Book Review – War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Blogland,

First stop on my Urban Fantasy tour is the book that’s credited with spearheading the genre. The War for the Oaks won the Locus Magazine award for Best First Novel in 1988, and I can definitely see why.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

war for the oaks

Eddi McCandry is sick of her boyfriend and frontman Stuart. He’s a mess. Too drunk to play his parts, and too busy pissing off bar managers to get their shitty band another gig. So she leaves the band, and him, taking the drummer with her.

Breaking up is hard to do, so it was already a rough night. But a terrifying encounter with fairy tale creatures on the midnight streets of Minneapolis leaves Eddi caught up in a war she knew nothing about.

The Seelie Court has selected her to be their bound mortal. With her on the battlefield the Fae will be rendered mortal, and their wounds will be deadly. And she will be a target, no matter her opinions on the matter. So, the Seelie Court sends a literal guard dog.

The Phouka is a Fae who looks like Prince by day and can turn to a dog at will. He’s a trickster, adorable, witty as all get out, and posted up at Eddi’s apartment until further notice to protect her from their enemies, the Unseelie Court.

prince phouka

He’s silver-tongued and devious. She’s stubborn and pissed off. Hilarity ensues.

I was worried about this book holding up over the years. Released in 1987, it’s older than I am, and you can definitely tell. The lack of cell phones really stood out to me, because there were a few situations Eddi found herself in that only happened because she couldn’t contact someone unless she was home or used a payphone. There was a slightly racially insensitive moment in which Eddi “pulls at the corners of her eyes to see what she’d look like if she were Chinese” that was mostly jarring because why did that line make it through editing? And dear lord the clothes.

Yes. This book lives solidly in the 80s. But, it was no less engrossing because of it. I loved every minute with this story and felt that the setting development of Minneapolis was very well done. Dialogue was solid throughout, and though the ending was a little cliched, it probably wasn’t in 1987.

I also appreciate that The War for the Oaks isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t. It’s a fun, pretty indulgent, fairy tale come to life. It set the expectations of Urban Fantasy pretty high when it comes to entertainment value, but kept the literary pretensions out of the mix. Sometimes, you really need to turn your brain off and just have a good time. This book is very good at that.

It was also nice to see a different take on the Fae. I’ve only really experienced them through the Dresden novels, and while they’re very similar, I don’t think Jim Butcher has ever featured a Phouka. Also, the Fae aren’t as malignant in this book as they often are in Butcher’s series.

Now I’m seeing another view of the Fae as I read the first October Daye novel, Rosemary and Rue. Goodreads has recommended this book to me for years, probably because of all the Dresden books in my “Read” list. We’ll see how it goes.

I don’t think I’ll be back this week. I’ve got the next two days off and they are going to be busy with catching up on my weekly goals and house chores. Then it’s the Hozier concert on Saturday night!

hozier.jpg

If ever there was a Fae among us, it would be Andrew Hozier-Byrne. I can’t wait to be thoroughly enchanted by him once again.

Until next week, Bloggos,

 

BZ

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The Recap – September 2018

Bloggos,

Everyone call Green Day because September is ending! I’m back from vacation and pleased to find Oregon well on its way into fall. The leaves are falling, pumpkins beg for carving, and the weather is wonderfully dreary. A very nice change from Munich’s humidity and warmth. There’s a lot from my vacation to talk about, but I’ll get into that more tomorrow. Today, we talk about:

September Goals

  • Tumblr prompts
  • Finish chapter 7 of Sanctuary
  • Keep reading!
  • Continue short story submissions

How’d I Do?

  • Tumblr prompts
    • No… I didn’t get that research done that I needed to, so this prompt moves on into October.
  • Finish chapter 7 of Sanctuary
    • Hahaha nope! I wrote like… a paragraph?
  • Keep reading!
    • Yes. I read four titles this month, with two book reviews, and a handful of short stories.
  • Continue short story submissions
    • Yes! I received another rejection while on vacation and just sent The Cost of Rain off to the next place.

Total Word Count: 265

Well. I knew September would be incredibly unproductive, I just didn’t imagine it would be that bad. Like… zoinks Scoob, that’s really bad. But, I planned for this. I planned for a lax September and an editing/research heavy October because November is National Novel Writing Month! I won last year, and I aim on doing it again. The difference this time is that this project isn’t fanfic, the plot isn’t preordained and the world doesn’t already exist (well, it’s an Urban Fantasy, so yes, actually it does, but you get my point!). This year it’s going to take a lot more work to get to that 50k mark, and then a few more months of dedicated effort to finish it off.

