Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Promo: Ashes and Blood by Katie Zaber



This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. The author will award a $25 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn commenter. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

“I’ll start at the beginning. Long ago, before roads, before we built structures, before medicine was discovered, before the government was created, before man gained any knowledge, there were The Five. Independent from each other, The Five had a mutual respect for one another. They knew their roles in the world and their duty. They were gods…”

An adventure begins when an otherworldly tree captures the attention of Megan and her friends. The environment morphs around them, transferring them to an exotic planet. Stuck in a rural town still maimed by the plague, a chance encounter with a familiar face gives Megan and her friends some security during their adjustment period.

While settling into new, promising lives, they are attacked and stalked by planet Dalya’s humanoid inhabitants, who focus on Megan. One dark night, after an epic, magical attack, the Fae King’s knight is sent to fetch Megan. When she wakes up a prisoner, she learns that there is much more to this strange world, and it is oddly more like her own than she ever would have expected.


Read an Excerpt

Megan

It gives me chills to stand in front of the forest that morphed in front of my very eyes. I’m hesitant to walk through the tree line and down the path. The last time I walked down a path for leisure was a week ago. We had planned a picnic. Something simple, always easy to organize and do. It wasn’t hard planning our walk to Brynjar’s cabin today. What could go wrong?

I try hard not to think of all the possible outcomes—from returning to Earth to traveling to a completely new world.

Sarah and Dana were able to walk by without stopping to take notice or reflect. Ciara paused for a moment and then smiled gleefully, saying she had a good feeling.

I don’t. I feel dizzy, angry, and like I need to vomit. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go into the woods that changed my life, I don’t want to meet Brynjar, and I don’t want to go back where it all started.

I don’t.

About the Author
Katie Zaber writes new adult fiction. With multiple projects spanning from being transported to an alternate universe, to past lives, reincarnation, and trapped souls, to prophesied pregnancies—there are more stories to tell. She lives in North New Jersey with her boyfriend.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dalya-Series-110665970357251
Website: https://zaberbooks.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ashes-Blood-Dalya-Book-1-ebook/dp/B087YJ8W87/ref=sr_1_1

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Library Book Sale Finds: One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

As we discussed last September when I was doing my foundational book series, Wait Till Helen Comes was a formulative book for me when I was a child, one that is still creepy to this day. So when I spied a much newer Mary Downing Hahn book at the last library book sale I went to, I definitely grabbed it.

Title: One for Sorrow
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Genre: Children’s horror
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Still creepy
Cons: Suffers from protagonist issues

One for Sorrow is oddly timely, since it takes place during the Spanish Flu in 1918/1919. It follows Annie Browne, who has moved to a new town and started at a new school. She’s almost immediately latched onto by another girl, Elsie Schneider, who is hateful and mean and keeps Annie away from the other girls so she can’t make other friends.

Elsie is eventually home sick for a week, allowing Annie to get away from her and make new friends. But when Elsie dies of the Spanish Flu, it gives her the opportunity to make sure Annie can never get away from her.

I had to put the book down for a few days in the middle because life was so awful for poor Annie (though she’s kind of a pushover and will go along with bullying) and I didn’t want to deal with. But, in general, this book was a fast read, with good imagery,

My biggest complaint is Annie, and the way Annie is treated by the plot. Annie doesn’t do anything to try and help herself, really. She doesn’t stand up for anything, either when Elsie is pushing her into things she doesn’t want to do or when her new friends are doing things she doesn’t agree with. And once the haunting begins, it doesn’t get any better.

And–SPOILER ALERT–Annie doesn’t even do anything to get rid of Elsie, in the end. A nice old lady who can see ghosts conveniently comes along, and shows Elsie the way to move on.

It reminded me of the House of Many Ways, which we read as part of a readalong of the Howl’s Moving Castle series (Howl’s here, Castle in the Air here). In it, the main character is a little girl by the name of Charmain, but she doesn’t really do anything. Grown-ups come in at the end and do most of the real work, and it felt the same here.

House of Many Ways was one of the last things Diana Wynne Jones wrote before she died, and Mary Downing Hahn has been writing children’s horror for around 40 years. It makes me wonder…do authors, as they get older, sometimes feel bad about the danger they put their child protagonists into? Does it make more sense to them, over time, to have someone older and wiser come in and save the child?

