Wednesday, December 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Prince of Korin by Melody J. Bremen

Prince Endomer of Korin is not a hero. Nor does he want to be one.

He spends his days in the royal library, poring over old manuscripts, studying archaic languages and playing chess. He’s never been like Krollis, his fearless twin brother, who is an expert swordsman and hunts wild beasts in the forests.

When an army of vizzens, the fearsome old enemy of Korin, attacks from the east and Krollis disappears, Endomer is left in charge of the country. He struggles to find a way to save his people while his soldiers are dying and his citizens are forced to flee. As he fights to gain the respect of the palace court, he discovers a threat coming from within the palace walls. There is no one he can trust.

He isn’t only fighting for his country – he’s fighting for his life.

Fans of Megan Whalen Turner and Jennifer A. Nielsen will enjoy this story of political intrigue and betrayal.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review. And boy I'm glad I did!

The Prince of Korin hit that wonderful sweet spot of being exactly the book I wanted at exactly the right time and I love everything about it.

Bremen's tale opens on twin princes, brothers who are polar opposites -and neither know which is to be heir to the throne until their fast-approaching fifteenth birthday. Instead of going the route of rivalry and discord, bookworm Endomer and adrenaline-junkie Krollis have become estranged by their vastly different interests and personalities -a route that, in Bremen's favor, was probably not as easy to write and far, far more interesting to read about.

There's not a drop of sorcery in this tale, but it turns out Bremen didn't need any magic but her own words to tell it. Reminiscent of the master Gail Carson Levine, Bremen spins her tale of fantasy politics, intrigue, treachery, murder, and the rise of an ancient powerful enemy from the eyes of Endomer, a woefully unprepared bookworm of a prince, clever if a little naive, thrust suddenly under the burden of it all.

An easy and enjoyable read for its fast pace and almost effortless flow, The Prince of Korin is a character-driven story with a perfect balance of mystery, action, and intrigue. As the threat of war tears across the country, Endomer is expected to lead his people through the crisis, to either live up to or break under expectations.

Our view is an intimate one as he struggles to find his place, battle his own self-doubt, earn the respect of the court, and -perhaps my favorite of all- find a way to connect with his brother. Their relationship grows and blossoms as they come to understand one another for the first time, to appreciate the others obvious and not so obvious strengths and weaknesses -and not at all in the way you'd expect.

While not unpredictable, The Prince of Korin is still immensely enjoyable and kept me up into the wee hours of the morning.

I'm still trying to decide whether my favorite character is Endomer -bookworm power!- or the intimidating bodyguard Baclen, for his gruffness, tough love, and irreverent sense of humor. As a pair, at least, they're impossible not to love!

"You'll be fine," Baclen said.
I shook my head. "I can't even get on a horse without someone helping me."
"I'll help you get on your horse."
Somehow, I could still smile. "That's reassuring."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments

If, like me, you were more than a little disappointed in The Last Jedi's contribution to Disney's take on Star Wars, here are some reading suggestions to restore your faith in galaxies close and those far, far away...

1. The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
An obvious choice, perhaps, but with good reason. Widely regarded as one of the best series in the Star Wars Extended Universe (the former canon, since demoted to 'Legends'), this brings Luke, Han, and Leia back to life in true Star Wars fashion. It is a thing of beauty, for both character and story. Zahn is a master storyteller and one who does the universe justice, even creating here two characters -Mara Jade and Talon Karrde- who became favorites in the EU and were later used by many different authors. The Heir to the Empire and its sequels were long-held as the canonical sequel trilogy to George Lucas' originals. In fact, during the early days of the announcement of Disney's new trilogy, many fans believed it would be this story they would adapt to film.

2. The Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson
This epic trilogy of superhero fiction is brilliant and will work as a wonderful salve if anyone else (ironically) lost hope despite The Last Jedi's 'spark of hope' theme. In a world where absolute power corrupts absolutely, superpowers corrupt even the best of mankind into supervillains and a ragtag bunch of vigilantes fight for hope and freedom. Also included: terrible, hilariously terrible, analogies around every corner.

3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
While this doesn't include lightsabers or a mystical Force, it's a fantastic space opera that includes rebellions, a tyrannical government, mind control, ordinary people turned heroes, political intrigue -and, best of all, fairy tale adaptations. ^_^

4. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Another great addition to the Star Wars EU, this goes into more detail -and tries to make sense of- the events between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It features fantastic and heartbreaking development for familiar characters with especial focus on Anakin and the events that make his downfall more believable, an in-depth look at the dubious morals from both the Jedi Order and the Republic that led to the galaxy's downfall, but also an incredible arc for EU character Quinlan Vos, a gray Jedi and a kind of anti-Anakin. This series has so many different facets, so many great stories, and definitely worth reading.

5. Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
This sci-fi/fantasy manga will definitely appeal to Star Wars fans for its unique worldbuilding, lovable characters, and depth of mythology. Instead of the mystical Force, it uses magical alchemy, a power more scientific but perhaps not as understood by its practitioners as they'd like to think (reminiscent, I think, of both the Old Republic's Jedi Order and the supposition hinted at in The Last Jedi). Like Star Wars, it too centers around a terrible struggle between good and evil, its villains not drawn to the dark side but instead born of the dark side of humanity. Filled with an eccentric and lovable array of heroes, anti-heroes, revolutionaries, vigilantes, and big-hearted everyday people, this will definitely make a good read for fans who enjoyed those aspects of Star Wars.

BONUS 6. Knights of the Old Republic
Contributed by a follower over on my Facebook page!
"Some good picks! If I might add, for what I feel to be a truly great Star Wars adventure (for the main arc, anyway), the Knights of the Old Republic comic line. Zayne Carrick is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters, and the supporting cast is also great."

Do you have any suggestions?

Monday, December 18, 2017

THE LAST JEDI -Why Bother? (Spoiler-Free Review)

Hey guys! Here's my SPOILER-FREE basic review; I'm also working on my total SW-nerd analysis expounding on my likes/dislikes and that will post within the week! Enjoy!

Check out 5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments
The Last Jedi only serves to finalize the dreaded fear of the Rehash. While itself was a mess of plot points stolen from previous films (primarily Empire and Return), it fully realizes the unsavory certainty that this new trilogy as a whole is nothing more than a rehashing of the original. It's not clever about it, either, which leads me to wonder -outside of the obvious money to be made- why they bothered making a new trilogy at all.

A big stink was made over how closely The Force Awakens plot points followed Star Wars (aka, A New Hope) and it won't escape people's notice that The Last Jedi does the same thing with a mesh of Empire and Return. But it's much, much worse than that. This isn't two individual films simply duplicating pacing and story structure of they're predecessors. (If the story's had been original, we would have forgiven that.) This is Disney, attempting to duplicate the original trilogy -and it's success- as a whole and putting in no real effort or ingenuity into come up with a new story. At all. Don't believe me?

  • Good guys: Ragtag group of humans and aliens fighting for freedom and a republic, feautring potential Jedi alliances.
  • Bad guys: Tyrannical, power-obsessed, Sith-run government.
  • Goal: Defeat the Sith empire, free the galaxy, while the Jedi-potential character attempts to return the Jedi and its light side ideals.

With the huge expanse of the Extensive Universe's former canon at its disposal -still unfamiliar to most Star Wars fans- Disney had a huge advantage, of hundreds of stories that would have been new and refreshing to most minds, and appreciated on screen by those already familiar, but they instead insisted on borrowing almost solely from the films that everyone who's even borderline into Star Wars has already seen.

Despite many claims I've heard that The Last Jedi is 'new', 'fresh', 'original', or 'far better than Force Awakens', there is nothing new here. Even the arguably original additions -like Finn's entire subplot or Poe's, shall we say, 'disagreement' with Admiral Holdor- are either (painfully) unnecessary or mediocre storytelling, at best. Even the poignant moments the film offers up -there are a lot, delivered in the midst of so much drama its downright cheesy- are marred by the preceding acts of pointlessness or by the fact they're obvious and tired echoes of the original trilogy, trying to piggyback on its incredible resonance.

The film is gorgeous, I admit; a beautiful piece of cinematic eye-candy. It's high on action, it's an enjoyable thrill ride of a film that's fun to watch, so I'm not surprised many people loved it at first viewing. But it's also flat on characters, squandering any potential the empty shells of Finn, Poe, or Rey might have grown into and, by the way, completely reducing Luke to nothing more than a plot device, whose every choice and action in the past 30 years was completely out of character. (I'm a fanfiction writer, guys; if you're going to continue a universe and include original characters, you've got to use them right.) Kylo Ren is, in my opinion, the only character who has gotten any substantial and satisfactory depth or development at all, and the only truly decent thing The Last Jedi had to offer. And I hate this character!

Like the characters, The Last Jedi is only interesting on the surface. Once you break down the pieces of the film, you realize there is no substance underneath. What isn't pointless filler scenes, or uncharacteristic if brilliantly acted Luke bits, or vital plot details withheld solely for dramatic reveals, you're left with a slew of fantastic fight scenes, regurgitated plot, and details that don't even mesh with The Force Awakens. (As an acquaintance pointed out, if Luke really went to that island to die, why did he leave behind a map?)

