Posts Tagged ‘books’

Foundational Books Intro

Good morning, squiders! I wanted to introduce a series I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks (and then on and off afterwards) where I go back and look at books that have been meaningful to me throughout my life for one reason or another. (Series will be included altogether rather than separately.)

(And I think, at least at this point, we’re only going to talk fiction. Nonfiction has its place and time, and while it can be extremely beneficial, it’s not really the same. There is a reason humanity needs stories, after all.)

Some we’ll probably have touched on before, here and there, and things, at least at the beginning, will probably skew towards children’s and middle grade books, but hey!

I think it’s really interesting to go back and look at the books and the media that have had the greatest effect on a person, to see what they learned and how that shaped them into who they are today.

And if you guys have had similar experiences or different experiences (with the book in question or just in general), I’d love to hear about them as well!

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Good Omens

Maybe it’s just my corner of the Internet, but Good Omens is everywhere. My entire tumblr feed–normally a mixture of Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, silly cat videos, and other assorted nerdy things–went COMPLETELY Good Omens.

This is, of course, because the mini-series came out on Amazon a little over a week ago, and apparently hit enough people’s buttons that the scifi/fantasy portion of the Internet picked it up and ran with it.

(I’m through episode 4 myself.)

While I’m not done with the mini-series, I am enjoying it. I don’t remember the book terribly well so I’m unsure how close it is to the original story. There’s obvious upgrades to bring the story into the present versus 1990 when the book came out (technology mostly), but beyond that, I just don’t really remember.

I mean, I do remember the book. Or I remember reading the book. It probably was at least a decade ago, if not longer. Books are interesting that way, aren’t they? Some stand out, and you remember them throughout the years. Others just fade away into a vague memory, and you couldn’t remember anything about them if you tried.

I remember Good Omens because it was the last chance I was giving Neil Gaiman. Have you ever run into that? You pick up an author that you should like, but something’s just not working for you. When I picked Good Omens up (and I actually think it was a birthday present or something) I had already read Neverwhere (lovely worldbuilding, lacking on plot and characterization) and Stardust (very different from the movie, more about that in a second) and had not particularly liked either of them, and was about to give Neil Gaiman up as Not For Me.

(I know the saying goes that the book is better than the movie, but I think that, objectively, this isn’t always true. My experience has been that it depends on which you did first, book or movie, and how much you enjoyed the initial version you were introduced to. Jurassic Park, for example. Movie first for me, and then I read the book some time after. It’s a fine book, but I prefer the movie. (The Lost World, however, is far superior in book form.) Stardust is the same for me. I really enjoyed the movie, and the book is very different, so I didn’t like it as much.)

(And then you have Howl’s Moving Castle, where the book and movie are wildly different and I adore both of them.)

But I liked Good Omens. I especially identified with Aziraphale, who basically just wants to be left alone to read his books. And I am glad I did read it, because my logic at the time was that, since I had liked it, and because I hadn’t particularly liked the other things Neil Gaiman had written, I should look more into Terry Pratchett, and the Discworld books are a gift (my favorite that I’ve read thus far is Equal Rites).

(And I eventually read American Gods, so Gaiman’s redeemed for now as well.)

Do I have a point? Not sure. I guess that Good Omens fits onto a short list of books that I remember where their being read affected something in real life. And that the mini-series is worth a look because it feels very true to the book, whether it actually is or not.

Watching the mini-series, squiders? What do you think? (Aziraphale is still my favorite.) Thoughts on Discworld or other Gaiman/Pratchett books?

Promo: The Mercenary Code by Emmet Moss

Good morning, squiders! Today I have a promo and excerpt for you for Emmet Moss’s new epic fantasy novel, The Mercenary Code, which is book 1 of the Shattering of Kingdoms series.


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Epic Fantasy
Date Published:  May 2019

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The Shattering of Kingdoms, Book 1
Break the Code. Shatter the World.

Centuries ago, the murder of a beloved king tore apart the Kingdom of Caledun. The land was plunged into chaos and thousands perished in the aftermath. A new order was established in an attempt to return Caledun to its former glory. It failed, but in its place rose the beginnings of the Code.

During this same period, the mystical caretakers of the Great Wood retreated from the world of Kal Maran, their disappearance an ominous harbinger of the suffering that was to follow. The Great Wood now grows out of control. Cities, towns, and villages have fallen before the relentless march of the forest. Without the former guardians to keep her tame, the wood has become a place of peril, and dark creatures of legend now hunt beneath its leaves.