I’ll admit that’s a pretty big leap to take based off of two data points. I would need to make an actual study of it–read different children authors’ books over time, see if there’s a trend toward children becoming less proactive throughout the books. But it did strike me as an interesting coincidence.

What do you think, squiders? Have you noticed this trend, or am I seeing things that aren’t there? Read this book, or any other newer Mary Downing Hahn book?

Foundational Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

So, if you remember, oh, last summer, I went through some of the books that have made me who I am today, as a writer, but also in general.

(Apologies for being late AGAIN, I can’t even blame the quarantine this time. I did a push to finally get my new SkillShare class live–I always forget how long it takes to edit the videos, and my new microphone is so sensitive I had to get up at 5 am to avoid noise from the small, mobile ones and the neighbors.)

(It’s here, if you’re interested. It’s about setting goals in your writing and sticking with them.)

But I realized I forgot perhaps the most important book at all. The one that I’ve read the most times over the years. The one that I turn to when I need comfort, or I need to sleep after I read/watch something too scary. The one I used for my senior quote in high school. The one I used scenes from to try out for plays. The one I can still quote bits of from memory.

Phantom Tollbooth cover
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I don’t remember who recommended the book to me, but I first read it back in middle school (my copy is the 35th anniversary edition, and we’re coming up on the 60th anniversary, so that tells you how long it’s been in my life). And who knows how many times I read it over in middle and high school. As an adult, I’ve read it less often, but I still do re-read it periodically (I’m currently reading it to the small, mobile ones).

The entire book is a masterful play on words and concepts. Even as an adult I really appreciate the pure mastery of the idea. (I perhaps understand the Humbug better now than I did as a kid.) We have Milo, our bored main character who doesn’t see why anything is worth the bother. When he receives a toy tollbooth from who knows where, he decides to play with it, because he doesn’t have anything better to do. But it allows him access to a world where knowledge is more literal than in real life.

It’s hard to put the book into words, really. This is a book that I have loved so much and so long that I find my tendency is to wax poetic about its many fine features and scenes, and sometimes I get a bit spoiler-y and we can’t have that.

I highly recommend it to anyone, anyone who’s loved learning at any point in their lives, anyone who likes puns, anyone who likes a rewarding story about friendship and what’s possible if you decide to try.

But I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book, from the Whether Man in Chapter 2:

Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Read The Phantom Tollbooth, squiders? Favorite character? (I am partial to Tock.) Other related thoughts?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Pandora Directive by Aaron Conners

Sometimes you find the weirdest things, amirite, squiders?

The Pandora Directive has a note that it’s a Tex Murphy novel, which meant nothing to me until, about halfway through, I happened to accidentally glance at the author bio at the end of the book.

But, anyway:

Title: The Pandora Directive
Author: Aaron Conners
Genre: Science fiction noir
Publication Year: 1995

Pros: Cool mash-up of traditional noir with some science fiction elements
Cons: A little too puzzle game-y near the end

On the surface, this is a fun scifi noir book (though I’m not sure if the main character, Tex Murphy, is from the 1940s and time traveled to the 2040s at some point, or if he just has a lot of nostalgia going on). It takes place in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where people are out at night and sleep during the day to avoid the dangerous radiation levels.

But! It turns out that it’s the novelization of an adventure game. And The Pandora Directive is actually the fourth game in said adventure game series.

I love adventure games. I especially love ’90s-era adventure games (Monkey Island is my favorite series and, with the exception of the TellTales’ Tales of Monkey Island, I’ve played all the games multiple times. Tales is good too, I just keep getting distracted by life.), but somehow I missed this series completely.

I mean, I would have picked it up if I’d heard of it. Probably why I picked up the book. It’s noir, it’s scifi, there’s rumors of Roswell–what’s not to love?

According to Wikipedia, the Tex Murphy game series has had an interesting history. The first game is apparently a mashup of genres, though the other five games are fully in the adventure genre. And there was apparently a short film, and a radio show during the hiatus in game producing (there’s 16 years between the fifth and sixth games), two more game novelizations (of the 3rd and 5th games), and two non-novelization novels.

Huh.

As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. It’s mostly noir, with just occasional trappings to remind you that you’re in the future and not the past. There’s the radiation thing so the characters are mostly active at night. Tex has a flying car, essentially. All the calls are video calls.