I predict The Last Jedi -and the new trilogy as a whole- will not endure. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fad. Once the novelty of new Star Wars films starts to wear off, it's going to fade. There is no staying power, no emotional resonance, and no deep connection being made with its audiences, past the nostalgia factor and the adrenaline of its constant stream of actions scenes. Plenty of people will love it for its high-action, cool effects, and cinematography. And you know what? That's fine. I've got no problem with that. But for myself, The Last Jedi has made me realize that the only true continuation lies in the Classic Canon (now dubbed 'Legends') and that's where I'm going to satisfy my Star Wars cravings for now on.

I don't plan to pursue Disney's new franchise any farther. That is to say, not actively or ardently. I'm still currently enjoying Star Wars: Rebels, I've got quite a few of the newer books I still haven't read, and I'll have no qualms about picking up any story or some of the solo movies that might pique my interest. But the new stuff is not canon to me; this is the weird alternative universe version of events that always get spin-offs in the comic book industry and nothing more.

2 out of 5 stars

PSSST! If you were a little disappointed in The Last Jedi -or completely disillusioned by it- I made a list of books to help restore your faith in galaxies near and far, far away! Check out 5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

REVIEW: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

3.5/5 stars
PG-13 for some swearing, sexual references, and irreverence to Judeo-Christian religions
Recommend to fans of humor, the ridiculous, parody, and satire. If you enjoy Douglas Adams or Christian comedian Brad Stine, you will probably find humor here.
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Good Omens is completely irreverent and absolutely hilarious.

I adore it.

It's just a figure of speech!
First, let me address the elephant in the room.

This book is super irreverent toward Judeo-Christian religions. I hesitated reading this for a while because of that. In the end, I'm very glad I did, because it's hilarious. Some people might find this book offensive or insulting because of its irreverence -and I get that. BUT, if you think you might be one of these people, let me say this: just don't take it too seriously. It makes light of serious Biblical events, yes, but at the same time, it offers up some good points and interesting commentary about the world. And, in the end, just remember it's a part satire, part parody, fantasy, comedy novel.

On this topic of religion and irreverence, there's actually an interesting theme at play in the fabric of the story which I quite love, pointing at how the worst and the best things in history were devised by humans, not influenced by the likes of demons or angels. It even mentions that Crowley (a demon) took notes during the Spanish Inquisition and sent them back to Hell, because even demons couldn't come up with this stuff. It's almost a running joke throughout the story for Crowley (said demon) or Aziraphale (an angel) to admire one particularly successful blessing or terror, only for the other to reply, "Oh, that wasn't us. We thought that was yours."

Now, I find this so interesting because of the popular idea, both in storytelling and theology, that devils and angels hang around earth, tempting and guiding people in their daily lives.
I've never much liked this concept because it has the stench of brushing off personal responsibility. In a nutshell, I think temptations come from the evil inclinations inside oneself, rather than from an external evil force trying to lead one into darkness; if one simply blames one's sins on the siren call of the devil, one is rather sloughing off one's personal culpability to said sin and one's personal responsibility to keep oneself on the path of the righteous. For example:
It's not my fault
If in God's plan
He made the devil
So much stronger than a man

Hellfire, from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame 
After all, when people put down all the evil in the world to devils and the good in it to angels -or to any spiritual powers!- that certainly begs the question of an individual: "Then what does it matter what I do?"

In Good Omens, Pratchett and Gaiman play around with this idea through the perspectives of Crowley and Aziraphale and -while I don't agree with most of the theology aspects in this book- this side of it is actually quite poignant. It proposes that humans have the capability to be more evil than demons and better than angels.

And you know what? I think they've got a point.

Plus, the book is hilarious. A demon who drives a 1926 black Bentley with 'Dick Turpin' painted on the side? An angel who owns a rare book store? A two-man (not very in demand) army of witch hunters, an 11-year-old Antichrist, and the world's only complete book of prophecy written by one Agnes Nutter, Witch? And all of these elements are thrown into a blender without a top and set on puree. The only thing missing are those identical, little black bags from Oscar!

Of all the parts of this book, what I love most is the friendship between Crowley and Aziraphale. The pair have found common ground over millennia through their shared affinity for earth and humans during their time spent tempting and guiding mankind, and neither of them is much looking forward to seeing the End of the World they've come to love. AND THUS IS BORN THE GREAT COMEDIC TEAM UP. Aside from their poignant dual observations on humanity, theirs is a hilarious and unlikely friendship as they bumble around trying to mess up the Great Plan -and all the better for it, says I!

