Book Review – Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic: A Calgary Stampede Adventure
Jean Stringham
Paperback
2013

I’ve thought long and hard about this review, and I still don’t know what to say about it.
The book starts off with a prologue that has seemingly nothing to do with the next 2/3 of the book. A cowboy appears by magic on the day of the Summer Solstice [oddly, the same day I started reading this book]. Then in chapter 1, we’re suddenly on a farm somewhere in Canada.
So the family dynamic is a bit unique. There’s Mom, Dad and Daughter, which isn’t as weird, but then the grandmother – who the son hasn’t spoken to since he was a young kid – arrives from the Ukraine with her huge, man-eating dog in tow. We also have the less-than-typical family at the next farm – siblings and their grandmother. They’re also Ukranian. [Note: 3.8% of the overall population of Canada, and 14.8% of Manitoba are Ukranian – I looked it up.]
The daughter, Zo, has just been given a pet rabbit, Susie, and is teaching it to do hopping courses. The grandmother is hell-bent on chasing it around the house with a broom and shouting about vermin in the house. Which adds color, but…

Let me stop. The book is a bit weird and jumps around from thing to thing. A few things you’ll see in this book:
Family relations, including the dynamic of Zo’s grandmother trying to be a human being, which she mostly fails at. There are several instances where you just want to slap the bitch. Pretty much every time she’s in the book.
Lots of stuff about animals: the hopping course, sheep-hearding by dog courses, the Calgary Stampeed, the grandmother’s psycho crazy dog, etc. As a side note, though, I don’t know how Canada works, but in most countries, bringing a dog in would result in the dog being quarantined for six weeks. I would assume Canada is much of the same, though, but my google-fu tells me that only certain dogs don’t have to be quarantined and I’m not sure this dog fits that description.
Ukrainian everything – which is both good and bad. The author chose to use more Ukrainian spellings kevbosa instead of kielbasa, etc. I don’t care. There’s a glossary in the back if you get confused. But she italicized everything every time she used such a word. If a normal book talked about having kielbasa for dinner, they wouldn’t have italicized it, so why Jean thought she should here is beyond me. It was distracting and annoying and something a good editor would have pointed out. Another thing, the mysticism and Ukrainian stuff was interesting, but for somebody with absolutely no background in it, there were a few things I would have liked explained better. The magical aspects of the book, though… I wasn’t sure where the Ukrainian stuff stopped and the magic began or how intertwined they really were.

Some other concerns – I never felt a good voice for the author or the characters. Transitions were weak – sometimes there were entire paragraphs that should have been there for transitioning that weren’t – and Zo was in high school but sounded about ten. Also, serious climactic scenes didn’t feel any stronger than any other scene, and there were a few (especially in the last third of the book) that should have felt heavy while I read them. Zo living with her friends, for instance, felt about as serious as a slumber party.
I don’t at all buy that a five foot nothing size two woman could pass as a guy in the rough and tumble world of rodeo. Not without a lot of hazing.

I could tell that the author was really into animals. The descriptions of the dogs/cows/bull/sheep/bunnies were all great.
Sentence structure/grammar/that sort of thing were good.

So rating. I don’t know that I can give one to this book that I won’t want to change tomorrow. (I really have spent an entire day trying to figure out how to rate this book) It’s a decent showing for a first novel, but there are a lot of things that need tightened up. I think it would do better as YA than an adult book for sure. But I think it’s appeal – at least with the book as its written now – is small. So I think if you’re really seriously into Ukrainian things or the Calvary Stampede that you’ll want to read this book, but I’m not sure how much it will appeal to you if you don’t.

 

July 19- Edit to add this note:  The author read my review and sent me a letter, explaining the background of the book.  *ahem*  Now, while I did discover that the book was meant to be YA (apparently I didn’t know this going in), it doesn’t change anything else I said.  Because the truth is that most readers find books by accident.  We find them in libraries and bookstores and yard sales.  And even if we find them online, we generally don’t get more than just the back cover blurb.
Besides, most of what I said above stands.  Knowing that the book is about Ukranian Mysticism (which, incidentally, I did know) doesn’t make it any more clear if you don’t know what Ukranian Mysticism is.  It also doesn’t fix the problems that I had with the book.

