I’m So Excited and I Just Can’t Hide It

The 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards are here!!!

I did a bit better in reading the right books to be able to vote this year – I’ve read 5 of the first round nominees, as opposed to last year’s 2. Plenty more of the nominees are on my To Be Read list, and one I’ve actually already been on the waiting list to receive from the library. I’ll be doing my best to fit in reading other nominees over the next few weeks so that I can be better prepared to vote. (FYI, opening round of voting is Nov. 1-6, semifinal round is Nov. 8-13, and the final round is Nov. 15-27)

In the meantime, I wanted to share this year’s releases by a few of the indie authors I follow. Each of these is the second installment in a series or duology.

The Sleeping Life (Eferum #2) by Andrea K. Host, sequel to Stained Glass Monsters

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Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2) by Intisar Khanani, sequel to the novella Sunbolt

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And lastly, Nightingale Girl by M.R. Pritchard, sequel to Sparrow Man

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I have quite a bit of reading to do before casting my final votes!

 

We’re All Mad Here

Wow, almost 10 months since my last post, huh? Not to mention over 2 years since publishing a book.

To be unsparingly honest, life has been a bit rocky for me over these past many months.

I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety since I was 22 years old, and although it was fairly-well controlled for a decade or so, that insidious SOB has been giving me a run for my money lately. It seems to me this struggle has become something of an epidemic in our world, and I feel as though research into the problem has just got to turn up some more answers soon, along with better treatment options. Regardless, hands-down the most important thing you can do in a situation like this is to acknowledge that there is hope, even if your brain chemistry is trying to send you  signals that say otherwise. Do not give up-when you feel able to reach out for help, do it!

That being said, one of the indicators by which I can measure my mood is how often I’ve felt the urge to write. When the depression is in check, let me at that keyboard, baby! Since I’ve been in a downswing for a while now, I have no pages to show for it. With a little help I’m working at getting the situation in hand, however, and hope to feel the bite from the writing bug again in the near(ish) future.

In the meantime, my appetite for reading has survived intact-perhaps even grown, as sometimes sitting up in bed to read is as much as one feels capable of accomplishing on a dark day. With nothing of my own to share with you at the moment, I can at least talk about the work of others that I’ve been enjoying.

Suffice it to say I am well ahead of my goal for this year’s Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge. Though it may sound silly, I was kind of bummed when last year’s Goodreads Choice Awards rolled around and I had only read 2 of the many nominated books. I aimed to avoid that problem this year, and have focused on reading mostly 2016 releases. I will be voting in several categories this time around, not to worry!

 

NONFICTION

I’m actually just about to start reading nonfiction book titled This is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society by Kathleen McAuliffe, but since I can’t comment on that one yet, my favorite nonfiction read so far this year is without a doubt Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air.

2016 Nonfiction

As the blurb says, this book examines the question of what makes life worth living, even in the face of death. Dr. Paul Kalanithi wrote it in between his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer at 36 years of age and his death less than 2 years later. It’s a moving story about an individual, but also eloquently addresses a matter of undeniable importance to us all.

Kalanithi spends the first half of the book describing his path to becoming a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, as well as what drove him to start on such a trajectory. There are plenty of interesting anecdotes here that shine some light on what it’s like to be a med student and then a neurosurgery resident. Mixed in with those are Kalanithi’s feelings about how literature, another of his loves, reflects that which we feel makes life meaningful, while science helps explain the physiology behind it all. He seeks the crossroads where the brain and the mind, life and death, all intersect.

The second half of the book tells us about how Kalanithi dealt with learning of his diagnosis. Having met patients at similar points in their lives and helping them traverse the unnerving landscape, he is surprised to discover that it’s still completely unrecognizable to him once it has become personal. What do you do with yourself after receiving that kind of news?

Having also obtained an M.A. in English Literature, Kalanithi has a talent with words as well as with surgical tools. His book is well written, as engaging as it is touching. Some of my favorite parts are as follows:

“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

“That morning I made a decision: I would push myself to return to the OR. Why? Because I could. Because that’s who I was. Because I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

“The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out…Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.”

“Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying. Instead, I knew I was going to die-but I’d known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell. The way forward would seem obvious, if only I know how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with my family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating disease. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”

And then, before his wife’s moving epilogue written after Kalanithi’s death in March of 2015, the last of his own words in this book are a message to his baby daughter, a plea:

“There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

The message is simple:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

 

FICTION

Dark Fantasy/Urban

One of my other favorite reads of the year so far was The Library at Mount Char, a sort of dark fantasy/cosmic horror story, and the debut novel by author Scott Hawkins.

the-library-at-mount-char

This book is pretty mind-blowing. In many ways it’s unique, but it did slip me up every now and again-I would think I was reading one kind of story, and then things would twist just a bit and I found myself reading something different that I had previously thought. A few of these differing elements I didn’t love. But the vast majority of it was amazing!

Carolyn grew up as a regular American, but when she was about 8 years old the neighborhood suffered a cataclysmic event and she and the other kids from around the block were orphaned. But not to worry, Father will adopt them all and bring them home to live in his library, where he will raise them as he himself was raised. The merits of this are debatable.

