Book Review – Beanstalk

Title: Beanstalk

Author: E. Jade Lomax

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2015

For a book about Jack the Giant Killer, there is an absolute lack of giants in this book. 😉

But I knew that going in.

E. Jade Lomax is the author of those little AU fics (mostly Harry Potter) that you see on Tumblr: Harry is a squib, Neville is the Boy-Who-Lived, my favorite of her “In Defense of-” series, Hannah Abbot, and many, many others. So, since I loved those, I was pretty sure I’d like this book too.

The story follows four unlikely people, paired together as a study group, who end up becoming friends and partners.

Jack Farris – the titular Beanstalk (a nickname given to him by his brothers), a seventh son of a seventh son, Jack, as the back cover says, just wants to save people.

Laney Jones – Laney. What can I say about Laney? I love Laney. She’s so fierce and determined, and if life doesn’t give her what she wants, then she’ll reach out with both hands and grab it.

S. Gray – Gray. Gray is awesome. Gray slots into my “grumpy character with a heart of gold” place in this universe. I love that he is so dedicated to his books, to knowing everything, but all of the secrets that come out of him feel natural.

Rupert Willington Jons Hammersfield the Seventh – it took about three pages for me to realize that Rupert was not going to be the sheltered, stuck-up “rich guy” – he might prefer things to be orderly, but he’s got experience enough to actually lead their little band of misfits.

The novel doesn’t have one huge, over-arching plot to it – in many ways, it feels like a collection of the author’s little shorts all put together. They tie in together, and build on each other, but the biggest arc you get is that they become a team, and no matter what stupid decision one (*cough*Jack*cough*) makes, the others are going to see it through with them.

Since there isn’t one big plot, it makes it easier in some ways to read, as you can put it down after a chapter or two and not be in the middle of something, but it does make it harder to sit down and enjoy in one fell swoop. (The stories become a lot more interwoven the closer to the end it gets, and that’s when you can get your full-on read going.)

A minor note – as this is a self-published work, there are places that could stand a little bit more editing (a couple of sentences that you can tell were merged from two different ones, a couple of minor grammar things), and the actual book version could stand a bit more gutter space, as the book comes in at a hefty 591 and it’s hard to read portions of it without cracking the spine. But, those are minor issues. (Also, as this book is self-pubbed, it’s available for free as an e-book from the author’s website, and you can purchase an actual paper copy there as well.)

I’m ranking this a solid 4/5, and can’t wait for Echoes of a Giantkiller to get to me.

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Book Review – The Martian

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Format: Trade Paperback

Year Published: 2014

You’ve probably heard of The Martian. It is, after all, a major motion picture, advertised on every television, movie screen, and billboard around. Everybody I know who has seen it has enjoyed it, and most also read and enjoyed the book (full disclosure: I have yet to see the movie. I will be Redboxing it as soon as possible.)

In general, when it comes to books-made-into-movies, I’m going to prefer the book. There a few exceptions (Hunger Games, I’m looking at you), but due to this, I generally prefer to see the movie first and then read the book, just because I’ll enjoy the movie more if I’m not comparing it in my head. (That said, I also generally go to see these movies *because* I read the book, so it’s not always a foolproof option). Yet, I chose to read the book first. We’ll see how it compares once I see the movie.

The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, who, due to a series of unfortunate events, ends up left for dead on Mars. He must survive on his own, using only the supplies that are there for him, until the next Mars mission arrives and he can hitch a ride home.

The book is full of sciencey-details and facts. Rumor has it that the science actually works, but I cannot verify, as I haven’t done any kind of science in a decade. I’m sure it was interesting to people who like to work that out, but for me it was mostly a skim (nice to see that the character knew what he was talking about, but the author could have made up half of it for all the good it did me).

I liked Mark – he was a good mix of sarcastic and level-headed, and the narrative style worked well for me. In fact, I don’t think that there was a single character I really didn’t like, which is pretty rare for me. (Of course, I liked some more than others.)

