which btw, is what a scriptling is) named Merkin and Buggeroff… sort of. There’s their Masters, a tribe of nomadic demi-gods (or so the summary on Amazon dubs them), a goat that thinks its a snake only not really, and of course, Stapley. Who can forget Stapley? And they all end up tangled together by a long series events that seem to start with a murder, but go back to the beginning of time, or at least close to it. And it will end with either the destruction of life as we know it, or the saving of it.

To begin with, I’ll highlight some of the best parts of the story. For one: the dialogue. Oh goodness. It flows so well, and it doesn’t sound forced. It also made me laugh. Okay, not full-out laughter, that’s hard to get me to do reading a book unless I really get sucked into it. But I did snicker a lot. It was easy to tell who was speaking and who wasn’t most of the time, even without speaking tags after. I also enjoyed the little geek jokes, even if some of the tech ones went over my head. They weren’t directly in my face, like some writers try to be when “writing for geeks,” but very subtle in a way that let me enjoy them instead of feeling patronized.

I also thought the magic system was well-thought out. I loved the way that computers and magic were linked, and how even spells were constructed. I am not the most computer savvy person in the world, so any serious computer stuff always seems like magic to me. It was a clever way of mingling a fantasy concept with the modern world. I also haven’t quite seen it mingled in this way before. I’ve seen technology exaggerated to the point it seems like magic, I’ve seen technology that runs on magic, I’ve seen magic that relies on technology to work (thank you The Irregular at Magic High School). But this is different from my usual read, and I enjoyed it. It was almost like light scifi mixed with fantasy, but also very clearly labeled as fantasy because that’s where the focus was. I especially enjoyed that I could understand and follow the magic system. It didn’t get too complicated that a reader had to be tech support to understand it (thank you The Irregular at Magic High School).

The world was also really intriguing. I liked the idea of there being two different schools of magic, which really fits with most mystical things even in the real world (Eastern and Western astrology, for example). I wish we had actually gotten to see some of the other school, just because it would have been nice to see the contrast. The various rules of social ettiquette between magicians were silly and humorous. I really wanted to know more about them, how they got started, or if they were just traditional because that is how tradition was done (or because something happened with the Tribe that led to it being that way). Even the idea of the Tribe seemed really interesting, especially with how it ended up tying up with magic in the end.

Now we get to the “good, could be better” part of this review. To begin with, the setting. On one hand, it was very difficult to remember that this was set in Canada and really anything about where the characters were (even with Buggeroff going all real estate agent at one point). One hand, yay. It lets the reader have complete control of the setting and it’s one less detail in the way. It lets the reader focus on the story. On the other hand, well, the characters lack any sort of grounding, making it hard to see where they are in relation to each other or their surroundings. But a play can still function without a set if the actors/characters are strong enough.

Unfortunately, these aren’t. Middle ground 2. Speaking of every character (excluding Merkin. I’ll get to her in a second), they are really interesting, some of them with a good deal of history that definitely intrigues me. And then it gets revealed. And it’s told more than it’s really shown. And it’s not even told by the character in question. Really, it’s sort of like an old-school video game where the main characters are left purposefully vague and two-dimensional. This is done so the player can input themselves or build up a story on their own. The only problem with that is, I’m wanting to read YOUR story. Not write my own. If I was doing that, I have a young girl and a unicorn demanding my attention. Otherwise, there wasn’t enough meat on the bones of the characters we see regularly.

Now for the bad. While the pacing of the book is fast (seriously, it took me about a page a minute), the plot drags. It’s weighed down by too much of the humor, which is great, but not enough of the actual bones of the story to keep me turning the pages. It isn’t helped by the extreme lack of conflict. No one is really set up to be the villain (not even the two cops), and the interruptions for the Tribal Interludes only make it worse. By the time we actually HIT the plot, the book is nearly over (seriously, it’s the last fifty pages or so of actual story), I actually liked the guy who we should be hating (and not in a way that’s on purpose by the writer’s creation). And then the writing took a nosedive, since we started getting told, not shown ANYTHING. It was more than a little frustrating, especially with all the sudden heel-face-turns that everyone seemed to be taking.

