Book Review – Geektastic by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd
Edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Hardback
2009

What happens when you put two nerds in a food line at Comic-Con? They start to talk about what would happen if “you were a Jedi and you woke up with a Klingon in your bed?”
So they pulled together their friends (hello, their friends include people like Scott Westerfield and Garth Nix), and did an anthology of geektastic stories.

The format is pretty simple; after the prologue, there’s a format of story followed by one page comic, then story, one page comic, etc.

And right away, in the very first story, we have the best line ever written, (even though it’s by a Klingon):
No. I couldn’t have. Not with an Ewok-cuddling, Force-feeling, Padawan-braid-wearing, lightsaber-rammed-up-his-ass Jedi.

And because no line could ever be that awesome… every story I read had a line that great.

So, I was going to tell something about all the stories, but I noticed something as I read the book. After a while I sort of didn’t care about the stories themselves, but I just was happy that there was a collection of stories about people who could very well be my friends…

Yes, some stories were better than others – I particularly liked Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way, by Black and Castellucci and Quiz Bowl Antichrist by David Levithan were really good, but Definitional Chaos by Scott Westerfield just left me with a headache and a couple others fell a little flat. And the comics weren’t exactly breathtaking, although they were cute.

But the thing is that even though I’d give most stories 3/5 ratings, the overall of the book left me with an overwhelming warm and happy feeling – like the kind you get when you get a new video game or the leather-bound copy of the Hobbit or a new Avengers movie is announced.

And for that, I’ll give it a 4/5 pages.

Book Review – Vampires Don’t Sparkle

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Title: Vampires Don’t Sparkle
Editor: Michael West
Published: 2013
Format: Print and eBook (most of the review done by print book)

In Vampires Don’t Sparkle, editor Michael West has managed to take the vampire and make it awesome again. He got rid of the current trend of sexy, sparkly, undead love interests that make teenage girls swoon, and instead has replaced it with something dark, something unique. Gone are the cheezy “I want to suck your blood” types that 1950s B-level horror flicks brought us. Gone are the neauveau un-scary un-dead. What he’s left us with is, well, awesome.

I was going to pick a favorite, and I sort of can’t. Vampire Nation, for instance, felt like it was a bit too short, but I couldn’t imagine it ending any other way. Even stories that needed work, like I Fuck Your Sunshine were good enough (in this case, the author attempted a Russian-esque sounding narrator and it didn’t quite work), and with minor changes would have been incredible. So really, I’m just going to tell you to read the book. There are some incredible authors in this anthology, and they’re worth their weight in words. Also, I’m not big on prologues and introductions, but I read Michael’s and actually agree with every word he said.

As for a rating, I hee’d and hawed for a bit, and… Well, there is one little footnote worth mentioning. On the very back cover, it says A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to cancer research institutions to fight the real horrors of cancer. And since the book was hovering somewhere around there anyway, I’m going to tell you to buy the thing. It’s absolutely worth a read, and, well, if buying it can cure a very much real horror of the non-sparkly un-dead kind (note: I haven’t today said that I wish cancer would get cancer and die, so I’m saying it now…), then there’s no reason you shouldn’t pick up a copy.

Book Review – Southern Haunts

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Title: Southern Haunts
Editors: Alexander S. Brown & J. L. Mulvihill
Published: 2013
Format: Trade Paperback (& eBook… but just until I got the print copy)

Y’all, this is one of those reviews that you need to stick with through the end, but I promise it’s worth it…

Okay, I’m going to be honest here.  I’m one of those people who only sometimes likes anthologies.  Yeah, I’ve reviewed other ones that I’ve really liked, but there are also quite a few that I’ve picked up, couldn’t get through two stories, and sent it back.  And when you review them, it’s a whole new kettle of fish.  Because, really, how do you review such a thing?  Do a writeup about each short story?  Overall opinions?  A little of both?  Gah!

And so, this one… This one I was really looking forward to.  For starters, I know the editors.  I’m jealous that I didn’t get to submit something to it.  And, you know, I was just excited about this one.

I have to admit, as I worked my way around the book, I found issues.  (As I told the editor, I’m probably the toughest reader/reviewer he’ll ever get…)  There are a couple editing problems that seriously need fixed.  This book also has the absolute worst story I have ever read in print.  Seriously.  I reject betters submissions for my own publishing company.