Father can do pretty much anything-stop time, call down lightning, resurrect the dead. The children become his apprentices, each assigned to one of the twelve catalogues of Father’s secret knowledge. No one is allowed to study outside of their catalogue. One wonders if this is perhaps because that might make them as powerful as him, and therefore a potential threat…?

As the children grow up learning and mastering their own crafts, the training at times can be cruel beyond your wildest imagination. Not even your thoughts are private in Father’s world, and so objecting to his methods even in your mind can bring about unspeakable punishment. And so if Carolyn wants to do anything to change her circumstances, she must makes plans without consciously thinking about her desire for retribution.

But time is different in the Library, and Carolyn has been planning for a long time.

There is fantasy here, and horror, but also a brand of black comedy. Children get roasted alive inside a bronze grill shaped like a bull. But even death is not an escape, because Jennifer’s catalogue is healing and she will always be tasked with resurrecting you. Margaret’s catalogue is death, and you can only imagine what her training entails. Carolyn learns thousands of languages, including those of the animal kingdom, and Rachel’s ghost children can tell her about all possible futures.

David’s catalogue is war and murder. When visiting our world, he is told to pick out some “American” (normal human) clothes to blend in. Having an imperfect understanding of this, he chooses to wear a purple tutu, because it most closely resembles the loincloth he is accustomed to wearing. Reading the scene where he breaks into a jail and slaughters almost everyone inside while wearing his Israeli flak jacket and a tutu is as hilarious as it is grisly.

Another moment that had me laughing out loud: two lions have made a pledge to the librarians to keep Steve (a normal American) safe, but one sustains grievous wounds while protecting him. On the phone, Steve asks Carolyn if the suppositories for treating blood loss that she gave him would work on a lion. After she tells him yes, there is silence on the phone for a moment. She asks if he’s still there, and his response is along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m just thinking I’m not quite at the point where I’m ready to stick anything up a lion’s ass.”

One of the things that didn’t impress me much was the attempts at humor that didn’t quite hit home. Like the rapport between Erwin and the president. I felt like I was watching two versions of the Fonz giving each other thumbs up and saying, “Ayyyy!” and it just didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the story at that time (a tone which, admittedly, switches between one of cosmic horror and one of humor from time to time-it just didn’t work here). As a side note, though, Erwin is a great character!

There are deeper messages here, too, like just what qualities we might want in the individual who “controls reality.” How can you foster power while avoiding corruption? Is there a way to maintain what makes us human while still being honed into the kind of being who can make the choices necessary to keep the world turning?

A wild and fantastical ride, The Library at Mount Char not quite like anything else I’ve read. I was left with some questions regarding plot issues, but overall I found this to be a really enjoyable read.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Morningstar by Pierce Brown is an amazing example of how to finish out a trilogy! (If you’ve not read the first two books in this series, you may want to avoid this review, although it’s fairly spoiler-free.)

morningstar

I admit, I did spend some few portions of this installment just plodding along to get through it, but by the end I was seriously impressed with how Brown managed to wrap things up so satisfactorily. I don’t know that the conclusion of any thread of this story could have been handled any better.

Revolution may be a necessary thing, but it can often be an ugly thing. Darrow realizes that he has to make some sacrifices if he wants any chance of winning the war against the hierarchy maintained by Gold society. The bonds he’s forged with other characters over the course of the books is a carrying force as he maneuvers through the battle for his people’s freedom.

There were two characters Darrow had had a…let’s say “falling out” with in the previous books, and at least one of them I very much wished to see a reconciliation with here. Brown did not disappoint. Darrow’s relationship with one of these is mended in a most splendid manner. But you can’t win all the time, even when you’re the protagonist of a trilogy, and so the other friendship is not to be salvaged, but even that was handled in a satisfying manner. That particular story line did not have a happy ending, but a fair and poignant one.

And then there’s Mustang, who has managed to become more and more epic as the series progressed.

Overall, a gratifying conclusion to the Red Rising story. Bravo!

New Adult Fantasy

As long as I’m discussing later books in a series, I’d like to mention A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (again, if you haven’t read its predecessor, A Court of Thorns and Roses, you may wish to skip this part-this one is definitely spoiler territory). I thought the first book was “just” alright for the most part, until it took us Under the Mountain, when things started getting really good! And I’ll classify this one as “new adult fantasy” because I have a YA fantasy book in mind as well, and also because the hotness factor of the romance in this installment was a big part of what I enjoyed about it.

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Much like with the first book in this series I was underwhelmed for a good chunk of the beginning of ACoMaF, but then partway through things got pretty darn good and I was hooked.

Some of the rules of Maas’s fantasy world here can be kind of silly, but I didn’t find that too difficult to overlook. My main gripe with this installment pertains to Tamlin, High Lord of the Spring Court, Feyre’s great love in the previous book.

Maas puts a lot of effort into giving a reasonable and acceptable explanation as to why it’s okay for Feyre to fall right out of love with Tamlin, and then soon after fall head over heels for someone else. And yeah, it is a reasonable explanation, and it certainly happens in real life, but it just really didn’t sit well with me here seeing as the ENTIRE POINT of the first book is this fated love between Feyre and Tamlin, how their love for one another broke a decades-old curse, and how they prove wrong those who argue that humans have inconstant hearts…so, yeah.