The plot is a convoluted band of hilarity as Heaven and Hell and everything in between gear up for Armageddon, but while the story tends to bounce all over the place between a wide array of eccentric characters, Gaiman and Pratchett never disappoint to fill a scene to its fullest and funniest potential and it is obvious they enjoyed every second of time they spent in this world.

My one complaint of the whole story is the rather anticlimactic finish. It doesn't necessarily leave loose ends, but it isn't what I wanted, either. There are enough good moments throughout that I still quite love the book but -judge me if you must!- I'm kind of hoping the ending might get tweaked in that BBC miniseries coming next year. *fingers crossed*

Good Omens constantly had me in a fit of giggles, occasionally provoked me to think a little deeper, and easily let me imagine David Tennant in Crowley's shoes just from the way his lines were written.

Besides, any book whose summary ends "And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist..." deserves a read, don't you think?

Have you read Good Omens?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Avengers: Infinity War Trailer Reaction

It gives me chills that the Avengers repeat Fury's line from the original Avengers. Chills. It gives me the impression, too, that they are spoken with the same sense of failure and loss as when Fury spoke them, after the death of Coulson. The questions is: Will they rally the Avengers this time around too?

Scarlet Witch and Vision! I have a feeling major heartbreak is ahead on many levels in Infinity War and I have to admit, I'm glad this looks to be one of them. I have never read a story that has so suckerpunched me in the gut as the comic House of M. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it, but only if you're feeling strong. SUCKER. PUNCH. It's been hinted there are some *feelings* developing between Vision and Wanda, which I've been watching closely, but I hope they really get a chance to develop this angle before... well, see point Will Vision Survive Infinity War?

Is Banner working on the Hulk Buster? It may not, in fact, be the Hulk Buster, but that struck me as an interesting idea, considering Banner's newfound concern of being unable to escape the Hulk form, and of the Hulk's newfound development. Oh. And Banner is Banner again. Considering the last we saw, he'd allowed the Hulk to take over again, despite fear of not being able to regain control.

Loki totally took the tesseract! I've been saying since opening night of Ragnarok, there's no way Loki left the tesseract there. Of course he didn't. But...!

Okay, it's actually better I just show ya'll my first gut reaction, which was of course to message bomb a friend with this:

There's a lot of debate going around on this (for example, this Nerdist video) and another supposition is that Loki is merely giving up the tesseract to #1 buy himself more time or #2 trade it for the surviving Asgardians. These are options which I will allow. I hope it's not #1, because I'd be really mad if Loki does throw away all that beautiful new character depth from Thor: Ragnarok but that, too, in a way, would be another step of character depth and development. But we all know I really just want to make a mostly good guy out of Loki. Okay, at least a mostly good brother, if I can't have a mostly good guy. And believe you me, I far prefer the idea of an amoral Loki with a soft spot for his brother than an outright Hero Loki. Waaaaay more interesting.

But seriously, MCU.




New Spidey suit -Iron Man style! Honestly, I prefer the old-fashioned suit myself, but what I really care about is Spidey getting his moment to SHINE. Spider-man: Homecoming was phenomenal and -while Tony came around in the end to giving Peter the praise and opportunity he deserved- it will be interesting to see how this plays out when the world is in true, intergalactic jeopardy. How much will Tony and the Avengers trust Spidey with responsibility? How hard will Peter have to work to make them take him seriously?

"And get this man a shield." The return of the prodigal son Steve Rogers looks like it will be a huzzah cheering moment! It will be interesting to see how they work all the unresolved -shall we say- politics that have been dividing the Avengers against the backdrop of the most serious imminent threat to date.

Will Vision survive Infinity War? Without the stone, I do wonder. Still, it would suck to lose this character before he's really had his chance to shine. And if we DO lose Vision this early, THEY BETTER SATISFACTORILY DEVELOP ALL THOSE WANDA/VISION FEELINGS THEY KEEP HINTING AT INTO AN ACTUAL RELATIONSHIP FIRST.

Anticipating lots from the Black Panther film. And I mean, lots. How involved will Captain America or Bucky be in the film, if at all? How 'stand alone' is the film actually going to be, since it's the last film before Infinity War hits? I really want to see a solid solo film for Black Panther, but we already know from trailers that Everett Ross is about to get very suspicious about Wakanda and I anticipate that film is going to get a head-start on at least some of the massive amounts of plot we see coming out of this Infinity War trailer.

I, at least, will certainly be reading all the Black Panther comics I can.

And the Thanos comics, come to think of it. I've only read The Infinity Gauntlet so far -which is fantastic and highly recommended, by the way- but also means I have no idea who Thanos' children are.

"Who the hell are you guys?"

