Thursday, March 14, 2019

Guest post from the future: Jim Wolfe on finding inspiration for 'The Making of Heroes'

Hello, beautiful literate people. You give us hope for the future.

Speaking of which, today's guest post came to us through a wormhole in the space time continuum (or something like that).

Historical novelist Jim Wolfe hails from the distant future, and we'll let him tell you in his own words about the inspiration behind his book The Making of Heroes.

For a long time I’d been wanting to write about Abigail Eastwind. But where do you start, with such a well known figure? Already there are novels, biographies and more than one H-Box production.

So for many years I wrote, as it were, around her, chronicling the V-Cities in all their magnificent glory. But always somewhere, to the back of my mind, figures, characters, backstories, incidents and plots were forming and - gradually - becoming more and more insistent on being recognised and recorded.

One day, I skimmered to the massive ruins of V-CityB. As usual, a guide was conducting a tour, conjuring images of the past with a wave of its hand. Sometimes it would morph - as VFs are wont to do - into the characters it was speaking about. The small group - there were maybe six of us - trailed along the curving passageways while around us the events of over 500 years ago were brought into shimmering, 3D life.

I knew most of it of course, having already written extensively about this period. So I wandered off.

After a few turns and random changes of direction I found myself alone. The air was slightly stale, but not unpleasant.

And as I walked I could hear the quiet, distant echo of my footsteps. I could easily have been the only person to go this way for centuries.

I fell into a reverie. And from the entangling mists of thought, pulled remorselessly into a fictional reality, a powerful figure emerged.

Spiker Gomez, padding along at that steady trot that eats up the miles. Going home with snared rabbits. And above, far beyond the sky, the planets indifferently clicking into place.

I had the start of my story. And the other figures, some - like Spiker - fictional, others - like both Allegra and Abigail - historical fact, began to assemble and take shape, waiting to come on stage and make themselves known.

Heroes, villains and ordinary people all caught up in the great flux of a tumultuous time.

I had my book. I had three. An epic.

Of course they found me: a guide fizzed into being and announced the last Skimmer of the day was about to depart. Back in mundane reality, I returned to my Dome and began to write.

Hungry for more? Take a trip to the future and read The Making of Heroes.

Just remember, there's no time like the present to crack open a great book.

Happy reading,
Erin & Anna

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Zombies, vampires, and strange medical experiments: Review of Pembroke Sinclair's 'Edge of Humanity'

Title: Edge of Humanity
Series: Saving Humanity (#2)
Author: Pembroke Sinclair
Genre: Zombies
Pages: 112

What Goodreads has to say:

Does being immune to becoming a zombie still make a person human?

Caleb tried to live a normal life after the uprising. He moved into the city, found a home, and worked a job. He yearned for days full of tedium and schedules. Instead, he discovered he was immune to becoming a zombie, and his life was turned upside down.

Fear and uncertainty have replaced normalcy. Caleb no longer knows if his immunity makes him human or something else … something monstrous. He knows who is after him, but to find out what his captors want and what he is he'll have to play their game and give up his freedom. His sacrifice may or may not lead to the answers he desperately craves.

What I have to say:

Edge of Humanity continues the story that started in Humanity's Hope, which, by the way, has an incredibly killer ending. So needless to say, I was only too eager to read book two in the series.

This one also had a killer ending, so looking ahead to book three.... yeah, you can count me in.

But let's return to the present.

It's apocalypse now, and Caleb may or may not hold the answer to saving humanity from the zombie scourge. Sadly, a lot goes wrong and by the end of the book, he still doesn't know whether or not he holds the key to saving humanity (like how I worked in the series title there?). One thing he does know is that his life really sucks.

Caleb is kind of a cool character, and he's easy to get behind. He's got a troubled past as the only survivor of his family and a guy who's been running from zombies for a long, loooong time. He's a suicide survivor and has a lot of anxiety. Not too good with people, either--though I think he has a good heart. He's basically a traumatized action hero.

To complicate matters, there's the issue of his apparently being a vampire (I know--what?). Seems like he's survived a zombie bite only to become a monster of a different kind. And that brings me to something we should get out of the way.

This book is gross. As gross as you'd expect a book about zombies, vampires, and strange medical experiments to be. So don't read it while you're eating. OK, end of side note.

