Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

4 out of 5 starsA Darker

Contrary to what my lack of posting implies, I’ve actually been reading books and watching movies these last few weeks. What I haven’t been doing is sitting my butt down at the computer and getting my reviews written down.  I promise to do better. And so this week, I present to you the fantasy novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab. This book is the first in her Shades of Magic series, and it introduces us to a world in which four alternate Londons exist in separate magical realities. Travelling between these realities is a skill only possessed by people born with special magical abilities, and Kell is one such person. Kell is a messenger and ambassador for Red London and he moves between three of the four Londons.

Per the book description:

Kell is one of the last Antari―magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes―Red London―and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I really enjoyed this book and I definitely have the next book in the series on my to-read list. I think Schwab does a decent job of world building but, as the story revolves more around the magic systems in each London, as opposed to the locales, I didn’t feel fully invested in the Londons. She does, however, present the reader with a fully fleshed and well-thought out magic system, that varies with each one of the Londons and with the people wielding them. It looks as if the next book in the series will delve more deeply into the actual worlds outside of the Londons and will focus on the character of Delilah Bard.

I’m looking forward to the next installment. This week, I’m reading Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd. I hope you all are having a good summer. It’s been busy around here, what with a family camping trip and a new puppy, but I hope to be more active online in the coming weeks.

Kind regards,

Anne

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Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: The Forbidden City by Deborah A. Wolf

The Forbidden City

5 out of 5 Stars!

I just finished The Forbidden City by Deborah A. Wolf, the second book in her Dragon’s Legacy series. This book marks a glorious return to world she introduced us to in The Dragon’s Legacy. The prose is as elegant and artful as the story is raw and bloody. Wolf shows no mercy to her cast of characters, killing them off with abandon (although, spoiler alert, in a land full of dark magic, not all the dead stay that way.) This book will leave you ready for more.

From the book jacket description:

Sulema Ja’Akari is an elite warrior, one of the desert people known as the Zeeranim. She is also the daughter of the Dragon King of Atualon, whose magic is the only thing that prevents the earth dragon from waking. Should the dragon end her sleep, their world will be destroyed.

The Dragon King is dying. As heir to his throne Sulema must be trained to take his place, yet the more she learns, the less she trusts the sinister agendas that surround her. Knowing that her life hangs in the balance, Sulema seeks to return to the Zeera.

Salvation may lie with her mother, Hafsa Azeina, who walks the dark and deadly pathways of the Dreaming Lands. To save her daughter, the dreamshifter will be forced to strike a pact with her greatest enemy, a huntress who would rather kill her than assist her.

Upheaval stretches far beyond Atualon–to the forbidden city of Khanbul where the emperor rules with an iron hand. An elite cadre of rebel conspirators chafes beneath his rule and plots to overthrow him.

Among them is Jian de Allyr, the half-dae prince born of a human mother and a twilight lord. If they are to challenge the emperor in his stronghold, however, Jian and his co-conspirators must secretly raise an army…

If I have one complaint, it would be that I wished I had discovered this series after it had been completely written. The plot is complex and includes multiple story arcs. I had forgotten a lot of the details from the first book, which made for some moments of confusion on my part. Wolf helpfully includes a map, and appendixes to help you along. Not to mention, just as she did in the last book, she leaves you with many unanswered questions.

I can’t wait for the next book, scheduled for release in May of 2019.  This was a great read, and I highly recommend it.

Kind regards,

Anne

movie review · Uncategorized

A Puppy ate my homework.

Schnitzel
Where have I been you ask? Well, we acquired a little lad last weekend. Not having had a puppy in the house for 17 years meant we’d forgotten how demanding the little stinkers can be, and Schnitzel the Schnoodle is no different. Between his needs, family birthdays, the end of the school year, and various house maintenance, I didn’t get much done in the way of reading and writing.

As for movies, we hosted a family movie night this weekend to watch the 1996 classic, Mars Attacks!

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116996/

I’d forgotten how many big name movies stars of the 1990s were in it. Annette Benning, Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, even a very young Jack Black, to name a few.

The movie still got laughs from us and our boys were delighted with the campy CGI used in the film. Don’t get me started on the hammy overacting by some of these titans of the silver screen, either. It’s still comedy gold, even though a bit dated. Only cringeworthy moment, having our oldest child ask about Martin Short’s character talking to the “sexy ladies” standing on the side of the road in one scene. Ummm, a wee bit awkward, that…

As for this week, I’m almost finished with The Forbidden City by Deborah Wolf and I’ll post a review as soon as I’m done. I promise! We will also be trying to get out of the house to see Solo: A Star Wars Story. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Be cool, summer is coming!