Book Review – Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon vol 11 by Naoko Takeuchi

Title: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol 11

Author/Illustrator:  Naoko Takeuchi

Format: Paperback

Written: 1991

Translated: 2013

 

Yes, I have been on a bit of a manga kick and for that I apologize, and I ask that you dear readers bear with me as I satisfy my need for highly illustrated stories of a Japanese origin.  Now I will say that even if I wasn’t on a bit of a manga kick I would be reading and reviewing this book.  This is a book that I have been salivating and dying for since I knew about it.  It is a book that could not release and arrive in the library fast enough for my tastes.  As to why I was so excited for this book, it is because it covers my absolute favorite plot arch of Sailor Moon.

 

I fell in love with the Star Lights plot arch early on and found Seyia to be a very loveable and endearing character to me.  I loved the romance between Seyia and Usagi despite having been a big fan of Maramou and Usagi. In addition to this being such a fun plot arch to watch via anime, I participate in a role play that plays off of Sailor Moon.  (Yes I role play but I find it is a great creative exercise that keeps me writing on regular basis which is essential to any person who wants to become a professional author.)  In this role play I write Seyia after a fashion and have fallen more in love with said character and those characters that surround Seyia.  So yes, in short I was very much looking forward to this book.

 

I knew going into this book, things would be a bit different and there wouldn’t be the music to help carry the story along like in the anime.  (I admit I’m a person that is moved by music.)  Yet expecting changes and what I got were two different things.  The book was very fast paced, and I’m not comparing it to the anime when I say this I know things are abbreviated in some ways in book form than they are in the tv series but at the same time I wasn’t expecting things to move as fast as they did.  I mean the Pharro 90 plot arch was very drawn out and this one has thus far been much abbreviated.  I was surprised to see what happened to Maramou at the start of the story, and it was interesting to see Haruka and Michiru to go back to high school.

 

There were still similarities between the anime and the manga that still stood the same but I found that the emotions and reasoning behind a lot of dialogue and actions were simply lacking in the manga versus the anime. It wasn’t just the lack of music that causes me to say this.   The animosity between Haruka and the Star Lights seems rushed and pushed with very little cause, and the same is true with the romance between Seyia and Usagi.  The revelation of Kaykuu was flat and not awe inspiring in the manga as it was in the anime.

 

Over all I think I was a little disappointed with the book and I don’t think it is because I anticipated it as much as I did.  In addition to everything else there were moments of confusion on my part such as the appearance of Diana, and I’m not sure I am fond of the home planets thing that was brought up in the story either.  Yet despite my disappointments and confusion the story was still decent and I’m curious to how the series will conclude in the final volume of Sailor Moon.  I know that it will be considerably different than in the anime considering that there are other characters missing that weren’t missing in the anime so I wonder how emotional this final battle will be in comparison to the anime.  In the end I will give the book a 3 page rating where I had hoped to have been able to give a 4 page rating, a number I would assign the anime, and it is in this one case that I would recommend the “movie” over the book.

Writer Wednesday – Nick Valentino

I met this guy a couple years ago at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. It’s a mainstream festival, giving just a little of everything and making books a little more accessible to the general public. And there was Nick. It was my first intro into Steampunk – this guy on the midway, and his girlfriend now wife – and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been waiting for his new book for a couple years now, and this interview since the blog opened, but he wanted the two to coincide. Without further ado, here he is.

 

 

 

 

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…

My name is Nick Valentino, I live in Gig Harbor Washinton with my wife, Elizabeth. I lived in Nashville, Tennessee my whole life until last year when we moved here. I wrote the steampunk novel, Thomas Riley and now the second book in the series, Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom which are published by ZOVA Books. I’ve also written a bunch of steampunk short stories. The Black Dress which appears in Kerlak Publishing’s Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells anthology, Ten Thousand Years which appears in Echelon Press’ Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance anthology, Engine 316 which appears in Kerlak Publishing’s Dreams of Steam anthology, Bedeviled which appears in Dreams of Steam II and Double Crossed at Gray Raven Mill which appears in Steampunk Tales Issue #7. Currently, I’m working on three projects, the third installment of the Thomas Riley Series, a twisty zombie book called Tribes and a Steampunk Roll Playing Game for the Harsh Realities game company with Elizabeth.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
When I was young I really didn’t like reading much. I remember slogging through summer reading for school until I went to a party and heard some people talking about Weaveworld by Clive Barker. I decided to check it out and from there I fell in love with books and storytelling.
What are your three favorite books?
Ooh, wow… That’s kind of tough. Let’s go with this.
Watership Down by Richard Adams is probably number one. I just love the characters. That story has a lot of memories for me from my childhood and I still relate to it to this day.
The Thief of Always by Clive Barker comes in at number two. I am a slow reader and I finished this book while listening to Tori Amos’ Winter ep over and over in twenty four hours. That’s when I discovered I loved reading to music as it gives everything a “4th dimension”.
Coldheart Canyon again by Clive Barker is number three. It’s an amazingly creepy story full of Hollywood history and old rumors that give haunted houses a new identity.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I can only read one book at a time. I’m a shamefully slow reader, clocking in at a sloth-like twenty pages an hour. Right now as terrible as this sounds, I’m still reading my wife’s book, Bound By Blood, (which is under her old name, Elizabeth Darvill) on my Kindle. It’s an awesome action packed story by the way. It was called a “post apocalyptic Underworld” and it really is.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
like to lose myself and when I’m done, hours have passed.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question. 
Absolutely re-read. And re-read again and again and again… until you hate the story.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?