But I’m excited for this story. I’m ready to do the research and spend the time outlining so that I at least have some idea of where the hell this novel is headed. That way, when I get stuck, I have some kind of map to help guide me out.

October Goals

  • Tumblr prompt
  • Edit That Which Illuminates Heaven
  • Research/Outline for NaNo project
  • Keep reading!
  • Continue short story submissions
  • Finish chapter 7 of Sanctuary

This is going to be an ambitious month. July and August were busy months with very high output for me, but September saw a decrease in all reading and writing. I want to spend October really revving back up so I can put my best writerly foot forward for NaNoWriMo and to get back into the swing of things.

I hate to admit it, but I think I’m going to shelve The Mechanical. I like it, but it’s a slow book, with a very atmospheric narrative style that is the exact opposite of what I need to read right now. So, instead, I’m going to focus on Urban Fantasy novels for the month of October, starting with Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks.

I’m always open to recommendations, so please let me know if there’s any Urban Fantasy out there that I absolutely must read! I’ve read all the Dresden Files books, all but the most recent Peter Grant book (it’s on hold at the library), and have the first books of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye novels, Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, and Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series on hold at the library.

Please tell me what I’m missing!

So that’s October! Probably another low word count month as I edit, research, and read my butt off in preparation for NaNoWriMo! I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about last week and share a bunch of pictures from my vacation in Germany, and then it’s back to the grindstone. Don’t expect any book reviews this week, since I’ll be starting fresh this month with a new book, but hopefully I can get a few out later this month.

Talk soon, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review – The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer

Hey Bloggos,

The Strange Bird is a short and bittersweet, and entirely dependent on Borne. You’ll understand little if you haven’t read VanderMeer’s novel set in the same world (you can read my review of Borne here).

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

the strange bird

This novella is very meandering. You’re meant to take it slow and absorb the Strange Bird’s observations on life beyond her laboratory. She relishes her freedom, but it is a lonely existence, because the other animals know that she isn’t quite natural. She was created in a lab, with biotech from birds, humans, and even squids. She was an experiment, and as civilization failed, she escaped into the wild.

Her journey, though slow, is purposeful. She has a homing beacon, demanding she fly in a very particular direction, and since she doesn’t have any other desires, she follows it.

Of course, she encounters several obstacles along the way. A lonely old man whose guilt has leeched at his mind. A cannibal, whose interest in the bird lies no further than selling her. And the Magician, who takes her and reforges her into the invisibility cloak we see used in Borne.

It’s this part of the story that requires that you read the novel. If you haven’t, you won’t understand who the Magician is and why her cloak is important. You won’t feel the mounting anticipation as you know what comes next, as you realize who the Strange Bird is about to encounter.

And you won’t enjoy the emotions and relief in seeing and hearing Rachel in Wick in the aftermath. You’ll miss out on a lot of nuance if you haven’t read Borne. But, the ending will still strike home. It is soft and sweet and rife with resignation. It isn’t what the Strange Bird wanted, but it is more than she thought she would ever have.

It is enough. And you learn what the story is really about, underneath all the layers of language and exploration, and the Strange Bird’s life of suffering.

I was surprised at how much this book affected me. I cried at the end, just a little, and felt satisfied, much more so than I did at the end of Borne.  I think the novella could be reread, that I could actually glean more by spending more time in the language, whereas I felt the prose in Borne was a barrier to understanding.

The Strange Bird snuck up on me, in a delightful, heartbreaking way. If you read Borne, and enjoyed it even a little, I recommend giving the novella a try.

Image result for the mechanical tregillis

In my usual fashion, I am on to the next book, The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis. I’m only 44 pages in and it is already much different than I anticipated and not much like my typical reads at all. But, this is my vacation read so I’m taking a chance on it!

I’ll be back on Monday for the usual Goals Summary, and then it’s off to Germany!

 

BZ

Book Review – The Furthest Station (Peter Grant #5.5) by Ben Aaronovitch

Hey Bloggos,

Just a quick post today. This novella takes place between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, so I made a point to get it through the Interlibrary Loan program at my public library before I crack open the last book.

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars

furthest station

In a city as old as London, Peter Grant and the other members of the Falcon unit (aka, the branch of the Metropolitan Police that deals with “weird shit”) have come to expect their fair share of ghosts. But when there are multiple sightings along a particular line of the underground the Folly takes notice and sends their best: Peter Grant and his 14 year old cousin, Abigail.

Since these ghosts keep manifesting on train cars, we also see the return of Jaget Kumar, the BTP (British Transport Police) equivalent of The Folly, unit of one. Lucky for me, I really liked Jaget in his debut in Whispers Under Ground, and I was happy to see him make a reappearance.