Who says you can't have an end-credit scene in a trailer? XD

Overall? Fantastic trailer. I can't wait to see the movie and at the same time I'm kind of dreading it. The comics can kill characters, bring back characters, create entirely new timelines and alternate universes in order to keep characters dead and alive at the same time, and have basically all-around mastered the Immortal Hero thing. The MCU doesn't share this luxury. Unless they start their own version of a Time Lord-like regeneration, our heroes are going to pass the mantel, retire, and -yes- die. Very definitive, finite, and irreversible deaths.

Bring it on, Marvel.


And if there's not at least one argument involving threat of bodily harm (if not actual bodily harm) between Peter Quill and Tony Stark over music selection, I will be one disappointed fangirl.

What are your thoughts and theories on the upcoming Infinity War?

Friday, December 1, 2017

NaNoWriMo Winner | #amwriting

I didn't think I was going to make it. I really, really didn't. Just look at those abominable stats!
I didn't even start writing until day 7 and that smooth plateau mid-month? That's when I got sick, which is apparently my new Thanksgiving tradition. I DO NOT recommend it; it sucks. I was meant to go RVing that weekend -and get ALL OF THE WORDS written- but I didn't wind up going because of that cold. Instead, I stayed in bed. I mean, I rewatched nearly all three seasons of Ashes to Ashes, so it wasn't a total loss, but still.

But you want to see something really cool?

The number of zeros here is completely atrocious, I know. Despite them, though, I still managed 50k. My mind's still reeling from this. Most of the month I wasn't too concerned. "Oh, I've still got twelve days to write that 25k -totally fine!"

It was on November 26th, when I realized I hadn't even hit the halfway mark -and only had five days left- that I started to panic.

Like I said, I didn't think I'd make it. I lost some sleep; I skipped some (most) lunches; I barely read; I certainly didn't watch any TV. (I did make an exception for the Avengers: Infinity War trailer because HOLY CRUMB, YOU GUYS!)

And somehow -without going completely insane or becoming a total bear- I wrote 26,318 words in five days.

It's been years since I wrote that much with such consistency. Like, when I was still in school, before I got a job, when I would literally do nothing but write for 6 hours every day -and even then big word counts were only during good writing days.

Writing has become a real struggle for me over the past years. I think a lot of it has to do with my evolving understanding in style and technique; basically, I have a harder time writing first drafts, because my Inner Editor keeps telling me "This is crap, this is really, really crap, how can you write this drivel?" And it really is drivel; I know for a fact that I used almost the same words and phrasing to describe certain characters every time I described them.

But the magic of NaNo is that it in itself is a habit. I trained myself for years to write for word count, lock away that Inner Editor, and just make myself write. Outside of November, getting my Inner Editor to shut up is a real trick! But I've done NaNo so many times, it's automatic from November 1st to the 30th.

And NaNo has reminded me Yes! I can write complete drivel and still make headway! I had this conversation with a NaNo buddy yesterday as we made that dash for the finish line, because she's been having some of the same writing struggles as me. Over November, we both noticed that letting ourselves write terrible first drafts -focusing on word count rather than trying to fit everything together- actually led to more genuine inspiration and ideas that seemed to slide seamlessly into the story, giving it more depth and pizzazz. For a girl who has been driving herself nuts trying to do exactly that in outline form, this was like winning a million dollar lottery. Twice. 

My friend brought up this idea from Inception, and I had to dig it up, because this is what I realized this November. Just replace 'dream' with 'writing', and this is it exactly.

Cobb: Well, imagine you're designing a building. You consciously create each aspect. But sometimes it feels like it's almost "creating itself", if you know what I mean.
Ariadne: Yeah, like I'm discovering it.
Cobb: Genuine inspiration, right? Now, in a dream, our mind continuously does this. We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don't even know it's happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process.
(from Wikiquotes)
I've talked some about my ongoing writing woes, especially as concerns my current project Glass & Cinders, and it seems like I'm always finding the 'Aha!' solution to my problems. But I'm pretty sure this is it, the root cause of the problem. This concept of perceiving and creating, of genuine inspiration coming so easily and often during the writing process. Many of my attempts to fix this story via outlining and brainstorming have turned out wooden and flat, because I guess I do my best writing when I'm actually writing. Go figure.

And since I also learned that -given a 15-minute timer and a good song in my headphones- I can easily generate 600 words. Again, for a girl who's been writing words like it's pulling teeth, this is another wake-up call, like lightning to my brain.

So here's to keeping the pace -not the 6,000 words a day thing; that's an epic burnout waiting to happen!- and continuing on til I hit that most desirable finish line of all. The one that says 'The End.'

How did your crazy November go?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Author Interview: Iain Reading

Iain Reading -author of The Dragon of the Month Club, The Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency, and Wizards of Waterfire- agreed to answer some interview questions.

