Windwitch, by Susan Dennard: A Review

This book is #23 from my 2017 Reading Challenge, a “book with an appealing cover.” I was first drawn to this series last year when the first book, Truthwitch, joined my reading list. It was the book’s beautiful cover that first captured my attention, and book two is just as lovely.

SDennardBooks

Jacket art on both books is by Scott Grimando.

In Windwitch, Susan Dennard continues the story she started with Truthwitch. A deeper threat emerges as the four main characters, Safiya, Iseult, Aeduan and Prince Merik each struggle to survive in a world devolving rapidly into massive war. Where we got only a glimpse of the darker forces at work in book one, more is revealed in this book.

While Windwitch follows the ongoing adventures of Safi, Iseult, and Aeduan, the focus is on Prince Merik, a Windwitch. Throughout this book Merik is presumed dead after the ship he commanded was destroyed. His crew, his family, and his entire nation believes him dead. Disfigured from the fires that destroyed his ship, Merik becomes a creature of the shadows as he tries to uncover who is responsible for the attack.

The story broadens out in this book, as it should as the series progresses. We are introduced to more characters such as Vivia, Merik’s sister. Merik is convinced that Vivia is the one behind the attack, and he sets about trying to prove this is true.

Dennard writes with a breathtaking intensity. Each chapter comes to an end in such a way as to compel the reader forward. This book is very difficult to put down.

And so, while the cover may have initially attracted me to this series, the beautiful characters and the outstanding action and suspense are what keep me coming back for more. I am now eagerly awaiting book three and the rest of the series, which according to Ms Dennard’s website, will ultimately have five books. The next book, Bloodwitch, is due out in the fall of 2018. (Can I do a little fangirling here? Aeduan is my favorite!)

Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin: A Review

Of all the books on my 2017 Reading Challenge list, Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin was, to be honest, the one I was looking forward to the least. I don’t think there was any particular reason for this, except maybe the massive popularity the series has gained since the HBO series was launched. Though, oddly enough, it was this popularity that drew me to the book in the first place.

Curiosity ultimately won out, and I picked up the book. I opened the book and was consumed by it. The story and characters sucked me in almost immediately.

Game of Thrones is a vast, sweeping saga of human conflict. Martin conveys with brutal honesty what man (or woman!) is capable of doing to others in pursuit of personal gain and power. On the surface, this book tells of the conflict between two great families in the world which Martin has created, the Starks and the Lannisters. There are a lot of other families, of course, all with their own agendas, connections and loyalties. Loyalties that change and are never quite what you expect.

Martin writes each chapter from the viewpoint of a different character, allowing the reader to be a part of the story from a variety of angles. The characters are vibrant and real, and I couldn’t help but be drawn in to each of their stories. Before I was very far into the book, I was deeply invested in the individuals telling the story, to the point that I felt angry when they did, betrayed when someone betrayed them, and afraid of the same things they feared.

Underneath all the plotting and intrigue, there is a hint of something sinister waiting in the shadows. Martin sets it up in the prologue and barely mentions it again except in little hints until the end of the book. Leaving me intrigued, but not frustrated.

Perhaps the biggest reason I’ve avoided picking up this series, is that I feared being pulled into another massive fantasy series that as of now, remains unfinished. I recently spent an entire year reading through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, having started it years ago before it was complete. Just last year I finally started the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It too, remains incomplete. It is so HARD to wait for the next book!

It is too late for me now. I’ve read book one of the Song of Ice and Fire, and I’m hooked. I now have books two and three waiting for me on my bookshelf. I will continue reading the series. My hope is that by the time I get through the five books currently published, the next book will be complete. There are seven books planned in the series, and with five or six years between books, it could be a long wait!

If you love epic fantasy and you’ve been wondering at all about reading this series, I highly recommend it. I think it will even be worth the wait.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein: A Review

I haven’t read a whole lot of poetry. In truth, most of what I have read, I don’t always get or enjoy. But I am trying to broaden my experiences, and when my boys picked out a book of poetry by Nick Cannon last year, I discovered some poetry, at least, could be a great deal of fun to read out loud.