So, Peter, his cousin, Jaget, and Nightingale all swoop in to try and figure out what these ghosts are all about and why they’re just now manifesting. It doesn’t take long for the team to discern that the ghosts are trying to send a message, and that a “Princess” is in danger, held captive in a “dungeon”.

Peter is the one to make the leap from ghostly poetry to kidnapped woman in the suburb of Chesham, and the hunt begins!

This novella was a ton of fun. Beverly Brook makes an appearance along with a River God toddler, as does Toby the magic-sniffing dog, and there’s plenty of light-heartedness and humor. I think that’s why I gave it such a low rating. After Foxglove Summer, I need more answers about Lesley and the Faceless Man. I wasn’t ready to read light-hearted.

It’s probably my fault for reading it in between, but that’s the timeline of the story! And, I understand that meaty, series-wide storylines are unlikely to get much focus in a novella since novella readership is typically much lower than novels. I get it.

But I ultimately felt a bit underwhelmed by this story. It was too topical. Too… fluffy. I wanted more. So, three stars it is.

My reading slowed down a little this week because I finally got my hands on Detroit: Become Human! I loved it, by the way, and will probably waste a lot of time playing it and exploring all the different possible scenarios. borne

 

I’m ingesting Borne in leaps and bounds, just few and far between. I’m also reading a lot of short stories right now to do some research for when we get back from Germany and it’s time to edit That Which Illuminates Heaven.

I don’t know if I’ll have a book review for next week. It’s a holiday weekend and my best friend is in town from Iowa. But, maybe later in the week? Hopefully?

I hope you all have a great Labor Day weekend! I’ll be around tomorrow for the monthly recap, and then again on Monday for the usual weekly goals summary.

Until then Blogland,

 

BZ

Book Review – Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant #5) by Ben Aaronovitch

Hi Blogland,

As promised, I am back to finally talk about the fifth book in the Peter Grant series. I finished it late Tuesday, as I expected I would. And you know what? I think it was my favorite so far.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

foxglove summer

Peter has lived his entire life within the hustle and bustle of London. From his parents’ flat in Kentish Town, to the Folly, and all the police nicks in between, London is his home. So when Nightingale assigns him to an apparently Falcon-free (read: perfectly normal) case of two missing children in Herefordshire he’s reasonably nervous.

What is someone like him going to do in the country?

Turns out, an awful lot. Because, of course, there’s more to this case than two disappeared eleven year olds.

Rushpool is a tiny village surrounded by ancient woods, bisected by an old Roman road. It’s idyllic, quaint, and chock-a-block full of small town minds. But while he’s acting as an assistant to the Family Liaison Officer, Peter does a bit of digging of his own a discovers a trend. Eleven year old girls have a history of vanishing during the summer, on nights of the full moon only to reappear a day or two later. They also have shockingly similar tales of invisible friends. Invisible Unicorn friends, that have a taste for mutton.

Rushpool also has a healthy UFO sighting population, so who knows what’s real and what isn’t?

Beverly BrookBut, it’s Peter’s job to find out, and to find the girls. Lucky for him, he’s not alone. Beverly Brook is in town, supposedly for her own River business, but she tags along to help find the children. And there’s Officer Dominic Croft, the country boy that can’t stand the country. He was particularly enjoyable and I hope he comes back in future books!

So, why was this my favorite book so far? Well, the stakes are high, what with the two girls missing. Lesley is still AWOL, but she’s texting Peter and Nightingale is being very mysterious about his activities while he’s away. I feel like there was more going on in the background of this book than in previous installments.

And, Ben Aaronovitch managed to take my childhood fantasy and make it a nightmare. There’s a chase scene involving a carnivorous unicorn that is downright terrifying. I stopped afterward and had to take break. I laughed, because I really like unicorn lore and whatnot, so getting wigged out by a unicorn is just not something I expected from this series. unicorn

And more of the Fae make an appearance, with Peter getting himself into all kinds of trouble, as he always does.

This book reminded me of the BBC show Broadchurch a little bit. Big city copper comes to a small town and divulges secrets long thought buried. Except this is much funnier and there’s magic!

I’m getting really close to the end of the series that’s been published so far. Which makes me nervous. I’m not looking forward to finding another series all over again. But this one is just too good not to inhale.

I finished reading The Furthest Station tonight, so I’ll be around next week to talk about that. And of course I’ll be in tomorrow to discuss this weeks goals.

