Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fiveish Books Still On My Mind

Being the Saturday poster, I can bend the guidelines a tad, right? Because I may have more than five book titles to sprinkle like snowflakes into this post...

These are in no particular order...(I feel like a game show host, issuing caveats.)

Heart of Obsidian and Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh, in her Psy-Changeling series. I've been rereading the entire series this month, from the first book to the most recent, which is Shield. It's been an amazing course in writing a series, putting in multiple small details and events along the way which don't pay off until many volumes later, but then are immensely satisfying to the reader - I'm always in awe of her. I think Heart was the most gut wrenchingly emotional read for me, but I keep going back to Shield because I love the main characters so much. (But Judd Lauren from Caressed by Ice is still my all time favorite in the series.)

So you can see how I might end up with more than five books named in this column, right? Sorry! (Not sorry.)

The Twelve Kingdoms - The Tears of the Rose by my fellow Word Whore Jeffe Kennedy. (The pretty cover is in the sidebar to the right.) She took  Princess Amelia, the main character, on an amazing arc from where she was at the start of the novel, until the person she's become at the end. Just wow. And it's the middle book in a series, which presents its own challenges to do well, but Tears advances the entire story and was extremely satisfying in its own right. Love the worldbuilding here.

Rachel Bach's The Paradox Series has become one of my all time favorite science fiction adventure series.  Honor's Knight and Heaven's Queen, the second and the third novels in this three book series, were issued in 2014 and oh yes, I devoured them.
Featuring mercenary Devi Morris,  THE most kickass heroine after Ripley of "Aliens" fame,  the series has mystery, romance, a very subtle nod to an Egyptian goddess - a complete package of goodness.

The fourth book on my list is something completely different. Still Alice by Lisa Genova is the heartbreaking story of a woman who has it all...including, sadly, early onset Alzheimer's. It came out in 2009 but I just read it recently and if you've ever forgotten where your keys were, this book will impact you. Years ago I had a dear friend at work who developed early onset Alzheimer's and the two or three years he struggled to remain at work, to stay himself, were just heart rending as the disease progressed. We both used to come in early, he usually arriving half an hour before me. One day I got there at 5:30AM to find him sitting in his car, which was still running. Worried, I knocked on the car window and he said he'd been waiting for me because he literally couldn't remember how to turn the car off and didn't know what else to do but wait. This novel by Ms. Genova is full of such true-to-life incidents as experienced by her character....

And to finish on a happier note, every year at this time one of my favorite books is The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. Filled with her astoundingly detailed illustrations, the book is a nice variation on the story of the elves at the North Pole and Santa's sleigh. We would read it as a family at Christmas Eve and I still keep the book on my shelf and pull it out in December to enjoy all over again. Another book that's an absolute must-read for my family every year is Tosca's Christmas by Matthew Sturgis and Anne Mortimer.

Happy Holidays to you!!!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Four Great Books, One Not So Great - My Five

So many books, so little time. This year, I dissected books. In the midst of the stories I most enjoy, I spent a few minutes pausing to ask why I enjoyed them so much - how had the authors pulled me into the narrative? I did this both with fiction and with nonfiction - just to see how the tools and techniques differed - or even if they did differ. Here, in no particular order, are my five:

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth – Alan Weisman  You recognize this name from his previous book The World Without Us, which was, at its heart, an optimistic book. Countdown is not exactly a happy, feel-good book, but it is fascinating and compelling. And the thing I think I admire most is this writer’s ability to convey difficult messages with writing so fluid, I got sucked right in. It never once crossed my mind to give up on this book. That’s worth studying.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck – This is the book that details research into the psychology of Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. I grew up in Fixed Mindset. I hate being wrong. Hates it with a white hot passion – even when I know, intellectually, that making mistakes is the only way to learn something. Someone with Growth mindset believes he or she can get smarter and smarter – that the brain is a muscle that with exercise only gets stronger and better. I’d read this because it promised to teach me how to change my mindset from Fixed to Growth. Still working on that. What? I like reading psychology. I get that it makes me a complete weirdo.

