Book Review – Alice in the Country of Hearts The Clockmaker’s Story

Title: Alice in the County of Hearts The Clockmaker’s Story

Author: QuinRose

Illustrator: Mamenosuke Fujimaru

Format: Paperback

Published: 2013

 

Having read one story about Alice and Julius and them being in a relationship I wasn’t so sure I’d enjoy this book as it was another take on them as a couple, yet I’m glad I decided to pick this up.  This story takes place right at the start of Alice’s time there in Wonderland and started at the start of the relationship between Alice and Julius.  It was not so random as the other book and followed a very logical flow and was simply sweet and romantic.

 

There isn’t much to the story plot wise when it comes to the deeper truths and mysteries of Wonderland save for a truth that has been known for a long time.  All those of Wonderland have clocks instead of hearts in their chest.  This is something that at the start of the story that Alice did not know and she learns it in this story which everyone was worried would cause her to want to leave Julius or Wonderland in general.  Of course it doesn’t, but really despite not having any major reveals happening in this story it was still a good read.

 

Over all, I would give this a 4 out of 5 pages.  It was a good read and vey sweet and romantic and the relationship between Julius and Alice makes sense and was cute and developed very well in this story.  Really if you are looking for something like this it was an enjoyable quick read, as it took me less than an hour to read.

Book Review – Flight of the Eagles

Title: Flight of the Eagles (The Seven Sleepers Series)

Author: Gilbert L. Morris

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 1990

The Seven Sleepers series is a Christian fiction series based around the idea that seven people will survive a nuclear war in our time – and wake up in 50 years to a world that is completely changed. These seven “sleepers” are thought to be the fulfillment of of a prophecy that would uplift Goél and bring about the defeat of the Sanhedrin.

Flight of the Eagles focuses on Josh Adams, a fourteen-year-old who is put into a capsule and wakes into a world he barely recognizes. He must come to terms with not only the loss of his family and his previous life, but he must also learn about the new world and life he has now found himself in. He is aided in this by creatures that he could never imagine – dwarfs and giants and mutants, all changed by the Terror that changed Earth into a place called Nuworld.

The first book of the series focuses on their journey to find all seven of the Sleepers, aided by a series of songs and a map left to Joshua by his parents. They travel across the land, waking each Sleeper one by one, and get into terrible danger along the way. As they travel, Josh and Sarah (the second of the Sleepers to awaken) begin to experience visits from Goél and gain strength by trusting him.

This book (and I assume series) is a very firm middle-grade book, which shows not only in the plot, but also in the writing style. The characters are, for the most part, rather flat (in many cases, this is because they are barely introduced). There’s a little bit of world-building, but not a ton. A lot of ground is covered several times, as the group travels to wake each Sleeper in turn.

I enjoyed the book, for the most part, and am looking forward to reading others in the series. I probably would have enjoyed it more as a young teenager.

Rated 2/5 pages due to limited appeal for adults.

Writer Wednesday – Benjamin Cheah

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Benjamin Cheah, indie writer, blogger and freelancer. Someday I will become a full-time writer.

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
I write about the impact of disruptive technologies and ideas on people, how conflict between people and groups would evolve, and how society and individuals adapt. In my fiction I strive for high-intensity action sequences, plausible futuristic technologies, realistic tactics and strategies, and characters driven by personal codes and visions of tomorrow. My stories also tend to blend science fiction and fantasy tropes to varying degrees, with a strong bias towards hard science fiction, military and law enforcement, and spirituality.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
Keepers of the Flame, my first novel, which is the second entry in the American Heirs series. Set in a North America recovering from a global collapse, the Republic of Cascadia is attempting to restore civilization in the Pacific Northwest. However, at the edges of Cascadia’s Green Zone, the Sons of America are plotting to foment a revolution and restore the old United States. On the East Coast, a new American empire rises, and prepares to march west. And as the conflict heats up, in the digital infrastructure that underpins Cascadia, a machine god is born.

