Posts Tagged ‘books’

The Finnbranch Readalong: Yearwood

Hey hey, Squiders! Only one day late, which, considering how this week has gone, is a freaking miracle.

So, Yearwood, book one of the Finnbranch trilogy. Did you guys read this? It’s so very ’80s fantasy it almost hurts.

We’ve discussed previously how you can see very obvious trends in epic fantasy from the “classic” fantasy of the ’50s and ’60s ala Tolkien to the modern character-driven fantasy of today. The ’80s fall somewhere in the middle, where the characters have begun to be more important than the plot, but generally not to the extent you find today.

Yearwood follows Finn, a teenage boy growing up in an isolated mountain community. His mother is married to the lord, but the lord is not his father, and, indeed, he’s never been given a real name, so his sisters have each made up their own for him. There are no other men in the community aside from his mother’s servant, the lord’s obsession on trying to figure out his father’s name having driven the community into decline.

If that sounds like a convoluted mess, you’re not wrong. The prose here is pretty dense, though it is in first person. Yet Finn is not actively telling his story, but telling it in retrospect, an adult telling the story of when he was young. Yearwood seems to be half of an origin story, with the other half continuing into the second book, Undersea.

Finn’s kind of a hard person to ride along with. He’s egotistical and sometimes cruel in that way that most teenagers get. He’s angry at his mother, who has never shown him any affection, and at his absent, unknown father. Even when he begins to learn how he was begat and who his father is, the anger stays with him.

There’s a weird mix up of mythology here. There are two crows which Finn arguably owns which he gives names meaning Thought and Memory, a clear connection to Odin, who likewise has crows named the same, but that seems to be the only Norse mythology here. The rest feels more Celtic, especially with several references to Dagda and the fact the Finn’s community is called Morrigan. There are also references to Selchie, which is another spelling of selkie, though the mythology doesn’t translate directly here. Still, it seems like the setting is supposed to be its own world rather than a version of our own. Not sure if that was the intention, however.

This is fantasy in the way legends and myths are—nothing is distinctly fantastical, merely accepted as how the world works, whether it’s giant death crows or walking stone kings.

So, tl;dr—this feels like a modern retelling of a legend, with the same sort of story structure and dense language. Yet it was oddly readable despite that. But I can see why more modern readers on Goodreads aren’t terribly fond of it.

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

We’ll read Undersea for next month and do a discussion on July 18.

Review: Icarus by David K. Hulegaard

Happy Monday, Squiders! Today I’ve got Icarus by David K. Hulegaard for your potential enjoyment. It’s scifi noir. David will be giving away a $25 gift card during his review tour, entry for which you can find at the bottom of the post.

It’s the winter of 1947 in Ashley Falls, West Virginia, and a teenage girl has gone missing. Local private detective Miller Brinkman takes the case, quickly uncovering a string of bizarre clues. A hidden diary, cryptic riddles, and buried secrets all pique Miller’s interest, but one key detail gives him pause: the girl’s parents haven’t reported her disappearance to the authorities.

As the case deepens, Miller’s investigation begins to poke holes in the idyllic picture of his beloved hometown. No longer certain whether anyone in his community can be trusted, Miller dives headfirst into a desperate search for the truth that extends far beyond the borders of Ashley Falls. He soon discovers that his missing persons case is not an isolated incident, but part of an otherworldly mystery—one that, if confronted, may threaten the very future of humanity.

Excerpt:

Jessie stalled in the doorway, studying the parking lot. She turned her head left to right several times, conducting a sweep of the area.

I plopped a coin on the table and joined her. “Is everything all right?”

“It’s probably nothing.” Jessie adjusted the book bag on her shoulder. “I think my mind’s playing tricks on me. Earlier I thought I saw… Oh, never mind.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. I thought maybe I was being followed on the way here from school.”

“Followed? Did you see someone?”

“Well, I didn’t get a good look or nothing, but I could’ve sworn I saw a man in a black suit behind me. Sort of keeping a distance, you know?” Jessie said. “But when I got here, he was gone.” She covered her eyes. “Gee, it sounds like I’ve read Jane’s journal one too many times, huh?”

I chuckled, though it was more from nerves than humor. “Tell you what, Jessie: how about I walk you home? I’m headed that direction anyway.”

“Oh, that’d be swell. Are you sure it’s no trouble?”

I reached into my coat pocket and felt the familiar shape of my Colt revolver at my side. “Nope. No trouble at all.”

My Review:

I get so waffle-y about these reviews. Anyway, in the end, I think I’d give this one a 3.5/5. I was going to say flat 3, but then I felt bad about being harsh, so there you are.

