A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin: A Review

For a book by a local author on the 2018 Reading Challenge, I chose to read A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. I chose to interpret this prompt a bit loosely and found an author whose book I already wanted to read who lived in a city not far from my hometown. Someone from the same state is close enough to be “local,” don’t you think?

This book is the first in LeGuin’s popular Earthsea Cycle fantasy series. It tells the story of Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk. Ged has an innate ability with magic and goes on to become a powerful wizard in the island realm of Earthsea. LeGuin takes the reader on a perilous adventure all over this island realm, as Ged seeks to out run and ultimately defeat an evil he himself loosed on his world.

LeGuin writes in a beautifully descriptive style. She is a wonderful storyteller, drawing the reader in with interestingly flawed characters who inhabit a rich and amazing world. I enjoyed this book very much, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. I already have book two lined up to read this year.

Fantastic February – Fantasy Reading Challenge

Thanks to Kathy over at Books & Munches, for hosting this mini reading challenge! The plan is to read anything fantasy or paranormal while working to whittle away at the TBR. Good news for me, my TBR is full of fantasy fiction!

I’m currently working my way through Tad Williams’s Shadowmarch series. I’m on book three at the moment, hoping to finish it soon. More than likely, book four, Shadowheart, will carry over into February.

I’ve also been reading the Realm of the Elderlings series, by Robin Hobb, along with a Goodreads group I’m part of. I’ve fallen behind the rest of the group, but I’m still working my way through the books. I’ve fallen hard for Robin Hobb, and I have no doubt I’ll keep reading no matter how far behind I get. I’ve just started the second trilogy, The Liveship Traders, so I expect I’ll still be reading Ship of Magic in February. Hopefully, I’ll manage to move on to Mad Ship before the month ends.

I will also continue reading Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. I’m reading this with my youngest son who is completely in love with dragons right now. It’s possible I’ve encouraged this obsession just a little.

Some other fantasy books I am super excited about, though I may not get to them in February, are:

Bloodwitch, by Susan Dennard (due for release February 12!)
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

If I need a break from the massive series books above, I can pick up one of these for a bit instead.

Hooray for fantasy fiction!

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke: A Review

I chose this book for the prompt a book set in a country that fascinates me. It is set in England in the early 1800s, but it is an alternative history, one where magic is real. While it is true, I am fascinated by England, there are other countries I probably find more fascinating. Places like India, Israel or Zimbabwe. But I was determined to read this book this year, so I needed to find a place for it on my 2018 Reading Challenge list, so I put it here.

This is the story of two magicians – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – trying to bring magic back to England after several centuries. Magic has all but passed into the realm of lore. At first glance, this book is about the often volatile relationship between these two magicians. However, this conflict is really the framework on which Clarke hangs a larger plot.

I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It is very long – more than 800 pages. It is slow and meandering. I saw one reviewer that said it “reads like molasses,” and that is an apt description. I spent a good part of this book not quite sure if I liked it. I could never quite decide I didn’t like it, however, so I kept reading.

This book is written a bit more like a history than a novel, complete with footnotes. There are places where excerpts from magical texts are inserted into the narrative. The story wanders off into seemingly random directions. But Clarke ultimately brings all the threads together and manages to finish this huge tome in a beautiful way.

If you have the stamina for it, it is worth the read. It may be huge and slow, but there’s enough action and interesting mystery to keep reading. I needed to find out how all the pieces came together. This is an ambitious book that in the end, I decided I really did enjoy.

Fantastic February!

In January I finished reading a total of 15 books. I set myself a goal of 50 for the entire year. I never thought I could read so many books. To be fair, a good number of the books I’ve read so far are quite short. A few are even children’s chapter books that I read with my children.

Now, here it is February. I’ve decided to bump up my reading goal for the year to 60. I’m working away at the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge – I’ve completed 5 of the 50 prompts. But I have to be honest, I don’t know that I can maintain this pace. How do I keep interest high for the remainder of the year in order to be sure I can complete the challenge?

I stumbled across this mini reading challenge and this neat blog, Books & Munches. The February reading challenge issued by this blogger is to read fantasy and paranormal books for the month. That won’t be hard for me as it’s my favorite genre. Most of the books on my list already are fantasy or science fiction.