Kind regards,

Anne

 

 

 

movie review · Uncategorized

Movie Review: Life of the Party

The weekend before Memorial Day, I went to see two movies, Life of the Party, starring Melissa McCarthy, and Deadpool 2. Needless to say, only one of these movies lived up to the hype and it wasn’t Life of the Party.

From the movie description on IMDb:

“When her husband suddenly dumps her, longtime dedicated housewife Deanna (McCarthy) turns regret into re-set by going back to college – landing in the same class and school as her daughter, who’s not entirely sold on the idea. Plunging headlong into the campus experience, the increasingly outspoken Deanna – now Dee Rock – embraces freedom, fun and frat boys on her own terms, finding her true self in a senior year no one ever expected.” 

I can only describe this movie as cringeworthy, chock full of vagina jokes and mining a one-sided sexual relationship with a callow frat boy for bawdy humor that just continually fell flat. It also had what felt like a few glaring plot holes.

Got some spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen it yet.

The premise of this film rests on Deanna and her divorce from her husband, who leaves her for a real estate agent. The plot hole comes into play when Deanna apparently gets nothing in the divorce even though they’ve been married for twenty years and her husband is the one cheating. She decides to go back to college but doesn’t have the money to pay for tuition as her ex-husband cuts her off. Cue the “Keep Dee Rock in College Fundraising Party” plot device that culminates in a not-so-surprise cameo from Christina Aguilera.

I have to say that the movie did have some shining comedic moments, such as Deanna killing it at an 80s-themed college party but those moments were few and far between. I wish McCarthy had kept the storyline more sweet and redemptive instead of going for the low-brow humor that she did. Couldn’t Deanna have wound up with her old classmate, now her Archeology professor at the end instead? It was an opportunity lost.

I give this movie 2 out of 3 stars. Go see Deadpool 2 instead. Just sayin’.

Hope you had a good weekend.

Kind regards,

Anne

author interview · New fantasy · Uncategorized

It’s Here! The Forbidden City by Deborah A. Wolf

The Forbidden City

Look what came in the mail today! The latest installment in the Dragon’s Legacy series, The Forbidden City, by my friend, Deborah A. Wolf. I am very much looking forward to diving into the second book in her lush series now that it’s here.

In honor of launch day, I’m reposting the author interview I did with Deb on the Litzophreniacs3 blog a few years back before she was a real-live published author.

As I’ve said before, I’ve known Deborah for a very long time and it’s particularly exciting to see friends do great things. I can also attest that Deb should have her own, “Most Interesting Woman in the World” meme. Before publishing, her first book had a working title of The Heart of Atualon but was changed to The Dragon’s Legacy. Here is the interview in full:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how your book came about.

Well, I’ve led a weird life, which lends itself well to being an author of speculative fiction. I’ve traveled a bit and always found myself fascinated by people, and cultures, and stories. Add that to a lifelong love of fantasy—I first read The Hobbit at six and never looked back—and you get the perfect alchemy for weird and wonderful stories.

Plus, I’m really no good at anything else. Whenever I try to hold down a regular job like normal people, I start throwing around the word ‘asinine’ and this does not endear me to supervisors or coworkers.

2. What helped you the most in writing The Heart of Atualon, the first book in the Song of the Sun Dragon Saga?

The best thing I ever did was give myself permission to fail. I’ve always wanted to write books, but the fear of not bursting from the starting gate with something as beautiful as Peter S. Beagle’s ‘The Last Unicorn’ had me paralyzed. I finally gave myself permission to write the most suckiful book in the history of books that suck so long as I finished the damn thing.

I then discovered, to my great delight and relief, that writing a good book depends only in small part on innate brilliance; much more skill than talent is involved, and skills can be learned and improved on through hard work.

This is very good news for me, because I love to learn about the craft of writing and I take it pretty seriously, but as far as innate brilliance is concerned I’m in woefully short supply. As you can probably attest, having watched me drink and dance at the same time.

3.What projects are you working on now?

My wonderful new editor at Titan is combing through THE HEART OF ATUALON for fleas. While he does that, and before he sends me two hundred pages of “Fix this, what were you even thinking?” I’m cheating on him with a new series.

SPLIT FEATHER is an urban fantasy set, ironically, in a tiny village in Alaska. Siggy has to discover where she came from in order to understand who she is, and she has to understand who she is before the demon in her head takes control. Also, fish head soup, witches, and bears.

4. Can you describe your writing process? When and where do you do most of your writing? What kind of technology do you use to create and compose?

I tried pantsing once. Not pulling people’s pants down, because that’s rude, but writing without a road map. Thank Cthulhu that beast never got published.

Now I’m a diehard outliner. I have outlines all over my computer…my outlines have outlines, and I’m not even joking. In the case of SPLIT FEATHER, I’ve got a seven-point outline, a fancy outline, a seven points story quotes outline, an extended outline, and a series outline. As I write, I narrow that down even further, detailing and (you guessed it, outlining) every step in my story as I come to it and just before I write, and then I outline each chapter by scene, to the point where great chunks of the story is written before I ever get around to writing.