But for the problems it has, there are also some real gems in here.  H David Blalock’s An Eclipse Over Elmwood was awesome, for instance, and my favorite story in the book.  [Note: Check our archives and you’ll find a feature interview with him.]  There are a couple other stories where I saw the ending coming, such as Roland Mann’s Haints, another favorite in this antho, but I still really liked the characters and how the stories were written.  And you have stories like Diane Ward’s The Shack which was good, but totally too short – I was sad that it ended so quickly and think another bit of story would have totally added greatly to what she already had going.

So my bottom line is this.  The book is decent.  If you manage to get your hands on a copy, it’s great for those times between novels or when you don’t want to dedicate that much time to one piece of writing.  My best advice is to pick and choose, to read a little at a time here and there, and to not be afraid to skip a couple stories that you might not like or fall a little short.  It’s worth being able to read the few gems that really shine.

Book Review – Kinsey & Me by Sue Grafton

Kinsey & Me

Sue Grafton

Hardback

2013

 

So, if you’re not familiar, Kinsey Millhone is a gumshoe who goes around solving crime for the incredible price of thirty dollars an hour plus expenses in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc).  The novels started about thirty years ago, but before that, there were a few short stories.

 

In this book, the stories were finally bound together.

 

Actually, it was first an intro, then a bunch of stories about Kinsey, then a second intro of sorts, then a few stories about… I don’t know who.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

 

The Kinsey stories were decent.  There were a couple that were too short to be really good.  But the problem that I had was that Sue’s writing style doesn’t lend to a lot of story.  What you get, as with any awesome cozy mystery, is a bunch of characters that you really like.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s just that, in Kinsey’s world, you have some really incredible awesome characters.  And I seriously missed  Rosie in her dive of a restaurant, and Henry Pitts, her incredibly sweet, elderly landlord, and her interaction with cops and friends and whatever else.

Like I said, they weren’t bad, they just weren’t nearly as rounded out as the novels.  And I think that was part of the problem.  Had I not read the novels, I would have liked most of these stories a lot better.

 

Okay, next was a second prologue of sorts, a short intro by Sue before you launched into the And Me part of this book.  Except here’s my issue.  Some of the stories were about a character named Kit and written in third person, and some were written in third person, and even some were written in second person.  And I was sort of unsure if they were all fiction, even though the book sort of leans towards them being that.

Sue is an incredible writer; I actually liked her first person stuff better as a short story, and she managed second person quite well, which most writers can’t do.  I teetered between giving this book a three and a four, and in the end, when I couldn’t recall what most of the stories were about by just their title, it was clear.  Three out of five pages.  Worth a read, but not as good as the novels.

Writer Wednesday – Kathryn Sullivan

I first met Kathryn at a convention a couple years ago, intrigued by her “Chicks Dig Time Lords” antho.  Since then we’ve run into each other in several places here and there, most recently inside the covers of Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells.  This is her.

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m Kathryn Sullivan. Hi!

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I write young adult fantasy and science fiction. I’ve been writing since I was young and had several short stories published before a publisher decided to take a chance on my books. I’m also owned by a large cockatoo.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
THE CRYSTAL THRONE and TALKING TO TREES are my young adult fantasy books with wizards, elves and talking horses. AGENTS AND ADEPTS is a collection of my short stories – some fantasy, some science fiction – and the talking horses snuck in there as well. I have a short story in CLOCKWORK SPELLS AND MAGICAL BELLS with elves and dwarves, and my children’s picture book, MICHAEL AND THE ELF, was just released by a different publisher.

I’m a big Doctor Who fan and I have a short story in a Doctor Who anthology by Big Finish, an essay in the Hugo-winning CHICKS DIG TIME LORDS and a review in OUTSIDE IN. More information can be found at my website: http://kathrynsullivan.com

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’ve been working on two projects. The first is a YA science fiction book set on a colony planet, and the second is a continuation of my galactic agents series from three short stories in AGENTS AND ADEPTS.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My family were big readers. There was a bookcase full of books in the bedroom my sister and I shared and my parents expected us to read if we got up early on Saturday. There were shelves of books in our basement – my brother’s collection of Hardy Boys, my sisters’ collection of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton and others, my mother’s set of the Oz books and my father’s big collection of science fiction and fantasy. I remember my mother reading the Oz books to my younger sister and I.