In order to make it more acceptable to readers that Feyre falls out of love with Tamlin, in these pages he is a completely different person than he was in the first book. Yes, both he and Feyre were suffering some PTSD after what happened Under the Mountain, but the total 180 in Tamlin’s character was just not believable.

That being said, once the little nuisance of her grand fated love affair with Tamlin is handily dealt with, we are treated to one heck of a fun and thrilling romance between Feyre and Rhys. Here is the swooning the first book was missing! As annoying as it was that the relationship with Tamlin we read about in the first book was just summarily negated, the romance in this book is SO MUCH BETTER!

Feyre’s character in book 2 is feminism made incarnate. She insists on being the master of her own destiny, will settle for nothing less than an equal partnership in her love life, and she kicks ass to boot.

I kind of agree with another reviewer that in this book Rhys proved to actually be a bit too perfect; in book 1 he seems a conflicted character, an antihero who plays both sides for reasons of his own. Here, it turns out his hidden agenda has to do with the fact that he is the ultimately self-sacrificing hero to end them all. This makes him somehwhat less compelling than originally thought. But that’s alright, he’s still pretty amazing.

And, oh, the sexy times in A Court of Mist and Fury-suffice it to say I’m still fanning myself over here!

Maas introduces plenty of fun and exciting adventures for our heroes in this installment. The Weaver was captivating and perfectly creepy, the defense of the hidden city of Velaris was pretty epic, and the final outcome of the confrontation with the king of Hybern and his various associates promises a lot more great story to tell in book 3.

I’ll definitely be reading on in this series, and am looking forward to more of Rhys and Feyre in their new relationship. As we wait for book 3’s release I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Maas will find a way to redeem Tamlin as well as Lucien, having them BOTH realize the mistakes they made despite good intentions. And now there will be a new dynamic with Elain and Nesta, and the members of the Night Court-May 2017 can’t come soon enough!

Young Adult Fantasy

Now for YA fantasy. I REALLY enjoyed Cruel Beauty  by Rosamund Hodge. Her second novel, Crimson Bound, was less of a winner for me. Her new release, Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, lies somewhere in between. There are some really great story elements here, but you’ll see in my review why I’m a bit conflicted.

bright-smoke-cold-fire

This is something of a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but really Hodge just pulls bit and pieces from the familiar to masterfully weave her own mythos. The fact that a Romeo and a Juliet from two different houses fall in love with each other is such a small part of this story, and it happens before the reader even joins in.

The world in these pages is anything but dull: evocative, intricate, captivating-but, yes, a bit convoluted. I admit to having some trouble for a time following which of the 3 main families held which beliefs and why. There is great depth to Hodge’s world-building here, but things do get a tad confused in the telling.

But the essence of it all was quite wonderful: a white fog dubbed the Ruining has killed everyone in the world except for those who ran to the island of Viyara, where they were able to hide within the protective dome of magic they managed to throw up at the last minute. The price of maintaining that protection, however, must be paid in blood.

Or is that a lie? If so, who benefits from it? Can Death truly be bargained with? Is necromancy the answer to stopping the Ruining, or is it what caused it to begin with?

We have a whole troupe of main characters to lead us through the search for answers: Runajo has joined the Sisterhood of Thorn in an effort to prove to herself that she can pay any price to try to save her world. As an infant, the Juliet had spellwork laid upon her that renders her the sword her family wields against those who would offer them harm – except that a certain Romeo has managed to see that, duty or no, she is still a person and not just a weapon. Paris wants nothing more than to make his family proud, but spends these pages learning painfully that to some, justice is no more than a pretty word.

Romance takes a backseat as the relationships examined most closely in this book are the complicated ones forged between Runajo and Juliet, as well as Paris and Romeo.

Other familiar names include Tybalt and the King of Cats. Add a dash (or more) of the living dead, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one exciting tale!

BUT THEN IT JUST STOPPED.

Sure, on the goodreads page it says “Untitled, #1” after Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (which I find kind of strange to begin with, it remaining “untitled” even after this book has been published), but I took that to mean that perhaps it was the first story in a series all based in the same universe, or some such. I did not realize it meant that this book has no real ending – no resolution whatsoever, it leaves off right when you expect things to come to a head. In a panicked state, I flew to the computer to search the author’s personal website and heaved a sigh of relief to see it described there as “part one of a duology”. But nowhere on the book itself does it say this – no “part one” or “first in a series”, not even a “to be continued”. Which is just plain cruel.

I’m really questioning the publisher’s move to not indicate anywhere on or in the book itself that this is a part one, not a complete story. That just seems odd. Finding myself at the end of the book like that without any answers or satisfaction whatsoever and no indication that there would be a sequel was quite off-putting. I’m still kind of upset about it. But still, I was enjoying this story quite a bit and so will definitely be checking out the next book, whenever that gets released. I guess there’s nothing for it but to wait.

Le sigh.

