Reading Round Up – February 2019

Blogland,

I really liked last month’s Round Up. It was  nice to write up smaller thoughts and impressions of books I’d read, and it really streamlines my search for “what the heck I read last month” when I’m writing other posts or want to look at my reading to look for book recommendations at the library. Useful and convenient? Yes, please!

Title: Rivers of London vol. 4: Black Mould
black mould.jpgAuthor: Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, and Lee Sullivan
Format: Graphic Novel
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: This is a fun side story in the Rivers of London universe, following Peter and Guleed as they chase down a sentient, malicious, magical mold (mould if you’re British). What I really like about all of the graphic novels is that they give side characters a chance to shine. Guleed, Molly, and even Toby the Terrier get their time in the spotlight. The only reason I didn’t give this a 5 star rating is because they tend to be so fluffy. This are fun spin-offs and nothing more. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Recommend: Absolutely, for fans of the novels.

Title: Rivers of London vol. 5: Cry Foxcry fox.jpg
Author: Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, and Lee Sullivan
Format: Graphic Novel
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: Another good installment, although this one bummed me out a little. The character Renard was introduced in one of the later novels of the series, and I found his true neutral personality to be very intriguing. but in this story, Renard firmly plants himself in the realm of the baddies. *sigh* But, this was another example of side characters getting their time to shine. This issue featured Abigail and Guleed as unwilling players in a modern-day version of The Most Dangerous Game.
Recommend: Absolutely, if you liked the novels.

Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killeri'll be gone in the dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Format: Digital Audiobook
Narrator(s): Gabra Zackman, Gillian Flynn – Introduction, Patton Oswalt – Afterword
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: Oh my god, where do I even start with this book? I loved everything about it. The prose, the narration, the details. McNamara did an amazing job of not shying away from the horror the Golden State Killer wrought across California, but painting it in an incredibly human light. She focused on the victims and how it felt to be one, or to know one, or to fear you might become one. She also did an incredible job of humanizing herself without making the book about her. She acknowledged the insanity of her obsession and the toll it had on her life and her relationships, without coming across as whiny or unaware of her own privilege. She was thoughtful and that showed in her narrative. The narrator did a fantastic job of bringing this book to life for me, and her voice could be so soft and quiet, and then so gravelly and terrifying. Her range astounded me. I even liked the introduction, afterword, and extras included at the end. A really wonderful book if you have even the slightest interest in true crime or serial killers.
Recommend: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Title: Firefly: Big Damn Herobig damn hero
Author: James Lovegrove (original idea by Nancy Holder)
Format: Hardback
My Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Stars
Thoughts:
 You know I hate giving low reviews, but this was an underwhelming and trope-filled adventure through the ‘Verse. There’s better fanfic available for free on the internet. See my full review for more details.
Recommend: Nah. There are better media tie-ins out there. Or better yet, just go back and watch the show. If you really have a hankering, you could always find some high quality fanfic to scratch that itch.

Title: Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) 
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Format: Hardbacklies sleeping
My Goodreads Rating:
5/5 Stars
Thoughts: Aaronovitch is a really consistent author. I have a great time reading the Rivers of London series no matter which installment is currently in my hands. This latest novel is no exception. It was a little slow to start, but that is likely more my fault than the book’s. This book really picked up in the second half and even brought me to tears once. It’s at once fun, harrowing, and emotional. I really enjoyed my time with it. See my full review for more details.
Recommend:
Yep! But you’ll need to read all the others first. Oh no… more books to read!

Not too shabby for the shortest month of the year, and one with a major video game release. I’ll count this as a win, for sure. In March I’m reading a short story a day on top of my normal reading, so keep an eye on the What I’m Reading page for updates!

Talk soon, Bloggos.

 

BZ

 

 

Book Review – Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove

Blogland,

I’m a nerd. Between my reading habits and my video game obsessions, most of you are probably acutely aware of this fact. One of my many interests includes the early 2000s cult-classic television show Firefly, including the movie Serenity and a few of the graphic novel tie-ins. I read Mike Brooks’ Keiko series because the cover blurb sold it as “A Must Read for Firefly Fans”, and I loved it. It touched on what Firefly did so well: amazing world-building and characters that were impossible not to love.