I also have fond memories of my public library, which when I was very small was inside the fire station.

What are your three favorite books?
Only three? My three favorite books from my past, the ones which influenced me, are Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS, James Schmitz’s AGENT OF VEGA, and James White’s HOSPITAL STATION. Favorite ones I like to revisit are Janet Kagan’s MIRABILE and Diana Wynne Jones’ HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and YEAR OF THE GRIFFIN.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
Usually three. Right now I just finished IRON HEARTED VIOLET by Kelly Barnhill, on my Kindle I’m reading THE CROW GOD’S GIRL by Patrice Sarath, and the book beside my bed is WORLDSOUL by Liz Williams.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
Lose all track of time.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
And the answer depends on what mood I’m in. When I was in my teens and twenties I would re-read THE LORD OF THE RINGS once a year. Now I might go on a Janet Kagan binge and re-read all her stories. Or I’ll look at the stack of new books waiting-to-be-read and instead re-read all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles series or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden universe. Or Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series. Or…

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Eventually. I’ve got a big stack of books in the to-be-read pile. But it depends on who is doing the recommending and if their taste is similar to mine. I don’t pay any attention to NYT bestsellers.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very. I’m usually on panels about new YA books and I’m the one who will bring a list. And I let my local public library know if I’ve found a new author or book they should get.

What do you look for in a good book?
Characters that catch my interest, good world-building and an engaging plot.

Why do you write?
I started writing when I was 14 because the science fiction and fantasy of that time had very few female main characters. I wanted more stories with characters I could identify with. I continue to write because I keep coming up with characters and stories that demand to be told. When characters start stomping around in your head demanding that you tell their stories, believe me, you tell their stories.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I just retired last year from the job I loved as an academic librarian. I wanted to be a librarian in the moon colony, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From everything around me. Newspaper or magazine articles might trigger a story idea. I look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day site (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html ) every morning and check a couple of anthropology news sites as those have also been good story triggers. Sometimes just an interesting picture will do it.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I need deadlines.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
Two of my sisters have been freelance artists, so I know they understand how much work it is. I’m sure some of my friends and co-workers probably thought I was very antisocial because I always seemed to be busy when they wanted to do things. But now I have friends who understand there are times when I’m busy and times when I need a break.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I keep hearing that all writers are rich and that they make a lot of money when a book is published. I’d like it to be true, but, sadly, it’s not.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Patience, persistence, and knowing when you need editing. Self-publishing has become so easy for some that they take no time to make their work the best they can before rushing into print. Some don’t even try sending their work out to publishers. Others try the big traditional presses but not the smaller presses or e-publishers. There are a number of good small presses and e-publishers who are looking for authors.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Oh, lots. I sent my first book out when I was fourteen – taught myself how to type, looked up the markets – but neglected to see what the standard manuscript format at the time was. Single-spaced, typed on both sides of the paper – I’m not surprised that one was rejected as quickly as it was.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
There’s been a few audio and media projects I would have liked to have been involved with. I would have loved to have written a Doctor Who book but I couldn’t think of a book-length idea.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/KathrynSullivan.author) and a webpage (http://kathrynsullivan.com) . I also go to several science fiction conventions and young writers conferences during the year. I enjoy talking with fans; they re-energize me to get back to my next story.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m not sure what they’d be surprised by. Maybe that my cockatoo plays catch. She has a great pitching beak and the signal when she wants to play is often her toy landing on the laptop keyboard. Though that’s mentioned on my Facebook page. That along with being a Doctor Who fan, I’m also a big MacGyver and Stargate SG-1 fan. Though recently I’ve been watching more Phineas & Ferb, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, The Legend of Korra and Transformers Prime. It’s probably no surprise that I’m looking forward to THE HOBBIT.

Anything else we should know?
For those who are interested, I have a list of conventions that I’ll be attending on my webpage (http://kathrynsullivan.com/appearances ).

Thank you!

 

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