Book 2 didn't quite captivate me like the first one did--maybe that's because there was more of a mystery element in the first one (who's targeting Caleb? Which of his friends can he trust?) But Edge of Humanity was still a wild ride, and one that I enjoyed.

I especially liked it when the story takes an unexpected turn, like when Caleb runs into a civilization of humans outside the city. (True--the girl he meets there--might have been my favorite character.) It's also interesting when we find out the relationship between Samuel and Dr. Maudaus.

And I enjoyed the flashbacks to Caleb's family. That makes his story more heartbreaking and more compelling. We can only pray that his future holds hope--and not just for humanity, but for Caleb himself.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Third Time's a Charm: Jeffrey Bardwell's Rotten Magic

Title: Rotten Magic
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (#1)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk 
Publisher: Twigboat Press
Pages: 336

What Goodreads has to say:

Destiny in one hand. Doom in the other. Which will destroy him first? 

Artificers are the gilded princes of the Iron Empire. Mages are violent criminal outcasts. Devin competes to become the best artificer in the empire . . . but he's secretly a mage. 

Devin, a young skilled apprentice, dreams of becoming the master of his craft if he can only resist the sinuous allure of magic. His secret grows heavier as he claws his way to the top of his competitive, cutthroat guild. Friends and rivals start taking notice when Devin glorifies in the persona of the dragon and builds mechanical armor to match. He's also started hearing voices in his head: the stout words of the being he calls 'the artificer' and the sly, oily voice of 'the mage.' How long can Devin be satisfied with fake dragon armor when the promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear? 

Embark on Devin's dark, epic journey in Book One of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

I don't usually talk about my own writing on here, but I'm gong to make a brief exception right now.

It took me a few years to realize how my writing process works. It's like this:

1. Write a book.
2. Read through it and make a few edits.
3. Decide it's probably the next great American novel.
4. Wait several months.
5. Read it again.
6. Realize it needs a complete rewrite.

As such, it's easy for me to understand why author Jeffrey Bardwell has rewritten Rotten Magic twice (well, at least twice, as far as I know).

I'm also happy to say that this third (and, as he tells me, final) incarnation of Devin's story is not only the best yet, but a more complete, satisfying story than either of the previous two versions.

First of all, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that the story starts in Devin's village before he gets accepted into the Artificer's Guild. He's still a poor, innocent country boy with stars in his eyes. Reading the first few chapters of the story, I just kept thinking, "Yes! Yes! Yes! This is where Devin's story starts."'

It's soooo much more interesting and satisfying to start here when he's an ignorant young bumpkin who wants nothing more than to study at the Artificer's Guild. He's never seen the Iron City: he has no idea what he's in store for, or what the Artificer's Guild is really like.

It gives the tragedy that follows (in this book and the sequels) so much more weight. And it makes Devin's character arc so much more compelling.

I equally loved getting to see Devin's first encounter with Drusilla, Benny, and all the other students. The first two Rotten Magics started with Devin already in his last year of apprenticeship--at which point he'd been living in the Iron City for a few years and was already enmeshed in the tangled web of the Artificer's Guild, with Benny as his nemesis and Drusilla as his best friend.

In those other two drafts, I never realized what I was missing. It's so fun to see these relationships take shape. It's so fascinating to see Devin transform from his first to final year as an Artificer.

For anyone who hasn't had the benefit of seeing this story slowly take shape (and it's been so interesting to see), I'll stop talking about the changes and just dive into the story itself.

Magic. Steampunk. Characters so complex you cheer for them one moment and cringe for them the next. You love them, hate what they're doing, and find the whole thing so utterly fascinating you can't look away from the impending train wreck. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE HERE? THIS IS EVERYTHING I WANT IN A BOOK.

Devin is such a fascinating character, and perhaps equally fascinating is Drusilla. Though I'm still perplexed by her actions in the final chapter (how does she think turning Devin over to the Black Guards is going to free him?), I so love Drusilla's character and her inner monologues:

And of course you're only doing this for Devin's sake, I told myself. Because his behavior has grown so bizarre, his inventions so dangerous. Not from any sense of jealousy? Not because never in your craziest dreams could you have imagined such an awesome flame-throwing device? And you, the lamper's daughter, no less!