It’s all a time issue with me. I’m very likely to read a book that’s been recommended to me. I love a fresh new story. While there’s so many copycat books out these days, there’s also a cornucopia of vastly original stories. Like everyone, I have a crazy life and my biggest problem that I really need to work on is carving out more time for reading.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I do it all the time. I often to use my blog for promoting other authors, especially my friends no matter what genre. It’s great fun to help spread the word about some great authors.

What do you look for in a good book?
Clever twists, surprises and characters that I want to be or that I wish I had written.

Why do you write?
I have to be creative. I was in a band for a long time and anyone that knows me, knows that I have to be doing something somewhat creative all the time. I do stencil art from time to time, I like to experiment with fun forms of art (I really want to get into tee shirt making as a hobby). Anyway, I have to be doing something all the time or I get kooky. Once I left the music scene, I channeled my energy into writing, and once I was published, I traveled my butt off for the book. It was a never ending cycle of writing, planning, traveling, promotional material, posters, banners, blog tours, postcards, newsletters, email blasts… the list goes on and on. I’m happiest when I’m perusing something creative and my cornerstone is writing.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I was a decent baseball player quite some time ago and if I’d gotten the bug, I think I would have tried to do that with more vigor but I became more obsessed with music in those formative years. I guess I’m a bit old for that now so if I wasn’t a writer right now I think I’d be some kind of artist and basically do the same thing I’m doing now just with spray paint and stencils.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A lot of my inspiration comes from things in my childhood. Movies, stories, my only-child entertaining myself brain. I love things that have a deeper meaning and secret hidden treasures. I like the Samurai/Asian aspect of Star Wars. I love the endless Easter Eggs of the show Lost. I love the raw emotion, the passion and the detail in every Hayao Miyazaki movie. These are things I strive to do in my own work. I want to write with a deeper intent. I want you to feel the characters and I want it all to be rife with secrets so the inquisitive reader can learn and understand more. Almost every character in the Thomas Riley series has secrets hidden in the words. It might be in a name, or a number, you never know. I like to leave little gems that can be discovered with a little research.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Writing has taught me (or better put, is teaching me) that maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I can get pretty twisted up in worrying about what I write and how well it’s written but in the end when you open that book and see it in actual print, it’s a wonderful sight and it often feels like I didn’t even write it. It’s a great feeling.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They all take it pretty seriously which is nice. I’m a persistent person and I expect a lot of myself and I think that’s how most people in my life see me. So when I do something everyone expects me to hustle as hard as I can no matter what it is. I like being over the top.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true? 
Haha actually I think most are true although I feel like they most are all good things. Writers seem to be nerdy (in a wonderful way), they are passionate people and they are goal oriented. A lot of writers seem to be generally kind souls and they are often at least slightly introverted. Basically what you get from these stereotypes are shy but super nice people once you get to know them. Of course there is always the flip side to that. There are the arrogant writers, the one that think that since they wrote a book that they are better than others. Sure you’ll meet those people but honestly it’s kind of rare.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out? 
It’s really hard to just say one. I guess it depends on the writer. For some it’s completing a book for others it’s meeting their goals like getting their work published. I guess something that’s universal is getting attention for your work in an environment where there are literally hundreds of thousands of books that come out every year. I guess that’s not really answering the question… For writers starting out I feel like the biggest challenge would be getting the book done and doing well enough to get published. It’s very hard to get the attention of people that will back you and publish your work.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Oh man, yes. Too many to name and a lot of them are horribly embarrassing. I was not classically trained as a writer. I graduated college with a History degree so yes I wrote a lot of papers but I was never really taught to write professionally. So

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’d actually be excited about just about anything. I guess if I could pick a fantasy I would say write for a Miyazaki movie or a feature film.