The summer season is now a time of armed conflict. The fall of the old monarchy has brought about a ceaseless cycle of combat. Grievances are settled by the strict tenets of a binding Mercenary Code and the men who would die to preserve its honour.

However, change is in the air. Political rivalries have escalated, and dire rumblings of a revolution abound. Thrust to the forefront of the shattered land’s politics, a mercenary fights for more than just riches. In the north, a borderland soldier wrestles with his own demons and looks to find his true purpose. And in the shadow of the Great Wood, a young man’s chance encounter with a strange visitor gives hope to a land divided.



Excerpt
chapter IX

Bider’s gaze wandered over the assembled enemy troops camped beyond bow range on the outskirts of the city. At least a thousand men lay to the west, another four hundred were guarding any attempt at a sortie from the south gate. A dozen distinct banners flapped in the strong wind, with each company standard easy to distinguish from Bider’s elevated vantage point. He studied the banners and counted only one northern company among the groups to the south. Most were unfamiliar him, and his eyes settled uneasily on the symbol of the black hyena belonging to Khali’s Reavers.

Nudging Orn, Bider gestured out towards the standard. “What’s the story behind the Reavers?” he asked. “You’ve been around since the early days of the Fey’Derin.”

“The Reavers are a bad lot,” Orn said, spitting over the wall. “A very bad lot.”

“That’s what I know, not what I want to hear,” Bider pressed.

Orn gave his companion a deliberate once over before answering. “Over the last century or so, there have been several unspoken rules in our profession,” he began, “One, is to always minimize casualties of the innocent, especially women and children. Another is to always accord captured officers fair and just treatment. Although such rules were never written into the Code, mercenary companies don’t take kindly to torturers —”

“So Khali’s men tortured officers?” Bider interrupted with alarm.

“If you’re going to interrupt, I’ll stop right here and now,” Orn growled. “Now are you going to shut that trap of yours or not?”

“Yes, sorry.” Bider answered timidly.

“As I was saying, there are several actions that are widely frowned upon. The last revolves around a company’s base of operations during the winter months. Be it a temporary encampment, or a permanent home city, it matters not. You leave the men and their families alone. There’s plenty of time for killing when the spring arrives.” Pausing to take a long sip from his ever-present flask, Orn shot Bider a suspicious look. “You won’t say anything to the Captain now will you?” he glared.

“Not as long as I hear this story …” Bider responded carefully.

“Well, it was three seasons ago, the year before you came on as a recruit, and the company was staying south for the winter. It was the first time the Captain chose not to take us back north to Briar, instead planning to stay near the eastern edge of the Caeronwood. Sergeant Fenton and the Lieutenant left the autumn campaign early with our newest recruits and built a relatively comfortable camp for the men. Rumours began to swirl by season’s end that a few southern companies had been contracted out later than the usual, and many mercenaries across the region speculated at what might be developing. Seems a few of the nobles in the Protectorate territories held the northern companies in some contempt, deeming them unfit to fight in southern lands.”

“But the Code states that the whole of Kal Maran is fit for any company to do battle,” Bider retorted.

“That’s right, but it doesn’t mean it sits well with some of the noblemen hereabouts. The Code isn’t perfect, and men’s hearts can be easily twisted, even by the most mundane of things,” Orn continued. “After the Battle of Cobourne, where the Fey’Derin fought for Lord Erion Brawn, word escaped that an early winter bounty was out on our company. It seems the Captain’s choice of employer over the years had angered certain factions, most notably Lord Yarr and his ally Duke Garius of Imlaris.”

“I’m not familiar with that name.” Bider said.

“He paid a large price to spearhead the campaign against our recruits. They hit the camp before we could muster our strength and warn them. That twelve of the fifty-six men survived, including Lieutenant Burnaise, is something of a miracle. It was a slaughter, and our young men had no chance. Bran, that big brute of an Axeman, still sports a nasty scar under that beard of his, but at least he survived, unlike many of his friends.”

“And it was Khali’s men that attacked?” Bider hesitated to ask.

“Aye, it was. They showed no quarter. Women who had arrived from the north or sweethearts from the nearby towns, it mattered little. Khali’s men murdered them all. Sergeant Fenton died trying to protect his young son and wife,” Orn replied gloomily.

“The Captain was cold that day. He showed no emotion, and yet we all knew he was hurting. His vengeance was swift and as unmerciful as the unjust attack. He mustered half the company and ambushed Garius as he travelled between cities. No one walked away from that battle unscarred. Captain Silveron ignored the man’s pleas for mercy and took his head, sending it in a box to Gadian Yarr.  Then we travelled north, taking a winding road through the Erienn mountain range, passing by Dragon Mount and the Silveryn Mages.”