As for Devin himself, he's your ultimate troubled hero. I love the boy to death and want nothing more than for him to succeed. But from the moment he first kindles a fire from his fingertips--not even a fire, really, just a faint, fleeting warmth--you know where this is all headed.

Oh, did I mention? Magic is forbidden in the Iron Empire. Devin's not only a crazy brilliant artificer--he's secretly a mage.

Also, he's unstable as heck. Is it something to do with the magic? Does magic make a person unstable? Dangerous? Is Devin really--like the mages on all those propaganda posters--a monster?

I love it, I'm here for all of it--even the train wreck at the end.

And writing this, the spirit of my former English major (writing her senior thesis on Frankenstein adaptations) just resurfaced. Because what screams Frankenstein's monster like a troubled boy--cast out by his fellows and denied fellowship until he's desperate--igniting a room full of innocent bystanders (well, admittedly, they are Black Guards who are probably going to arrest him, but still....)?

Whenever the Artificer's Guild students play Knights and Dragons--a bit like Capture the Flag, but the Flag is the Dragon and once you find him, well let's just say it's a bit more violent than Capture the Flag--Devin is ALWAYS the Dragon. Dragon Boy. That's his nickname. Why not just call him a monster and have done with it?

But somehow, like Frankenstein's monster, Devin may be the least monstrous of them all. He's so innocent. And yet--he's anything but innocent. It's complex, it's fascinating, it's beautiful. It's Rotten Magic 3.0.

This is where I break into applause.


(Y'all saw that coming, right?)

Until tomorrow.

P.S. -- Now you all know how to bribe me into giving a great review. Just write a book with Frankenstein parallels.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Book Fairs happening in 2019

Hello lovely readers! It has come to my attention that a lot of you are kind of into books.

The folks at Kotobee have put together this awesome chart of every book fair happening in 2019--all over the world. Below, you can see the line-up for America, but if you want details or info about book fairs happening in other locales, head over to the site and browse by continent.

2019 North America Book fair Calendar

Seen anything you like? (The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair sounds pretty sweet to us).

May you discover many new literary adventures in 2019. And when you do, keep us posted!

Happy reading,
Erin & Anna

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Here there be mermaids: Bo Wu's 'Mermaids are Real'

Title: Mermaids Are Real: The Mystiq Prong
Author: Bo Wu
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy 
Published: 2018
Pages: 342
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to Say:

"'Crabs talk?' asked Benji.

'Everything in nature speaks. Not everything in nature listens,' said Octavius nodding Topside."

Benji Fisher has spent the first twelve years of his life growing up in a small fishing town, Topside. He’s gotten used to the gang of dolphins who follow him on his surfboard and the voices he hears under the water; odd things that have, in their repetition, become part of normal everyday life. 

However, none of that prepares him for the recruitment speech he gets from an octopus named Octavius and three of the dolphins the night before his thirteenth birthday.

What would you do if your ‘calling’ in life required you to take a leap of faith? Would you take the plunge?

What I have to say: 

Mermaids are awesome. Which brings up a valid question: why aren't there more books about them? And why is is that all the books about mermaids I've ever read are so dull?

Now, I'm sure there's some mermaid book out there that's super awesome; but at the moment I can't think of a single non-picture book about mermaids that actually held my interest long enough for me to finish it. (Anyone read The Water Babies?)

Bo Wu's Mermaids Are Real isn't bad as far as books about mermaids go. The author has conjured up a rich undersea world and a story enthused with contemporary issues (like pollution).

It's not the be-all, end-all mermaid book we never knew we always wanted, but whatever.

First, let's talk about the good stuff.

Great quote: "The ocean always talks to those who are willing to listen to it."

There were moments in this book that really soared--and hinted that the author has a natural spark for world-building and storytelling. For example, Aquari--the home of the merpeople--is colorful, imaginative, and wondrous. It's beautiful, exciting, and holds plenty of still undiscovered secrets:

"The ocean's a big place.... I suppose it would take you hundreds of years to see all that Topside has to offer. It would take you thousands more to see all that Aquari has hidden amongst its various nooks and crannies. I see things I've never seen before every single day."

This is spoken by the main character's water fairy mentor, Montal, who happens to be my favorite character.

