Sunday, August 25, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: STEELHEART, by Brandon Sanderson

Narrated by MacLeod Andrews
Book 1 of The Reckoners

Who are the Reckoners?

Well, they're people who are out to destroy Epics -- the name for what are essentially mutants or superheros. But in this dark world created by Sanderson, they are nothing near heroic.

The Reckoners are the heroes -- kind of.

The narrator, David, is a little boy when his father is killed by Steelheart, a new Epic who has the ability to turn anything that isn't living tissue to steel. Every Epic has a weakness, and that day, totally by accident, David's father made Steelheart bleed. Ever since, David has been trying to figure out Steelheart's weakness, so he can get revenge for his father.

Then he meets the Reckoners, who have come to the perpetually nighttime city of New 'Cago (Chicago), which Steelheart has made his kingdom. David wants to work with the Reckoners, share all the research he has done, and persuade them that the plan he has created to destroy Steelheart can work.

Nearly 13 hours of listening time -- compelling, and will leave you aching for the ugly, fear-filled, grim world David and the Reckoners live in. By the time the end comes, the surprises can take your breath away. But Sanderson lives up to his reputation as a master storyteller and worldbuilder, because every surprise makes sense. I have a good backlog of books waiting in my Audible app, but I'm really tempted to buy the next book in the series just because I gotta know what happens next.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING, by Ray Bradbury

A book on BEING a writer, more than a book on the writing craft.

Part autobiography.

It went way too fast, and yet there's a lot of meat for digesting, slowly, so maybe the smaller portions, highly condensed, are a wise choice. This is a collection of essays on writing Bradbury wrote over several decades.

I enjoyed remembering the books I had read, or short stories, and the movies I had seen as he talked about the various journeys to get them written. I had a little bit of shock to realize that a story I read in an English class magazine was written by Bradbury. Mind-blowing -- "name" SF writers having their stories appear in required classes in school. Of course, I remember when "Rocky" was coming out, and we had some scenes from the script in our English class magazine, so ....

Even if you don't write SF or fantasy, this book is highly useful for just getting into the mind of a writer and seeing that we don't all do it the same way, we don't all have the same journey, we don't all run at the same pace or learn things the same way. What works for YOU is the right journey to take and the right tools to pick up and the right approach to use.

Thanks to the master for making clearer what I've been learning for some time now, and will probably have to keep learning, as I go along.

As a note: I have a big stack of writing craft/writing resource books that have piled up, and my goal is to read at least 1 each month. Here's hoping -- and hold me accountable!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: ROSE OF THE OATH, by Hope Ann

Legends of Light 1
A Beauty & the Beast Retelling

I need to read the other books that tie into this story, especially the one that sparked the whole curse and prophecy and involves the ancestress of the heroine, Elissa.

Very well done, a new angle on Beauty & the Beast.

Elissa and her orphaned siblings are living life on the edge, tormented by news of approaching war. Plus there are the wolves howling in the distance, constantly. Wolves are especially tormenting for Elissa, because as we learn once we're deep into the story, she has a scar from a wolf attack -- the same attack that killed her parents.

The Beast carries multiple scars, also from wolf attacks. He wears the skins of the wolves that he has killed, without number, for centuries. He calls her Beauty, and she slips up and calls him Beast, because that is what he seems.  While he would like to explain the curse and the situation, he can't -- the same curse that traps her in the castle with him has taken his voice. Yeah, it's frustrating, for both of them. The bits and pieces of the story are revealed in his thoughts and writings and the snippets of news she hears about the outside world from the one person who, with no explanation, is able to get through the shield of magic and visit her at the castle.

There is prophecy and betrayal and learning to forgive and to care, and in the end, willing sacrifice. Elissa nearly dies, and is left marked by scars, just like Adrian the Beast, whom she has learned to love. That's not a spoiler, is it? Because this is, after all, Beauty & the Beast retold.

A very satisfying retelling. I really do need to get the other stories, to find out how the rose ties into the curse and betrayal and treason and the King's oath and the sacrifice that the Prince must make someday....

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: NEVERMORE: THE TRIALS OF MORRIGAN CROW, by Jessica Townsend

Audiobook, from Audible

Ever feel like everything is stacked against you, and no matter what you do, you're going to get blamed for anything that goes wrong -- even if you weren't anywhere near when it happened?

That's what life is like for cursed children in this fantasy world. Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, considered cursed and the cause of all misfortune around her -- and worse, she's doomed to die on the next Eventide, midnight on her birthday.

Her adventure begins when Eventide comes early, and the strange, flamboyant Jupiter North comes to whisk her away to the magical city of Nevermoor. She becomes a resident of the hotel he owns, where her room decorates itself to suit her and chandeliers grow from the ceiling and there are rooms where shadows become real and ... Whew! Too much to tell.

