Book Review – Dark Sky (Keiko #2) by Mike Brooks

Hello Blogland!

Welcome to the long overdue review of the second Keiko book, Dark Sky. If you haven’t read my review of the first book, Dark Run, now is the time to pop on over and check it out.

Dark Sky
Spoilers below!

You know what they say about the second creative endeavor, the supposed sophomore slump. I would say that Brooks was not affected by that particular expectation. I found Dark Sky to be just as good, if not better than the first book, which is a rare treat indeed.  I think that the book really benefited from the character introductions and development from the first book, so that there was no awkward reacquainting when I opened this book. I immediately felt at home with Ichabod and company, despite the many months between reading the first and second book.

So, what are Ichabod and his crew up to?

Why, gambling their hard earned money away on the Red Star planet New Samara, that’s what! While Apirana and Kuai heal from the damage they took at the end of the first book, Ichabod plays the high stakes games, and does well enough for himself to draw the eye of the casino’s owner. Or at least, that’s what he thinks.

New Samara
This is Monaco, but New Samara is the Monaco of space, so…

But, really, how many purple-haired Mexicans with a bionic eye do you think there are? Even in this imaginative take on the future. Safe to say, Ichabod stands out.

So, this casino big-wig who reeks of the Russian mafia has selected Ichabod for a little job. Because of course the captain can’t just gamble and drink in peace. It sounds easy enough, and the payout’s good, but what he really wants is a quick, easy job to instill some confidence in his crew again. the morale and trust of the Keiko’s crew really took a beating in Dark Run. Apirana and Kuai got shot, Ichabod was revealed to be Gabriel Drake, a pirate notorious for spacing his entire crew in order to escape the authorities, and Micah, the eastern European merc, died.

That’s a lot of hits in one book. Ichabod hopes that this little job, just some light intelligence smuggling, will restore his crew’s faith in him.

Yeah… about that. He really should know by now that nothing is ever simple for him.

So, he gathers the crew and they fly to the nearby mining planet Uragan. It’s a grim world, with the entire populace living in various levels under the surface in order to avoid the planet’s giant dust storms. Foreigners aren’t a common sight, but citizens with missing limbs replaced with metal are. Even in the future, mining is a hazardous profession.

The plan is to get on the planet, get the information, and get back to New Samara before a massive hurricane shuts down all travel from the planet. They’ve got two days. Tick. Tock.

But, when the informant plans to double-cross the casino head, Ichabod agrees to take the man and his husband away from Uragan. It’s more cash! He still gets the intel for the original job, and the added pay for smuggling the informant off the planet. Win-win!

Ichabod, Jia, and Kuai go to the local bar for celebratory drinks while Jenna, Apriana, and Rourke stay at the hotel to prep for their departure the next morning. The crew, for once, is separated. So of course that’s when the revolution starts.

Uragan

Rebels take to the streets, attacking the unprepared Politsiya. Ichabod just wants to get back to the hotel, to regroup, but anyone out on the street is a target for the police. Rourke just wants to obey the official communications commanding that all citizens stay indoors, but the hotel owner kicks them out, because he wasn’t supposed to accept foreigners anyway.

Long story short, Ichabod, in an effort to keep himself and the Chang twins alive, sides with the Politsiya, ingratiating himself with the police chief Alim Muradov. Meanwhile, Rourke finds herself helping the resistance in order to get her half of the crew through the locked down level, up to the docks, and back to the Jonah (their shuttle).

This book follows both sides of the crew as they fight and struggle to get back to their shuttle so they can get off the planet before the storm hits.

The majority of the book bounces between the two separated groups of the crew. Jenna and Apirana discuss the growing tension between them as they realize they both have feelings for the other (I squealed a lot during these super awkward conversations; I live for this kind of crap), and the Chang twins get a lot more time on screen, which was nice because they weren’t very prevalent in the first book. We also get more details on Jenna and Rourke’s pasts, which is always a good thing, since the whole crew is unlikely to speak about it given the Keiko’s one rule: don’t ask questions about the past.

But, what I really enjoyed is how Ichabod brought Alim Muradov onto the crew. Brooks developed his character well, making him someone I liked very much. I didn’t want to say goodbye to him, and since there was a gap in the crew ever since Micah died, I didn’t have to!