Big Damn Hero is the first of a planned series of Official Novels™ written by James Lovegrove and edited by Joss Whedon. The books take place after the show but before the movie, which is the sweet spot that all fans want to live in. So, I had a moderate level of excitement when I saw this book come through the library.

Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Starsbig damn hero

As you might have gathered from the star rating, that excitement didn’t last long. Now, a quick word about how I rate things on Goodreads. I am a very generous reviewer. Ratings of three stars aren’t common, and anything below is really unusual. I rate based on my overall entertainment level and enjoyment of the book, whether that’s plot-based, characters, narrative style, or what-have-you.

So, let me start with the good. The characters felt true to themselves as based on the show. Mal, Jayne, and Shepard Book were particularly well done and I enjoyed my time with all of them. Particularly Book, because we FINALLY got to learn a little bit more about his past. The world-building was decent, but I feel like the majority of that work-load fell to the show and my familiarity with it. This is fanfiction. It might be printed and hardbound, but it’s still fanfic, and that means the bulk of the world- building is already done by the reader and their knowledge of the franchise.

The plot was all right. It felt true to form for the show, but was also really predictable. There were no surprises. Not one. Obviously, this might differ from reader to reader, but for me it was very disappointing. Also, the plot hinged on a character from Mal’s past, but they weren’t foreshadowed or even introduced until well into the last half of the book. I think that was intended to allow for Red Herrings, but all it really did was make the plot feel slow and plodding.

But the worst part, to me, were the tropes. So many tropes. Zoë’s in trouble with the law? Why not just unbutton her shirt a little and seduce her way to safety? (Side note: As a fan, I felt that this was wildly out of character for Zoë, which only made things worse. She actually referred to her breasts as her “bosom”. Zoë Washburne.) A dead woman was the villain’s motivation, and she only existed in the story to act as such. Yes, death of a loved one is sad, and it does change you, but that doesn’t mean you should create and then kill off your female characters just so your men can have some sort of purpose. In general, the female characters were two dimensional and just sort of blank. Kaylee may be the exception here, and River had some good moments, but Zoë and Inara definitely did not.

Knowing your tropes is so so so important. You need to know them so you can avoid them, or, better yet, so you can subvert them. When you know your tropes, you can twist them into something infinitely better and more interesting.  For instance, instead of Zoë just accepting that she had no alternative but to flirt with the Alliance officer, to the point where she actually seems sort of proud and maybe even a little exhilarated with her success, the narrative could have shown how disgusted she was that this was the only option she had. She’s hurt, she’s desperate, and she has to do something so utterly against her own ethical code. Just some internalization and we could have had so much more insight into Zoë’s character and a much more intense and impactful scene.

I know I’m barking up this Feminism tree again, but damn. I am so tired of seeing caricatures of women in fiction. I am tired of men writing as if they’ve never actually noticed that women are people too. I am sick of female characters existing solely to serve a role for the male characters. It’s exhausting.

mal gif
Me, reading this book.

I’m also angry because I know, without a doubt, that there are better Firefly novel length works posted on Archive of Our Own right now. FOR FREE. Written by fans, for fans. But this book gets added to the canon and snapped up off shelves while Titan Books and Joss Whedon make a pretty penny.

So, yeah. I won’t be coming back for the sequels. Which is a shame. They had such potential. I do sincerely hope that Lovegrove enjoys his time in the ‘Verse. According to the book’s average Goodreads rating, there are readers who like his interpretation of it. I’m just not one of them.

I’ve moved on to Lies Sleeping now that it’s back in my hands. Hopefully I’ll finish it sometime next week, since the Rivers of London books usually read quick. Barring any other important news/events, I’ll talk at you all on Monday.

Until then, Bloggos.

 

BZ

The Recap – January 2019

Hey Bloggos,

January felt long. And yet, it went by entirely too fast for my liking. I feel like I spent too much time sleeping or otherwise recuperating from all the work hours I put in, and not nearly enough time on writing. I’m sensing a trend for 2019 already.