How do you deal with your fan base?
My fan base is awesome. Seriously, everyone that seems to like my work or that approaches me at cons has been so incredibly nice and good to me. It’s a great feeling and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them with the second book.

Anything else we should know?
My second steampunk adventure novel, Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom, came out yesterday on ZOVA Books.
Order signed copies here http://thomasriley.bigcartel.com/
Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Riley-The-Maelstrom-Volume/dp/0615794742/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1371788096&sr=8-6&keywords=Nick+Valentino
Learn more at these locations:
Blog:
 http://nickvalentino.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/hazeltherabbit
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SirThomasRiley

Book Review – Machine Man

Machine Man
Max Barry
2011
Paperback

Okay, so, I love Max Barry. One of his books, Jennifer Government, spawned one of my favorite games, Nation States. He is probably the only Australian author I read (or the only one I can name, for that matter) and his stuff is a little aloof, just like I am. So when I heard (okay, okay, I realized it a bit late, but still) that there was another book out, I jumped at the chance and didn’t put it down until it was done.

And then I read this book.

In Machine Man, the main character is a research scientist who loses a leg in an accident with a large piece of equipment. He then sets out to build himself a better leg… After building himself one leg, he realizes that it is superior to his other leg, and it can’t reach its full potential unless he has a matching set.

The book then goes into the morality of building a better person. When do you stop? How far do you progress the technology? Who do you apply it to? When the company he works for starts secretly sealing his technology to make super soldiers, he gets justifiably upset and his company tries to take him out. In other words, a typical Max Barry story line – he is, after all, the king of

I liked the concept of the book. I like the main character and several of the secondary characters related to him. I liked the development of the PR people. But there’s a point in the story where the story line goes so far over the top that it gets… silly. [Side note, Iron Man 3 sort of did a few similar things…]

And the last third or so of the book sort of lost it for me.
The end was okay.

So as far as rating this book goes…
If you’ve never read Max Barry, I’d suggest starting with a different book. Jennifer Government are Company are my favorites. If you love everything he’s written and “OMG! Another Max Barry book!” then pick it up. But I really don’t suggest starting with this book. And because of that, I’m only giving it a three.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Lexicon just came out and I’m the first person who gets to crack the cover of the library’s copy…

Book Review – Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz vol. 1

Title: Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz vol 1

Author: Quin Rose

Illustrator: Mamenosuke Fujimaru

Format: Paperback

Published: 2009

Translated: 2012

After reading and enjoying Alice in the Country of Clover: Bloody Twins, I was excited to start this new Country of Clover story line where Alice chooses Boris, the Cheshire Cat.  It is easy to say that I’ve had a thing for the pink cat since the Country of Hearts books, but this book didn’t quite meet my hopes and expectations.  I found myself falling in love with the Bloody Twins of the first book more than I did Boris, which surprised me.  I think part of the problem was that the feelings of those beyond Boris were expressed more than in Bloody twins.  In Bloody Twins the focus was on Alice and her feelings for the twins while in this there was more a pull from other characters and I wanted to see Alice with them over Boris.  Of course, Bloody Twins was a quick one off, while this is  the first part of a series of books focused on Boris.  The romance between the title characters was only beginning to heat up when the story ended with a flash back.  In the end, I liked the story well enough.  I also still rather like Boris and think it is cute how he can act like a cat at times, such as giving Alice a small lick, but on the whole the pace was a lot slower, and thus less romance.  I am hoping that the second volume will be a bit better.

With that said, I will commend the book for being a whole lot easier to follow than Bloody Twins was.  I know the better flow of the book was not because I knew what to expect, though that did help a little.  Over all, I think I would give the book a three page rating and recommend the read if you are already a fan of the manga or just looking for something light and fun to read.