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

I’m looking forward to how Muradov assimilates to life on a smuggling ship after devoting his life to military and public service. should make for some nice tension in the next book, Dark Deeds.

Dark Deeds

My plan is to get caught up on my book reviews this week, so keep a weather eye out for more posts!

 

BZ

 

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Goals Summary 2018 – Wk 3

Hi Blogland,

Sorry for my absence last week. I contracted the flu that’s going around so badly this year. My husband was ill first, and then I succumbed to it a week later. I spent the majority of the week on the couch watching nature documentaries and napping. Not remotely productive, but I’m hale and healthy now, so it worked out.

So obviously, I didn’t have any goals last week, but I never discussed the previous week’s either. So, what did I want to accomplish in week three?

Goals?

  • Publish Dark Sky book review
  • finish my last giveaway fic
  • Finish chapter 31 and post chapter 30 of Sanctified
  • Finish listening to Shockaholic
  • Send Lifelike and The Season to my friend Matt

How did I do?

Not great, but not awful either. I didn’t write that book review, which is a shame. I hate writing reviews too long after I’ve finished the book. It’s hard to remember everything. But, I did finish my giveaway fic, as well as my fanfic chapter. I posted it to some positive feedback from the readers, so that’s always nice. I have yet to finish listening to Shockaholic, but I’m making some serious progress this week already. I didn’t incorporate any feedback from Madhu yet. She felt pretty unsure of her comments, and felt a bit out of her depth, so I decided to hold off on reading her comments until I hear back from Matt. I did send my stories to Matt, but he’s yet to get back to me on them. Hopefully that doesn’t mean he hates them :/

Weekly Word Count: 4,488

What about this week?

  • Publish two book reviews
  • Start Sanctified chapter 32
  • Finish Shockaholic
  • Edit Lifelike and The Season
  • Edit chapter 1 of The Steel Armada

I lot of editing. Blegh. I hate editing my own work. I LOVE editing other people’s work, but my own is a special sort of hell. But, Madhu is working on some rewrites of her novel, and she’s eager to get back to sharing work, so I need to have something to share. Editing is the only way I’ll have that. Which was the goal of having someone to share with, at least to me. Sharing my work with someone I don’t really know, but see on a weekly basis will help keep me accountable while valuing their feedback. I just have to get my butt in gear.

 

I’ve got the Dark Sky review written and cued up, it’ll publish tomorrow morning. So, I can either write a review on Turn Coat or hurry up and finish Iron Gold this week. Yeah, right. Turn Coat it is. Iron Gold

February is my month to really start focusing on my editing. Tentative goal is a chapter a week at least, but if Madhu and I keep with tradition and send each other 20 pages, that’s closer to two. If I do two chapters a week, I’ll be done in just about 10 weeks. So we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, that’s where we stand going into week five. A little behind schedule thanks to the flu, but feeling healthy and ready to get back on track.

Wish me luck, Blogland!

 

BZ

New Year’s New Look!

Every year, on or around January 1st, I overhaul the blog. I’m not sure if it serves any other purpose besides catching my interest in my site and giving me a fresh breath of air after 365 days of something else.

So, here’s the new look, I hope you all like it. I was a little sad to see the last look go, because it was my favorite so far in the past 4 years of blogging. But, I have high hopes for this one. It’s even more streamlined than last year’s (weird), and I like the headers with social media links at the top.

Yeah. It feels good, man.

All right, here’s the gross part about New Year’s posts. I have to talk about my ambitions for 2017 and how I did in accomplishing them. Spoiler alert, 2017 was not a good year for me.

Last year I said I wanted to:

  • edit The Steel Armada into draft #3
  • submit The Portrait of Sterling Madison to The Audient Void
  • finish From the Quorum rough draft
  • edit Cards into draft #2
  • publish 104 blog posts, roughly 2 per week
  • read 60 books

How did I do? Well, I did make some progress on The Steel Armada, especially in the last half of the year. I’m about halfway through editing the second draft, but the realization that it needs pretty extensive rewrites has me a bit disheartened.