The stylistic changes should have thrown me – going from Mark’s written POV to the third-person POV of the rest of the book – but for some reason it worked. Probably because Mark had such a strong voice. Though I did feel that the story dragged in some parts, in general the pacing worked well (and the dragging parts mostly only dragged because I was going “uh, there’s still a huge chunk of the book left. Something has to go wrong”) and the ending was emotionally satisfying. I look forward to reading more by the author.

4/5 pages

Book Review – Found

TITLE: Found
AUTHOR: Selina Yoon
ILLUSTRATOR: same
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: 2014

FOUND is the adorably touching story of a bear that finds a lost toy in the woods and searches diligently to find the bunny’s owner.  First, he makes and puts up FOUND flyers all over the woods.  Then he spends a day having adventure after adventure with the bunny while making sure to take good care of it until the owner can be located.

Can I just say that this is the sweetest book I have ever read?

The story is straightforward, the illustrations are bright and interesting, and I loved the stuff put in just for adults.  (Check out the other found/lost posters, for instance…)  This exactly captured the essence of a little kid trying to do the right thing.

Do I even need to tell you?  5/5.  Buy it for every little kid in your life.

Book Review- Necroscope by Brian Lumley

Title: Necroscope

Author: Brian Lumley

Format: Paperback edition by Orb Books

Published: originally 1986, Orb Edition 2008

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I must confess.  The Harry Keogh/Necroscope books are somewhat legendary amongst readers of horror/occult type works. That’s not the confession.  What I must reveal is that, while an avid reader at the time the series debuted and was initially popular, I did not read it until recently.  Not really sure before why I didn’t, it always appealed to me when I’d see it in stores, something else would just win out over it.  Now that I’ve finally read it, I can say that I can now offer several reasons I didn’t finish it and likely won’t read the remainder of the series.

For those unfamiliar, Necroscope is the first in a series from Brian Lumley. The book is billed as focusing on one Harry Keogh, a rather adventurous individual who has the ability to essentially mine the memories and minds of the deceased and utilize information gathered in said way.  The crux of the story is there is an evil being that is wheedling its way back into existence by using Dragosani, a Soviet agent who also has the same abilities Harry does, called necromancy.  The book is essentially the origin story of both Harry and Dragosani and the conflict that will arise between Harry and those known as Vamphyri that I am assuming is at the core of the entire series.

This book proved not to be a good read for me on more than one level. While Mr. Lumley seems to be an accomplished, even poetic writer, even conjuring connection to some of my favorite Pulp writers as I read, Necroscope on the whole is entirely too long.  Also, although the build up is that readers will get to see Harry Keogh develop and grow into this powerful necromancer, and you get that, that’s really a misdirection.  The majority of the first volume focuses on Dragosani and his origins and his connection to the beastie in the ground. And when I say focuses, I mean to the point that the majority of the first half to three quarters of the book is aimed solely at clearly defining Dragosani.  The snippets we get of Harry are short and instead of painting someone who has potential to be an occult warrior, the Harry we get to meet is rather a distracted dullard that seems to be sort of caught up in the everyone else’s world, his life being shaped by those around him due to his abilities more than himself at all.  I had very little investment at all in Harry and had wanted to read the book, the entire series, to get engaged in this great hero, not an issue ridden Soviet agent with mother country issues.

Combined with the skewed focus, the sections concerning Dragosani, and even the shorter sections focused on Harry, also tended to drift into boredom inducing, providing far more facts and minutia than was necessary to make these characters full and robust.   Also the framing structure used for the book, that of an individual in a clandestine agency being visited by a flickering ghost from the future and sharing the events of the book, may not have been cliche when the book was originally published, but it seemed heavy and pointless and forced upon my reading it today.