Rogue’s Paradise – Actually, I’m lucky enough to have read everything Jeffe published this year and it’s always a treat. Her characters and her stories always draw me right in. Studying her techniques, too, believe you me. But this trilogy, in particular, makes me happy. And I have secret hope that it won't remain a trilogy for long.

First Grave on the Right – Darynda Jones – yeah, I know I’m slow on the uptake. It’s just where this book happened to be in my TBR pile. In fact, this is my current holiday guilty pleasure read. No strings. No study. I just get to read for enjoyment. Except, while I am enjoying the book a lot – I think her take on someone seeing dead people and how and why that happens feels fresh – I’m also taking mental notes about how the author is constructing scenes and showing conflict and emotion. So, Ms. Jones? Sorry. I can’t seem to kick this morbid habit of peeling back the skin of a story like I’m some kind of deranged serial killer. Yes. This is me. Rubbing my hands in glee.

Unnamed novel by an unnamed author – I’m not naming the book or the author because this book would have been thrown across the room had it not been on my Kindle. Did not finish this book. I gave it ten chapters to throw me a bone, but it ended up being toss worthy itself. The heroine was just a great big ,closed off bundle of NOPE. She had not a single nice bone in her body as far as I could tell and the moment she stomped on the hero’s dreams, coldly rejecting them out of hand, I was done. Would have been had the reverse been true – had the hero crushed her dreams under heel, I’d have wanted to use the book as kindling, too. So why am I putting this book here? Knowing what annoys the crap out of me is hugely useful as a teaching tool. I’m taking notes and filing this book under HOW MAKE MARCELLA DETEST A CHARACTER. Also – in my opinion, the most interesting part of this story happened before this book starts. The scene choices made are also telling – in that I’m taking more notes about which scenes I would have chosen to write and none of them are the scenes this author actually wrote. A book that doesn’t work for me has a whole bunch to teach me. That’s why I included it. Will I finish the book? Oh hell no. Life is too short and there are way too many great books out there.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Engaging Things I Read In 2014

First, confession time: I don't read anywhere near as much as I should.  Part of that is because I tend to be a slow reader, unless I really get to sit away from All The Things and get into the book.  Also, I'll also admit, I'm a tough fish to hook.  I'll often read a couple of chapters of something, and while there's nothing wrong or bad about it, it doesn't really pull me in.  So there are a lot of unfinished books on my shelves where it really is, "Hey, it's not you, it's me."
I did read several books, though, and here are the five that stuck with me:
Lock In: I've been a big fan of Scalzi's work, and Lock-In is probably his best yet.  He takes a single science-fictional concept, and works crafts an engaging story with that concept as its engine.  While relatively light and propulsive, it still made me stop and think about one's sense of identity as tied to one's own body.  But I'll be surprised if this one isn't on awards short lists this year.
READY PLAYER ONE: Yeah, yeah, I'm late to the party, only having read this one this year.  This book... lived in a strange space where I was annoyed much of the time I was reading it, but at the same time, I found it impossible to put down.  I mean, the book moved, but it was also little more than name checking nostalgia, of which I was about 85% on board with-- that nostalgia was mine as well. And maybe that was part of my problem-- to me, the riddles were pretty easy, so the idea that all the hunters would just be stuck for YEARS without figuring it out was unbelievable.  But it didn't quite feel like a story.  That said, I understand why it got a lot of notice.
The Art of Asking: This is Amanda Palmer's memoir, and I found it fascinating.  I mean, I haven't had half the life experiences that she's had, but I did spend my time toiling in the theatrical arts, which involved learning similar hard lessons on scrounging and community and trust.  So I got this book and where she was coming from.
The World Until Yesterday: Another book by Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs and Steel), where he talks about traditional societies and their commonalities and differences, as well as the commonalities and differences with our own WEIRD societies. (WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrial, Regulated and Democratic)  Good worldbuilding sourcework.
On the Map: An interesting work on the history of maps and mapping, which is just the sort of thing a worldbuilding map geek like myself can get into.