I didn’t submit The Portrait of Sterling Madison this year. If you don’t recall, this is a horror short story that has haunted me for the better part of seven years. I wanted to do a lot with this small piece, and every attempt just proved that my writing chops weren’t where they needed to be to make it work. But, I did finally hammer out the best draft of it yet, quite unexpectedly, as I’d shelved it yet again. I’m confident I’ll find a home for it in 2018!

I did not finish From the Quorum. In fact, I got about halfway, because it’s the largest story I’ve ever undertaken. I outlined the whole book through to the end back in April, and we’re looking at about 100k word manuscript. It’s currently at 51k, so literally halfway there. I saw that projected word count and panicked, and haven’t worked on it since then.

I made a deal with myself: I cannot edit Cards until The Steel Armada is complete. Since I didn’t make the headway with edits like I planned, I did not even look at Cards this year. However, I did some minimal edits on my Cards short story Since the Fire, in the hopes that I can find it a home in 2018.

I published 42 post last year… Ugh. No where close to my goal. Not even all that close to half of my goal. That’s rough buddy. Sorry for neglecting you all this year.

I managed to squeak in 62 books this year, according to Goodreads, and man that feels good. I needed a win.

I read 14,072 pages across 62 booksImg bookstack 72

What the heck did I do in 2017?

I wrote. A lot. In 2017 I wrote two original short stories and four chapters for From the Quorum. The short stories are both Horror pieces, The Seasons is an all new piece that I’m really proud of, and Lifelike is the newest incarnation of The Portrait of Sterling Madison. Honestly, it’s different enough, and written in such a whirlwind of inspiration that I don’t even consider it a rewrite; it really is an all new story. These projects total 17,321 words.

But, I did my most damage working on Fanfiction. I know, I know. You roll your eyes, you immediately see me differently because you know that I write fanfiction. Trust me, I did my fair share of eye-rolling and berating because of it. But, there are a lot of benefits to being a content creator in an active fandom, and I will probably write a whole separate post to talk about my experiences as such. Finally, months later, I regret nothing.

So, I wrote 264,850 words of Fanfic in 2017. Yep. Go ahead, read it again. 264,850 words across multiple longfics (basically multi-chapter serials), oneshots (read: short stories), and drabbles (aka flash fiction).

I wrote more this year than I ever have before, in more styles and genres than I ever thought possible, because of fanfic. I have no regrets. I also won National Novel Writing Month for the very first time because of fanfic. I proved to myself that I absolutely can write long form, can produce content quickly and of a pretty high quality on a deadline. When I needed it most, Fanfic gave me an ego boost. I am proud of my output and my content, and am feeling buoyed into the new year.

But, I did have some other projects this last year.
Audient Void issue 4

I continue to provide “Editorial Assistance” for The Audient Void. I’ve stepped up my duties to weeding through the fiction slush-pile as well as offering line edits when necessary. So, if you submit fiction to us in 2018, there’s a 50-50 chance I’ll be the one who decides whether your story gets considered for publication. MUAHAHAHA!

Ahem.

We released two issues in 2017 and have just finished selecting pieces for the first issue of 2018. So, there was that. Also, I spent a few months swapping fiction with an acquaintance and work-shopping her Middle-Grade Adventure novel. It was an eye-opening experience that really challenged me to leave my comfort zone and learn more about publishing. I also helped her fine tune her query letter, which is really good practice for me when it comes time to write my own.

I also took on some personal projects. I stopped biting my nails, for realsies this time! It’s been months, and I love it. I still keep them short, because typing with nails is nigh impossible, but I’ve accumulated more polish colors and indulge in giving myself manicures now, so that’s nice. I did a 30 day yoga challenge, and signed up for another one that starts tomorrow! I love bringing stretching and movement back into my life (former dancer, here) and it’s really grounded me over the last month. Today we were invited to set an intention for the month, a word or phrase that would guide our practice through to the end. But, I’m going one step further. I’m setting my intention for the year.

FOCUS.

2017 was a wild ramble that saw me dart from project to project, taking on things that were fun and interesting, at the expense of my more serious ambitions. I want to bring focus back into my life. I want to set clear, attainable goals, so that I can set myself up for success. So…

What the heck am I doing in 2018?