The Internet still works like the ’90s, which is when the book was written, but it makes me laugh. Always a danger when reading scifi written in the past. No one can predict everything right.

The characters are good, as is Tex’s voice. It hits the feeling of ’40s noir without including a lot of the more offensive bits. And in general the plot is good too. No real complaints, honestly, except that near the end, it starts to show its adventure game roots a little too much.

(If you’ve ever played an adventure game, you know they involve a lot of puzzle solving. And if you’ve never played an adventure game…they involve a lot of problem solving.)

There’s a lot of puzzle solving at the end. It felt like reading an adventure game. I don’t know if it would have bothered me as much as it did if I hadn’t known I was reading a novelization.

All in all, an enjoyable read. I’d recommend it if you like noir, Roswell mythology, the Tex Murphy games, or just need a fun read.

Have you read this, squiders? Played the games? Are they worth trying to hunt down?

Library Book Sale Finds: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time, squiders. It’s not my first Shirley Jackson book. I’ve previously read The Haunting of Hill House, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle is perhaps her most famous book. You can imagine my pleasure when I found a copy at a library book sale. Every October for the last few years I’ve said I’m going to read it, but I never quite make it around to it.

Except now I have! My copy is old, a paperback from 1963, which cost a whopping 60 cents at the time.

Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Gothic horror
Publication Year: 1962

Pros: Just…a carefully wound mess where you can see the disaster coming and can do nothing to stop it
Cons: See above

I had a hard time picking a genre for this. Wikipedia has it listed as a mystery, which…no. Just no. It’s not a mystery. It has elements of horror and elements of Gothic novels, but it’s not quite those either.

In the book, we follow Mary Katherine Blackwood (or Merricat for short). She lives in a big, old house separated from the rest of the village with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian, both of whom never leave the property.

It’s hard to talk about the plot without major spoilers, so, uh, stop here if you haven’t read it, but it’s been out for 58 years and so I think we are perhaps past that at this point.

Mary Katherine, Constance, and Julian are the only remaining members of their once large and respected family. As the story goes on, we learn that the other members all died on a single night, when the sugar at the dinner table was poisoned. Constance was tried for the murder but ultimately acquitted. Mary Katherine was not present for the meal, having been sent to bed without dinner, and Julian ingested some of the poison (arsenic) but ultimately survived, though the incident left him physically frail and obsessively focused on the “Last Day.”

Mary Katherine is an interesting narrator. She has put elaborate rituals in place to keep her remaining family safe, including burying things around the property and keeping certain things in certain ways. It’s not clear if this is how she’s always been, or if it’s a reaction to the death of her family and the relative isolation she’s lived in since then. She does occasionally leave the family land to get food and books from the library, but the townspeople are cruel to her and she prefers not to interact with them if she doesn’t have to. Despite her odd way of looking at the world, she does seem to be an excellent judge of character and what’s actually going on.

The book culminates in the partial burning of their house and the hate of the townspeople, where they come in and destroy everything they can. Assured of the evilness of the outside, Mary Katherine and Constance barricade themselves inside the remaining portions of the house, and it’s implied they never leave the property again. The end is how urban legends are formed, with people leaving them food to assuage their own guilt and telling stories about the ladies that live in the house, and what they will do to people who upset them.

I will say that the twist about the poison was pretty obvious, in the end. I’m not sure it was meant to be a twist at all, though everything I’ve read about the book seems to treat it as such.

All in all, a fascinating and disturbing read. I can see why it’s endured.

Read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, squiders? Thoughts? Thoughts about Shirley Jackson in general, or Gothic horror (or whatever one would call this particular type of book)?

Library Book Sale Finds: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Well, squiders. We were supposed to be on a cruise tomorrow. But, alas, that’s not happening, for obvious reasons.

Sad times.

So, a little over a month and a half ago, I went to another library book sale. Cuz I hadn’t in a while, and they were doing bags of books for $6, and I am weak.

(Actually, now that I think about it, I went to one in December too, though that wasn’t the best. The books were expensive. If I’m paying $6 per book, what’s the point? I should buy it new at that point so the author gets some of the money. I did get a ton of easy chapter books for the bigger, mobile one, though he has refused to read them.)

(He is mostly interested in books about Minecraft. Sigh. Though he doesn’t mind a story if someone else reads it to him. We just started The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.)