There’s a lot of great things about this book. Miller’s point of view is interesting and he has an excellent amount of sass. The conspiracy at the heart of the story has a lot of cool elements to it. There’s Puckett. (♥ Puckett.) The just-post-WWII era works well for the story and the noir element in it. (That being said, do people do modern day noir? Cuz I wouldn’t mind reading some of that as well. Let me know if you know of any good ones.) The pacing is good, though there are occasional reader asides that don’t always pan out (for example, Miller notes that a reminder that he’s being followed is good, or he’d be dead before Baltimore, but then nothing happens between DC and Baltimore to warrant the note, and I kept expecting something to). The secondary and side characters are well-developed and read like real people.

I really only had two problems with the book. The issue is that they really rubbed me the wrong way.

The first is the prologue. It’s told from the POV of the girl Miller spends the rest of the book trying to find, and the voice is, well, it’s one of the most stereotypical teenage girl voices I’ve ever read. I could barely get through it, and was relieved when we switched into Miller’s point of view and I realized I would never have to read that point of view again. What’s weird, though, is this character is treated with much better handling throughout the rest of the book, and the prologue really doesn’t add anything to the story that doesn’t come out better elsewhere. I just don’t know why it’s there, and it almost stopped me from reading on.

The other is that there is a textbook example of fridging. I won’t tell you who, but I will tell you that I really liked the character, and that it was obvious from the moment she walked onto the page that she was going to be fridged. So I spent a good part of the book going “You’d better not fridge her or I will be so mad,” and then when she was, of course, fridged, I was mad, as expected. I am still mad, because it didn’t really seem to do that much in the great scheme of the plot. Argh! Why!

(For those unfamiliar with the term, “fridging” is where a character is killed off solely to provide motivation for the main character. It can be–and often is–a “cheap” way to create angst. TVTropes has an entire page on the trope.)

So, other than that, I liked the book. If you think you’d like a post-WWII noir with some supernatural elements, you might like it too.

Author Bio:

David K. Hulegaard is an American author and paranormal investigator. His Noble trilogy has garnered comparisons to the works of Philip K. Dick and Stephen King. In 2016, he collaborated with best-selling author Tony Healey on the novel Planet of Ice.

David previously worked at BioWare, a premiere video game development studio known for creating the popular Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises. He now lives in the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington with his wife Jennie, and their banana-obsessed Welsh Terrier Tobi. In his spare time, he enjoys video games, professional wrestling, and photography.

Links:

( The Official Website of David K. Hulegaard | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon )

David Hulegaard will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

Useful Link Round-up

Okay, Squiders, I want to be able to do the idea generation posts in a row, so for today, I’m going to share various links that I’ve been hoarding that other people might find interesting. Monday I’ll have a review/promo for you, and Thursday is, in theory, the first discussion post for the Finnbranch readalong (though I will need to read faster than I am because I forgot when in June I set the discussion for). And then we’ll head back into nonfic territory.

For Readers

Does anyone else just find themselves on random email lists they don’t remember signing up for? That’s the deal with me and BookRiot, which is a website about books, mostly speculative fiction. But I dig their newsletter, so I don’t really mind that it seemingly came out of nowhere.

I normally forget, but it’s never a bad idea to stop by sites like StoryBundle or Humble Bundle and see if you can get a ton of themed books for cheap. Normally they donate the money for a good cause.

For Writers–Writing

I don’t know about you guys, but I am terrible at conlanging and yet, since I write high fantasy, sometimes it is necessary. That’s why I’m super interested in Vulgar, which is a language generator. I haven’t given it a try yet, but you can do a demo on the website, and the full version is only $20.

For people who like to have an idea of story structure before they go into a novel, you might try Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot Structure. It’s the one Siri and I used for City of Hope and Ruin. You can find a good overview over at Fiction University (which is a useful website if you are not already familiar with it.

For Writers–Learning

If you have enough time to fit in some learning, I recommend checking out sites like SkillShare and Udemy. I’ve taken a few classes (mostly marketing related, but also ones about how to use email lists) and recently signed up for one focused more on traditional publishing. You can buy memberships or classes flat out, but I like that you can see reviews and curriculum before you shell out money. There are probably more websites out there that provide a similar function, but I haven’t tried them.

(I’ve also considered making a course for one or both, but not sure what would be a good topic. If you know something I should go for, let me know!)