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ

2018 Status Update – Something, Something, Bon Jovi Lyrics

If you can believe it, the year is over the hill. We’ve got less than six months to go; we’re halfway there! Cue terrible singing.

All right, enough of that.

The year is going by entirely too fast, that’s for sure. I’m not really sure what all there else is to say about it. So, I suppose I’ll just share some stats with y’all.

Yearly Goals Completed

  • Submit 2 short stories
    • Both Lifelike and The Cost of Rain have been out for submission since March. Neither have found a home yet, but both are consistently reaching high levels of consideration.
  • Publish 52 blog posts
    • This is the 59th post of the year, so I am blogging way more than I expected to! Hurray! This consistency is paying off, because the blog is having its best year by far, stats-wise.

2018 Word Count (so far): 80,367

Speaking of stats, how is the blog doing? Well, I’m glad you asked! The blog is killing it this year, with almost 500 followers! There’s been more audience interaction than ever before, with an average of one comment per post, and views are up. Each month of 2018 has out performed the views of any other year so far, and the total views for the year so far are just shy from outpacing the total views for 2017! I’ve also put in a staggering 45k+ words on the blog so far this year.

That feels good, let me tell you. Now, I feel I should mention that this blog is a small and mighty thing. I started it back in September of 2011 as a way to warm up my writing muscle in the morning and to hold myself accountable to my own goals. It had also been suggested by a guest speaker in a Novel Writing class that discussing works in progress on a website was a good way to prevent plagiarism. You know, timestamps and yadda yadda. I didn’t, and still don’t, care so much about this. I doubt anyone is stealing my work right now. Especially since no one else ever sees it!

But, the accountability thing? Blogging has definitely helped. It’s not fool-proof, of course. I am stubbornly my own worst enemy sometimes and no amount of blogging will keep me from sabotaging myself. But, this year is proof that it can work and does mitigate some of my most self-destructive (work) behaviors.

So, you might think 500 followers is no big deal. That outdoing previous years’ views isn’t that big a deal, but I’m celebrating all my wins, no matter how small. And for this blog, these are very exciting jumps in activity.

Another positive for the year so far is my reading goal! I’ve read 37 books so far this year, according to Goodreads, which puts me four books ahead of schedule. As usual, my reading has slowed down in the summer months, but my reading sprint earlier in the year always buoys me through.

I’m still (slowly) chipping away at The Steel Armada rewrite. This project looks much different now than I originally planned, and defining it as ‘done’ is something of a moving target. I’ll discuss that more when I write my Editing Check-In post next week.

Santa Sarita is on its last installment. I shared the first chapter the other night, and got a bit of a response. The readership is still there, so that’s a relief. Now if I can just post chapters on a steady schedule, I’ll be able to finally mark this monstrous project as ‘complete’. 17,000 words in, who knows how many to go? Certainly not me.

My yearly goals seemed to have been a bit small, now that I’m looking at them. I did much better the first half of this year than I anticipated. So, what do I do with the rest of 2018?

Honestly, there are a lot of options. I want to work on something new for NaNoWriMo this year, preferably not fanfiction. I might try out my newest story idea, an Urban Fantasy set in Arizona, featuring angels, demons, a badass bisexual, and lots of cats. It’s something I came up with earlier in the year, and it just will not give up. This story wants to be written.

Once The Steel Armada is ‘done’, whatever that means, I want to start editing Cards. It’s a project that I really love, but it will need lots of work. There’s also the rough draft of From the Quorum that needs finishing. I might do that for NaNo, but it depends on what project is more motivating when the time comes.

I also have a couple short stories milling around in my head. One is half written from earlier this year, the other is just an idea, a little scribble on a p-slip from the library. I want to work on them both, but don’t think I should until I really hammer out The Steel Armada. The ideas will keep, they always do. Plus, I want to keep my short story energy focused on finding homes for Lifelike and The Cost of Rain.

What else? Obviously there will be a giant gap in productivity in September, while we’re on vacation in Germany! I will plan for that accordingly.

2018 – Remaining Priorities

  • Finish The Steel Armada
  • Finish Santa Sarita
  • Sell Lifelike and The Cost of Rain
  • Decide on NaNo project
  • Keep reading!

So, yeah. That’s where I’m at. That’s the year so far. I’m feeling a touch lost at the moment, mainly because I’m wading back into my workload after a month of shutting down. But, when I look back at what I’ve accomplished so far, I don’t feel so daunted by the months to come.

I guess that’s really the point of all these goals posts and check-ins. Goals are easier to digest if they’re broken down in to manageable portions, after all. Thanks again for following along this far. I appreciate you. I sincerely hope 2018 isn’t treating you like crap.