  • I am finishing The Steel Armada. Whatever that means, and how ever long that takes. I wrote this book in 2013, it’s time to stamp it done and move on with my writing life.
  • I am finishing my committed longfic series. There are a couple chapters left in this installment, and then a planned sequel. Then it is done. Chickity-check, move on.
  • I am submitting at least two short stories for publication this year, only to SFWA Logomagazines that pay their authors. I’m done sticking ‘feathers in my cap’. I don’t need feathers. I need payouts. I need proof positive that my content is worth buying, I need credentials to pad my query letters and my efforts to join Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) within the next two years.
  • I am giving myself permission to write things for fun. Drabbles and tumblr prompts keep me limber and energized. I love writing them, I love engaging with a fan base. I will not feel guilty for that.
  • I am reading 65 books, per the Goodreads reading challenge.
  • I am publishing 52 blog posts, preferably once a week, no matter what.
  • I am committing to my yoga practice, about 20-30 minutes/day

If time allows, I would like to…

  • make considerable progress (30k words) on From the Quorum
  • Read through and begin edits on Cards
  • write a new Sci-Fi short story
  • maybe begin querying process for The Steel Armada, if I like how it turns out

 

Whew. All right. That’s a pretty big “to-do” list for 2018. Whoops. But, if I’m being honest, these are the goals that mean the most to me. These are the projects I want to work on, and the only way I can do that is if I make the time.

What about you? What will you make time for in 2018? What will be your focus?

As always, thanks for stopping by Blogland, I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and look forward to sharing 2018 with you.

 

Best,

BZ

Well, Hello There!

Hi Blogland,

Huh. It feels kind of weird to be back. I’m still not promising anything, or even pretending I’m back in any sort of routine. I’m not. I still play Mass Effect just about every day, and I’m reading (and writing) way more fanfiction than I ought to.

But, I thought about From the Quorum for the first time in a month the other day. I call that progress. I also felt a pang of guilt/longing for The Steel Armada. We’re getting there.

The whole point of this was to keep me from falling into the spiral of guilt that I normally feel when I hyper-focus on something. When I start feeling guilty for doing things that I enjoy, I tend to further procrastinate the tasks I’ve sacrificed in order to hyper-focus in the first place.

Right now, I tell myself that writing fanfiction is better than not writing at all. And since I’ve put over 6k words into this one fic just in April, I’d say that’s damn good.

Also, The Audient Void #3 is out! Get you one! Available at the Book Bin in downtown Salem, or online at their Facebook page.

My reading has seriously slowed, but a steady stream of fanfiction keeps me going. I fully intend to pick things back up sometime in May. I promise. Pinky swear. All that good stuff.

Also, I wanted to mention that I’ve applied for another full time position with the library. I know better than to assume anything at this point, but I’ve learned a lot in the last 9ish months since my last interview with the city, and I have a lot more confidence in myself than I did even four months ago. Keep your fingers crossed for me just the same, huh?

Thanks for sticking with me through this gaming fog. The fact that I’ve come up for air is promising. I look forward to talking at you all on a regular basis again soon.

 

BZ

Goals Summary wk 3

Hi all!

I worked later than expected today, and just finished dinner with the hubby. It was a good day, but a silent one as far as writing goes.

So, how did last week stack up?

  • Write chapter 12 of From the Quorum
    • Didn’t quite make it. But, I wrote 1,510 words, and it’s off to a good start.
  • Finish reading Jackaby
    • Checkity-check. Book review is running behind, but it’ll be out no later than Thursday.
  • Publish two blog posts
    • Also, check. Monday’s Goals Post, and the Dark Run book review
  • Total word count for the week was 1,510. This does not include blog posts or world building, of which there was both this week. So, not a bad week, just not stellar. I’ll take mediocre over abominable every damn time.

So, what’s the aim for this week?

  • Finish chapter 12 of From the Quorum
  • Finish reading Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
  • Publish two blog posts

Also, I just got my February work schedule, and it looks like I’ll be doing a lot more writing next month. My hours were chipped down a bit, which is not ideal, but you guys know me; I’ll make the best of it.

So, next week I’ll do a monthly goals segment, wrapping up January and setting goals for February. It’s a new thing I want to do, a monthly recap. What do you guys think?