As mentioned previously, I did not even finish the book.  Having said that, I can see how this novel would appeal to some people.  I went into it expecting one thing and seeking that one thing as that is the sort of book I like to read, one with a hero who, though flawed, is clearly defined and engaging, and this book did not present that within the first 260 pages.   So, although I won’t be reading more Harry Keogh, I can honestly say that Lumley’s ability to write and the fact that this series has been so popular proves that this is someone’s cup of blood.  With that in mind, I give it a 3 out 5 pages.  Definitely not for everyone and I’m not the person to ask what I think about it.  Using my own personal gun associated measuring stick, This gets a 2 out 6 Bullets from me.  Worth the reading if it catches you in the first fifty pages, a waste of time if it doesn’t.

Writer Wednesday – Janie Franz

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1. Who are you?
Janie Franz
2. What type of stuff do you write?
I write fantasy and some archaeology-based adventure. I also have a couple of contemporary novels (romances for want of a better word)–one about Hollywood and one about the music industry.
3. What do you want to pimp right now?
My six-part Bowdancer series (The Bowdancer Saga and The Lost Song Trilogy).
4. What if your favorite book?
Besides my own? Seriously, unlike many writers I love reading my own work. As for other authors I love Stuart Clark’s Project U.F.L. trilogy and I really enjoyed NM writer Susan Slater’s Rollover. I’ve been a fan of Tony Hillerman and, yes, I LOVED the Harry Potter books.
5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a retired freelance journalist, specializing in music. I’m currently a publicist for a NM music festival, and I do a lot of petsitting/housesitting in New Mexico. I’m a mother and grandmother. I used to be a radio announcer, taught yoga and relaxation, and was a booking agent and publicist for a jamband.
6. What link can we find you at? https://authorjaniefranz.wordpress.com
Words from the Author…
The first con I ever attended was a science-fiction conference in Fargo ND. The guest author at that con was Margaret Weis, the author of the Dragonlance Chronicles. Those were some of the first modern fantasy novels, other than Andre Norton’s work, that carved out a whole new niche for writers.
The thing that impressed me most about Margaret Weis was the fact that she was everywhere! She tablehopped when she wasn’t on a panel. She visited with everybody. When she came to sit at a table where I was visiting with a friend, I was impressed with how ordinary she was. She was a famous author, but she was also human and very funny.
For me as an aspiring writer, with a lot of starts in a drawer, I realized that being a published author was possible. People–real human people–actually did it. And that one way to market was by showing up and talking to people. It was a great eye-opener for me.
Many years later, as a published author with eleven titles out, I am following Margaret Weis’ example: Be Present. As a guest author of Imaginarium in Louisville this September, I hope to Be Present as much as possible.

Writer Wednesday – Andrew Toy

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m Andrew Toy, author of The Man in the Box and blogger at the popular AdoptingJames.wordpress.com, book editor, and writing coach.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a simple guy who was born and raised in Southern California. I was the dork who would rather be writing stories than be impressing the girls with skateboarding and surfing – I mean, I tried that for a stint of time, but didn’t really work out to my advantage. I love ice cream, pizza, bean burritos, my Floridian wife, and our awesome loft in Louisville, KY.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
The Man in the Box is an adventure/fantasy novel. I’m always hesitant to say “fantasy novel,” because it’s really a fictional book that dabs into fantasy every now and then. It’s about and average family man, married with kids, who discovers his imaginary childhood world inside a cardboard box. In this world he faces zombie-like ghosts, runs from dinosaurs, encounters titanic-sized panthers, giant insects… anyway, as you can imagine, he becomes increasingly addicted to life inside this adventurous world and he’d rather not spend time with his comparatively mundane family. So, he’s go to choose what he wants more. And the ending just might throw you for a surprise… Oops. Did I say too much?

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m afraid I’ve told other bloggers and fans that I’m working on an apocalyptic series, but I’m putting that on hold until I get through some more research and possibly find a co-author. But just a couple of days ago, a light went on in my head and I was struck by the inspiration of a young reader’s book which I’m very excited about. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but let’s just say dog-lovers and history buffs both will enjoy this read, no matter what age.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Like reading them or writing them? Reading them, I was the first one in my kindergarten class to read an entire picture book by myself: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. That was a good day, reading it to the whole class as they oohed and awed. My advise to kids, however, don’t accept your 15 minutes of fame too early in life, if they do in fact, only present themselves once in a lifetime. I could have done better, I’m sure. Writing books, however, I wrote a couple in junior high and high school (after I determined skateboarding was getting me nowhere), of which the public will never see.