January Goals

  • Write 12k words on Tavi
  • Write 1k on Sanctuary
  • Continue short story submissions
  • Keep reading!

How’d I do?

  • Write 12k words on Tavi
    • No. Which, wasn’t entirely unexpected. I did get pretty close, just under 1500 words short of the goal. I’ll take it.
  • Write 1k on Sanctuary
    • Yes! I also wrote a tumblr prompt or two.
  • Continue short story submissions
    • Yep. On and on and on.
  • Keep reading!

Total Monthly Word Count: 12,552

This was a busy month. Lots of writing, a lot more reading than I expected, and more time spent playing video games that I SHOULD have expected. I’m trying my best in all areas of my life, which is exhausting. So, sometimes that means a weekend of video games, or a week of no writing. It’s going to happen, because my mental health is going to make demands. And the less I fight it, the better I’ll feel and the quicker I’ll get back to work.

Writing went well until it didn’t. I’ve spent a week away from it now, and think I’m just about ready to figure out this scene. Tavi’s been working this way so far, in a whirlwind and then stalled. I let the scene marinate, until she calls me back and I can work on it again. It’s a different rhythm, but I trust it. It’s led me to more than 35k words so far.

Reading continues, slowly but surely. I’m not feeling particularly drawn to anything, so I’m trying to get through the Firefly novel in my down time. big damn hero.jpg

The short story submissions continue. I had 7 rejections in January. Seven. That stings. I’ve never looked at the number of rejections in a single month before, and I don’t think I want to again. Ouch. That’s a third of what I had all of 2018!

And yet, they continue. As Utada said, “On and On and On”.

February Goals

  • Write 8k on Tavi
  • Continue short story submissions
  • Write 1k on Sanctuary
  • Keep reading!

So yeah. That’s the plan. Write a bit, give myself permission to relax, and schedule in gaming time. I knew going into this year that Kingdom Hearts and Anthem were going to take their toll on my free time, and they already have. I need to schedule that in if I hope to get this manuscript done before the summer.

And that is still the plan. I want to finish the rough draft in April so that I have May and June to revise it before the writing workshop in July. Granted, I only get to go if I’m awarded a scholarship, but it’s WAY better to have a prepped MS and not get to go than arrive with nothing to share.

Writing 8k on Tavi doesn’t seem like enough, and it isn’t, but I think it’s a big ask for the shortest month of the year. We’ll see how it goes.

See y’all tomorrow to talk about this past week!

 

BZ

Book Review – Dark Run by Mike Brooks

All right, all right. I lied. But it wasn’t on purpose! All that upbeat energy transformed into restless homeowner real quick, and I spent the rest of yesterday measuring and planning out furniture and accessories.

But, I’m here and focused today.

So, Dark Run is the first in the Keiko series. Though the premise is familiar (I’m looking at you Firefly), who doesn’t want to read about space pirates?!dark-run

The Keiko is a private freighter (which looks like a cube), owned and operated by Captain Ichabod Drift. The first thing that stood out to me was that Captain Drift is Hispanic. He often slips into Spanish when under stress, and I understand just enough to find it hilarious. The second thing is that, despite bravado and confidence, he fucks up a bit. He reminded me of Locke Lamora if he were a futuristic space punk.

That’s probably why I loved him so much.

Accompanying Drift on his ship is a small crew of ex-cons and smugglers. Attracted to the jobs, the crew stay on because of the first rule of the Keiko: no questions about the past. Whoever you were before doesn’t matter, as long as you’re on the Keiko and performing your duties, you have a home.

Tamara Rourke has been with Drift the longest, just over eight years. Described as a tiny, dark skinned woman with a boyish figure, she’s easily underestimated. Which is unfortunate for anyone on the opposite end of her rifle. She’s a hard woman, with little sense of humor, and no expression of emotions. But Drift considers her his closest friend. It happens when you’ve saved each others’ asses for over eight years.