The full American Heirs saga is conceptualized as three core novels supplemented by three novellas. The novels cover the major events of the series, while the novellas focus on a single character. The first novella, American Sons, was published last year, and the second novella (the third entry) should be ready by the end of Q1 2015.

I’ve also sold a short story to Castalia House for its anthology Riding the Red Horse. Titled ‘War Crimes’, it tells the story of a shell-shocked solder who stands accused of massacring alien civilians and a journalist who wants to find the truth. You can find the anthology here.

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
I don’t have favourite books so much as favourite writers, specifically those who inform my writing. Currently, the most important writers are:

Jim Butcher. His Dresden Files and Codex Alera series inspired my earliest stories. They still inform my writing, through their combination of high-octane action and characterisation.

Larry Correia. Guns, magic, B-movie monsters, fleshed-out characters, authentic action scenes, incredible worldbuilding, and he just keeps getting better. His Grimnoir series was also fairly similar to a story idea I had in my head – but much, much, better, so much so I had to revise it.

Barry Eisler. His flagship character, John Rain, is a Japanese-American hitman who lives in the shadows but yearns to get out of the life, a ronin looking for a cause but disappointed by what he found, someone with a foot in the East and West but fully belonging to neither. His characterisation is incredible, and so is his unflinching portrayal of counterterrorism and modern-day espionage. The realistic martial arts and well-researched technologies help.

Marcus Wynne. Former shooter turned writer, his stories capture the mindset of top-tier operators and how they see the world around them. Also, his Depossessionist series resembled another idea I had – but much better.

Tom Kratman. His Legion del Cid and M Day series are masterworks of military fiction. Not merely content with portraying modern war at the tactical level, they delve into politics, economics, impact of technology, strategy and philosophy. He even wrote a thinly-disguised handbook on training women for warfare. His works set the standards for my big war novels and series, such as Keepers of the Flame.

John C. Wright. Just about everything he writes is pure genius. His writing harkens to the Golden Age of science fiction and the pulp era, with fantastic technology and mind-boggling scales, characters who are true to their beliefs and products of their times, and his stories always point towards better and brighter tomorrows, albeit won through blood and fire.

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
Professionally I write articles for lifestyle magazine Eastie Brekkie and website Mothership.sg, and work for local NGO the Pwee Foundation as a staff writer. I’m also available to take up writing and/or editing assignments. In between stories I write the script, churn out design documents, and hash out mechanics for my indie RPG project.

In other words…I don’t.

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
I blog at www.benjamincheah.wordpress.com, while my professional writing page is at www.benjamincheah.com.

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Advice For New Writers

Figure out what kind of writer are you: why you write, and who you write for. This will inform the skills you need to develop.

If you’re a hobbyist, you write for fun and to pass time. The most useful skill to develop is perseverance. To finish the story, even if it feels bad or wrong or when it stops being fun. Finish the story, then work on the next one. The only reason to give up a story is to burn it up and write something better from the ashes.

If you’re writing for a community, you’re writing to entertain people. First, learn the above. Then, develop the craft and art of writing. The former are the tools of trade that build the story: plotting, characterisation, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and so on. The latter is derived from the former; how you wield the tools of the craft defines you, and makes you stand out among everybody else in the community. And keep in mind, how you feel about your story doesn’t matter; if your audience is not entertained, you’re likely doing something wrong.

If you’re writing stories for a publisher, you’re working. First learn the above. Then keep in mind that you are writing for your client, the publisher, and your audience. Sometimes your client and audience are one and the same, or else they have similar tastes. More realistically, both the writer and publisher will have different ideas over what the audience wants. You’ll need to work with your client to serve your audience, and that means reworking your story as needed and standing firm where you must, so that the both of you deliver the best story possible.

If you’re writing as a career, you’re a small business owner. Build upon the lessons of the above three stages of writing. Then, while perfecting your craft, study the industry. The industry is changing, and to make a career out of it you need to stay abreast of affairs and figure out how to best promote and sell your works. If you’re a self-publisher, you need to think like a publisher too, and study the ways of formatting, editing, cover and interior design, marketing communications, accounting, management and other business skills.