Writer Wednesday – Steven Manchester

Let’s start with the basics.
Tell us (briefly) about you…

I’m a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, where I promised that I would chase my lifelong dreams of being a writer. When not spending time with my beautiful wife, Paula, or my four children, I’m out promoting my works or writing. Visit: http://www.StevenManchester.com

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’m the author of my new release, The Rockin’ Chair, as well as the #1 best seller, Twelve Months. I’m also the author of A Christmas Wish (Kindle exclusive), the heart-warming prequel to Goodnight, Brian. My work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of my short stories were selected “101 Best” for Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m rewriting a manuscript that I finished some years ago, entitled, Pressed Pennies. I expect that it will be released early 2014.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
In Mrs. Parson’s 4th grade class, I had two poems published in a classroom anthology. This had an enormous impact on me; I really thought it was quite the accomplishment.

What are your three favorite books?
The Bible; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (amongst many others)

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
No more than two at a time, and right now I’m actually reviewing a manuscript for a fellow writer.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I __
lose myself to the world around me.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Re-read!

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very likely—given that the recommendation comes from someone I know.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely—especially when I know the writer (I’ll do whatever I can to help promote them).

What do you look for in a good book?
I believe that good books make people think, while great books make people feel. I look for raw emotion.

Why do you write?
I’d just returned home from Operation Desert Storm, and was working as a prison investigator in Massachusetts. Needless to say, there was great negativity in my life at that time. I decided to return to college to finish my degree in Criminal Justice. During one of the classes, the professor talked about police work but nothing else. I finally raised my hand and asked, “The criminal justice system is vast. What about the courts, probation, parole – corrections?” He smiled and told me to see him after class. I thought I’d finally done it! In his office, he explained, “There’s no written material out there on corrections or prisons, except from the slanted perspective of inmates.” He smiled again and dropped the bomb. “If you’re so smart,” he said, “why don’t you write it?” Nine months later, I dropped the first draft of 6-5; A Different Shade of Blue on his desk. From then on, I was hooked. I was a writer.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A stand-up comedian (I’m joking, of course).

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My wife and children!

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That my life will be spent in the quest of knowledge; that I possess the determination to make my dreams come true.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I’ve been at it for nearly two decades now. I think that the people in my life enjoy sharing the journey with me. And for me, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if I couldn’t share it all.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Work ethic; there’s a belief that writers sit around all day—in the comfort of their homes—tinkering with words. In truth, I’ve never worked harder at anything my entire life.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The rejection rates are insane. I really enjoy working with new writers and this is what I share with them; things I wish I had known at the beginning of my career:
Be true to yourself, always.

  • Write constantly.
  • Keep the faith!!!
  • And NEVER, EVER, EVER quit. Most people in this industry would agree that more than talent or skill or even luck, perseverance is the one trait that will always get the job done.
  • Knock on every door you can, and keep knocking. I promise that eventually someone will open and the warmth you feel on your face will more than validate every hour spent alone in the darkness.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Writing is a discipline as much as it is a passion for me, so as I continue to put in the work, my talent has developed. When comparing my recent works with my earlier work, I can’t help but to cringe at times. But I suppose that’s the nature of things and most writers feel the same.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
The Rockin’ Chair—as a film!

How do you deal with your fan base?
As personally as possible. I appreciate all the feedback and the support, so I go out of my way to share the same.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know __ about me.
That although I write tear-jerkers, I’m really more of a clown in real life.

Anything else we should know?
My favorite saying: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HP5)
JK Rowling
US version Hardback – 2003

There is something especially quaint (ahem) about checking a children’s book out of the library that is so big and heavy you almost need somebody to carry it for you. But alas, here is the longest of the HP novels. Especially when there’s very little content in the book to talk about (side note – this is the shortest movie of all 8, which is saying something since its the longest book at 870 pages [US version]).

For Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, the book starts out with Harry and his useless cow-of-a-cousin Dudley walking down the street when Dementors attack them just around the block from Privet Drive. He’s whisked away by a group of magical people that he knows mostly from school to the super-secret hideout of the Order of the Phoenix – Sirius’s house – where he discovers that he’s been watched all summer long, and of course his friends know more than he does.

We get to learn a bit about the Order, courtesy of Fred and George (or is it George and Fred?)’s magic ears invention, a bit about the Black Family courtesy of Kreatcher, a particularly annoying house elf, and the Black Family Tapestry – complete with shrieking Mother of Sirius, and more than a bit about the Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore courtesy of Harry’s visit to the ministry on the matter of having called forth a patronus to get rid of the dementors trying to kill his cousin.