What are your three favorite books?
Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, and… I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that I really, really like Little Women. It’s a great character study! (It’s actually neck-in-neck with Anne of Green Gables.)

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I read three books at a time: One fiction, one historical/biographical, and one Christian-related. Right now I’m reading Life of Pi (fiction), Elizabeth the Queen (biography), and Adopted into God’s Family (Christian). I can’t put Life of Pi down.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…Feel like a girl. But when I read a few pages while I’m waiting for the dogs to go poop, I’m hoping it doesn’t rain all over me.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I read a lot of really good books. But if by some chance, I come across an exceptional book that I just don’t want to end, that’s when I’ll read it again a year or two later.

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

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Extremely.

What do you look for in a good book?
Depends on the genre. For fiction, I’m looking for that rare moment when storytelling and skilled penmanship meet (it’s rarer than one might think). Life of Pi is once such book. For history or biography, I’m looking for how observant the author is about particulars and facts and tidbits other observers might not pick up on. Give me ALL the juicy details! For my Christian books, I’m looking for creativity and originality in their theological teachings. That’s rare to come by. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis would be the perfect example of that.

Why do you write?
Okay. Here’s my being extremely vulnerable. I write to tell good stories. I tell good stories in hopes that Pixar Studios will want to have me join their storytelling team. That my expectation, anyway. The reality is, I just want to tell good stories and make a living off of it.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A lawyer. For real! There’s a lot of acting and story-spinning involved. The same story can be told a million different ways!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Pixar movies. Loud, upbeat, happy music.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I can (and will be) so much better.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My wife is completely and 100% supportive of it. I can’t ask for anything more.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
No. They’re true. We’re all weird and very socially awkward. I choose to be socially awkward because I want to see how people respond to unexpected circumstances, then I can transfer that to paper.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, itunes… everything is a distraction from writing. That’s why I get most of my writing done on paper.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
This is too embarrassing. Next question.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yeah, that apocalyptic series I hinted at earlier. I can’t wait to get started on it. That, and Pixar’s latest projects.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I love ‘em! I feel I’ve earned their trust and I want to keep it by continuing to tell stories that they will be happy to invest in.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
My fans would be surprised to know that I deliver pizzas to help pay the bills. So keep telling your friends and family about my books so I can have more time to write!

Anything else we should know?
Yes. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, crawl into a cardboard box and close your eyes. And if you do, stay well hidden at night…

Writer Wednesday – Dmitri Ragano

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Dmitri Ragano. Devoted father and husband. Skilled and experience daydreamer. Citizen of the world.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I have an insatiable curiosity. I am happiest when I am learning something new that helps me make sense of reality.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’ve written three novels so far. The first one, Employee of the Year, is a mystery set in the call center of a credit card company during the recent financial crisis. The second book in the series is called The Voting Machine. It features Temo McCarthy, the same hero as Employee of the Year, and it’s an election thriller set in Nevada during a voter registration campaign. My latest novel, The Fugitive Grandma, is a dark comedy/adventure about the health care crisis in America. It’s the story of a boy and his grandmother who rob a string of big box retail stores for cash and medicine.

I’ve also worked as a freelance journalist for over twenty years, reporting mostly in the US and East Asia. I’ve covered a variety of topics including crime, technology, business and entertainment.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am writing a fourth novel, The Watch List, a continuation of the Temo McCarthy series. It’s a suspense novel and a meditation on the war on terror.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My aunt bought me a copy of The Hobbit when I was five or six years old. It was a big hard back version with pictures from the old Rankin and Bass animated version from the 70s. I always identified with Bilbo Baggins. I liked the idea of this simple little homebody going off and having a big adventure in the world. To a certain extent I ended up following in his footsteps.