Notice that each step of the way builds upon the last, but at heart is the determination to write a good story and to keep on writing. Writing is no more and no less a skilled trade as any other; if you aspire to master writing, you must first master yourself.

Book Review – Peanut

TITLE: Peanut
AUTHOR/ARTIST: Ayun Halliday & Paul Hoppe
FORMAT: Graphic Novel
PUBLISHED: 2013

readingchallengesmall

Back to my reading challenge, I know I could count this for graphic novel, but I totally grabbed it because of the cover – it’s peacock blue with a single still-in-the-shell peanut on the front cover.  Let’s just say it piqued my interest.

So in Peanut, the main character is a girl about to switch high schools.  She’s an only child of a single woman and not looking forward to making friends again for the fifteenth (or whatever) time.  So she decides to do something stupid.  She fakes a peanut allergy.

Now, when I picked it up, I glanced briefly and pretty much only saw “girl with peanut allergy”, which means that when I read it, I was surprised that it was really “girl with FAKE peanut allergy,” but in a way, that kind of made it better.  I mean, when they’re trying to figure out what the EE-PINE-FRINE (“Isn’t that for asthma?” her mother asks…) is, the info we’re getting about it is because the character has no clue that she’ll need an Epi-Pen for her “peanut allergy” – not because a character is being overly preachy with us.

The minor characters are a hodgepodge of what you’d expect.  Her homeroom teacher-slash-algebra teacher is sort of out there, the nurse is pleasant enough, there’s a clique of preppy/mean girls, and there’s a boy that she’s really interested in, a luddite named Zoo.  (He calls her Peanut.)  And they all play their roles swimmingly.

There are a couple issues I had with the story – her old best friend is the catalyst of the whole thing, but never talks to her again after she moves, so it’s sort of a wasted character setup.  The teacher that is crazy out there is really out there, but he’s an important catalyst, and simmering him down would make it boring, so just get used to him.

But to balance that out, the story is paced really well, the illustrations are simple but good, and I really enjoyed reading it.  It’s a quick read, too.  I think I read it in a couple hours.

In the end, I’ll give it a 4/5.  It’s worth a read.

readingchallengesmall

Book 3 of 52.

This book satisfies the
“Pick a book based on its cover” requirement.

Book Review – Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz 4

Title:  Alice in the Country of Clover Cheshire Cat Waltz 4

Author: QuinRose

Illustrator: Mamenosuke Fujimaru

Format: Paperback

Published: 2013

 

I feel like when reading a series that is done in small doses like this series it can get difficult to write reviews for each book.   I’m not saying this installment of Cheshire Cat Waltz was bad, as it was good but there was not a lot of plot.  The story starts out with a little bit of questioning of Boris if Alice loves him but not a lot.  The story then progresses to show that Alice might still be questioning her past life and as a result Peter White questions her relationship with Boris and how she feels for him.

 

To put that love to the test Peter challenges Boris to try and kill him and really has to push to get Boris to act in any way against him because Boris knows that Alice would be upset if he killed Peter.  Alice is held back and made to listen and not interfere because of Nightmare to try and show her not only how Boris actually feels about her but how she actually feels about Boris.

 

Giving you a very small spoiler warning here, (for what you read next will spoil things a bit)but things get a little more committed between Alice and Boris and actually gets rather steamy as well.  I won’t go into details here as part of reading this story is to see the drawings yourself and read the story.

 

As an added bit of this book there is set up for book 5 as Alice’s relation to the Hatter Family such as living at Hatter Mansion will come to be used against Alice and Blood Dupree as there are several who think she has a special sort of relationship with Blood rather than Boris.  Over all, I would give this a solid 3 out of 5 page review, good to read but not a must do.

Book Review – Obsession in Death

Title: Obsessed in Death

Author: J.D. Robb

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2015

I’ve been a long-time reader of the J.D. Robb’s ‘In Death’ series, although I firmly feel that the best books of the series are books 4-8 (ish), before the novels start feeling formulaic. That said, I enjoyed this latest offering more than several of the more recent books.