Also, if you’re keeping track of this sort of thing, the reading page has been updated. I’m at least still trucking along in this department. Although, I’m starting to feel a little over-encumbered. There are more books waiting for me on the hold shelf than I currently have checked out! SO MANY BOOKS!

Until Thursday Blogland!

 

BZ

Book Review – A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

We meet again, Mr. Blog…

Obviously, I’m in a strange mood today. Yesterday was a refreshing success on many accounts, and I’m feeling relaxed and ready to get some work done today. The Husband came home sick from work, so he’s in the next room napping, and I’ve got the Writing Room door closed for the first time since I’ve started using it for its intended purpose.

It feels so… solitary. Isolated. Deliciously mine. Surrounded by my favorite things (my Garrus Vakarian figurine, my framed Elantris maps, coffee, my diplomas, and of course the books!) I finally feel like I can get down to business.

garrus-vakarian
“Can it wait a minute? I’m in the middle of some calibrations.”

So, yesterday. I wrote a book review for Blood Rites, outlined four chapters and an interlude of From the Quorum, and then wrote 1,113 words of chapter 11.

I also read Saga vol. 6, and finished reading A Borrowed Man. FINALLY. This book took multiple attempts, each time maxing out the possible renewals from the library. I had to return it and read something else at one point, but I finally came back to it.

I was damn near ready to execute my “200” rule. This is a relatively new thing I’ve implemented, in an effort to keep me reading as I work on completing my annual reading challenges. I found that, occasionally, there are books that I just can’t get through. I’ll spend weeks trudging through them, or avoiding them, instead of moving on and reading something else.

In an effort to curb this habit, I created a “rule” for myself. If I can get to page 200, roughly the 50k word mark of most books (which is a generally accepted minimum length of a novel), and I still am not interested in finishing the book, I get to count it toward my reading challenge. At that time I can decide, based on how much I understand of the book, whether or not to write a review.

Obviously, any review written about an unfinished book would be proclaimed as such, and would be a generally vague “I liked it and why” or “I didn’t like it and why” sort of review. I have yet to actually do this, but I am open to it. And who knows, maybe I’ll make another attempt to finish it somewhere down the road, as I’ve done in the past. In which case I could then do a full and proper review.

Anyway, a comment of mine basically stating the concept of the “200” rule on John Guillen’s blog led to this response blog post on his site. It’s worth a read and comment if you’re so inclined.

But, A Borrowed Man was nearly my first “200” book of 2017. I was all set and ready to return it unfinished. And then I hit page 200 and things actually started happening. Literally 2/3 through the book and something interesting finally happened.

But, let me go back and actually do this review right.

a-borrowed-manA Borrowed Man is a Sci-Fi novel by Gene Wolfe. He is widely accepted as one of the most prominent literary voices in the genre, and seems to be generally well-loved. Apparently, my mistake was introducing myself to him via this particular book. Based on a number of reviews, I should have started somewhere else.

I would consider this book to be literary Sci-Fi. The science fiction elements are definitely there. The whole premise is that E.A. Smithe is the property of the Spice Grove Public Library, because he is the clone of a popular 21st Century crime novelist. A woman checks him out to help her solve the mystery of her father’s and brother’s deaths, not just because of his expertise in understanding and writing murder-mysteries, but because their deaths seem tied to a physical copy of one of his books, Murder on Mars.

Add to it that the setting is a futuristic Earth that lost 2/3 of the population to some sort of war, and a very intriguing bit of astrophysics later in the book, and I staunchly agree that this is a Science Fiction novel.

But, it’s also a Noir. And it’s also very literary in its approach to character development and the narrator’s voice.

This combination of genre elements could have been very interesting and attention grabbing, but instead it plodded along, and bits and pieces fell together in ways that just weren’t very satisfying for me.

That could be a problem with me and not the book. Perhaps I missed a lot of cues early on (most likely due to bored inattention) that prevented me from anticipating the finished result. Apparently, with Gene Wolfe, that’s not unlikely. The book is very cerebral, without giving me anything to latch on to and get my brain in gear. dark-run

In short, I was bored. Only the last 50 pages or so were decent, but by then I was just frustrated with the previous 250, and not open to thinking too kindly of E.A. Smithe and his associates.