“And the Reavers?” Bider asked, entranced by the sorrow etched in the storyteller’s words.

“We fought them the following season. Sergeant McConnal nearly destroyed their vanguard single-handedly, and the Captain, well he was both terrifying and awe-inspiring to behold. We haven’t seen those bastards in well over a year now, and it’s all any of us involved in that ambush can do to hold our tempers in check. There’s a reckoning still to come. The Captain swore on those dead men that he would kill the man who coldly slaughtered those innocents, and if I know the Captain, that day is coming.” Orn hung his head as he finished, staring solemnly at the ground.

A long moment passed, and Bider felt a pang of guilt knowing that he had reopened old wounds. Ignoring Orn as he took a second and then third pull from his silver flask, Bider slipped down the stone staircase and left his friend alone with his thoughts.



About the author:

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Emmet Moss lives in Canada with his family and cat. He is a sports enthusiast and an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction. The Mercenary Code is the first installment of his Shattering of Kingdoms epic fantasy series. Book two, The King’s Guard, is set for release in Fall 2019.






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Library Book Sale Finds: The Glimpses of the Moon

Howdy, squiders! I dug back into my collection of library book sale books and came out with The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton, circa 1922.

This is another one of those books where I try to imagine what I was thinking when I picked it up. Did I like the title? Did I think I should read something by Edith Wharton? Who knows?

Title: The Glimpses of the Moon
Author: Edith Wharton
Genre: General Literature
Publication Year: 1922

Pros: Beautiful writing. Just, really pretty.
Cons: I wanted to strangle the male lead for 75% of the book.

As a caveat, I use “general literature” for basically everything that’s not an obvious genre. This is a story about two people, married on a lark with an agreement that they can divorce if something better comes along for the other. They are fringe members of society, spending time with the wealthy, but not having money themselves.

This is not an overly plotty book, so I won’t spend a lot of time there. What it is is a look at the opulence of the twenties and what is important, and how relationships work in a world where you can buy anything you want. A lot of social commentary. Somewhat reminiscent of The Great Gatsby (which I despise) but less likely to drive you to depression.

I do take a bit of umbrage with the male lead, Nick. (See?) He has a mild crisis of morals over something the female lead, Susy, does, and instead of doing anything useful, runs off and doesn’t talk to her for the next five months.

Dude. You suck. I know the whole point of the book is about love and realizing what matters and blah blah blah, but you are trash.

I admit I got so mad at one point that I flipped to the back of the book, which I NEVER DO, to make sure things were going to get resolved, because if I had to read 250 pages of shenanigans with him just running off for good, well, it wasn’t going to happen.

The writing is so so pretty. The characters are so so frustrating.

So! Would I recommend this book? Not sure. The writing is gorgeous, the human study is great, the moral is…iffy. There is kind of the implication that whatever Nick did in the interim is okay because he came to his senses in the end, which maybe was a good message back in the day? But I really just wanted to slap some sense into him.

So! Up to you, really. You know what you like. I thought it was okay, but I’m not going to be picking up other books like it for a while.

2018 Books in Review

So, if you’ve been around for a while, squiders, you know it’s time for me to do my nerdy reading stats for the year before. This year I barely eked out my 50 books on the last day, whoops.

Books Read in 2018: 50
Change from 2017: -1

Of those*:
11 were Science Fiction
10 were Mystery
8 were Fantasy
7 were Nonfiction
4 were General Literature
3 were Short Story Collections
2 were Horror
2 were Dystopian
2 were Science Fantasy
1 was Satire

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA or MG titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

Also, I listened to an audiobook this year (It was Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller) which was an interesting experience, but not one I think I’m going to do a lot of unless I’m doing way more driving than I am currently.

New genre(s)**: dystopian, satire
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: essay collection, magical realism, romance
**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Wow, no romance whatsoever? Weird.

Genres that went up: science fiction, nonfiction, mystery
Genres that went down: fantasy, mystery

32 were my books
17 were library books
1 book was borrowed from friends/family

35 were physical books
14 were ebooks
1 was an audiobook

More of my own books this year. That’s probably a good thing.

Average rating: 3.48/5

Top rated:
Harpist in the Wind (4.5 – fantasy)
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (4.5 – mystery)
The Mousetrap (4.2 – mystery)

Oh, hey, not sure a fantasy book has been top in a while! A lot of 3.9s as well (Ready Player One, First-Person Singularities, The Sparrow, The Selection, Version Control, The Wanderer, Audrey, Wait!). I generally liked what I read this year.