For Writers–Publishing

Since I’ve been putting together submission materials for my YA paranormal (all ready now! Just need a healthy dose of getting on with it), I recently wrote a synopsis for it. This blog post proved invaluable and took a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

For Writers–Marketing

Here’s a very interesting post on why it’s a bad thing to encourage your friends and family to buy your book when it first comes out. Good stuff to know. I recently found this blog through Siri and it’s been very interesting (also apparently I have done everything wrong). (Which I kind of knew.)

I also recently found this website called Hometown Reads that connects readers to local authors. I haven’t signed up yet but it looks like a cool idea, and my city is one that they’ve already developed, so woot.

Anyway, I hope you find some of these helpful! And let me know if you’ve found some place cool lately!

Reading Through the Ages

Evening, Squiders.

I don’t know about your library, but if it’s anything like mine, it has displays throughout of books to entice you to take home more than you can manage. One of these, right in front of the check-out machines, is the “Staff Picks” table, which is evil and alluring and full of interesting things I might not pick up otherwise. I have found many wonderful things on the Staff Picks table.

The current one is called Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection, and, true to its name, is a collection of mysteries of the Sherlock Holmes sort of genre (including a Holmes story, The Blue Carbuncle, which I have previously read) ranging from 1845 (The Purloined Letter, Edgar Allen Poe) to 1904 (The Clue of the Silver Spoon, Robert Barr). (I’m currently in 1895.)

Lovely book, so far, except for one story that was so sexist that I immediately had to go on to the next one to rinse my palate.

(Actually, in general, the stories are pretty liberal on the gender equality issue, in some cases having their detective be female or the person who actually solves the case being a woman. Kudos, writers of another time. Actually, many of the writers included are women hiding behind pen names or initials, though some are out in the open.)

(Anyway.)

(As another aside, several stories seem to be parts of series, not unlike Sherlock Holmes, with reoccurring detective characters. I read an article the other day that was talking about a single person being chose to represent the whole, and this seems to fall into that. Of course there were other detective series–Sir Arthur couldn’t keep the whole thing running on his own–but you never hear about them.)

(ANYWAY.)

Some time ago a writer friend of mine made a comment about how you shouldn’t read any books that hadn’t been published in the last five years. I mean, the comment has merit–being up to date with what’s selling can help you target yourself for publication–but I don’t like it.

Part of that may be that I dislike the idea of writing to market, as unrealistic as that opinion may be. But the other part of it is that I enjoy older stories and, I would argue, looking at the differences in conventions between different eras has made me a more informed reader and writer.

Plus I like Victorian detective stories. You don’t see a lot like them in today’s markets, which seems to trend more toward thrillers or procedurals.

What do you think, Squiders? Is it worth it to read any book that sounds interesting, no matter when it was published? Is there some merit to only reading things that are new?

Language Barriers in Speculative Fiction

Hey hey, so apparently I was going to write this post two years ago, got as far as “WOO” and never went back to it. Good job on focusing, me.

Language barriers are something common that you find in science fiction and fantasy stories. It makes sense, especially if you’ve got cultures that have never met before, and it can make for interesting conflict if characters can’t understand each other. Especially when dealing with alien races, you can even make up new ways of communication that may be impossible for other species to learn.

On the other hand, sometimes you need characters to be able to communicate, even if you’ve set things up so they shouldn’t be able to because of whatever reason.

Let’s go over some of the most common ways to get around language barriers. And feel free to let me know your favorite and least favorite examples of overcoming barriers and what worked (or didn’t) in the comments.

Common Language

The idea here is that there’s a common language that different species all learn so they can communicate with each other, even if they have their own language otherwise. This is your “Galactic Standard,” as it were. Of course, for this to work, your various species need to similar enough that it makes sense that they’d all be able to make the same linguistic sounds, etc.

One Person Understands

This is where you have a character that speaks its own language which is incomprehensible to the reader/viewer, but luckily there’s that one other character who knows that language and can translate or have one-sided conversations that essentially get the meaning across. Han Solo with Chewbacca, for example, or Rocket with Groot.

Universal Translator

These are magic devices that automatically translate any language it comes in contact with, as long as said language has been encountered before (to add some leeway for when you want a plot that hinges on miscommunication). A lot of the time, these can also pick up new languages after a few minutes of listening. A LOT of science fiction uses this idea, though you do occasionally come across the fantasy equivalent (such as a spell of understanding).

Telepathy

Maybe characters can’t understand each other, but hey, using telepathy can help even the most disparate of species communicate! (Assuming, of course, that their patterns of thought are at all similar.) This mode can often rely a lot on visuals and emotions rather than words.