I realize this list is pretty useless if you're looking for "best SF/F work on 2014" or something like that.  Sorry.  I'm not the guy who makes those lists, unfortunately.  I'm the guy who reads those lists to figure out what to read next.  As well as the "anticipated books of 2015" lists.  Of course, I already know of two that I've been anticipating for some time now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Linda's Top 5 Reads of 2014


Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling  by Donald Maass

He's my agent.

He's awesome

It's always good to re-examine your craft with new thoughts on the how and why you do what you do.


Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare Paperback 

by Bard E. O'Neill

An older book but interesting to be sure as far as research material goes.

About the author:

BARD O'NEILL is professor of international affairs at the National War College, Washington, D.C., where he is also director of Middle East studies and director of studies of insurgency and revolution. His other publication credits include The Energy Crisis and U.S. Foreign Policy and Armed Struggle in Palestine. He and his family live in Springfield, Virginia.


George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution  
by Brian Kilmeade

Research for me but definitely an interesting read.

Some reviews:

“Anyone who believes that foreign espionage is pointless should read this book. More importantly, anyone who thinks the founding generation is irrelevant to modern America must read this book.”
The Daily Caller

“A fascinating read, highlighting some of our nation’s unknown heroes—heroes who never sought credit or recognition. Brian Kilmeade places them in their proper historical context—as brave patriots who defended the American Revolution.”
General Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, retired)

“Freedom is not free, never has been, and never will be. Kilmeade and Yaeger have done a wonderful job in reminding us all of the cost. Great read.”
General Tommy Franks (U.S. Army, retired)

The Blasted Lands by James A. Moore

You all know this guy. He is awesome.

I love me some fantasy fiction and this series does not disappoint. It moves, its characters are interesting and keep me guessing.

1.) **not available until January 12, but I got to read an advance copy...

The Mussorgsky Riddle  by Darin Kennedy

Psychic Mira Tejedor possesses unique talents that enable her to find anything and anyone, but now she must find a comatose boy wandering lost inside the labyrinth of his own mind. Thirteen-year-old Anthony Faircloth hasn’t spoken a word in almost a month and with each passing day, his near catatonic state worsens. No doctor, test, or scan can tell Anthony’s distraught mother what has happened to her already troubled son. In desperation, she turns to Mira for answers, hoping her unique abilities might succeed where science has failed.

At their first encounter, Mira is pulled into Anthony’s mind and finds the child’s psyche shattered into the various movements of Modest Mussorgsky’s classical music suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. As she navigates this magical dreamscape drawn from Anthony’s twin loves of Russian composers and classical mythology, Mira must contend with gnomes, troubadours, and witches in her search for the truth behind Anthony’s mysterious malady.

The real world, however, holds its own dangers. The onset of Anthony’s condition coincides with the disappearance of his older brother’s girlfriend, a missing persons case that threatens to tear the city apart. Mira discovers that in order to save Anthony, she will have to catch a murderer who will stop at nothing to keep the secrets contained in Anthony’s unique mind from ever seeing the light.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

5 Books -- Some Old, Some New in 2014

5 Books that stuck with me long after I'd closed them...well, it's a mix of release dates. Some are old, some are older, and some were newly released in 2014. All were new to me.

1. Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan -- It's the second book in a YA historical series about a group of young female spies in service to the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth. Each member of the troupe has a particular strength. The Maid of Deception is one known for her stunning beauty and the ease with which manipulates men. What makes darling Beatrice unique, is that she and the Queen despise each other almost as much as they need each other. It turned out to be quite the historical romance involving Scottish rebellions and arranged (and re-arranged) marriages.

2. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig -- The first in the Miriam "I Foresee How You Die" Black series. I bought this book long after I'd followed him on Twitter. Truly a case of a sale driven by social media. If you like non-linear paranormal thrillers, then Miriam is your potty-mouthed gal.

3. Gods of Asgard by Erik Evensen -- It's a great graphic novel highlighting the Norse myths. The stories follow the more popular translations of the Prose Edda. Wonderful artwork.

4. The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan -- Ads for the TV show drove me to read the book first. Well, that and the insistence of my brother in law that I read it before I see it. I much preferred the book (because I liked the way I interpreted the characters better than the TV show. I'm picky like that). Don't know that I would have bothered with the book if I had seen the show first.

5. Wit'ch Fire by James Clemens -- First book in the "Banned and Banished" series. Yes, yes, the book is 15 years old. That's the great thing about great fantasy ... it's ageless and waiting to be rediscovered. It's a Chosen One story with a female protag. I liked it enough to hunt down the next two books...and I'm pretty sure there are two more after that.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Five Books that Stand Out in 2014

Writers read.

Weird, I know, but we do.

This time around the subject of discussion is five books that are solid enough that they qualify as stand out works.

That's really not as easy as I'd like it to be. It's been a mighty good year for books and LIMITING myself to a handful is a challenge.

Just the same, I'll give it a go (and I feel I should clarify that these oohs are in no particular order. I dug all of them.).

As I have said before (Yes, I gloat) one of the true pleasures of being a writer is that now and then you get the equivalent of sneak peeks at upcoming books. In this case the first of the books I'll list is exactly and precisely that: An Advanced Reader's Copy of Tim Lebbon's THE SILENCE.

THE SILENCE is an end of the world book. We're talking an apocalyptic event that is fast, furious and a serious game changer. What makes it stand out for me is simply that Tim Lebbon is a spectacular writer who manages to show a true depth to the family of characters going through a literal hell on earth. very highly recommended for the pacing, the characters and the chilling series of events.

Next up is Christopher Golden's SNOWBLIND.  Golden is a favorite of mine. In addition to being one hell of a fine writer, he's also a friend of mine, but you may rest assured that's never made a difference when it comes to whether or not I like a book. Some of my best friends have written lemons.

SNOWBLIND is a tale of terror, through and through. During a nasty blizzard several people were lost. During another nasty blizzard it's very possible that they've come back and if they have, they have not come alone. A truly tense and delicious tale of ghosts and other, stranger things.

Jumping genres, the next beast on my list is HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie. Abercrombie just plain writes damned good fantasy. All of his previous books were set in one dark and gritty fantasy world, the world of the FIRST LAW trilogy and a handful of standalone novels that followed. I read them voraciously and have read most of them a second time,w which, trust me, is a very rare thing for me. Who the heck has the time?

At World Fantasy this year I managed to get my hands on a copy of HALF A KING, which is book one in the young adult SHATTERED SEA trilogy. You can call it whatever you want. Fantasy, young adult, action adventure, coming of age. You can also call me hooked. There's a trend in fantasy these days that's called Grimdark. It fits. The story is indeed dark. It's also beautiful in the careful crafting of the tale.

Next up, one of my favorites as always is Stephen King. I liked MR. MERCEDES. I LOVED REVIVAL.  LOVED. Seriously. Prime Stephen King, dark and haunting and filled with glimpses of life at the very best and at the very worst. There are very few who ever come close to King when it comes down to storytelling. He's one of the masters and I can;t say enough good about it.

Lastly, Jonathan Maberry's FALL OF NIGHT, the sequel to DEAD OF NIGHT came out this year and I picked it up and started reading and burned through most of ht ebook in one night. Sucks to lose sleep, but I always forgive myself when the reason is a damned fine book.

In the past Maberry had told us of a world where the zombie apocalypse has already happened and people are living in the aftermath. This then is the start of that apocalypse and as with all of his books is told with both pathos and humor and, of courts, a monumental amount of action.