Most recent publication year: 2018
Oldest publication year: 1904
Average publication year: 1999
Books older than 1900: 0
Books newer than (and including) 2013: 26

A lot of newer books again, so good job me!

And, as it might be interesting to look back on in the future, the first book I read for the year was Ready Player One (2011 – science fiction – 3.9/5), and the last I read was All Systems Red (2017 – science fiction – 3.8/5).

Read anything good in 2018, squiders?

Guest Post: The Sea of Distant Stars by Francesca G. Varela

Good morning, squiders! Happy Thursday! Today I have a guest post about writing process for you from Francesca G. Varela, who is currently doing a virtual tour for her science fiction book, The Seas of Distant Stars.

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Literary Science-Fiction
Date Published:  August 7th, 2018
Publisher: Owl House Books
 
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Agapanthus was kidnapped when she was only two years old, but she doesn’t remember it. In fact, she doesn’t remember her home planet at all. All she knows is Deeyae, the land of two suns; the land of great, red waters. Her foster-family cares for her, and at first that’s enough. But, as she grows older, Agapanthus is bothered by the differences between them. As an Exchanger, she’s frail and tall, not short and strong. And, even though she was raised Deeyan, she certainly isn’t treated like one. One day, an Exchanger boy completes the Deeyan rite-of-passage, and Agapanthus is inspired to try the same. But, when she teams up with him, her quest to become Deeyan transforms into her quest to find the truth―of who she is, and of which star she belongs to.
Excerpt

It had been so long since Agapanthus had really swam—train-swam, counting her strokes and holding her breath until either her forehead ached or the upper, back end of her throat began to complain. Now she just floated, usually. Maybe a steady, parallel lap from one end of the shore to the other. She wasn’t even sure what she thought, anymore. Part of her had given up on the right-of-passage, but the other part of her wanted to prove it to them. What if she did it? What if she really did it, and she emerged from the small round boat to a feast and cheering crowds, and Leera would cup her chin in her warm hands and say, smiling, “I can’t believe it,” and Pittick would at first rest his hand on her head, but then hug her, and she couldn’t even imagine what he would say. Something about how he was wrong. About how much stronger she was than any of them had guessed. Something about being proud.

Agapanthus looked down at her legs. They were coated completely in red sand, no skin showing at all. She stood and brushed off the clinging particles. They felt like little teeth boring into her. Drops of mist speckled the edge of her cheek as the wind climbed over the Waters. She was going to brush the droplets away, but, instead, she left her fingers splayed over the side of her face as she stared out toward Shre. If anyone saw her, they would think she was odd—just staring with her hand up like that, her other hand wrapped over her ribs, her shoulders fallen, like the Contact’s had been. But no one was there to see. That was the good thing about being alone. One of the few good things.

 

Guest Post – My Writing Process

A lot of people ask me where I get the inspiration for my novels. Sometimes, a character pops into my head from nowhere—from the ether, it seems. They are real, and alive, and I know instantly that they are the one I should be writing about. Other times, I see a vague image—a quiet, numb sunset on another planet, or a girl looking up at a field of stars in the broken wilderness of some future world. This image is my sole starting point. Other times, I have a message I want to spread; a plea to protect wild places, an invitation to enjoy the connection we share with all things, or a warning to not take this connection for granted.

For the most part, I usually begin my novels blindly. I have an idea where things will go, but I let the writing take me there.

The hardest part for me is getting started. Back in high school, when I wrote my very first novel, I learned that the only way to not to get overwhelmed by the length of a novel is to go word by word. To think of writing 60,000 or more words when the pages are empty—well, that’s intimidating. But to think of writing your first 500 words—that’s achievable.

Typically, my daily goal is 500 words. Once I hit that mark, I feel accomplished for the day. 500 words a day will get you to a full-length novel in only a few months, if you’re diligent. And, even if you take a few days off here and there, or take a break when you’re off on vacation, you’ll still make good time. Using the 500 words a day method, I finished my second novel—Listen—in about nine months, and I finished my newest novel, The Seas of Distant Stars, in about six months.

Once the writing is finished, I take time to edit. First, I read through and fix up any issues with the plot or character development. Then I read it again and make grammatical corrections and changes to the prose. Then, and only then, do I let friends and family read it and give me feedback.