When I found Where the Sidewalk Ends last Christmas, I picked it up for my children, and it has since joined my 2017 Reading Challenge list. I have enjoyed reading this book aloud with my boys, though it has been a mixed experience for them. My oldest, at seven, has enjoyed the poems more than the younger two, but even they enjoyed at least some of them.

The book opens with this beautiful “Invitation” …

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,
Come in!
Come in!

The boys’ favorite poems include “The Loser” and “The Planet of Mars.” I think this is mostly because of the illustrations, also by Shel Silverstein. The first of these is about someone who has lost his head, and the picture shows him sitting on it as he rests from his exertions in trying to find it. The second includes an illustration of one of the poet’s imagined Martians whose faces aren’t “in the very same places” as humans. The place for his face is on his butt, which, of course, made my boys laugh hysterically.

Silverstein’s poems are full of absurd and ridiculous images. Some of them are downright tragic. The rhymes and rhythms are wonderful and funny. And the simple illustrations brilliantly compliment the poetry throughout the book. The title poem, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” is among my favorites in the book, full of wonder and imagination.

Overall, this was a very fun read. One that should definitely be read aloud. And now that is is finished, I hope my boys will let me read it to them again. And again.

The book ends just as beautifully as it began, with the last line of the last poem, “The Search.” The book has been read, the pot of gold has been found…

What do I search for now?

I guess it’s now time for this “dreamer, wisher, liar, hope-er, pray-er, magic bean buyer” to go and spin some tales of my own.

Tyrion Lannister, Body Image & Books That Make You Think

My first thought when I saw today’s word prompt, was of Tyrion Lannister. If you don’t know the name, Tyrion is a character in the book, Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

I began this conversation with myself this morning with the word squat, and with trying to think of what I could write. I saw a number of posts taking the word “squat” and talking about its meaning of “nothing.” I didn’t want to go there, having been suffering of late from this “nothingness,” and an inability to put words to paper.

That’s when I thought of Tyrion Lannister.

I am currently reading Game of Thrones as part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. I am about two thirds of the way through the book, and I haven’t yet decided if I like this character, or despise him. Tyrion is a squat, little man, affected by dwarfism. He makes up for his lack of physical size with a keen mind and a brash, often impertinent tongue.

This compensation of his frequently gets Tyrion into trouble, opening his mouth at the wrong moments and saying all the wrong things. The reverse is just as often true as well, however. He can talk his way out of certain death as quickly as he got himself into the trouble in the first place.

It is human nature to hide our weaknesses from others whenever possible. In Tyrion’s case, however, his physical stature is an obvious weakness, plain for all to see. Rather than hide it, Tyrion instead hides within his weakness. He embraces it, and uses it to his advantage over those who would discount him for it.

Negative body image is a huge issue in our real world today. We don’t really need characters like Tyrion to remind us of this fact. But I couldn’t help wondering what could we learn from Tyrion about dealing with those who would shame us for our physical attributes. He says:

“Let them see that their words can cut you and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name, take it, make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.” – Tyrion Lannister

I found myself surprised that I would think of Tyrion when this word prompt came up. I haven’t had much to write lately, and I didn’t really think a little word like squat could inspire me. As I wondered about my apparent inability to write, and what to do about it, I asked myself the question, what have I been writing about lately? Aside from my fiction projects currently in the works, I’ve mostly been writing about what I’m reading. And currently, that is Game of Thrones.

Unlike another book I’ve read recently, a collection of stories by H. G. Wells, I haven’t been inspired to write much about Game of Thrones. I’ve been too busy reading it! I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the book, completely absorbed in the story.

While reading the Wells book, on the other hand, I had several ideas pop into my head along the way. My curiosity was triggered about a lot of different things. Such as this impromptu mini-study on the discovery of helium. Or this ongoing investigation into the treatment of gender roles in fiction. Reading through the Wells collection also generated ideas for several new stories I hope to one day pursue.

There are, of course, any number of differences between these two works that could account for this variance between them. Wells wrote his stories more than a hundred years ago. His language and styling are vastly different from Martin’s contemporary storytelling. Also, Wells is a collection of stories, as opposed to a single work. Make that part of a single work.