What are your three favorite books?
The Dubliners by James Joyce will always be my favorite collection of short stories. I read this when I was a teenager and I admired the way Joyce captured the joys and sorrows of ordinary people from different walks of life.

My favorite novel is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. The purity of Prince Myshkin makes him so memorable and lovable. Dostoevsky was the master of creating larger than life characters that represent the extreme ranges of the human psyche.

The last book on the list is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. History is usually taught in a manner that makes the audience feel passive and helpless. Zinn turns it around and inspires the reader to think about the past, present and future like an active participant.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I usually read at least three books in parallel.

Twenty Year Death is a remarkable mystery novel by Ariel Winter. It has three parts, each of them written in the style and milieu of a giant of the genre: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. Winter is uncanny in his ability to mimic and commemorate the styles of these different writers. It’s really a marvel to behold.

The Social Conquest of Earth is an exploration of human nature from scientist Edmund O. Wilson. Man’s selfish and selfless traits, his aggression and altruism, played varying roles in development and survival as a species. Wilson incorporates concepts from genetics and evolutionary biology to try and understand what makes our species tick.

Thinking in Pictures. This is the autobiography of Temple Grandin, one of my personal heroes for her courage and compassion in providing a first-hand account of living with autism.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
Feel the tantalizing anticipation and hope that another piece of life’s puzzle might slip into place and fit just right.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
If it’s someone who knows my tastes and interests, then I am very likely to read it.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely. I am kind of a chronic, compulsive “recommender” and often need to be restrained due to an excess of enthusiasm.

What do you look for in a good book?
It will help me walk away with a story or an insight and I am a better person for it.

Why do you write?
It’s cheaper than therapy. Also more fun.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A linguist. I love learning foreign languages. I am fluent in Japanese. I studied Russian for five years and can read it OK. I also can get by in Italian though I tend to forget it between trips to Italy.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Big world-changing ideas and simple everyday experiences.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
It has taught me to become better at empathizing with others and imaging the world from different perspectives. One of my favorite quotes is from Picasso: “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” I have many blind spots in life and my writing is a way to see things more clearly.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I wish writing was my career but honestly speaking it feels more like a hobby. I have a career in Internet technology that provides the financial support to do the things I really love. Many of my favorite writers had day jobs and did their writing on the side. Walt Whitman was a postal worker. Franz Kafka was an insurance executive.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I think writers, like other artists, are sometimes stereotyped as lacking practical and social skills. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I do think writers probably find some of the rewards that practical and social skills bring less fulfilling than others sorts of personalities.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The biggest challenge is getting to the point where you are convinced you have something compelling and interesting to say. If you don’t have this conviction, you are plagued with self-doubt and you wonder whether writing is the best use of your precious time on this earth. It took me a while to gain this conviction. But once you have it, it’s hard to lose it.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
My first novel, Employee of the Year, was probably too long by any sort of contemporary standards. Still, some readers like the depth and expanse of the sub-plots and it was difficult to determine what could be cut without damaging the essence of the story.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I currently love being involved in the evolution of the e-book. My background is working in web start-up companies in San Francisco during the Internet bubble. So the idea that books are going through this period of technological innovation and experimentation is very exciting. I am so glad to be a part of defining a new medium. Yay!

How do you deal with your fan base?
I am not sure I have a fan base, that feels a little presumptuous. I have a reading and I appreciate their honest feedback. I try to understand what they like and dislike about my books. I want to know what characters and themes resonate most powerfully.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I have a shameful and debilitating addiction to top 40 radio pop dance music. I am coming clean with this as part of my policy of total transparency with my fan base. I’ve tried to wean myself off of this dependency and start listening to classical music in the car but so far this has been an utter failure.

Anything else we should know?
My daughter in elementary school is a much better author than me and I predict her books will dramatically outsell my own before she is old enough to vote.

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