 

I’m noticing a serious lack of hard science fiction in my list, which is odd since I do love the genre. It seems all of the sci-fi I’ve read this year have been earlier releases. Of those, the one that left the biggest impression would have to be Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, and although it won’t qualify for this year’s Choice Awards, I’ll go ahead and discuss it here. Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want with it :p

seveneves

There is a really compelling story at the bottom of Seveneves. A cosmic event allows astronomers to predict the destruction of Earth as we know it in approximately 2 years. Nations the world over pool their resources in a desperate attempt to send what and who they can up to the International Space Station, so that even though the majority of seven billion people will die, there is at least a chance that humanity’s legacy can be preserved off-planet.

We get a lot of very detailed descriptions of the missions that must be undertaken, the problems that arise and the solutions devised by some of the world’s brightest minds. We see that, even though the people elected to escape to the space station were hand-selected as those best suited to the overall mission, human nature can defy the best-laid plans. And then we’re shown how 5,000 years later the descendants of the drastically reduced human race, who were left with the task of repopulating their species with some rather harsh environmental restrictions, have managed to get along until such a time when they can return to humanity’s original home in an attempt to “re”-terraform it.

There is a lot of hard science here, and some of it is utterly fascinating. But Seveneves’ main problem, in my opinion, is that only about 30% of it is devoted to actual storytelling, while the rest is preposterous amounts of mind-numbing info dumps regarding such topics as orbital mechanics and astrophysics.

The last third feels like a different book, which is perhaps unavoidable as 5,000 years have passed and everything has changed. It was interesting in the possibilities it presented, but I actually found that I enjoyed the first two-thirds more (which might seem odd, as the last third includes a good deal more of the storytelling.) And then the ending felt kind of abrupt, not offering much satisfaction in the way of conclusion.

So obviously I experienced mixed feelings throughout this book – overall I quite liked it, but am extremely glad to have finally finished it so I can move on to something else.

 

Hmm, I see there’s a lack of literary fiction as well, another genre I typically enjoy. Looking back, it seems I didn’t read much of it this year, and wasn’t all that impressed with that which I did. I suppose I’ll have to try to fit in some more of this type before the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards officially roll around. Challenge accepted!

 

Lastly, because I think you’ll agree this post has gone on long enough, there’s one other 2015 release I’d like to mention because it was exactly what I needed when I needed it the most. Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy is marketed as “a funny book about horrible things”.

furiously-happy

Lawson acknowledges the dark moments in the lives of those with mental illness, but stresses the importance of recognizing that those moments never last forever. You will feel better again, and when you do, she urges you to make up for time lost by making sure your good days are damn good. This is what being Furiously Happy is all about.

And while receiving such sound advice, you’ll likely also find yourself laughing out loud when reading the stories in this book. I know I did on more than a few occasions. Funny stuff! Never before have I found myself this (or at all) amused by taxidermy.

I will definitely be checking out Lawson’s previous book and following her blog. Consider me a fan.

 

In conclusion, I can’t help but feel that me even writing this blog post is a sign that things are starting to look up. I sincerely hope to get back to writing and actually have something to show for it someday soon!

Best of 2015

Another year in the books (heh heh, a little author humor there)

So I, er, haven’t done as much writing this  past year as I had hoped to. But what I have done is read a lot of great books and played a bunch of great games! Without further ado, here is Jessica’s Best of 2015 list:

BEST BOOKS

A lot of the stuff I read in 2015 was actually published in earlier years, so I’ll make two lists here – my top reads of 2015, as well as top books published in 2015.

READ IN 2015

The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning

Faefever
The Fever series tells the story of a young woman in Dublin who discovers she can see through the illusions of the Fae and has the ability to fight against their plot to bring all of their kind, even the Unseelie, over from Faery into our own world

I tore through books 1 through 5 in this series in a matter of 2 weeks, I was so hooked! Darkfever was good,  Bloodfever was great, Faefever and Dreamfever were a-freaking-mazing. The fifth in the series, Shadowfever (published in 2011), was actually a big disappointment to me, but it wrapped up the story of Mac and the Sinsar Dubh and so I’ll include it. Moning actually went on to add more books to the Fever series after that, but with a new plot and focusing on different characters, so I don’t count them as exactly part of this same group. I did go on to read Iced, and although I mostly enjoyed it, it definitely has turned into something that is more of a guilty pleasure, with more sex and violence than actual substance, but still great fun. I imagine someday I will move on to Burned and the soon-to-be released Feverborn, but I’m not in any hurry (unlike with books 1-5 that I devoured!)

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian.jpg

What a fun book this was! The science was impressive, the stakes high, and yet the narration was hilarious.

Mark Watney is thought dead by his fellow crew members who leave him behind when forced to abandon their mission on Mars. Left alone on the planet with no other manned missions due to arrive for a couple of years, Watney is forced to “science the s#*%” out of the situation in order to survive. The book is mostly comprised of his journal entries.

“By my reckoning, I’m about 100 kilometers from Pathfinder. Technically it’s called ‘Carl Sagan Memorial Station.’ But with all due respect to Carl, I can call it whatever the hell I want. I’m the King of Mars.”

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life
This book’s sequel, A God in Ruins, follows the story of Ursula’s beloved brother, and was a contender for best historical fiction in Goodreads’ 2015 Choice Awards.