My outlines are all done in MS Word, but the bulk of the story is composed in Scrivener, without which I would cease to function. I mean it, too; without Scrivener I’d just stay in bed all day with the covers over my head, wondering what I needed to do and in which order.

So, yeah. Word, Scrivener, and coffee.

I use Aeon Timeline software to keep stuff straight because I have a dismal memory, and the Pro Writing Aid plugin to help with editing because otherwise I’d use ‘just’ and ‘now and again’ so much my readers’ eyes would implode.

I get up at four in the morning to write and no, I am not a morning person. (See: Coffee, above). I do this because I haven’t figured out how to live without a paycheck, and most of the normal living hours of my day are already spoken for. I have a beat-up leather chair and ottoman at home for writing, and I can be found sitting in a corner at a local bookstore or upstairs at a local college. Found, but not disturbed. I get pretty bitchy when I’m writing and someone interrupts.

5. What or who inspired you to begin writing and for this book in particular?

I wrote my first fantasy story at the ripe old age of seven; my second grade teacher told my mother that I was possessed and needed exorcism.

She’s dead now.

THE HEART OF ATUALON came to me in a daydream—I daydream pretty much constantly—and I spent the next couple of weeks drawing maps of this fantastic new world that had exploded into being inside my head. A desert world with a matriarchal warrior society that broke pretty much every SFF trope I could find, and a king who abused his control of magic to the detriment of indigenous cultures, and a dragon at the heart of the world who was about to hatch and destroy everything.

Also giant cyborg spiders.

I struggled for a while over what form I wanted to use to tell this story…I love single-character epic fantasy with first person POV, and I love multi-POV epics with everything AND the kitchen sink stuffed into it. I thought at first this would be a simple sword-and-sorcery in the desert romp with Sulema as the only POV character…

…cue hysterical laughter…

…because that’s what a debut author should write. Master the simpler story forms, and then attempt the larger, more ridiculously unwieldy projects.

So anyway, eight POV characters and a fucktillion subplots later…

6. How do you generate ideas for your book(s)?

I broke the valve off my idea generator and the basement is completely flooded. I generate ideas constantly, whether I’m awake or asleep…it’s turning those ideas into stories of merit that’s the tricksy part.

7. How many hours a day do you devote to your writing?

All of them.

If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my story. It’s first thing on my mind when my eyes open, and the last thing I think of as I crawl into bed.

Physical writing gets anywhere from an hour to twelve hours plus, depending on what else I’ve got going on. And most of those hours feel like work, it’s not like some unicorn came over and farted inspiration dust all over my head. Hard work, and worth every headache, stiff neck, and swollen wrist.

8. What were the major barriers you overcame to complete your book project, if any?

The absolute and utter conviction that I could not do this amazing thing that I was dying to do. I was too mired in a defeatist mindset to fully commit to living my own authentic life. My best friend and alpha reader, who I am claiming as my sister, encouraged me and cheered every paragraph I wrote until I’d pounded out ‘The End’. I would never have finished my first book if it weren’t for her unconditional love and unflagging support.

Poverty is a real mood killer, too; it’s grindingly difficult to write anything, even a grocery list, after slogging away forty hours as a wage slave, and then raising a house full of kids. I’ll admit to stretching out my college studies and existing mostly on student loan refunds and store-brand spaghetti so I could finish my first book.

So I’m still poor, but knowing I can do it enables me to get up before the birds and the bees and work at my writing…which then makes all the wage slavery, mundane chores, and northern Michigan traffic bearable.

9. What are you reading now? In your opinion, what constitutes good writing or conversely, bad writing?

I read all the books. Last weekend I was ill, and read all seven of Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian books. In my opinion, her urban fantasy—especially her White Trash Zombie books—are beautifully and cleverly structured, so much so that they should be required reading in writing classes. Her prose is strong and clean too, and her zombie premise is awesome.

Pat Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful it has made me cry.

Robin Hobb’s characters live on in my mind and my heart as if they were dear friends of mine and not fictional characters at all. No other writer has ever accomplished that.

George Martin is unmatched, I think, in his ability to create and maintain the biggest, baddest epic fantasy ever.

Bad writing: cardboard characters, Chosen One storylines with no further thought put into telling something new, sexist drivel that casts women as cardboard backgrounds to the male characters’ lives, and characters who jump onto stallions and gallop for three weeks straight, pausing every other Tuesday to feed their unnamed mount a nose-bag full of grain. For Google’s sakes, people, make an effort.