I’ll admit, I much prefer mystery novels where we get to figure whodunit along with the detective instead of watching the detective chase the murderer around and try to catch them. The ‘In Death’ novels tend to vary between the two styles (and occasionally the author likes to add a third style in, where we try to figure it out, and then Dallas “talks it over with someone” and pinpoints the murderer based on “gut” but we’re not told who. I’ll admit, those drive me bananas). In this case, we are not told who the murderer is (but neither are the main characters) and we don’t really get a chance to solve it until the main characters do. We are told as soon as they know, however.

The story starts with a murder of a lawyer that Eve has had dealings with in the past – and a message left by the killer at the crime scene. The murderer views this death as a gift for Eve, and signs the message “Your One True Friend.” As the case continues to unfold, Eve is faced with the fact that the murderer has put her on a pedestal, and eventually all idols will fall.

The story takes us to visit most of the fan-favorites in the world – Mavis, Mira, Nadine, Peabody, McNab, Feeney – without throwing in others that aren’t necessary for this story (notably Trina, who often is thrown in there when it’s not logical, and Charles and Louise). There’s just enough action in the story without it feeling overwhelming and like Eve is just getting into fights all the time, and enough procedural work to make it feel like an actual detective novel.

Watching Eve face down the killer in the end, surrounded by her men, and realizing that they too were her family, adds another layer to her life – something that has stagnated a little bit over the past few books. (And, I admit, I have a fondness for most of her men – watching the way they interact with each other but always stand up for each other.)

A solid offering in the world, but not a stand-out book. 3/5 pages

Writer Wednesday – Jeffrey Cook

1. Who are you? Jeffrey Cook. I’m an author living in Maple Valley, WA – about 30 miles from Seattle.

2. What type of stuff do you write?
I’m the author of the Dawn of Steam series. Dawn of Steam will soon be a trilogy (third book coming in March) of epistolary format (letters and journals), Regency-voice alt-history/steampunk novels, set from 1815-1819.
I’ve recently added my first YA title as well, the YA SciFi story Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets, released through Fire & Ice YA Press.
I’ve been published in the anthologies Steampunk Trails (volume 2), Avast Ye Airships (released in March), and Free Flowing Stories.
Finally, I’m currently working on a YA Fantasy series, The Fair Folk Chronicles, while finishing editing on the third Dawn of Steam novel.

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
The Dawn of Steam series has been my passion for the past two years, researching, getting voices right, getting the language and historical references right – and the tale is nearly finished. Rising Suns will end the story of the crew of the airship Dame Fortuna (for now. Books 4-6 are in planning, but won’t be written for some time.) – as they explore the world, and delve into conspiracies of the post Napoleonic War-era world.

4. What is your favorite book?
My single favorite book is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lots of competition after that, including Shogun, The Lord of the Rings and The Lonesome Gods. But Frankenstein remains my favorite.

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I am also a gamer (table top and live action rpgs), a sports fan (go Seahawks!), an animal lover/dog owner (The anthology I’m heading up, being released in March is a charity book, benefitting Washington State’s PAWS animal rescue.), and an advocate and organizer for other local small press and independent authors.

6. What link can we find you at?
http://www.authorjeffreycook.com/  and  http://www.amazon.com/Jeffrey-Cook/e/B00IRMC3H6/ (for reviews, book info, etc.)

Guest Post:

This is a little bit of a combination of “Advice I’d give new authors” and “Best advice I’ve gotten.” I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people who have been writing much longer than I have, quite a few of whom are much more successful. Some of that advice is useful, some of it is not. Some is consistent, some contradictory. Here’s the three pieces of advice I’ve found that’s very consistent, and that I’ve adopted, and do my best to pass along:
As a new writer, write. It seems simple, but there’s more to it than that. A lot of people have great ideas, but never get that book out. A lot of people write until they hit writers block. Or until they get another job, or whatever, and then stop. Write every day, for 15 minutes. Do not make exceptions. If you’re serious about your craft, you can find 15 minutes. If you can do it for 3 weeks, no exceptions, you’ll likely find it becoming habit, and find ways to rearrange your schedule to get the time in. The writing doesn’t necessarily have to be on your book, or on anything serious. If you’re blocked up, spend it editing, or writing an outline for that other idea – but make the time every day to put words down on the page, or fix the words you already put down.