ANYWAY, this sale wasn’t the best either–not a lot of material, just a few carts of books and old movies. I did manage to end up with six hardcovers, though.

And here we are. In a timely fashion, for once.

Title: Twelve Angry Librarians
Author: Miranda James
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Cat
Cons: Not enough kooky side characters

There is something to be said about a bag full of old paperbacks, where you’re getting a mixed bag of who knows what from who knows when. Modern books are less fun, in that regard.

Now, you guys know I love mysteries, and you know I love cozy mysteries. But that being said, I find that most cozy mystery series, especially modern ones, don’t really do it for me. I’m not a big historical fiction person, but I tend to like historical cozy mysteries. Gives them something, I guess. Contemporary-based cozies feel the need for some sort of something extra, which is really hit or miss as to whether or not it works.

I’m guessing we’re doing a two-for-one here, in that we have a helpful pet (ala The Cat Who series) plus it’s library-themed. (I am as bad as the next writer about being a sucker for stories about writers/librarians/etc. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that said stories are any good.)

This is a well-established series (this is the eighth book) with Charlie Harris, late middle-aged career librarian, as our protagonist. Charlie is likable enough, if a bit dull, but that’s fairly par for the course. His cat, Diesel, is properly charismatic.

And maybe the other books in the series are better at this, but I kind of feel like a cozy mystery series, if not carried by the protagonist, needs a cast of wacky side characters. And we should get them here–the book takes place at a librarian convention–but we don’t especially.

There’s nothing bad about the book. It’s perfectly serviceable. But it’s also forgettable.

Read other books in the Murder in the Stacks series, squiders? Thoughts about how essential the side characters are? Favorite cozy series in general?

Used Book Store Finds: A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Hey-o, squiders! I thought this was one of my library book sale books, but it had a bookmark in it, so it turns out that it was one of the books my spouse bought me on my birthday when he took me to a coffee house/used bookstore.

This book ends up being oddly topical for what we’re dealing with round these parts recently.

Title: A Different Light
Author: Elizabeth A. Lynn
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1978

Pros: Interesting take on what makes life worth living
Cons: Gets a bit weird at the end, like most ’70s era scifi I’ve read

Our main character here is Jimson Alleca (which, as an aside, is Jimson a real name? Google tells me it’s a type of weed, but all I can think of is that it reads really stereotypically hillybilly-ish.), famous artist, stuck on his home world because of a rare and incurable type of cancer.

(Nobody else has weird names. Also whoever drew the cover is generally quite talented but seems a little confused about human anatomy.)

If he goes into the Hype, which, as far as I can tell, is the medium space travel goes through to get places faster than they would otherwise, it’ll accelerate the rate of growth of the cancer, and he’ll die.

But he’s bored and he’s languishing, and he decides it’s worth it to go out there and see new things, even if it’ll kill him.

(This is, coincidentally, where the title comes from. Each planet has a different star, with different colors and brightness, so he wants to see things under “a different light.”)

So it’s interesting from the standpoint that you go into the adventure sequence of the book knowing he’s going to die from it. (I mean, assuming the adventure doesn’t get him first.) Jimson’s a little fatalistic as a main character, but not annoyingly so. He does occasionally bemoan his early fate but he’s mostly accepted it. And the parts where he’s drawing or otherwise doing artistic things or looking at things through the lens of an artist are quite good, especially in a genre where art is not always explored.

There are three main side characters: Leiko, Ysao, and Russell. I liked both Leiko and Ysao, but am less fond of Russell, whom I felt was overly violent (especially to poor Jim). And there’s a telepathic subplot that’s pretty cool too.

So, end thoughts. I enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a ton of ’70s scifi (since it tends to be after the “classics” and before the modern era, whenever that technically starts) but it feels very ’70s in places. Societally, I guess, if I had to try and explain it better. I don’t know. I wasn’t actually alive in the ’70s so I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’d say it’s worth taking a gander at for the different takes on art and telepathy. I’d read other things by Elizabeth A. Lynn.

What do you think, squiders? Read A Different Light? Other things by Elizabeth A. Lynn? Thoughts on ’70s scifi in general?

(I Googled Elizabeth A. Lynn after writing this up, and have discovered she was one of the first SFF authors to include gay/lesbian characters in a positive light, and also that there’s a LGBT bookstore chain called A Different Light after this book, so that’s pretty neat.)