I'm throwing in a bonus book. It deserves to be listed with the rest of them and I want to break the rules. Cherie Priest's MAPLECROFT was my Halloween read this year. For me, a horror geek, that's nearly a sacred thing. It lived up to the potential. Lizzie Borden and monsters from beyond the edge of space in a tale that is nothing at all like what I expected and twice as much fun to boot.

There's six for you. I recommend them all very, very highly.

Now, because I can and because this might be a one day only thing:

SEVEN FORGES and THE BLASTED LANDS are both on sale today for Kindle, at $1.99 each. That's $6.00, or 25% of the recommended cover price. Can't beat that with a stick folks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Five I'm Still Thinking about - Jeffe's picks for interesting reads of the year

Our first real snow hit last night and this morning's sunrise showed in spectacular glory, a promise of the solstice and the turn of the year, it seemed.

The topic at the Bordello this week is the Five Most Engaging/Interesting Books Read in 2014. I like how this one is phrased - not necessarily our favorite books, but the ones that stood out. It can be an important distinction, especially for writers, because we tend to be friends with other writers and, outside of that, personally know many of the authors of the books we read. Reading a book can be infused - positively or negatively - with how we feel about that person. Picking a favorite of the year can be even worse, because which of your wonderful friends do you pick? It's often easier for me to pick a book written by someone I don't know, than to choose from among my friends' books.

That said, I tend to read a lot of my friends' books, sometimes via crit or as a beta reader, or just so I can have nice things to say. In 2014 (so far!) I've read 119 books. Yes, I've been keeping track, because I had a goal of reading at least two books a week, to try to get back into reading again. For someone who used to read about a book a day, that's not much. But I also caught up on a lot of "meaning to" reads.

One of those was Thea Harrison's Elder Races series. I've been hearing about these books for several years, but had never read. I confess it was partly because they're labeled as Paranormal Romance. I should totally know better, how these hairs are split, but PNR has sadly come to mean questionable worldbuilding to me. Not so with these books! Some are stronger than others, but the series is a fantastic take on our modern world, but with the addition of living monsters like gryphons, harpies and dragons. Much like Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series as it used to be, with better romance and way less crazy. In particular I found Serpent's Kiss and Kinked to be engaging stories that have stuck with me.

I also read and write a fair amount of erotic romance. My friend Anne Calhoun came out with Afternoon Delight this year. She's one of those authors I stalked and made be my friend after I read her work. Her books stay with me long after I finish them and this was no different. The recovery from grief, the heroine who runs a food truck, the afternoons of lazy sex...this book lingers in my mind like the memory of a perfect meal in a beautiful place with my favorite person.

I caught up on the last of my Neil Gaiman backlog this year, and read his 2013 release, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I finally sat down with the box set of his graphic novel series The Sandman: Book of Dreams, which I received for my birthday a year ago.(I SAID I'm behind on my reading, okay??) Both carry Gaiman's trademark dreamy darkness. I thought I was going to say that I didn't enjoy Ocean, which I finished just last night - but by the end he had me as usual.

On the SFWA forums, I met MCA Hogarth, who is self-publishing most of her work these days as, like me, she doesn't write books that neatly slot into genres. I read her Even the Wingless and that book has continued to haunt me. Her voice is also dark and dreamy, the world she created dense and provocative. I love a well-constructed alien society that stays true to its own mores and doesn't bow to the standards of the one we live in. This book is a far cry from a romance and yet got to my heart anyway.

Finally, my go-to when I'm asked to pick my favorite book of the year, I've been saying Magic Breaks, by Ilona Andrews. This is the seventh novel in the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series.
I've been keeping up with that series since book 2 and I think it's one of the best out there. It's not easy to keep a series like that, especially with an ongoing and developing romance, vital and fresh.
This seventh book lives up to its magical number with a searing story and developments that catapult the overall arc into a whole new realm. Amazing accomplishment.