Second, when you’re getting ready to publish: There’s a lot of really, really good stuff out there in self-and-small-press published material. There’s also a lot of rushed-to-print garbage. And the latter gives all of us a bad reputation that’s hard to shake. The more good, professional looking material there is out there, the easier it gets for people to consider buying other small press and self-published books. If you spend money on only two things, make it an editor and a cover artist. Regardless, unless you are really, really good at either self-editing (a rare skill. Some can do it, most can’t.) or visual art, have someone you know and trust do both. Do everything you can to put out a clean, edited, professional looking product. Plenty of people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But people do. And in some ways, should. A quality cover tells people the author cared enough about their book to put time and thought into it.
Doing this will both help you, and a lot of other authors out there. Speaking of which…

Third and final thing: other authors are your best resource. Talk to them, learn from them, network with them, leave reviews for them, buy their books if you can, and otherwise make use of this resource. Plenty of authors see others as competition, and try to sabotage them in hopes it will somehow help their own career, or out of jealousy. Don’t do this. There is a lot of material out there – in the long run, your best bet for getting noticed comes from networking, having people who want to read and review your work, and shared fanbases.

Book Review – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

TITLE: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
AUHTOR: L. Frank Baum
FORMAT: EBook
PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY: 1900
THIS VERSION: 2000+ (exact year unknown)

readingchallengesmall

The baby took a nap, so I was finally able to finish this book.  I have to say, I had forgotten how many things were different between this and the movie, since it’s been so long since I read this the last time.  I’ve probably seen the movie 1000 times (daily for a year or so, 3D IMAX, television for years, etc), but this is only the third time I’ve read the book (and the first time was abridged when I was a kid).  I should also add for the sake of disclaimer that I’m not entirely sure that the copy I had wasn’t abridged, but it doesn’t specify either way in my copy, and I can’t find my print copy to verify (not that I checked that hard, but still).

For those somehow out of the know, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz centers around a young teenage girl named Dorothy who is caught in a cyclone and whisked – house and all – from Kansas to Oz, wherever that is.  She meets several witches, a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion, and travels through several lands to get to the Emerald City to get the Great and Powerful Oz to grant several requests.

From the book to the movie, there are certainly some similarities – Dorothy drops a house on a witch in Munchkinland, for instance – but there are most certainly some differences as well – the slippers are silver (Red was for Technicolor), the part where the Wizard takes off in the balloon is only about 75% of the way through the book and not at the end, there are Winkies and all four witches and…  Look, at one point the Wicked Witch beats somebody with a switch so she can keep them as slaves.  This is definitely not the beloved children’s movie with Judy Garland where its all just a dream.

But I think it’s worth a read.  I’ll warn you that the language feels a little off, but that’s to be expected with a story that was written in 1900.  And some of the things that happens are just weird.  But there are some cool lands that don’t make it into the movie, and it’s nice to see a wrap-up of where all four characters go and not just Dorothy.

If you’re a fan of the movie, I think you should read this to know where it all began.  I’m going to give it a very cautious 4/5.

Also, a word of note.  There are a dozen Oz books that Baum himself wrote (and at least another dozen that other people wrote).  He only wrote sequels because the public begged him to and he actually hated all of them.  So read the first book, but don’t feel obligated to read the rest of them.

readingchallengesmall

This book satisfies the 100 years old + category.

2 books of 52 completed.