This book dragged a bit for me in the middle, but overall I thought it was pretty amazing. It’s lyrical and bittersweet as it unfolds the chapters of woman’s life, with the twist that any time she dies, her life starts over again from the beginning. She has no concrete recollection of her previous lives, just occasional uneasy feelings and portents of doom when she approaches situations that didn’t end so well for her in past run-throughs. This allows her to make small changes that steer her clear of repeating mistakes of her past/present/future, and it’s fascinating to watch how big of an impact these changes can have in how her life plays out, all against the backdrop of 20th century Europe.

Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt

Sunbolt is a novella, with a full-length novel sequel due to come out in the near future. The first half of this story was decent, but the second half absolutely blew me away. The whole concept of the resigned breather was compelling – restraining himself in order not to hurt Hitomi, but fearing the end result is likely inevitable. The ashes and cinders rendered by the titular sunbolt, memories seared from our MC’s mind – such great imagery here! And of course the Promise in Hitomi. I can’t wait to read the rest of her story!

PUBLISHED IN 2015

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Golden Son.jpg

While I didn’t love this sequel as much as its predecessor, Red Rising, it was still one hell of a fun ride. There are some truly great snippets of writing in here. I particularly love parts of Darrow’s initial meet-up with the Jackal. The Jackal creeps me out, but in the best way possible.

Golden Son quote

The Pyramids of London by Andrea K. Host

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Host’s newest novel provides fresh new takes on many facets of fantasy fare, such as vampirism. The steampunk elements of the book are great fun. In the end, this book ended up being different from what I expected, but still quite enjoyable. I absolutely adore Heriath/Makepeace and find the dynamic between him and Rian quite fascinating, and hope to see more of him in the next installment of the series, Tangleways.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Felicia 1

This is Day’s memoir about growing up home-schooled (and mostly self-taught) while bouncing around the southern U.S., graduating college with a 4.0 double majoring in math and music at 20 years of age, then moving to Hollywood to make it big, baby! She reflects on the advent of the internet in homes of the public, and how it can be such a great tool to bring together people with common interests who might otherwise feel like outsiders. She tells her story with the great wit and humor she is known for.

Technically, this book belongs in the next category, but this is my blog and I decided to put it here, so deal with it 😉

BEST NONFICTION READS IN 2015

Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (published 2006)

monique

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye (published 2014)

undeniable

 

BEST GAMES

I don’t play as many video games as I would like to these days, but of the ones I did end up trying out this year, here were my favorites:

Tales from the Borderlands by Telltale Games

Rhys and Fiona 3
Fiona and Rhys, the two characters you play in Tales from the Bordlerands

I love adventure point-and-click RPG type games, and this fits the bill. However, I had heard TftB was also something of a comedy, and I wasn’t sure it was quite my cup of tea. But I read so many good reviews, and with a little help from Andrea K. Host and Kyle Arrington (thanks so much for the recommendations, guys!) I gave it a shot. I am so glad I did, because this is hands-down my game of the year!

Released over a series of five episodes, TftB is based in the world built in the Borderlands ‘first person shooter’ games, but you need not play those first in order to enjoy this. I had no knowledge of Borderlands going into this, and it wasn’t a problem.

Hyperion is a somewhat tyrannical corporation (created by the late sociopathic Handsome Jack) based on Helios, a space station that orbits the planet Pandora. Pandora has an Old West feel to it, but is filled with a bunch of criminals and psychopaths. This combination creates a very steampunky vibe.

You go back and forth between playing two characters in this game: Rhys, a goofy but lovable guy with cybernetic implants who works (or worked) as middle management with Hyperion. When his company rival becomes head honcho and demotes him to Vice Assistant Janitor, Rhys and his accountant buddy Vaughn decide to get revenge by hijacking the rival’s deal to buy a highly desirable and rare vault key, which might just lead to treasures untold.

The other playable character is tough as nails Fiona, a con artist from Pandora. She and her sister Sasha have a new heist in the works: trying to sell a fake vault key to the corporate scum from Hyperion.

Hijinks ensue. The vault key is revealed as fake, the great sum of money meant to buy it is blown up, but in the meantime the existence of another vault key is revealed. Rhys and Vaughn, Fiona and Sasha are all thrown together in their attempt to find this new treasure to make up for what was lost in the deal gone wrong. But they’ve ticked off a lot of people in the meantime, and these new enemies aren’t going to make things any easier for them.

The characters are really likable, the story is fantastic, the writing is smart, the game is FUNNY, and Tales from the Borderlands provides some ridiculously fun storytelling. I can’t recommend it enough! And last I knew it was available for 66% off through Steam, so if you’re even thinking about playing, you should definitely give it a try – I did, and I’ve voted it BEST DECISION OF 2015. Okay, not really. But it’s probably close!

And for the record – I REALLY love the way Telltale does the opening credits near the beginning of each episode. So great, with perfect licensed music choices to accompany them. Check out the one for episode 2:

 

I also really, really love the one for episode 5, but keep in mind this one will be a bit spoilerific, so you might not want to watch it yet if you plan on playing the game and want to see it for yourself.