One of my favorite scenes was the one in which Montal's daughter, Payton, grows some high-speed coral by shooting multi-colored sparks from her wings as she spins. The moment captured that childlike wonder often associated with mermaids (and, I suppose, fairies).

Another of my favorite moments was when our hero, Benji, confronts all his insecurities and finds the strength to move past them, guided by his mother's healing spirit. That scene was beautifully played and left me with an appetite for more. (Benji's mother is dead. So is his dad. It's basically a Harry Potter situation where Hagrid is an octopus who says, "You're a merman, Harry.")

There were also some characters I thought were very fun. Montal was awesome, and I loved Octavius (which is the only acceptable name for an Octopus). Eke and Zeke--young, headstrong dolphins-- were also fun. And Joe, Benji's adopted dad, was great.

But elsewhere, I could have used a little more layering in the characters. I feel like Benji could have been a lot more complex, especially considering that awesome, transcendent scene I just mentioned: it was wonderful, but it came out of nowhere and then sunk back into the ocean never to be seen again.

And what's up with Benji and Meena (the beautiful/terrifying mermaid who first makes contact with Benji and gives him a kiss--strictly for oxygen purposes--early on in the story)? I kind of thought they'd get together. They don't have to--that's totally the author's prerogative--but it seemed like the story was setting us up for that and then never delivering. If they don't end up getting together, I at least want a really deep friendship or something. I didn't feel like I got that. They were just kind of thrown together and I guess they're friends now or whatever.

But the main thing that kept me from fully enjoying this book was its style. I've thought long and hard about how to describe it and I'm still coming up short. It's not passive voice, but it kind of feels like that. It's like the sentences are too long, or they try to do too much, or they need more punctuation or something. I'm still not sure what the issue is.

I also found some of the dialogue off-putting: it didn't sound natural. Natural-sounding dialogue is a hard thing to achieve, so I'm definitely sympathetic. But stilted dialogue is also kind of a story-crasher. So yeah.

At the end of the day, Mermaids Are Real didn't quite live up to my expectations, but it definitely holds promise. I think there's a great spark here, and I think the author is capable of doing great things in the world of storytelling.


P.S. - if you've read the be-all, end-all mermaid book, feel free to leave a comment so I can experience this magic.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Demi-gods, Talking Swords, and Strong Women

Destroyer's Blood


Series:  Blood Series
Author: Michael Lynes
Published: November 5 2018
Publisher: Michael D Lynes

Goodreads Summary: Dev shook his head, spitting out dust and rock chips. The last rays of the setting sun stained the ground crimson. “Betrayer,” he murmured, ears still ringing from the terrific explosion, “we have a problem.”

The cryptic message from Olympus changes everything... One moment Devcalion and Betrayer are free, climbing up Half Dome without a care in the world, the next they are dragged into battle with the Destroyer, Zeus’s ancient foe.

The Dark Power is merciless, and time is running out. It’s up to Dev and Tray to try to stop him, or the world of men and gods is doomed.

My Thoughts:
Honestly at first I wasn't a huge fan. It felt a bit like a Percy Jackson rip-off. However, the farther I read, the more I began to enjoy the story and the ways that the gods/goddesses/titans were portrayed, which was actually very different from Percy Jackson. Don't get me wrong, I freaking love Percy Jackson, and if you haven't heard of the Lightning Thief Musical, educate yourself. . . . But, back to the review. I loved Hephaestus. One of my favorite things was that while his "speaking voice" was crude and rough, his "mind voice" was that of a professor. It taught the idea that people can choose how to portray themselves, and shouldn't be thought less of if their dialect differs from yours. Hephaestus is a genius, but he feels more comfortable being seen as a lovable goof. 

I loved the thought that certain titles/roles of gods can be passed on - Devcalion taking Prometheus' role, and Adrestia taking on the mantle of Nemesis. I liked that the traditions were being passed on to the next generation. That was cool.

As previously stated the characters were great. Typhon's madness was very well constructed and delivered, as was the bond between Dev and Tray. Tray is awesome. When Adrestia first entered the picture I was afraid that Dev - Tray - Adrestia would turn into some sort of weird love triangle, but that's not what happened at all. Tray and Addie become close friends, because strong women don't need to compete over a boy. Strong women pool their resources and move past said boy. Well done Lynes, well done.