Book Review – The Mad Hatter’s Late Night Tea Party 2

Title:  The Mad Hatter’s Late Night Tea Party 2

Author: Quin Rose

Illustrator:  Riko Skura

Format:  Paperback

Published: 2011

 

Another manga another day.  Alice? You bet.  After reading the first in the series I was a little underwhelmed by the plot arch of the Mad Hatter in the Country of Hearts.  It was a bit crude and direct the first book.  This second book has it’s moments but they are more ‘tasteful’ or as tasteful as Blood Dupree can be than the other book and there was more heart and emotion involved and it was kind of amusing.

 

I actually liked this story even if it did play a little bit on a story arch that was used with a different, character.  In this book Alice was taken by a rival mafia and placed in danger to the point that Blood and the whole Hatter Mafia went to rescue her which was reminiscent of when a group of bad guys captured Alice to get to Nightmare and he rescued her.

 

I think what helped push this story a bit better was Peter White revealing that he wanted Alice to stay in wonderland even if it was with another man, also mentioning that he is her Sunday Afternoon and concept that has intrigued me quite a bit, since discovering it.  Additionally in this story Alice gets to learn of the relationship between Vivaldi and Blood which was something that has not happened in other books.  We as a reader know but Alice as a character has never found out till this point, which I liked because it was neat to see her reaction.

 

Overall, I would give this book at 3 out of 4 page review.  I liked the book well enough and I have no intention to stop reading these Alice books as long as they are available for me to read.  So you have been warned there are more of these reviews yet to come.

Book Review – Tortall and Other Lands (A Collection of Tales)

Title: Tortall and Other Lands (A Collection of Tales)

Author: Tamora Pierce

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2011

In general, I’m not a huge fan of short stories – I always feel like the story is just getting going when it ends – but I make an exception for short stories where I’m familiar with the world-building and therefore can focus on the characters and the plot.

Tortall and Other Lands contains eleven short stories, set mainly in Pierce’s Tortall world, with several contemporary stories, and several others that are in a non-specified world (probably also Tortall, but it’s not made explicit).

In reading these stories, one of the things that struck me was how Pierce has such an ability to create characters who have such unique voices. Nawat sounds different than Kitten, who sounds different than Quiom – and the humans, while a bit more similar (there’s none of the ‘I have no idea why these crazy humans are doing this thing’), still have their own voices.

My least favorite of the collection would be “Nawat,” who, admittedly, was the my least favorite character in the Trickster books (which I really enjoyed for the most part, though I know others had issues with them). A crow with the ability to shapeshift into human, he and Ally have just had their children, and Nawat is forced to decide if he will follow the ways of the crows or the ways of the humans when he discovers a terrible secret about his firstborn daughter. I did buy that he could follow the ways of the crows because he was still very crowlike, but everything he did always felt like he was doing it behind Ally’s back, and he as a character is very non-sympathetic to me for the most part.

My favorite story is (probably) “Mimic,” where a shepherd(ess) finds a strange creature that she heals, and in turn, the creature ends up saving her and the whole village. I loved the worldbuilding on this-the way the birds are part of the village, and the way that Ri delights in them makes for a lovely heroine.

I also really enjoyed “The Hidden Girl” and “Student of Ostriches” – both of which involve the girl realizing that she has the ability to take control of her own life.

“Huntress” was one of the contemporary stories, and the one of the two I liked the least. The female character learns that she doesn’t want to do what it takes to be popular, and a surprising part of her family’s past come to life. The character was understandable and relatable, but for the most part I didn’t like her. The magic portion of the story felt out of place – we don’t get to see any of the aftermath, and the build-up is, perhaps, a bit too subtle.

“Testing” keeps you in the contemporary world, and takes you to a group home for girls. Practical jokes aren’t usually my thing, but the character the jokes are being played on (called X-Ray by the girls) takes them all in stride and therefore the jokes are actually funny. Watching her win them over by telling them stories of her life makes the story warm your heart.

For the most part, the stories rely on knowledge from Tortall to one degree or another, so this collection is more for those who have that background, but they are all solid stories and I highly enjoyed the book.

4/5 pages

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