Immersion/Building Understanding Over Time

For a more realistic approach, if your cultures aren’t meeting for the first time, you can assume they have had interactions for a while and might have started to pick up each other’s language. (Some people show this through some characters/species speaking with an odd grammar, though be aware this can get tedious to read.) Alternately, people can pick up languages through immersion, which is where you’re immersed in another language for a long period of time. This forces you to learn the language through everyday interactions, and also helps you learn how to convey ideas when you don’t have the vocabulary yet.

Of course, both of these methods require time, and if you need two characters to be able to interact to stop the universe from imploding in the next week, well.

Do you have a method I’ve left out, Squiders? Examples, good or bad? Thoughts on storytelling that relies on disparate characters being able to understand each other?

Introducing the Finnbranch Readalong

Howdy, Squiders! Let’s do a readalong, since it’s been a while. I’ve scoured my book shelves for series of the appropriate genres (which also aren’t massive) and have found Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch trilogy (Yearwood, Undersea, and Winterking) from the early ’80s. (I have a omnibus of all three from the later ’80s.)

I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure somebody bought this for me off my Amazon wishlist, so I must have had it recommended to me somewhere, or read something about it and thought it sounded like a good time.

Interestingly, it seems like while the trilogy was well-received back in the day, the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place. If nothing else, it should be an interesting look at how storytelling changes through generations, as I’ve previously noted somewhere in the archives that there’s a pretty obvious change in the fantasy genre in the ’80s. I wonder where this trilogy will fall on it?

Let’s do one book a month, since that seems to work the best for everyone who wants to read along being able to do so. So let’s read Yearwood by June 15th. And if you have any thoughts on this or potential future readalongs, please let me know, either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy reading, squiders!

A Poll, a Conference, and an Update

Can you believe it’s April, squiders? And, yes, I realize that we are halfway through April, which almost makes it worse.

At the end of April, I am going to be attending Pike’s Peak Writers Conference (henceforth PPWC). This is my third time going, but it’s been five years since I last went. (My mother and sister went last year, and when they renewed for this year, they bought me a registration too. Really hard to say no to a free conference.) I probably talked about it here on the blog back in the day.

(I checked. I did.)

Part of me is really excited. I stopped going partially because it is expensive (almost $400 for the conference alone) and because I’ve spent the last several years working on indie projects (such as Shards, which came out in 2013, and City of Hope and Ruin, which came out last May, as well as ton of really fun anthologies). I am trying a few projects traditionally again this year, so the timing works out.

I’ve even secured choice assignments–an acquisitions editor at Del Rey for my pitch assignment, and Carol Berg (!!!) for my read and critique.

But I’m also not in a great place confidence-wise at the moment. While I am finally getting somewhere on my rewrite (approximately 35K in at the moment) it’s quite obvious to me that this isn’t the final draft. I’m still worried about pacing in the first part (now that I’m past the inciting incident, it seems to be fine) and the first chapter is just a mess all around.

And I feel like I’m being overly critical of my basic sentence structure, which makes flow hard, and what if there’s not enough description still, and…

Oy. You get the point.

At the end of March/April I considered switching projects before PPWC. My options were:

  1. Pitch my YA paranormal that I’m finalizing submission stuff for. The novel is polished, the stuff is mostly ready, I could in theory start querying agents any day now. But I would have had to switch my requests for agents, etc., and that late in the game I was not likely to end up with anyone who was the right genre.
  2. Switch to my space dinosaur space adventure story. It’s at about 54K, the draft thus far is very clean, and the approximately 30K left is easy to get done in a month. Plus, no switching on agents, etc. But I would have lost several days to project switching, and there were no guarantees that I wouldn’t have run into issues with the last part of the draft and still would have ended up at PPWC with an unusable manuscript.
  3. Stay with the rewrite.

Which is what I did, because basically I’m not going to be ready no matter what. And here we go, come hell or high water.

I have been thrown into a bit of a panic re: Carol Berg. My first thought was “Oh God that is a lot more major of an author than I expected to be participating in this” and my second was “Oh God my first chapter should be burnt in a fire.” Having thought about it rationally-ish for a few days now, this could be a really good opportunity to get some help on something that has been giving me a lot of trouble. But it could also be an opportunity for me to make a giant fool of myself. Time will tell, I suppose!

Anyway. I’m going to keep the rest of the consistency topics for the book, so it’s time to figure out what we should move onto there.

As such, here is our favorite poll, yet again:

The weather’s been lovely here lately, squiders. I hope you have good plans for the weekend and that things are going well for you.