He should have let Dudley die, just sayin’.
Also, the ministry is corrupt, but we already knew that.
Oh, and Harry *must* be lying because there’s no way that dementors are out and causing trouble because Don’t-Say-Voldemort can’t *possibly* be doing anything whatsoever. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

The kids go back to Hogwarts just in time to find out that they’ll have to take their OWLs at the end of the year, and for all hell to break loose at the hands of one Dolores Umbridge. We have a lot of her being cross and Harry getting in trouble – to the point that he’s banned from Quiddich forever. After all, he’s just a little freak who makes up stories.

Hermione still goes on about her stupid SPEW campaign (seriously, NONE of my friends like the SPEW story lines).
Umbridge’s insistance that you can learn defense THEORY and never practice it and be able to save yourself is not what the students want to hear, and so Harry and his friends start their DA practices (Dumbledore’s Army, which is a stupid title, but right up the alley of what a young teenager would come up with) in the Room of Requirement, which Dobby points out to them.

Oh, and Harry starts having bad dreams that aren’t dreams but a super-special connection with Voldemort and he gets to see what’s happening as it happens. Which means he then gets to train with Snape, who he of course doesn’t trust, to close his brain off to those attacks.

Ron’s Dad gets attacked, we learn about Longbottom’s parents, and meet Luna Lovegood.

Oh, and we spend way too much freakin’ time at the Ministry of Magic where we learn all kinds of things and fight the powers of evil. Also, Harry’s godfather, who he’s barely just had in his life, dies. But we sort of expected that because nothing good ever happens to Harry.

And love. LOVE is the reason why Harry goes back to being abused at Privet drive once a year.

*sigh* I’m bored writing this review. Which is sort of telling because, you know, I was bored reading the book. For the most part, NOTHING HAPPENS, and even though stuff happens, there’s not that much that happens, and there are seventy bajillion words in this book that we have to suffer through for very little. You could almost skip the book and be happy with yourself.
Also, I don’t like comparing these to the movies, but I’m going to for a short sec – all the emphasis on “educational decrees” and all that crap and there are only like four of them in the whole book. As opposed to the movies which have them hand over fist. It’s really weird.
I was annoyed with Hagrid’s giant brother, but the more I read, the more I’m annoyed with a lot of Hagrid’s story lines anyway. He’s not a bumbling idiot, but the more Rowling wrote him, the more he became a caricature of himself. I love Hagrid in, say, the first three books, but I’m starting to think that giving him the same stuff time and time again is getting old.
While the room of prophecies is kind of cool, having to slough through descriptions of half the damn BUILDING for the Ministry got old, too. Yeah, some of them were neat (I did love the fountain), but really. I haven’t complained yet about Rowling having a copy editor and not a content editor, but I should. Because, seriously, there’s like three pages in this book about Harry getting in a phone booth and talking into the receiver.

Really, the only things that happen in this book are: 1. OWLs, 2. DA, 3. Oh, Look, Voldemort’s back (which we’ve known for five books now, thanks), 4. Cho is cute, 5. Sirius dies. There you go.

So, when I say “book 5” to my friends, you get a table full of full-grown women complaining about how much they hated this book and how stupid it was and whatever else. I can’t put my finger on why, but I agree with them for a few reasons. Boring, like I said, unnecessarily long, like I said, and seriously, you really could skip it and continue with the series no problem. And because of *that* I’m giving it a 2/5. This book could be 200 pages and you’d get everything out of it you need to. So skip it if you don’t care that much, and certainly the only reason you’d need to read it is if you’re hell-bent on reading the entire series.

Book Review: Walt Longmire Mysteries #1-3 by Craig Johnson

Title:   The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1)

Death Without Company (Walt Longmire #2)

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Walt Longmire #3)

Author: Craig Johnson

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

Published: 2005-2007

 

When May Sweeps was over, my valiant partner and I combed through Netflix for bingewatching material and found Season 1 of A&E’s Longmire ready and waiting.   It wasn’t until the tenth and final episode that I caught the “Based on the novel…” credit flashing over the beginning action.    I immediately ran to the library website and downloaded the first three books, eager to immerse myself in the Wyoming sheriff’s adventures.    I had enjoyed the show immensely and couldn’t wait to “read more about it” (as they used to say at the end of Afterschool Specials.)

 

I have  good news and I have bad news.   Let’s start with the good, shall we?

These books are very, very good.  That in and of itself is nice to know, seeing as there are thus far nine in the series.   The first book–The Cold Dish–has a few pacing issues as Johnson tries to set up his world and characters but once you learn your way around you really don’t want to leave fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming.