Next longest crew mate is Apirana Wahawaha, a hulking giant of a Maori. He used to be a member of the top Maori gang back on Earth, and it landed him in prison for… seven years or something. When he got out, he landed a job with Drift and never looked back. But his ritual tattoos often cause him trouble thanks to their association with the gang, which is the direct rival of the Yakuza. Anyway, he’s supposed to be intimidating and all that, but he’s a teddy bear (with a temper) underneath. And the whole time I just pictured this guy:

mauimoana
Thanks a lot Disney…

After that, it’s the Chang siblings. Drift helped Kuai, the Keiko’s engineer, break his sister out of jail, and now Jia pilots the Keiko. Now, I don’t know any Chinese, and the twins often break out in bitter arguments. Drift’s Mandarin is far from passable, but he offers interpretations as often as he can. And it’s also hilarious. Also, Jia has a bad case of Top Gun, and she thinks she’s the shit when it comes to being a helmsman. She gets the crew almost killed about a dozen times just in this book, but she also saves them all at least that many times. She’s incredibly insubordinate, but always gets Drift’s orders done along the way. And Kuai is just grumpy and passive aggressive.

And then there’s  the Dutch mercenary, Micah van Schaken. A former soldier for the Europan Commonwealth, Micah abandoned his post due to moral differences in order to pursue a life of a hired gun. He reminded me of Zaeed from Mass Effect 2, to the point where that’s exactly how I pictured him. Grizzled and grumpy, Micah is happiest when he’s shooting things and getting paid. Drift likes him because Micah’s loyalty lies with the money, so he can count on the man to do as expected.

The newest recruit is Jenna McIlroy, a young woman with incredible skill in technology. She’s what’s known as a slicer. She can hack ship systems and security protocols to fabricate licensing and ship documents, effectively getting the Keiko in and out of potentially hostile areas with no issue. But, she’s young and untried, and Drift has taken an almost fatherly view of her. I laughed pretty hard at a line where he acknowledges that he must be getting old because he doesn’t want to sleep with Jenna, and instead wants to protect her.

This is the merry band of misfits that call the Keiko home. And they’re a huge part of what makes this book work. The other part is the plot and pacing.

dark-run-uk-cover
Original UK Cover

Drift’s past has caught up with him, and a former employer has called upon him for one last job. But, it’s not a request. He blackmails Drift into a dark run. The Keiko and crew will take cargo to Old Earth, drop it off at a specific time and location, and then vanish. They must be unseen and above all they must not open the cargo.

Every instinct Drift has tells him it’s a bad job. Leave it and get as far away from Nicolas Kelsier as possible. But, there’s no escaping the man and his hired assassin. The Laughing Man is a space-wide terror, a veritable bogeyman. And during Drift’s meeting with Kelsier, the assassin has his sights on the Captain.

Side note: the fact that the villain is referred to as Kelsier really messed with me. There’s one Kelsier in my life, and though the Mistborn is a little insane, he’s not a villain. I struggled throughout the book not to picture my beloved, crazy Kelsier every time Nicholas Kelsier was mentioned. It was pretty frustrating.

So, in order to preserve his life and avoid his past, Drift accepts the job. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t go as planned. In order to stave off imminent death from Kelsier and his entourage, the crew of the Keiko take the fight to him.

But not before secrets and pasts are exposed.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s not mind-blowing. It doesn’t play with morals and themes. It’s pure fun. Time well spent with characters who immediately feel like old friends, in a world that is at once familiar and alien.

The world building was a really nice touch to the book. Earth governments fractured as colonization spread through the system, leaving four main powers. The United States of North America, The Europan Commonwealth, The Red Star Confederacy, and The Federation of African States are the remaining powers in the galaxy, Drift is a friend of none of them, and the political tensions and power struggles have direct influence on the characters and the world(s) they live in.

The pacing is unforgiving and the stakes are always high, which means this book flies by. Yes, there are a lot of clichés, and yes Mike Brooks’ prose is straightforward and fairly simplistic. But, if you’re just looking for some fun reading, something to entertain and make you laugh, then this should do the trick. I plan on coming back for the sequels, that’s for sure. Because there’s no reason not to read a book this fun.

dark-sky
Keiko #2, still awaiting US release

Stay tuned this weekend for the Jackaby book review!

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