 

Until Dawn by Supermassive Games

Until Dawn

I know I’ve already written about this game in a previous post, so I guess I’ll keep in short and sweet here. This is a survival horror game with supernatural elements, with a neat story and exciting gameplay. How many of the 8 playable characters can you keep alive until dawn?

Life is Strange by Dontnod Entertainment

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I’ve posted about this game previously as well. It has its faults, but overall I still greatly enjoyed the story. The ending (my ending, at least – for those of us who made the RIGHT choice!!!) was especially poignant.

Honorable Mention

What this category means is that I have started playing this game, have not finished yet, but enjoy it and expect to really like it all once I’ve finished 🙂

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture by The Chinese Room

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

You find yourself in a recently-abandoned village and explore the absolutely gorgeous environs in order to glean clues as to what happened to its missing population.

 

I guess that wraps it up! I look forward to reading, playing, (AND WRITING!) more great stuff in the year to come.

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

Various and Sundry

I am being terrible about getting The Prophecy out in a timely manner, I know. Apologies! I have about 2/3 of the current draft done and out to beta readers, in the hopes that feedback will help inspire me to get my backside in gear and finish revising the last 1/3.

In the meantime, here are a few entertaining things I’ve come across since my last post.

Until Dawn

Until Dawn is a survival horror game for the PlayStation 4 that I found to be a whole lot of fun, and creepy as hell! There are eight playable characters, and you cycle through controlling each of them at different times. As you play a certain character, the actions and dialogue you choose for them lead to different outcomes and affect their relationships with the others (through the game’s “butterfly effect” scheme). It is possible to reach the end of the game with all eight of them still alive, everybody dead, or anywhere in between. In my first playthrough I only managed to keep three of them alive until dawn. I did a second playthrough, this time using an internet guide to make sure I kept everybody alive, and right near the very end of the game the power went out in my house and fried the console 😦 The hard drive was salvageable, but we lost all save game data. I do plan on trying again, but it’s taking some time to muster up the morale to start all over again when I was so close to my goal!

Until Dawn™_20150817133154

The game tells the story of a group of teenagers returning to a mountain lodge on the first anniversary of the disappearance of two of their number at the same location. This may seem like an odd thing to do, but the reasoning behind this move is revealed later in the game and makes a very compelling kind of sense. But whatever happened to their friends the year before seems to be happening to them now, one by one. Is the horror here slasher in nature, or something altogether more supernatural? I highly suggest you play yourself and find out!

Another fun and impressive aspect of this game is the way it was created using full face and body motion capture. That means live actors performed all of the scenes wearing the bits and bobs (yeah, I don’t know the technical jargon) for the cameras to catch it all and computers to bring them to life on screen. The cast includes such notables as Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek. And I’ll admit, I love me some Rami Malek…

Until Dawn actors

hayden panettiereRami Malek 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also on the video game front, Jonathan Boakes and The Darkling Room have released a delightful way to pass some time, a short interlude of a game called The Last Crown: Midnight Horror. Its predecessor, The Lost Crown, was a full-length enchanting ghost-hunting adventure game released in 2008. Production value may have been a bit low (the voice acting in particular leaves something to be desired), but it was beautiful to look at, fun, and wonderfully creepy! The team has been working on its sequel, The Last Crown: Blackenrock ever since, but alas, fans of the franchise are still waiting. Boakes assures us the release date is coming soon, but in the meantime, we have been provided with this fun miniature adventure to enjoy. It came out for Halloween, and in fact the story takes place during the week between All Hallow’s Eve and Bonfire Night, that night which marks the failure of the gunpowder plot attempted by Guy Fawkes and his collaborators. (Remember, remember the fifth of November!)

Last Crown Midnight Horror 2

 

Last, but certainly not least, I have FINALLY “discovered” Felicia Day. This after being told by multiple people over the past year or so that I should check out her work. I at last picked up her memoir, “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” and realized not only that she is hilariously entertaining, but also that we share many of the same interests: namely books and video games (and a history of violin playing). I have since been watching the live streams of her playing the same sorts of games I play, sometimes along with her brother (who is just as amusing as she is), and have also joined her online book club. The club, with the charming moniker Vaginal Fantasy, has its base over at Goodreads and reads primarily romance novels (often SFF) with strong female protagonists. Once a month there is a live club “meeting” on the web, where Felicia and three other lovely ladies (Bonnie Burton, Veronica Belmont, and Kiala Kazebee) discuss the month’s pick, and anyone watching can use the chat feature to type in their own comments or questions. (Felicia addressed me and answered one of my questions and I totally fan-girled all over the place!) You can find the Vaginal Fantasy Goodreads group at https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/62938-vaginal-fantasy-book-club

Felicia 1

Vaginal Fantasy
The ladies donned mustaches for the discussion of the group’s western romance pick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sad truth is that I don’t know many people IRL who enjoy the same games I do, and I miss terribly the days when my sister and I would play them together. In a way, watching Felicia play them live over the internet helps fill that missing piece to a degree. Watching her and her brother play together is bittersweet, too. Although usually I’m too busy crying from laughter to feel sad. For example:

Kindle Book Awards Semifinalist!