I long ago decided to keep my books a secret until they were finished. So, every time I’m working on a novel, no one is allowed to know what it’s about until it’s done. I guess this is because I want the story to be purely my own for a little while. Some of the best writing advice I can offer is to write like no one will ever read it. Write for yourself. Take chances. Be creative. Be edgy. Get those words on the page. After all, the only way to write a novel is by actually writing it! So, write a little each day, and let your instincts and imagination guide you.

About the Author

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Francesca G. Varela was raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 2015 she graduated from the University of Oregon with degrees in Environmental Studies and Creative Writing, and she then went on to receive her master’s degree in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah.

Francesca’s dream of becoming an author began in third grade, and her writing career had an early start; she wrote her award-winning first novel, Call of the Sun Child, when she was only 18 years old, and she wrote her second novel, Listen, when she was only 20.

When not writing or reading, Francesca enjoys playing piano, figure skating, hiking, identifying wild birds, plants, and constellations, and travelling to warm, sunny places whenever she can.
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Mars Trilogy Readalong: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ugh, guys, I’m sorry this took me so long to get through. I don’t really have any good excuses, except I should have started more than a week before we were supposed to be talking about it, especially since it’s almost 600 pages.

To sum up, as I told my dog last night: this is not a hopeful book. This is a book about how humanity is stupid and self-destructive.

I mean, I hope we eventually get into a hopeful phase, but who knows!

Red Mars came out in 1992 and won the Nebula in 1993. It covers somewhere between 35 and 40 years of time, starting with the colonist selection process on Earth and following them through the trip to Mars and approximately 30 years on Mars itself. It’s told in eight sections, with a different viewpoint character for each section (though Nadia and Frank each get two), and each viewpoint character is a member of the First Hundred, as the first colonists are called over time.

Most sections cover a decent amount of time, sometimes years, and there is also usually a time jump between sections (though section 8 follows directly from section 7). The book sets up characters on various sides of different issues, such as terraforming (the greens “let’s do this as fast as possible” vs. the reds “leave Mars alone–what right have we to meddle?”), colonization, emigration, corporations, government, etc. Genetic engineering is also present, but aside from its relation to terraforming (they create specialized algae that can survive on Mars’ surface), at least in this book, it’s treated as a uniformly good thing (i.e., no characters are presented as against it). I will be interested to see if that changes as the books go on.

There may be SPOILERS moving forward, so be aware.

The plot of the book is fairly chronological rather than action based. While we do open somewhere in the middle, subsequent chapters and sections start from the beginning and run straight through. The First Hundred are selected, leave for Mars on the Ares, an immense spaceship with some artificial gravity, gardens, farms, etc. (even birds) to try and help with mental states on the long voyage. On the voyage, we see the first signs that people have different plans for the planet and different ideologies, and that some people lied throughout the selection process.

They arrive at Mars and get started building up the infrastructure necessary to produce air and water, build habitats, and start exploring. Things are good. But eventually those ideological differences pop back up, especially in relation to terraforming and whether or not they need to get Earth’s permission before they do things. And a large section of the First Hundred disappear, becoming the Lost Colony, without any warning.

As time goes on, more people arrive from Earth, different factions with different goals, and without cohesive goals or leadership, tensions start to rise. Big corporations start sending a ton of workers and “security,” sabotages start happening, people disappear–and Earth is no help, because Earth is also falling apart, due to global warming and increasing numbers of wars.

Eventually the “revolution” happens–a number of rebel factions, not coordinating with each other, attack, destroying towns (reliant on thin domes for their atmospheres) and killing people. The “security” forces retaliate, shooting down from orbit. There is mass chaos, with all these factions working for themselves and the Earth forces (mostly these corporate security forces as well as some UN-approved ones) trying to lock everything down. The space elevator is destroyed, crashing down to the planet. Phobos is destroyed. The First Hundred become targets–Earth is trying to peg them as scapegoats and ring leaders–and they manage to escape to the Lost Colony at the end.

SPOILERS over.

This was actually a fairly quick read, all things considered–depending on whose point of view the section is in. I found Nadia the easiest to read and Frank the hardest; I’m sure other people would feel differently. Even when the characters spend forever building habitats or exploring the vastness of Mars, the book never feels slow (though I admit I occasionally skimmed sections with a lot of place names, which just didn’t mean anything to me). It does a great job of showing what life might be like on Mars, and a great job presenting a number of characters who are obviously different from each other. I would recommend it if you like hard science fiction, especially near future stuff, or space exploration.

Also, apparently the first person walks on Mars by 2020, and colonizing by 2026, so we’d better get on it.

Did you read this with me, squiders? What did you think?

Green Mars is next. Let’s do the end of January for it, so we can get through the holidays without going crazy.