Which gets me to Merkin. For about, oh, two-thirds or three-quarters of the book, I was on the fence about her. She’s the only strong, active female character (Ina doesn’t count, she appears twice and is otherwise merely name dropped). She’s also over sexualized. Big time. Especially for her age. But a lot of that was of her own making, so while it bugged me, it was also a character decision that I could understand, so I was willing to give it a mention and then let it go. And then I hit that last part of the book, and I went, “Okay. She is no longer a character.”

I don’t even know what she is. A bundle of really bad stereotypes? A really, really bad cliche? She isn’t a character, she isn’t a PERSON. There’s a back story there, sure, but it isn’t one that affects her often enough for it to outweigh the rest of what’s done to her. By the end of the book, she’s this really, really bad Madonna-Whore complex, and it’s just… *makes growly, frustrated noises* And to be completely honest, it’s the same thing you see over and over again in fiction that’s directed at a male audience…which seems to sum up the book as a whole.

Now, believe it or not, despite my issues with the female lead, I WAS going to list who this book would be good for, because I did see potential, especially for a first time writer. And then I hit the last snag this story had to offer me. Immediately, the text reads like it is written in the same style as the Percy Jackson series, which is Middle Reader. But then that got ruled out because of all the mentioning of sex and nudity. Okay, that makes it either young adult or adult. The style of writing wouldn’t sell well to adults, so that leaves YA fiction, right?

Err, problem. Fantasy YA is my own field, so I know it pretty well. And it’s almost entirely geared to female readers. Female readers who will never get past the way Merkin is written (for a male gaze). You see, welcome to the rather weird way the gender dynamic has broken down in fantasy/sci fi fiction. For the most part, adult fantasy/sci fi is written for male readers. There are exceptions to this (Deborah Chester, Mercedes Lackey, etc), but then there are people who personify it (Mel Odom [sorry Mel, will never forgive our argument over the chain mail bikini], more than I can really name, etc). It’s harder to find female driven fantasy for adults…except in the YA and romance sections. So what usually happens is that girls read in YA until they hit their mid-to-late twenties, and then make the shift over to romances (with…various results. I have issues with the romance section of the book store, let’s leave it at that).

So now I have the issue of who would I recommend this book to? I can’t give it to girls because of Merkin. Period. As for boys? Adult boys (and most teenage boys who are already readers) won’t want to read it because of the style it’s written in. And for the reluctant reader, most of the geek jokes, which are some of the funniest points in the book, will go right over their heads, so they won’t “get it” and thus, yet another wasted exercise. No, thank you.

The end result, I guess you could say, is I think Suciu has a lot of good potential. His dialogue is good, he can create good worlds without going over the reader’s head, and his pacing is excellent. If his plot, setting, and characters were even slightly better, he’d be in amazing shape for a regular writer, much less a first time one. So he can do either one of two things:

1) He can age down the characters, cut out the sex, do a little better with keeping conflict going throughout the whole book, and he can do very well as a middle reader. Extremely well, I dare say, especially to the just-under fourteen age group.

2) He can DRASTICALLY improve his descriptions and plotting so he can keep a male reader’s attention and push for the adult market.

But to play in the YA ballpark, the girls are going to need a LOT of work, as is the setting and the plot. It all depends on what audience he is actually aiming for. Mind, I could be wrong. Maybe there is a niche in the YA fantasy market for boys fiction. But in my experience, they skip from middle reader to adult fiction, and so unlike most writers who can do the, “Meh, I’ll aim in the middle: YA!” Suciu is going to have to pick one or the other, and either change what he is doing slightly or improve dramatically.


Review: The Dresden Files 4–Summer Knight

Warning: Rant ahead.

Summer Knight pretty much takes the ending established in Grave Peril and trashes it. Rather than sort-of coping with the help of his friends, Harry is instead drowning in his depression over Susan. It takes one of the Fairy Queens ordering him on a job (there is no options) and the Council’s threats of killing him over the war between them and the vampire Red Court to snap him back into his groove. What follows is a tangle of trying to figure out what is truth (not easy when dealing with fairies) and taking steps to prevent the next great weather shift, be it an Ice Age or the kind of plant growth that is deadly for the human race. Oh, and not being assassinated. That last one is important.