The Sentient made it to the semifinals of the 2015 Kindle Book Awards!

https://www.thekindlebookreview.net/kindle-book-awards/

This makes me so happy! Winning books in each of the 7 categories get a smorgasbord of promotional support, which is a huge deal for works written by indie authors.

Also, I got this sweet badge:

2015-SEMIFINALIST

Finalists will be announced September 1st. I guess I’ll just have to keep myself distracted until then by forging ahead with The Prophecy.

Bittersweet Dreams are Made of This

I’m hard at work on The Prophecy tonight, honest!

But I wrote this post earlier for another blog of mine, one in which I write about whatever the heck topic I feel like expounding upon at any given time, and decided I wanted to repost it here. It’s not related to my books or writing, but rather is a subject of a personal nature and something I feel compelled to share. So here it is. (And now back to work!)

 

My sister was my very best friend. She passed away 4 years ago and even now it seems I dream about her every night.

It may just be that I am more likely to notice and remember the nights I dream of her, but even if that’s the case, I sure do dream about her an awful lot.

Sometimes this is a joyous thing. It’s like having the opportunity to hang out with her again, even if we now spend our time together protecting giant (and I mean GIANT) spiders from mall cops with dubious intentions.

Every now and again my sleeping mind recognizes that she is dead and it’s as if she is communicating with me in light of that fact, commiserating with me about how sad it is to be separated, or showing me glimpses of some fantastical afterlife and assuring me I’ll join her there some day, but that the time for that has not yet come (a belief to which, sadly, in the waking world I do not subscribe.)

More often though, the dreams that acknowledge she has died are chilling. These I wake from unnerved, but also enormously saddened.

She spent 26 days in the ICU before succumbing to what ailed her. As her condition worsened, we faced new steps in attempting to manage the illness and treat her, and I remember when she first died the initial feeling was that this was just a new obstacle to overcome. Okay, now what are the treatment options for her death? How can we overcome this next hurdle? It took some time for the constant panicky adrenaline rush of her decline to wear off and to realize there was nothing more to be done. It was over.

Some of my dreams are fueled by this idea. She is dead, so now what’s our next step to help her get better?

Many times her “death” is represented in my sleeping mind as her being in bed, back in her old bedroom in our childhood home. The room is always dark, we have to be ever so cautious and quiet around her so as not to disturb her. Sometimes her body only appears there at nighttime. Sometimes I crawl into her bed at night, anxious, knowing that after I drift off to sleep I will wake with a start in the dark of night to find her in the room with me. This can be a happy thing, but also frightening because she is not always the only thing to break through the veil between worlds at that hour.

Other times the dreamtime logic insists that she lives again only when I sleep, and so it’s a happy and exciting occasion to bring her back in my dreams, although bittersweet in the knowledge that as soon as I wake, she will be gone again.

One of the scariest scenarios for me is the one where she has come back to life, in a manner, but is changed. She knows her family but feels nothing for us, she seems an entirely different person. Even then we are very protective of her in her “condition” (aka dead, returned to us on loan, a fleeting opportunity to be with her again even if she is not the same as she was in life.) Those dreams, when she no longer cares for me, are heartbreaking.

For some reason I have many, many dreams in which the house my sister lived in at the time of her death is a sprawling mansion filled with magic but also haunted by some great evil. I go there to try to encounter her again, but the horrible presence lurks there as well, and my sister’s spirit fears it as much as I do.

Just today I experienced sleep paralysis. You know, when you’re aware that you are half-asleep but can make no move, nor bring yourself fully awake? But my mutinous mind was convinced that my sister had returned as some malevolent spirit and was possessing me, not allowing me any control over my own body, bringing me to insanity. I worried for all my loved ones, who would not know why I would rise from bed as a completely changed, deranged person.

I don’t know why I dream of her returning with a totally different personality or as some dark presence. But whether it’s one of those dreams, or one where I get to briefly spend time with her as sisters or continue the never ending struggle to “cure” her from her death, to this day I still wake up crying. Four and a half years later.

I hope tonight will be one of the nights where we just hang out and do nonsensical dream things. That would be nice, spiders and all.

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My sister in the year before her death. She went to the Otasaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, NY for a weekend-long event with the folks from the SyFy show Ghosthunters. She won the chance to have this light-painted photo (of ghosts attempting to communicate) done with two of the shows regulars, Amy and Britt of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society)

 

Striking the Match

I tend to swing between periods of furious writing and droughts mainly fueled by two things: a rush of self-doubt or loss of confidence (no one is going to want to read this anyway, boohoo!) and, well, distractions.

What I really need is a fire lit under my you-know-what. This is usually achieved when I see a new review or get positive feedback (they like it, they really like it!)

Rest assured, I finally did sit down to work on revising my draft of The Prophecy just this evening. (By the way, here is something I’ve noticed in my work as well as that by other indie authors: we are booklovers, and as such, we delight in writing protagonists who are booklovers as well. Here’s a tidbit from the chapter I worked on tonight: “He had underestimated my appetite for reading when I had nothing but time on my hands and an urgent need to keep my mind off of my own all too real troubles.”)

So consider the flames fanned beneath my butt. I certainly hope to get more editing work done tomorrow.