* * * * * * * * * S P O I L E R S    A H E A D * * * * * * * * *

The ending was great, how Gaea's anger and sorrow were acknowledged and her heart was restored, she wasn't destroyed, but made complete again. The way Tray fit into that puzzle was very symbolic and I appreciated the imagery. I really liked that Adrestia's sacrifice wasn't cast aside, but honored.

So yeah, the plot was good, I liked the characters, it brought a fresh spin on Greek mythology, and the ending was satisfying, however, I'm gonna give it 3/5 trees, and not 4/5. Why? Dialogue. While Hephaestus had great interactions with other characters, whenever Dev or Tray spoke it felt off. Almost as if their conversations belonged in a middle-grade series, and not YA. Specifically the last scene - the reunion between Tray and Dev - this was mainly due to the fact that when Dev loses Tray he is completely and utterly devastated. He can't even think, his life is ruined, and nothing matters anymore. Then Gaea does the unthinkable and brings her back, and it's cheesy, quick and paired with frankly stupid dialogue. Their reunion is lackluster, childish, and doesn't seem to match the themes that are followed throughout the rest of the book. 

Definitely an enjoyable book, very well researched and thought out. Great for fans of Greek mythology.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

People are lovable but imperfect in Jenna Zark's 'Fool's Errand'


Title: Fool's Errand
Series: Beat Street 
Author: Jenna Zark
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction 
Published: November 20, 2018, Dragon Moon Press
Pages: 150
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

When her best friend Sophie goes missing, 12-year-old Ruby Tabeata has a choice: wait for her friend to come home or defy her parents and find Sophie.

Set during the 1950s Blacklist era when writers like Sophie’s mom were being jailed or fired, Fool’s Errand sends Ruby out of her city and her comfort zone.

With nothing to rely on but her grit and determination, Ruby has to outsmart the men chasing Sophie and her mom—discovering that whether or not you succeed, trying to save a friend is never a fool’s errand.

What I have to say:

The Beat on Ruby's Street was one of my favorite middle grade books ever. It was amazing. I was glued to the page, I reveled in the simple yet beautiful style, and perhaps best of all, the book fed my hopeless poetry addiction.

So when I heard that Jenna Zark had written a sequel about Ruby and her friends, I was ecstatic. In my opinion, Fool's Errand didn't quite reach the level of literary perfection that The Beat on Ruby's Street achieved, but it was still a fantastic read: clever, exciting, and heartwarming.

At the center of the novel is Ruby Tabeata, and a heroine more lovable, spunky, and indomitable would be difficult to find. Being a Beat (and a preteen) Ruby is apt to question and challenge everything. She's stubborn as anything and determined not to let anyone push her around. And that extends to the people she cares about--Ruby won't let anyone harm them if she can help it. She'll do whatever she can to protect her friends, especially her best friend Sophie.

That's the starting plot for Fool's Errand: Sophie and her mother have gone missing, and Ruby is determined to find them. While The Beat on Ruby's Street painted a vibrant picture of life as a Beat in 1950s Greenwich Village, Fool's Errand paints a picture of life in the days of the Blacklist, when writers and artists had to defend themselves against accusations of Communism.

For young readers, it's an excellent introduction to one of America's darker episodes. But while it's historical fiction, Ruby isn't some antiquated 1950s heroine; she could be living in our time--and if she were, I have a hunch she'd be dealing with a lot of the very same issues: societal prejudices, broken families, political backstabbing, etc. Struggling to understand your parents, breaking the rules to protect a friend, making a situation worse when you only meant to help--these things will always be relevant.

Besides that, Ruby is such a strong, passionate character that she spans generations. She's so full of love but she gets frustrated when people don't understand her and when they harm the people close to her. She's incredibly brave and loyal but far from perfect. Aren't we all?

I think, at bottom, this book is about people: what binds them together, how they can surprise you, how a person you hate can suddenly become your friend, how a friend can make a mistake out of an overabundance of love, and how, in the end, we're all just doing the best we can.

A personal note: When I read The Beat on Ruby's Street I was living in Oregon. Since then, I've moved to New York City and wandered the charming, historic streets of Greenwich Village. Reading Fool's Errand on my daily subway commute, just minutes from Ruby's beloved Beat neighborhood, it feels like I've come full circle.


Until tomorrow.