I am also SO OVER rapey rapey rape culture in fantasy writing. If you use a woman’s rape to show me the man-pain of your male character, I’m going to burn your book and bury the ashes in my cat’s litter box. I’ve actually quit watching the Game of Thrones HBO series because ugh, over it.

10. What advice can you give to first time authors?

As great as you think it might be to get an agent and sell your book, the real deal is a fucktillion times better. Just sit your ass down and write.

I hope you enjoyed a peek into how Deborah thinks and works. If you want to follow Deb yourself, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog at http://www.deborahwolf.com/.

I’ll be posting my review of The Forbidden City as soon as I’m finished with it. I’ve got high hopes!

Kind regards,

Anne

 

Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Eve of a Hundred Midnights by Bill Lascher

3 1/2 out of 5 starsEve of a hundred midnights

In Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and Their Epic Escape Across the Pacific, Bill Lascher chronicles the lives of journalists Mel and Annalee Jacoby and their first-hand coverage of WWII in the Pacific Theater and subsequent escape using letters, articles, books, photos, and recollections from their families. I struggled with this book which is why I gave it 3 1/2 stars.

From the back cover description:

“The unforgettable true story of two married journalists on an island-hopping run for their lives across the Pacific after the Fall of Manila during World War II—a saga of love, adventure, and danger.

On New Year’s Eve, 1941, just three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were bombing the Philippine capital of Manila, where journalists Mel and Annalee Jacoby had married just a month earlier. The couple had worked in China as members of a tight community of foreign correspondents with close ties to Chinese leaders; if captured by invading Japanese troops, they were certain to be executed. Racing to the docks just before midnight, they barely escaped on a freighter—the beginning of a tumultuous journey that would take them from one island outpost to another. While keeping ahead of the approaching Japanese, Mel and Annalee covered the harrowing war in the Pacific Theater—two of only a handful of valiant and dedicated journalists reporting from the region.

Supported by deep historical research, extensive interviews, and the Jacobys’ personal letters, Bill Lascher recreates the Jacobys’ thrilling odyssey and their love affair with the Far East and one another. Bringing to light their compelling personal stories and their professional life together, Eve of a Hundred Midnights is a tale of an unquenchable thirst for adventure, of daring reportage at great personal risk, and of an enduring romance that blossomed in the shadow of war.”

I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Bill Lascher’s book. I loved the story of Mel and Annalee but for large portions of the book, it felt like an information dump and I prefer more of a storyteller approach to my reading. It might have been easier to parse the information if the book had included a dramatis personae (to keep all the key players straight) and a map. The sheer number of names, both foreign and English, and their nicknames, kept me thumbing back and forth to see who the author was referring to again and again. I wanted to love it but I just couldn’t fall into the story for any length of time. My father, on the other hand, loved this book. He was the one who recommended it to me in the first place. So, I’ll pass on his high recommendation in place of my own tepid review.

Thanks for stopping by!

Kind regards,

Anne

Art Mosaics · Uncategorized

Mosaic Retreat with Marvelous Mosaics

Mountain Mosaic

My First Mosaic

This weekend, I didn’t get a lot of reading done but that was because I was off to a glass-on-glass mosaic retreat hosted by local mosaic artist, Kory Dollar, of Marvelous Mosaics Fine Art. The retreat took place at the Deer Island Manor Bed and Breakfast, in Deer Island, Oregon. The interesting bit about this is that I actually attended first and second grade at the Deer Island School back in the 1970s, the same building that is now the Manor. Not only did I get to get my art on this weekend, I also got to explore a bit of my childhood at the same time.

Kory has perfected her own technique for creating glass-on-glass mosaics. It has all the beauty of stained glass, but her technique allows you to add in fine detail that would be lost on a typical stained glass piece. I can’t go into her trade secrets here, but if you take one of her classes or attend one of her workshops, she’ll teach you all about it. All you have to bring is your inspiration and Kory will do the rest.

The weekend started with a lecture and sketching our desired designs onto the back of a glass substrate (we had both newly framed glass and repurposed cupboard doors and windows to choose from). I opted for a repurposed cupboard door. I had helpfully pulled a random photo of a mountain stream off of the internet for my inspiration, and with Kory’s guidance, I sketched out my chosen design. The rest of the weekend, we spent cutting and breaking glass, gluing, and bleeding. (You can’t work with broken glass and not get a few nicks and cuts along the way.) On Sunday, for those of us who had finished our designs, we were able to grout our final projects before taking them home. I enjoyed the whole process immensely.

You can find Kory and her artwork on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/MarvelousMosaic/

For additional information on upcoming events and booking information, you can visit her blog at:

https://marvelousmosaic.wordpress.com/

For information on Deer Island Manor, you can find them on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/deerislandmanor/

I hope you all had a great weekend. I know I sure did!

Kind regards,

Anne