Before the rant begins, let me be at least a little kind. Butcher finally found the right balance to how much information we as the reader needs to stay equal with Harry on the detective/private investigator side of the book but not to get ahead of him. I didn’t feel like Harry was making wild leaps in logic that I couldn’t see every few seconds, but I also wasn’t about to throw the book because Harry was missing something glaringly obvious. This is a huge improvement compared even to two books ago, Fool Moon. The action sequencing was also a lot better. There wasn’t a dependency on Harry finding just a little more strength over and over again (or if there was, it was so minor I didn’t notice it), and it was doing gradual spikes, letting me breath and absorb after a huge rush of action, but still staying strong enough that I didn’t have the urge to put down the book.

As a slight warm-up to the rant, two things. First, the world-building took a step back. Even though the focus was primarily on the fairy, there were so many different aspects of it being thrown at us, I would have been completely lost if I wasn’t used to managing my own spawn of characters. I understand the hugeness of the Nevernever and the fairy that Butcher was going for, but since so few of the previous books had much to do with the fairies aside from a couple very specific people, we as readers got lost. There almost needed to be another book between this great war set up and the last one to help ease us into the fairies better.

And the side characters. Lord, there were a lot more than usual thrown at us, and we had to keep up with a lot of them without many tags to go off of. Billy was an interesting character to bring back, but I wasn’t sure he served as good of a balance to Dresden as Michael did. Maybe because Billy is so gun-ho about being beside Harry instead of advising caution in some cases. It was frustrating, since Dresden tends to jump into things headfirst. And the various members of the White Council–including Dresden’s second teacher–were just…paper dolls that had words to say and otherwise weren’t really as influential as you would think they are since they earned names and vague descriptions.

Mentioning side characters gets us into the rant. I about said, “Screw it,” and announced that this was going to be the last book I reviewed in this series, that’s how frustrated I was about this book. For those who read last week’s post, I was begging for a strong female character to balance out Dresden, even citing that Murphy had potential, if Butcher wanted to go that way. And with a book featuring so many fairy characters, many female, there was a chance for this to happen, maybe even with human characters as the book went on.

It started off bad. The first Winter Queen that Dresden meets is described in nothing but sexual metaphors. Now, whether this is supposed to be comments on her fae nature, I don’t know, but the problem is at first, she is a mortal woman. A potential client. And Dresden is so blase about the fact that he looks at her in a sexual way, despite the fact that he is supposed to be fretting himself to death over his ex-girlfriend.  Then Mab goes all fairy, and that appears to be the end of it. But she is only the beginning. Every single fairy is described the same way, making them into sex objects rather than actual characters.

These are the fairies, and I’ve already said he has problems with them in Grave Peril. That should be the end of it, right? Not too bad? Oh no. Because now we meet the mysterious Elaine from Dresden’s past. We’d gotten enough of an idea of her over the course of the last two books, but much like the ending of the previous book, a lot of that is thrown under the rug with what appears is going to be the Butcher equivalent of the DnD phrase, “A wizard did it.” And again, she is described as a sex object. Which I guess I am supposed to excuse because she and Harry used to have a relationship? Yeah, that doesn’t fly for me. I’ve put up with the stupid version chivalry that Dresden follows (which isn’t the real version, I would know), but this is enough to take the cake.

Oh yeah, speaking of that form of chivalry. Remember Murphy? The potentially powerful female character who I had my hopes pinned on for her being a good balance to Dresden once she got brought completely into the loop? Shot to friggin’ dust bunny HELL in this book. Not literally, but I’m beginning to see signs that Butcher is going to utterly wreck her and there is nothing I can do but whine about it (so I shall). The Murphy we’d met in all the previous books wouldn’t mix drugs and alcohol. And while she might struggle with things that go bump in the night after the previous book, she’s seen too much over the last few months with Harry to completely fall apart like she has in this book. Butcher tries to bring her back during a shoot-out in Wal-Mart, but it doesn’t work for me. She shouldn’t have fallen that hard in the first place, and now that she has, I bet he’s going to just make it worse.

At this point in the series, there is no arguing that you can pick up a book and understand them completely. They are starting to rely too much on the reader reading the previous books to know about the events Dresden has faced recently. Which, with a long-running series, I guess I shouldn’t be too upset about him making it (sort of) to Book 4 before reaching this point. But then I think of several series that I’ve read over the years that manage it for much longer, so… I don’t think I can. Here’s on to the next. Hopefully I can keep these reviews going.