Morrigan is something of an illegal resident, and the authorities want to snatch her up and throw her back into the country where she's not exactly welcome ... and the only chance she has to stay in Nevermoor is to pass all the tests and trials and become a member of the Wundrous Society. She has to demonstrate her gift -- but what is it? She doesn't know, and Jupiter, her guardian, isn't telling.

Major fun. Another one of those books where I kind of grudged having to stop listening. Real life gets in the way an awful lot, y'know? The reviews recommend this for fans of Harry Potter and other stories where kids are whisked away into magical, sometimes dangerous worlds and adventures, where their only weapons are their own wits. The next book, Wunder Smith, is on my gotta-get list.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: RILEY MACK AND THE OTHER KNOWN TROUBLEMAKERS, by Chris Grabenstein

Audible Original

This is along the lines of a radio drama -- about a gang of middle school kids who pull off some pretty incredible, almost unbelievable schemes, to right wrongs and bring about justice and make sure that crooks pay up.

Riley Mack and his friends start out dealing with a bully who is stealing from kids younger than him -- and happens to be the son of the sheriff, who has a grudge against Riley. By the time they're done, they've rescued a stolen puppy, foiled bank robbers, saved his mother's job, recovered all the stolen 7th grader treasures, and exposed a puppy mill.

Riley made one stupid, temper tantrum mistake a few years before, and got himself labeled a troublemaker, which makes it hard for him and his friends when they're trying to be the heroes. Between an actress who loves her costumes, a tech genius, a slightly slow muscle-bound member of the team, and a geeky kid who wants to join the club, Riley has his hands full.

Major fun. The characters are likable and I was drawn into their lives immediately, even when they were a little "out there." I cringed a number of times, wanting to shout "Don't do it!" but that would be silly -- I was getting my morning walk at 7am, and the people in the neighborhood would not appreciate me yelling.

I really hope there are more adventures of Riley Mack and his friends available, or at least in the planning stages. Fun!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: IF WISHES WERE CURSES, by Janeen Ippolito

Steel City Genie, Book 1

Janeen is a rock star -- and I'm not saying this just because I want her to publish one of my SF series ... (well, maybe a little sucking up....)

She is a creative genius when it comes to world-building (check her nonfiction manuals on world-building if you don't believe me), she runs a publishing company, she indie publishes, and she does the incredible, fun, Indie Book Magic podcast with H.L. Burke, who I fear I will also fan-girl over. Remember my review of her book, COILED? Yeah ....

IF WISHES WERE CURSES is humor, magic, fantasy, mystery and romance, all rolled together. With some snark for seasoning. Our heroine is half human and half .... something magical. She has ideas, but doesn't know for sure until she gets some unasked-for answers in the book, because she doesn't know who her father is.

It's because of the unknown magic in her blood that curse marks are put on her to restrain her magic. When she kills a bear shifter in self-defense, that heritage makes her highly suspect, and she's put under even more restraints. She can't even teleport or go to her favorite coffee shop for some caffeinated support. She needs it, because if the bear shifters find her, she's dead meat, and she's not allowed to use magic to defend herself. How can that be fair, guys?

Then there's this guy who, apparently, she keeps meeting and making an instant connection with ... and forgetting as soon as they say goodbye. And he forgets her. Ever feel like the world is out to get you? Cube that, and you know what our heroine is feeling.

Do they find answers? Do they get their happily-ever-after after kicking some major vampire butt?

You gotta read this one. Just for the FUN, but also to see how great storytelling and world-building is DONE. When my to-be-read mountain comes down a league or two, I'm getting the next in the series. Addiction warning!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Off the Bookshelf: THE ADVENTURES OF TOM STRANGER, by Larry Correia

An Audible Original

Subtitle: Interdimensional Insurance Agent.

I guess this could be considered science fiction. Definitely snark, comedy, political and social satire, and a few other labels. Apply as you see fit.

Giggle fest time.

Consider: the narrator is Adam Baldwin -- from Firefly. So when there are references to the part Baldwin played, and a comment that "in this universe, Firefly played for five seasons" plus several movie spinoffs, and in another dimension the president is named Baldwin and happens to be an ex-actor who played a space cowboy .... yeah, I think the narrator had a lot of fun doing it.

When there are multiple universes, and someone powerful (an inventor and arms dealer) takes out an interdimensional insurance policy on ALL the permutations of himself, you have to call in the best insurance agent out there to make sure things are handled and bills are paid and ... whew! There are problems with a rival insurance agent, and a visit to a call center from worse-than-hell, and dealing with aliens who trashed the wrong planet. Can you see where I'm going with this?

Plus the author himself shows up in the book, multiple permutations of himself, where he's a SF writer who skipped the wrong classes in school and ended up messing up every part of his life. Hmm, regrets or just a tongue so firmly planted in his cheek it went out the other side of his face?

Fun. Silly. Some language. And the many and various accents and voices employed for the many characters just upped the ante. Makes me want to borrow my brother's copy of Firefly -- and maybe binge watch a few seasons of Chuck, too.