Anyway, it all comes together in the end, so if you don’t hate the first half of the book, its worth finishing. But, I’m glad I can put this one in the rear-view mirror. Now on to Dark Run by Mike Brooks! Nothing like a jaunt with space pirates to captivate my attention!

Until next time, Blogland!

 

BZ

 

Book Review – Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

Hi Blogland!

Quick update before we get on with the review. NaNo is off to a good start. I wrote 1,225 words yesterday and 576 today. Since my goal was 500 a day, things are going really well!

Also, I need to make a small edit to the goals for this week. Due to holds on items at the library, I’ve decided to read The Vagrant by Peter Newman before I read A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe. Wolfe’s novel is renewable, Newman’s is not. The Vagrant is almost double the size of Wolfe’s book, so I’ve scratched the goal to have it finished this week, and instead am hoping to write the review sometime mid-next week.beacon-23

Of course, I’ll mention all that in Monday’s post as well.

Now, on to Beacon 23!

I picked this book off the NEW SCI-FI shelf at my library mainly because of the description inside the jacket:

For centuries, men and women have manned lighthouses to ensure the safe passage of ships. It is a lonely job, and a thankless one for the most part. Until something goes wrong. Until a ship is in distress.

In the 23rd century, this job has moved into outer space. A network of beacons allows ships to travel across the Milky Way at many times the speed of light. These beacons are built to be robust. They never break down. They never fail.

At least, they aren’t supposed to.

Now, I had just finished reading the Red Rising trilogy and was dying for more Science Fiction in my life. I ended up reading a lot more Fantasy before I finally cracked this one open, but it was worth the wait.

Beacon 23 is a weird little book. So, the premise is that in the future NASA has strategically placed beacons throughout various sectors of space. These act as lighthouses, directing ships away from hazardous regions of the galaxy.

The protagonist, who remains nameless,  is an operator of one of these beacons. Oh, and he’s a war hero. Though, he doesn’t consider himself such. Much of the book revolves his struggle with PTSD and survivor’s guilt. Some of it’s funny, like when he talks to a rock for a week, convinced that it’s a sentient species of alien. And then sad, when he realizes that in order to cope with the death of eight crew members of a crashed cargo ship, which he feels responsible for, he fabricated the existence of the rock’s personality.

beacon_bja
Interior illustrations by Ben J. Adams. Check out his work here.

There’s a lot of dark, bleak moments. And Hugh Howey does a wonderful job of writing them. His prose is sparse. The protagonist has a very relatable and distinct voice, and his narration of life in Sector 8, in Beacon 23 is definitely memorable.

I don’t want to give too much away, because the book moves in harsh twists and turns that are worth keeping spoil-free. But, suffice it to say that this narrator is lovable, loath-able, and probably more than a touch insane.

But you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

What really struck me, more than anything else, was the writing. It’s been a long time since I read something that was so straightforward and human, set in a world completely foreign. The narrator’s situation is far from typical, and yet his reactions and thoughts are 100% believable, and powerful. Even when he makes you doubt the last 40 pages with a single line.

It’s just damn good writing. I will say, the book itself is a little stilted, because it was originally published as five individual ebooks. The copy I read is a single binding, referred to as “The Complete Novel”. I think reading them individually, and waiting for the subsequent releases would have made the book that much more enjoyable, because Howey always left the reader on the edge of a cliff, and you never knew how the narrator would respond to it. Would he jump? Turn around and leave? Or simply drop to his knees and give up?

Waiting for those outcomes would have added a really nice sense of suspense and anticipation. I got to bypass that by flipping to the next page.

Also, this printing had really wonderful art before each “book”. I’m not sure if that art was included in the ebook format, but I enjoyed them in the printed edition.

beacon5_bja
Illustration by Ben J. Adams

In conclusion, I would purchase a copy of this book. I think that a second read through would probably offer more insight into what’s real and what’s PTSD delusion, and give me a chance to really appreciate the narrator’s struggle even more. There were a lot of funny moments, but there were a lot of really poignant and powerful ones too.

Thanks to this quick read, I’ll be adding Hugh Howey to my list of authors to read, always.

Until next time Blogland,

BZ