In the meantime, before heading to bed, allow me a moment to expound upon the aforementioned distractions.

Besides the full time job and two lovely little boys, I’ve also still been working on training this pretty baby:

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Miss Maya (aka Peakes Brook Night Prowler!)

She’s a smartie and picks up commands pretty easily, but she’s also a puppy and therefore sometimes kind of batcrap CRAZY. (Batcrap. Never used that phrase before, but it has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?) She is bell-trained, meaning that she rings bells hanging from the doorknob when she has to go out to do her business. She has been doing this for a month or so now. However, today she realized she could ring the bell any time of day, all day, over and over again, just because she wanted to enjoy the great outdoors. And of course you don’t want to call her bluff at the wrong time. So yeah, there was a lot of in and out and in and out today.

The other main distraction was, as usual, a video game.

Since my last post I have played one more chapter in the Life is Strange story. It’s still a lot of fun, but I do have one complaint. The character you play, Max, is an eighteen year old girl, who reunites with her childhood best friend, Chloe. I give the game props for allowing what seems to be the possibility of a romance between these two female characters. However…Chloe treats Max like crap!

lifeisstrange

I realize the situations that arise are designed to force the player to make choices that somewhat alter how future scenes in the game play out, but some of them leave a bad taste in my mouth. There is a huge movement of players who “ship” Max and Chloe, a prospect which quite honestly makes me cringe.

Some examples: Chloe gets caught with marijuana and tries to pin it on Max. You, playing as Max, can either take the blame or deny it. If you tell the truth (it’s Chloe’s weed), the rest of the game is littered with digs from Chloe for throwing HER under the bus. At another point in the game, Max and Chloe are at a diner when Max’s phone rings. The call is from a classmate who is being bullied and has been showing signs of severe depression. Chloe tries to dissuade Max from answering the phone, saying, “I thought you were here to hang out with me, not to talk to her.”

Lis
Chloe Price from Life is Strange

Chloe is a fun character in that she adds an interesting facet to the story, but her relationship with Max, even when they’re just friends, SCREAMS “unhealthy and emotionally abusive” to me.

But wait, that’s not even the game that has been ruling my life lately! That honor goes to the Game of Thrones episodic adventure by telltale games.

This is fun. A lot of fun. There is so much about the story and characters that I love. The first episode was released in December, but I only jumped on the bandwagon a few days ago. I tore through episodes 1, 2 and 3. Lucky for me, episode 4 was just released today (and yes, it’s finished already). Sadly, I probably now have about 6 weeks to wait before the 5th and penultimate episode.

mira2
Mira Forrester is handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell

So I love love love playing this game…BUT (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

I started reading George R.R.Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series years ago, when the fourth book in the series had just been released. I read through them all in short order, then had another 5 or 6 years to wait for the next book. In the meantime, the TV show came about, and I enjoy that a lot as well.

The game fits in with the show, even with the same actors providing voices for their characters, and it begins the night of the Red Wedding (you know, when Robb and Catlyn Stark…you know). You get to play as several members of House Forrester, a family mentioned in passing in the books. Telltale gets the feel of Game of Thrones just right, which is amazing. However, this means the game has also inherited the same pitfalls as the book and TV show. Namely, an overwhelming sense of futility because EVERYTHING BAD THAT COULD EVER HAPPEN CAN AND WILL BEFALL ANY CHARACTER YOU CARE ABOUT.

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Ramsay Snow. Er, I mean Bolton! Lord Bolton!

Any time things start to look up for someone, anyone, you know things are about to get real ugly real fast. The problem with this being true in the game is that it takes away some of the fun of playing as the characters, knowing that whichever choices you make, terrible consequences are going to befall them no matter what. Do what you will in the game, everyone’s pretty much f****d anyway.

I still love this game. A lot. It just also drives me to drink, weeping into my glass as I drain it.

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Talia and Rodrick Forrester

Anyway. Thanks for letting me rave and rant for a bit. Now, as promised, I have work to do on The Prophecy!

Local Author Showcase at Barnes & Noble

On Thursday, May 7th I will be at the Barnes & Noble in Dewitt, NY from 6:00 to 7:30 PM for their Local Author Showcase! I was hoping to have The Prophecy published in time for the event, and although it doesn’t look like that will be happening, stop on by for a chat and to check out The Sentient as well as books from other authors in the area. Local bookworms, unite!

Puppies and Good Causes

First order of business –  revision is coming along on The Prophecy, and I’ve been devoting more time to it lately. I have finished with the video games (at least until the next episodes come out in another 6 weeks or so), although I am still dealing with this adorable time-suck:

Someone's got her big girl ears!
Someone’s got her big girl ears!

I’m learning that training a German Shepherd Dog requires a ton of commitment and work, but can be incredibly rewarding.

Secondly, science fiction and fantasy indie author Intisar Khanani is having a really special sale going on right now. Through April 7th you can download her eBook Thorn, a fun fairytale retelling, for $0.99 from amazon. All proceeds from the sale will go to helping a friend of the author’s adopt young brothers with special needs. Check out more at Khanani’s website: http://booksbyintisar.com/thorn-flash-sale/

ThornWhat’s not to love?!