And I love putting together interview questions. *cue evil laughter*

Amanda: Do you have a favorite character in the story?

Iain: I think I really really like Ayana a lot. I love how tough she is and how vulnerable she is and how much she misses her old life in Vancouver. But mostly I love how brave and tough she is and how she wants to much to be even more like that.

A: If you could conjure any dragon from THE BOOK, which one would it be and why?

I: It would definitely be Kami, the little paper dragon. I have this image of her in my mind that she flutters around like a butterfly, mimicking her surroundings like a chameleon with flashing pencil sketches on her wings. She is also, I believe, the only female dragon in the book, which makes her extra special.

A: If you miscast a spell and wound up traveling through the books by your bed, where would you be?

I: I think if that happened I would be in real trouble. Right at this moment I would end up in the worlds of Jeff Vandermeer, Lee Child and (worst of all) Stephen King! What a nightmare!

A: Do you think you'd survive as well as Ayana and Tyler?

I: Ummmmm. No. No way. Ayana and Tyler are WAY more resourceful and brave than I am. Plus, if I ended up on the streets of Derry, Maine, the first place I would go is to find those kids from the book It.

A: Swim or fly?

I: Ha ha ha. Fly!!!!

A: Pie or cake?

I: Pie! Definitely! Strawberry rhubarb is awesome!

A: What, if anything, inspired you to write this book?

I: Oddly enough, it was watching reruns of the TV show Modern Family. The episode where Jay has a subscription to the Sausage of the Month Club – which got me thinking.... what if there was a dragon of the month club? What would that be like? I had no idea. But the next day it suddenly came to me. And the book (and club) were born.

A: What are you working on now?

I: I am working on several things right now, including a second book of the dragon of the month club (see next question). The two other things I am working on are the sixth book to my Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency series and an unpublished book about magic (and other things).

A: When can we expect the next dragon of the month club book?

I: This is the big question on many people's minds! (Mine included) I have been asked many times in recent months about this and everyone will be glad to know that I am taking Christmas off this year and I will make a HUGE effort to finish the book early next year. I am already about halfway through it and it's really wonderful.

Let's hope Mr. Reading doesn't miscast any spells soon! I wouldn't want to try surviving a Stephen King novel either. (Yikes!)

To learn more about Iain Reading and his books, just hop over to his website.

Be sure to check out my review for The Dragon of the Month Club.

But before you go, I want to know: If you wound up on a magical adventure through the books by your bed right now, where would YOU be?

REVIEW: The Dragon of the Month Club by Iain Reading

2/5 stars
PG for a frightening fairy tale villain said to cut off children's thumbs.
Recommend to children getting into fantasy.


The Dragon Of The Month Club is the exciting first installment in a new book series that tells the story of Ayana Fall and Tyler Travers, two best friends who stumble across an extraordinarily magical book and soon find themselves enrolled as members of a very special and exclusive club - The Dragon of the Month Club.

On the thirteenth of every month a new dragon conjuring spell is revealed and the two friends attempt to summon the latest Dragon of the Month. The varieties are almost endless: Air Dragons, Paper Dragons, Fog Dragons, Waterfall Dragons, Rock Dragons, Tree Dragons - not to mention special bonus dragons for all the major holidays, including a particularly prickly Holly Dragon for Christmas.

But one day when a conjuring spell somehow goes wrong Ayana and Tyler find themselves unexpectedly drawn into a fantastical world of adventure based on the various books scattered all across Tyler's messy bedroom. Traveling from one book-inspired world to the next with nothing to rely on but their wits and a cast of strange and exotic dragons at their disposal they must try to somehow find their way home again.
(via Goodreads)

The Dragon of the Month Club is a fun adventure story for kids, though older or more particular readers may find it a bit bland. While the premise is interesting, the story is mostly fluff -just cute and sometimes silly fun.

Kids will like exploring the worlds of other books along with Ayana and Tyler, though they will likely not be familiar with most of them. Sherlock Holmes -Tyler's literary hero- is the most recognizable in the company of Frank Herbert's Dune, an underrated and super creepy villain of German fairy tales, and a whole little world springing out of Chinese folklore. The Chinese folklore bit was my favorite, though it was a sluggish point of the book plot-wise.

Reading is creative with the dozens of dragon types he comes up with for Ayana and Tyler to conjure every month. Wooden dragons, paper dragons, fog dragons -with their wits and this variety, Ayana and Tyler can conjure a dragon to help them out of most of the scrapes they find themselves in. Mostly, these were creative solutions to their problems, but occasionally they felt a little contrived. The dragons themselves are adorable -almost as adorable as Tyler's crush on Ayana.