There’s more good news to come, but I think this is a good time to pop in with the bad news.

If you go to these books because you really like the A&E show and want that Walt  and Henry  and Vic and Branch and Ruby…oops.  Sorry.  About the only thing these novels have in common with the TV show are the names of some characters and the general idea of a Wyoming sheriff, his Indian* best friend and his sexy deputy.    The books are completely different in tone, in plot, in story.     While the Walt Longmire of A&E’s cop show is a taciturn father figure with broodingly quiet competence his novel predecessor is garrulous, witty, wordy and philosophical.    The books are written in the first person, and Walt tells his story with liberal amounts of wry wit.   Classical literary allusions pepper the pages; every book has at least one Shakespeare quote.    I’d definitely say the show and the novels are equally enjoyable, but honestly it’s sort of like comparing roast beef and Chicago-style pizza.

The other bad news is that if you come to these looking for traditional series mystery you may disappointed as well.   Each book thus far has a central crime but it’s never much of a puzzle.  Since the books are more about the camaraderie of Walt and his coterie of eccentrics the entertainment value comes from following their interactions.   As far as mysteries go these are quite possibly the complete opposite of the page-turning thrillers by Dan Brown, Jonathan Kellerman, Jeffrey Deaver and Patricia Cornwell.   You still turn the pages, but just to hang out with everybody.  There aren’t that many compelling “gosh, I wonder what that mysterious residue was?” types of questions.   As long as you know that going into it, you’ll be fine.

In fact, as I write this review and ponder the whole thing I realise that the books these remind me most of are the Father Tim/Mitford novels by Jan Karon.   Now, before you think “ugh, I’m not doing that” I don’t mean they’re similar in tone.  It’s just that these books, like those, are highly serialised and highly atmospheric in their setting.   Just as Karon’s books are the story of Mitford and the goofy characters who live there, these are the more butch version, the story of Absaroka County.

Each book does deal with a crime that is solved by the end of the novel, but the overarching stories of Walt, Henry, et. al. carry through from one novel to the next.   It’s very good to know that going into it; it’s also a good idea to have more than one novel on hand because you’ll want to dive right into the subsequent story to see what  happens next.

As far as ratings go, I’d say the books get four bookworms as general fiction.   But if I were rating them as genre police procedurals I’d actually have to give them 2.5-3 bookworms.   In other words–I love them, but the Mystery aspect is NOT their central strength.

4 bookworms

*The books are very clear that the term “Indian” is preferable to Native American from the Indian point-of-view as the Cheyenne do not consider themselves Americans. Not knowing any Cheyenne personally I’ll take Johnson’s word for it.

——
Contest Update
Congratulations go to Bridgett Williams-Searle, who won the giveaway for Anna And The Dragon by Jill Domschot. I apologise profusely for the delay in announcing it. Things went pear-shaped here for a bit. But we’re back on track! Yay!

Book Review – Warm Bodies… by Isaac Marion

Title: Warm Bodies

Author: Isaac Marion

Format: Paperback

Published/Written: 2011

Despite having already reviewed one book that has had a recent movie come out for it… I will say that it is not too often that I decide to pick up a book because a movie of it is coming out.  Yet, this was the case with Warm Bodies.  I fell in love with the story line from the first preview I saw in theaters.  I always thought it would be interesting to do a Zombie love story… I was excited to see  someone had done it even if it was just a film… I later discovered that the movie was based off a novel and I got even more excited… I knew I needed to pick up the book even if there was a forever long waiting list for it at the library…

When I sat down to crack the book open… I was surprised by how the story was conveyed.  One would not think that a zombie would make a good narrator for a first person perspective novel… but Isaac accomplishes a very realistic voice that is quite compelling and has a rather strong vocabulary.  (It enthralled me to read words that I hardly see in type let alone hear spoken.)  I know it seems bizarre for a zombie to be able to tell his story in such a way… but it works considering that the life of “R” before he became a zombie indicates that he was a well-educated man.

For me… the story gripped me right away and this book is what I would call something of an escapist book… every time I picked it up… I was lost to the world around me and entered into the post-apocalyptic America where zombies rule the world and the living are few and far between.  The root cause of this happenstance is uncertain… but not really important.  The focus isn’t so much on the how and why but on “R” as he deals with the issues of being a zombie and protecting Julie the girl he meets… after killing her boyfriend.  If you have seen the previews… you know the general plot of the story, thus I don’t feel it would be a spoiler to mention how the gradual change of “R” was masterfully done as it was so subtle… and quite powerful at times.