By they way, thank you all for being patient on this post. My wrist needed to be iced down before I could even write the announcement yesterday. And then again before I could go to sleep. Hopefully the new brace I ordered will help it from continuing to be a problem.


Review: The Dresden Files 3–Grave Peril

I’ll honest, I was not seeing the draw of this series. I now stand corrected. While there were some things about it that still bugged me, this third book has changed my mind.

Grave Peril picks up at a break-necking speed with Harry Dresden and a new character, Michael. The supernatural world is all stirred up, and it’s up to Harry and his Knight friend to figure out why. But things get complicated with not one but THREE vampire courts meeting, and Harry’s girlfriend Susan getting herself nose-deep in trouble again. Harry has to gamble with the forces of the Nevernever to return peace to Chicago, but in the end, he has to pay a price.

(Any more info, and I will spoil you, I’m sorry.)

Butcher has finally figured out that focusing on a short handful of magical aspects makes the story so much easier to understand. Ghosts were the newcomers this time, with some old stuff being focused on more heavily (vampires, fairies, and the power of faith). As a result, I was absolutely able to track what was going on where. Even the true-sight aspect was given some nice extra attention. I love the image of Murphy the Avenging Angel. The explanation of the Nevernever was still a little shaky, but since most of the focus was put on the ghosts and the vampires, I was able to chill about that, since it wasn’t the focus. The pacing was smoother, with a few moments of non-action to let the reader’s mind reset. There are some issues with the endings (I’m getting real sick of Harry finding a little more strength, and then a little more, and then a little more), but I’m hoping we’re starting to see the end of that.

For characters, I started to understand Harry a little better in this book. I was able to get under the sarcasm and actually see the character, which is much better. His fairy godmother was also a piece of work, and I liked how she was played. On the other hand, though, I felt like she was a little flat. I think she could use some fleshing out if she’s going to reappear in later books. Susan has always annoyed me, and while she got better in this book, I still don’t think much of her or the way she has been written into this book. She’s built to be rescued, and even now, after all the crap that happened to her in this book, I’m not sure if that is going to change.

Michael was the star of this book. He reminded us of the human side, both to Harry and to the conflicts going on. Harry is so dismissive of Murphy and Susan, it’s hard to keep the humanity of it all in perspective. Michael was a welcome change, and I loved the interactions between him and Harry. Mostly because at times, my own feelings about religion are echoed in the text, and that’s a great personal connection for me. But unlike Harry, who has only a few friendships left, Michael has a family that he has to worry about being in danger. He’s down to Earth, and has no real knowledge of the wizard-side of things, which makes Harry explain more, which I have to appreciate.

Flaws wise, they were minor this time. The pacing, and my disgust with Harry’s seemingly endless sources of energy, have been noted. I am hoping the treatment of women gets better too. Three books in, and all the main female characters we’ve met so far are…not that great. Murphy has potential, but we’ve yet to see it realized. But the rest? They are either sex objects for Harry to romance and rescue (I don’t care that he said he loved her in this book, it doesn’t change what she is), completely helpless, supposedly decent but of course no where NEAR as powerful as Harry and thus they are going to end up dead, or they are a member of the cruel and selfish fairies/insert random evil creature-race here. Just ONE powerful female figure that isn’t sexualized or trivialized by Harry, that’s all I ask…

Unlike the second book, I didn’t feel like this third book relied on the previous two for the reader to understand everything. There were a couple of things that could have used a little more fleshing out for a first time reader (Bob wasn’t as clear as he could have been, as far as his existence and such were concerned). But really, I wish I had picked up this book FIRST. It would have made getting through the other two that much easier. Butcher seems to have figured out what the style for the series is going to be, so I hope the next couple of books smooth out the last couple of major flaws and keep improving the areas of once-weakness.

Just as a head’s up, next week’s post might be slightly late. Not so much because of book availability (I’ve already requested a hold and should have it by Monday), but my right wrist and the wonders of carpel tunnel syndrome have caught up with me. I’m fine most of the time with it, just occasionally it will get sore and hard to use. I’m going to ice it for the next few nights while I’m sleeping and wear my brace during the day, so hopefully it won’t be an issue. I just wanted to give you a warning in case the post happens in the mid-afternoon instead of the morning.