As far as crushes in middle grade fiction go, I'm pretty picky, but Tyler's crush on Ayana is a solid win for me because it mostly takes the form of Tyler recognizing the emotional pain Ayana's in and caring so much for her he just wants her to be whole again. While it does talk about Ayana's anger over her father's leaving, what initially felt like good character depth and the foundation of an arc petered out without offering up any real substance on the matter. I've no doubt Reading plans to pick up this arc in the next book, possibly carrying it over the whole series, but without any attempts at resolving or advancing this depth made the book weak in the character department.

The writing and style can be stiff and inflexible, which makes it a tough read for me. For the amount of plot and story, the book is also a bit dense, which could make it a tricky read for others as well.

This first installment feels more like an introduction to the real story Reading wants to tell, rather than a full story on its own. While Tyler and Ayana make their way through this magical mish-mash world, neither of them are asking the really interesting questions I am: Where did the dragon of the month club book come from in the first place? Who made it? Is there a reason it came to Tyler and Ayana, or was it random? Are there other books and other kids out there with the same book? But Tyler and Ayana take the magic book -and the whole adventure- easily in stride without dwelling on these kinds of questions and it makes the story feel a bit flat and unrealistic.

While Ayana and Tyler get into their fair share of adventures and dodge a few brief antagonists, the apparent villain of the series isn't introduced until the very last page, so I feel a bit robbed by the cliffhanger.

While I'll be skipping the rest of this series, I have no qualms about passing it along to any of my younger niblings, either.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Trailer Reaction: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books growing up. I've probably read it half a dozen times, and listened to it more than that. So when I heard they were doing a big-budget movie, I admit I got excited. 

But we've had two trailers so far and, personally, I'm having some issues with them.

#1: The tagline of the film is apparently "Be A Warrior." Ummmm, no. Warrior things are not mentioned in the book. Like, ever. And considering how they actually take down the villain in the end? So I'm concerned about whatever they've reworked in this story to make it jive with their chosen tagline. Because that's not working with the story I remember.
#2: Meg seems too confident and comfortable; there's a work around, because most of these clips of her being confident are either at home, on her turf, so allowances might be made for that. Except she's also being shown as incredibly smart while being confident and comfortable which, in the book, was not the case. She considered herself the 'dumb one' of the family AND the odd one out, which gave her severe self-confidence issues.
#3: Meg is being shown as pretty smart and Charles Wallace barely gets his face on screen, let alone a word in edgewise. But I guess I should be happy he even made it into this trailer? (He wasn't in the last one.) And Meg's entire world, at this point, basically revolves around Charles Wallace.
#4: I'm nervous about the casting of the three Mrs. Ws. None of the actresses are what I ever imagined these three ladies to be like. If you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about; if you've listened to the audiobook narrated by Madeleine L'Engle herself, then you REALLY know what I'm talking about. Casting choices aside, I'm not too thrilled about the way they've been depicted -from imagery to costumes- either. This 'visionary' directer is definitely putting her own visionary spin on it and I'm not sure I'm going to like it at all.
#5: Where is Charles Wallace, exactly? I mean, this kid basically gets the whole story rolling. He's the one who first meets the Mrs. Ws, who he then introduces to Meg; he's the one who latches onto Calvin like he's necessary and Calvin then becomes necessary; Charles Wallace is the only reason Meg really gets involved in anything and I very much dislike he's being short-changed. Of the two trailers so far, he has only been seen in the second one -seen, because he is literally hanging out in the background of every scene he's in. That they haven't given any mention to him or to one of the most interesting sibling relationships I've seen in fiction makes me nervous.
#6: Action sequences. Where was that in the book again? Don't get me wrong, I'll give movie adaptations leeway for stories; they are ADAPTATIONS, after all. But action sequences do not a good story make and this is a lesson I don't think Hollywood understands.
#7: Mr. Jenkins, the school principal. I assume this is who admonishes Meg about using her father's disappearance as an excuse to act out. In the book, he's depicted as kind of a surly old man, out to get Meg, who no one likes, and the casting choice for him doesn't quite live up that image. Why is this important, you ask? Since he's hardly in the book at all? Because I think ahead and Mr. Jenkins plays a huge role in the sequel, A Wind in the Door. That's why.
#8: The giant flying lettuce leaf with a head better not be their version of Mrs. Whatsit's centaur-like form. IT BETTER NOT BE.
So from the most story-stretching to the very far-sighted, those are my big concerns so far. At the very least, the trailers give me a need to re-read the book, as there's a definite feel of wrongness I need to identify going on here.

What are your thoughts on the trailers for A Wrinkle in Time?