The bottom line is, there are some books that make you think. They instruct and inspire curiosity about the world around you. The H. G. Wells collection was such a book. Then, there are other books like Game of Thrones that simply take over your world, and devour you whole.

What does all this have to do with Tyrion Lannister? Ultimately, not much, I suppose. But he does fit the description of squat, and for that I am grateful, as he has inspired me to write these words.

And, what do you know, I suddenly find myself intrigued by dwarfism. What causes it? How many people are affected by it? How do those affected manage their day to day lives? …

In Support of Indie Authors: Why Should I Choose YOUR Book?

Recently I had someone request I read their independently published book with the admonition that I should support indie authors. This got me thinking about the books I have on my current TBR list and what goes into choosing a particular book.

How do I choose what to read? First, genre matters. When I go into a bookstore, I will automatically head for the Fantasy/Science Fiction section and begin there. More recently, the YA section will also demand my attention. Though I do enjoy a good romance or a suspense/thriller, I’m far less likely to pick up a random book from one of these genres.

Some of the top reasons I choose a book are:

1. I’ve read the author before and enjoyed his/her books. This is especially true when a series is involved, such as with Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson. Often when I’ve really enjoyed one book by an author, I want to read everything ever written by that author.

2. I watched the movie that was based on the book. This isn’t a forgone conclusion. There are a number of movies I’ve seen and enjoyed and I’ve never given much thought to reading the book. A case in point: Jurassic Park.

3. The book was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value and respect. Fellow writers, for example, or other readers who enjoy the same genre as I do. In this manner, I discovered the author Tamora Pierce, as well as a love for the children’s/teen’s section of the library!

4. The book has been the subject of much conversation. This might be a lot of sensational talk like that which has always surrounded the Harry Potter books, or Game of Thrones, driving me to it out of sheer curiosity. It might also be that the author is renowned in literary or genre circles. This would include fantasy/sci-fi greats such as Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. All those “must-read” greats of classic literature such as Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and the Brontë sisters? Yeah, they’re on my TBR “bucket list” as well.

5. The cover! When I choose to pick up a random book I know nothing about, it is invariably because I was drawn to it by way of amazing cover art. This will usually be enough to get me to pick up the book and read the back cover. If the story premise intrigues me, I very well might purchase the book.

6. Price. If I’m being completely honest, the price of a book makes a huge impact on my decision to purchase it. This is where I’ve really come to appreciate ebooks, as their low prices makes it far less “risky” to experiment with unknown authors.

Since starting this blog and joining Twitter, I’ve encountered a huge network of writers and readers that has exposed me to a vast and unending book selection. I’ve discovered a number of books that appeal to me and I wish I had more time to read. I want to read all the books! But alas, I do not have an unlimited supply of time, and so I have to narrow down the choices somehow.

For you indie authors out there hoping to sell more books, what I’ve found that has ultimately led me to decide to take a chance on a book by an unknown author, is the interaction I’ve seen from that author online. I’ve followed them on Twitter, read their posts, engaged with them on their websites and blogs. In this way I have come to feel as though I know the author, at least on some level. If they’ve engaged my interest in this fashion, I’m far more willing to purchase a book from them. And if I like that one? Well, I’m probably a fan for life at that point.

My current reading list has a remarkable lack of indie authors. Instead it is filled with a lot of popular fiction written by mostly well-known and successful authors. Traditionally published authors. Books written mostly by American authors. And in large part, male authors. This is not an intentional choice, and one I am working to change.

I am trying to include more indie authors in my reading list. I want to read more books by women authors. And I’d very much like to find more authors from outside the American/European experience and tradition.

I’m always open to suggestions for books to add to my TBR list. If you have a favorite, especially if it falls outside the “norm” I’ve mentioned above, please let me know! Include your reason for your choice as well. I want to know why I should read this book over and above all the others demanding my attention.

As always, thank you for reading.

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare: A Review

City of Bones introduces us to Cassandra Clare’s world of the Shadowhunter. A world where demons, vampires, werewolves and who knows what else really exist. In fact, all the stories are true.

This is the story of Clary Fray, a seemingly normal teenage girl who begins to see things that she never believed were real. Then, she meets a strange boy, her mother disappears and she is attacked by a demon. Set against the vibrant background of New York City, things only get more exciting from there.