Talk soon, Bloggos,

 

BZ

Book Review – The Master Magician (The Paper Magician #3) by Charlie N. Holmberg

Blogland,

I embarked on this journey with Ceony Twill and Emery Thane over a year ago. I found The Paper Magician to be a cute, lighthearted read that appealed to me for a multitude of reasons. A young, determined heroine embarks on a chilling journey through her mentor’s heart in order to save his life. Also, the mentor just so happens to be handsome, kind, and a bit of an enigma.

dot dot dot yes

But, while I enjoyed the first story immensely, the second one seemed to be a bit fumbling. There were a lot of characters that simply didn’t get enough screen time, Ceony’s decisions were almost indefensible, and the ending was… terrible. I had to take a break from the series, it was that bad.

But, here we are, finally ready to talk about my stalwart slog through what was supposed to be the final book in The Paper Magician series, The Master Magician. Beware some spoilers below.

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars

master magician

This book was… frustrating. Ceony was foolish, childish, and often downright manipulative throughout the book. She was obsessed with Saraj, and unwilling to trust the people around her to do their jobs, putting herself at risk and allowing others to jeopardize their lives and livelihoods to help her.

I did not like Ceony in this book. I waited and waited for her to get her comeuppance, her karmic just desserts, or face some kind of consequences for her reckless and hurtful behavior.

… nope. She has a complete tantrum with her testing Magician, and though he’s snippy with her, that’s it. In fact, he sort of respects her more after she “stands up for herself” by screaming at him. She passes her test with only the slightest of hiccups. And all her snooping into Saraj’s whereabouts pay off when she finds Emery doing the same and they join forces to nearly get murdered, but end up saving the day.

Ceony’s ability to break her bond to paper and rebond to any magic is told to one person and then swept under the rug, never to be addressed again. And her completely pointless falling out with her sister is resolved by another stern talking to and the promise of hooking said sister up with her surly testing Magician.

Yes. You read that correctly.

So, Ceony gets everything she ever wanted, despite the fact she was a terrible person throughout this book. What really pissed me off about it was that her actions and obsession with Saraj are attributed to her PTSD over the events in the second book. I think Holmberg meant for it to come across as her seeking closure, that Ceony couldn’t take the next step in her life (passing her Magician’s exam, marrying Emery, etc.,) until she put Saraj and the Excisioners behind her.

What better way to do that than hunt down a known murderer yourself?

I also had problems with Ceony’s methods. She tracked down Saraj multiple times using her magic, which was cool to see, I guess. But Criminal Affairs, you know, the freaking magic police, couldn’t find him? Give me a break!

By page 130 I was prepared to give up on this book. Truly. I rarely give up, but I was so frustrated and disappointed that I wasn’t sure I could get through another 70 pages. But, I buckled down, got cozy in bed with a bunch of pillows, and made it happen.

And… I’m glad I did. This was not a good book. It was not a good way to end this series. I, obviously, have a lot of issues with it. But, those last 70 pages were fun and easily the best part of the whole book. Seeing Emery and Ceony work together to take out Saraj was really awesome, and it was written surprisingly well. I’m happy that Emery gets his happy ending.

I just wish Ceony could have suffered more consequences and had a growth arc of some kind. Because she was a petulant child through this whole series, and that was never addressed.

the plastic magician

There is now a fourth book in the series, The Plastic Magician. It follows another newly graduated student as she becomes a Polymaker. I am not going to read it. To me, it sounds like The Paper Magician all over again, but with a ‘different’ character. A young woman come from America to study under a mentor in her field. There’s romance, intrigue, and magic. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Reviews on Goodreads are mixed, with most folks stating they like the main character more than they liked Ceony, which is understandable. But that the plot was just meh. Which, I also find likely.

Ultimately, I have so many other books queued up, waiting for my attention, that I can’t waste time on more Holmberg books. At least, not for a long, long time. Maybe in a year or two I’ll come around and decide to give it a chance. Maybe.

Ugh. I hate writing critical reviews. I know how much effort and work goes into writing a novel. I know that Charlie N. Holmberg loves her characters like they’re children, little pieces of herself that she put out into the world. I’m sorry. I really did love the first book. I just… didn’t love the other two.

I’m chipping away at Kill the Farm Boy and Side Jobs, and Brief Cases showed up on the hold shelf yesterday. I’ve got Nightflyers chilling on my entry table, along with Midnight Riot, and the digital audio for Bloodlist downloaded and waiting.

I have a lot of reading/listening ahead of me!

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