Monday, November 13, 2017

It's NaNo Time!

NaNoWriMo snuck up on me this year. I knew it was coming but I just kept pushing it off.

Like many things for the past several months, writing got pushed onto a back burner. At the time, I thought it was a good thing, to give myself a break and some breathing room to cope with life. Since September, my brain has finally started percolating on the story again, trying to work around plot holes and dead ends, but I never could make myself sit down and work on it.

Then suddenly it was November 6th and I hadn't so much as opened my WIP, let alone written a single word, and that familiar overwhelming frustration of failure set in and told me that now there wasn't even a point in starting, because there was no way I could catch up.

But on November 7th I told that thought to shove off and wrote 4497 words. Just to prove it wrong. Since then, I haven't written consistently, but I've made good progress, considering.

The primary reason I didn't knuckle under to that bout of doubt is because I know what I'm capable of. And thanks to NaNo's updated stats through the years, I have recorded proof of it, too.
If I once wrote over 10,000 words in a single day and over 180,000 words in a single month, I can make up for the six measly days of November.

And I feel alive again. Working on my story, writing -it makes me feel like me again. Many writers have said variations of this but I suddenly know what it really truly means to say I write to live.

It also helps that I'M ON FIRE WITH IDEAS. The history of this WIP Glass & Cinders is long and convoluted. Many years ago, it started out as a short story, which most of my friends and family told me was perhaps the best thing I'd ever written but that it need to be longer. I totally agreed with them. Even while writing the short story -for a prompt contest with a 2k word limit- I knew it needed to be a longer piece eventually. My first attempt, during NaNo 2012, was an absolute disaster. Because of the short story, I knew what I wanted to write, so for the first time ever I made an outline for my story. A scene-by-scene outlining detailing all events of the novel. And it was the most boring piece of drivel I'd ever written. I only managed to write 50k out of sheer willpower and as soon as December hit I shoved it to the side in disgust.

Why did I bother with the 50k on a terrible project? Well, firstly, I couldn't not write 50k; I couldn't fail NaNo! I've never done that (and I don't ever plan to). But mostly because I kept going back to that outline and thinking how good it sounded. It simply wasn't translating. I eventually boiled it down to the fact that there wasn't enough conflict and plot in the outline to carry an entire novel or even a novella. And I really, really wanted to write a novel.

Over the years I've re-outlined, overhauled, and completely revised this WIP maybe seven times. I've discarded characters, changed entire timelines, and written hundreds of thousands of words on plot aspects I wound up throwing out a month and a half later. Each time I've done one of these major overhauls, a new piece would fit perfectly into place -and knock half a dozen out of whack. Suffice to say, this has been my most infuriating and temperamental project to date.

My biggest problem, I think, has been my obsession of outlining this story. I've always been more of a pantser, but so many aspects of this story demanded an outline, so I've obliged. This November, however, I kind of tossed it out. I've kept a structure from the outline, but for the first time in years, I'm concerning myself more writing the story, getting those words down, letting the story and characters guide me, than trying to force them into my outline.

And, I have to tell you, it's liberating. The characters which have proven so incredibly uncooperative are suddenly showing me different aspects and angles of themselves. Plot pieces are falling together, development arcs are blossoming before my eyes, and a character that I tossed out of the project back in 2012 tapped me on the shoulder yesterday and said, "Pardon me, but this is where I belong and this is the role I play." AND IT FREAKING WORKS.

I haven't felt this in-tune with a story in a very, very long time and it is wonderful.

It's not my most-impressive word count. I think it is probably the worst I have ever done during a NaNo ever. But that doesn't bother. I'm writing again and I'm loving it for the first time in forever. That's what matters.

I've also been digging up some really good resource materials, namely:

The Celtic Myth Podshow (there are a TON of podcasts on Celtic mythology, folklore, and history, but so far this is my favorite)
Why Didn't Cinderella "Just Leave?" -This blog post from Pages Unbound talks about the reasons why Cinderella endures the abuse of her step-family and whether it's justified story-wise. Or, more accurately, whether the fact that she doesn't "just leave" is justified story-wise. If you're like me, maybe you never actually thought about the abuse angle, but yeah, poor Cinderella isn't just misused by her step-family -she is abused. This is great food for thought as I'm working on my own Cinderella retelling.

My blog posts might be a little sparse this month because of NaNo and all its ensuing chaos, but I do have several ARCs to read this month as well, so look forward to some of these reviews through December:
I, uh, maybe forgot how crazy this time of year is and maybe forgot just how many titles I have to read. BUT THEY ALL LOOKED SO GOOD!!!

How's your NaNoNovel going?
If you're not a WriMo, how are you keeping busy this November?