City of Bones became book #8 on my 2017 Reading Challenge list, a book someone else recommended to me. It is also the first on my Year of the Series “rainbow” list. I was first turned on to this series when my sister took me to see the Mortal Instrument movie when it came out a few years ago.

While it’s taken me awhile to get around to reading it, I finally did, and I loved it. The characters are interesting, yet flawed, and I found myself caring what happened to them. The pacing became so frantic, I couldn’t bear to put the book down, and even found myself tripping over the words in an attempt to read them faster.

All that, and I still found it a little too easy to set the series aside and move on to the next one on my list. Why? About two-thirds or so through the book, Clare includes a chapter where one of the characters, a father figure to Clary, fills her in on the personal background her mother has kept hidden from her for fifteen years. While Clary definitely needed to know all this information, this chapter didn’t just slow things down to a whew-let-me-catch-my-breath sort of pace and then quickly move on again. For me, it slammed on the brakes and nearly lost me the story.

I didn’t give up on the book, however, and it ends just as beautifully as it began. I still feel heavily invested in these characters and I won’t abandon the series. In fact, I’m already reading City of Ashes, though it isn’t my top reading priority at the moment.

H. G. Wells: Collector’s Book of Science Fiction – A Review

The H. G. Wells Collector’s Book of Science Fiction, by H. G. Wells, has been on my shelf for far too long waiting to be read. The 2016 Reading Challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to make this book a priority. It joined the list as selection #11, “a book that intimidates you.” Though I started reading this before NaNoWriMo interrupted me last year, I didn’t finish it until this month. Therefore, I felt justified in adding it to my 2017 Reading Challenge also as a collection of short stories.

Why did this book intimidate me? It’s H. G. Wells! Only one of the top names in science fiction writing. Ever! Plus, it’s a rather large, hardbound book containing 500+ pages of double columns of text. It includes three of his novels and sixteen short stories as they were originally published in magazines from the 1890s-1900s.

Wells was all over the science fiction map, writing about space travel, alien invasion, mad scientists, ghosts, man-eating plants, sentient ants, prehistoric fables, biological terrorism, miracles, future dystopias and more! If there is a science fiction sub-genre not included in this collection, I’m not sure what it might be.

In many of these stories Wells takes the stylistic approach of writing as if the narrator of the story was an observer, or someone relating a story told to him by another. Other stories, such as The First Men in the Moon, were written as the narrator told his own story. I found this second style much easier to engage with and enjoy. In fact, for being more than a hundred years old, I discovered I could enjoy Wells’ stories quite a lot. Some, more than others.

“The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost” was probably one of my favorites of the stories included in this anthology. Even though it was written in the “as told to” style like so many of the others, I found myself engaged in this story to the end. The suspense is well done, and even though I anticipated the ending, I still read it impatiently, eager to see just how the ending came about.

The “Empire of the Ants” on the other hand, was one of my least favorites. It tells the story of a man from Britain traveling in the Amazon region of Brazil. While there, he encounters, along with a local military captain, a plague of ants. But these are no ordinary ants. The British traveler accompanies the captain as he goes to investigate and eradicate the ants and together they learn some remarkable truths about these strange insects. The story ends abruptly, however, with the British man returning home with no resolution to the ant situation.

I was delighted to find that I could be instantly sucked into some of these stories, such as The War of the Worlds. Others were difficult, even painful to get through. I think of all the stories, my favorites were a series of related stories titled Stories of the Stone Age, fable-like tales relating the adventures of Earth’s earliest humans.

This collection of stories by H. G. Wells serves as an excellent primer on the realm of speculative fiction. Going in, I had no idea of the wide range of Wells’ writings. Labeled as a science fiction author, I was prepared for the likes of The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon. But I was surprised by many of the others like the stone age fables and the political dystopia, When the Sleeper Wakes.

Though it was difficult at times to wade through, overall this was a fascinating read, one that sparked curiosity and ideas that may one day fuel my own writing. If you have any regard for science fiction and have never before read anything by H. G. Wells, I would recommend this collection as a great place to start.