Over all… I found the book to be very well written… Isaac is a master of short syllabic dialogue, communicating a lot through short conversations and prose.  On the whole… I loved this book, despite knowing most of what would happen based on the movie previews… I was surprised by the twists and turns the journey took to reach the end… I do have a few complaints about the book though.  In the book there are two different narrators, the first of course being “R”… and then a second additional one.  My problem wasn’t with the second perspective, as it gave a lot of depth to the story… the problem was that it was hard at times to realize the switch right away… it didn’t take me too long to discover the change but… it was enough that I had to go back and reread some.  I also took issue with there being a shortage of dialogue tags… most of the time it was fine… considering the brevity of the dialogue but there were a few occasions where I would have to sort of count to see who said what.  This would have been more problematic if the speech patterns between some characters weren’t vastly different from one another…  it did become an issue on occasion though. With that said… I am still going to give this book a 4 page rating…it is not too often that I find a book that I can’t really put down and can finish in about two days.  So… if you are looking for something unique, or are into zombies… this book is a must read… for those not so into zombies… you might still want to give it a try… but I won’t blame you if zombies aren’t your thing…

Writer Wednesday – Ryan OBrien

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I live on a sailing catamaran in The Florida Keys and also have a log cabin in Washington State. I plan on writing 3 books a year from this point forward. Visiting middle grade schools and talking to students is an exciting and rewarding activity, and we have met with over 1500 students during this past year doing power points on my book and talking about reading in general. I hope to triple the number of students in the coming year. Check out thelandofwhooseries.com for more information.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
…and a bit about what you’ve written…

I have written The Land of Whoo and the second book in the series, The Land of Coral Seas. I started out in high school writing for the school newspaper. In college I was on the yearbook staff. My major was R/TV Management so this included writing PR releases and news and commercials.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am currently working on the third book in The Land of Whoo Series. I am also working on another YA book primarily about The Keys called No Limits.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I was enthralled with reading Robinson Crusoe as my first book love.

What are your three favorite books?
Robinson Crusoe
On Writing, by Stephen King
Treasure Island

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I have just finished The Alchemist, and before that, 39 Clues, The Emerald Atlas and Hunger Games.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
get ideas for my current projects and make notes and underline passages to review later.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
We over edit, trying to make the manuscript the best it can possibly be.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
I read all the Middle Grade books recommended – especially by my many friends that are middle grade teachers – to know what my target audience is looking for.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely. I believe in sharing any knowledge available –

What do you look for in a good book?
I love honesty, frankness and great adventures. Also after reading Stephen King’s “On Writing,” I have been eager to see another author’s character development and descriptions and compare their plot lines. I am also looking for original story lines and this lets me be aware of what is currently out there.

Why do you write?
I love it!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Marketing or Advertising

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From my family and friends. Also from a group of middle grade students that I talk with about ideas for my next books.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I have been looking for ideas and many times wake up in the morning with the idea – trust the soup.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
At first they said, “Sure you’re going to write a novel.” I wrote the first 2 chapters of my first book on my iPhone. After finishing the first book in two and a half months, they rethought. My wife has been my biggest supporter and Editor in Chief, as a former court reporter. She is my inspiration and best friend.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
From what I know, everyone is different. There are many paths to success that are not the same for all.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Dedicating the time to write on a daily basis.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
On my first book, we sent it off for a second opinion and got an editorial letter from a create space editor. One piece of great advice given was that my main character did not make enough mistakes. To be more believable, I added more predicaments where Michael Henry didn’t choose the easiest “path.” Kids learn from their mistakes and that makes a stronger character.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?

How do you deal with your fan base?
I have a group of middle grade students that I communicate with on a regular basis to gather ideas about the direction of my book series. Today I gave a presentation to over 100 middle grade students and thanked them for their support and ideas for my second book in the series which was just launched on Amazon and Kindle. After my first book was released, I had a fan search me out to tell me he had read my book three times and loved it. I interviewed him and have used him as a character in my current book. He is Jack Sloan, the cabin boy, and of course the last name is fictitious.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I live on a cruising catamaran in the Florida Keys and love to sail and scuba dive

Anything else we should know?
This current book has been dedicated to my daughter, who has passed away, to remind me to always put family first.

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