Here are some fantasy books on my list:

Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare (along with the rest of the Mortal Instruments series)
Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard (expected to be released February 13)
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

I doubt I can read all of those during the month of February, but it will be fun to see how much I can get done. Reading more of my favorite genre should prove to be a great counterpoint to the true crime book I’m currently reading for the 2018 Reading Challenge.

Havemercy, by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett: A Review

Havemercy, by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett joined my 2018 Reading Challenge as #18 – a book by two authors.

I think this is a book I picked up at a random used book sale some time back. I know it’s been on my shelves for quite a while. When I first planned to pursue a new reading challenge this year, my first goal was to read more of what was already on my shelves. With my goal to read books by women authors, it turns out this was the only book on my shelves that met the prompt requirement. Given that I’ve declared this to be the Year of the Woman, it’s a bonus that both authors are women!

This book surprised me. It isn’t the story I was expecting at all. A metal dragon graces the cover, and the blurb reads as follows:

This stunning epic fantasy debut introduces two exciting new authors – and a world brimming with natural and man-made wonders, extraordinary events, and a crisis that will test the mettle of men, the boundaries of magic, and the heart and soul of a kingdom.

It sounds like an epic adventure, an exciting, wild ride. I’m sure that’s what prompted me to pick it up in the first place. I mean, who doesn’t love dragons?

Havemercy isn’t that story. Instead, it tells the story of four men. Most of the book explores the relationships between these men—Royston and Hal, Rook and Thom. The book is told from the first person perspective of each of these four men. The plot itself unfolds so slowly, if you pause while reading, you might get the idea there is nothing happening.

Don’t get me wrong, by the end of the book the action has definitely reached a fever pitch. Jones and Bennett pulled me in so completely with characters I couldn’t help but care about. The story is woven so subtly around these four characters, I was simply drawn along for the ride.

This was a beautiful book. Unexpected, to be sure. But I truly enjoyed it.

The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss: A Review

For #18 on my 2018 Reading Challenge, a bestseller, I chose to read The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. This book was already on my Year of the Series list, and I’ve been anxious to read it for some time, ever since I finished reading The Name of the Wind last year.

This series – The Kingkiller Chronicles – is about Kvothe as he relates his life story to The Chronicler over a span of three days. The first book takes Kvothe from his early childhood years through his first year at the University when he is only fifteen.

Book two picks up where the first left off, continuing Kvothe’s adventures for about another year. It had been some time since I’d read the first book, but within the first few pages of the second, I was sucked right back into the story. The world Rothfuss has created is richly detailed and full of fascinating characters.

Still, for all that I loved this book, I felt as though the story got a little stuck in the middle. There is a sequence in the middle of the book that sort of drags on in sort of repetitive, circular fashion. If that’s what Rothfuss intended, then he did it well. But I found myself bored. Things happened during this time that were (or will be, I’m certain) important to events later on in the story, but I can’t help wonder if this part could have been shorter.

Overall, this is still a great book, and I do hope Rothfuss will finish the series soon!

Technology Gone Awry

The writing prompt for this week is: Include a piece of technology that goes berserk. I love this one because it could really be anything. At first glance, it might sound like it has to be science fiction. But technology has existed since humans created the first tool.

What then could go wrong with the technology? In every age throughout history, things go wrong with the latest in modern advances. Whether that is a simple stone dagger used by a caveman, or the most sophisticated AI of the future, things can always go wrong. The stone dagger breaks during a crucial battle. An intelligent space ship malfunctions and turns off the life support. Things go wrong.

This makes me wonder what sort of things might go wrong with technology in my own novels. Mostly I write fantasy fiction with a medieval-type setting. Technology consists of things such as lyres, horse-drawn carts, swords, and siege engines.

I have a science fiction novel I’m working on that involves kidnapping, espionage and intrigue on an intergalactic stage. Guns, bombs, spaceships. With a little magic thrown in for good measure. Now, what could possibly go wrong with technology like that?

Then there are my middle grade adventures that are based in the current day world with current day tech like cell phones, tablets and skateboards. Skateboards may be “low tech,” but things can still go wrong.

How then, do I include a piece of technology gone bad? The prompt seems to imply that the technology itself goes berserk, like a robot with a short circuit issue or AI that goes rogue. But what if it is the human element behind the technology that has gone bad?

I had some fun with this prompt, playing a little “what if?” game to explore the various technologies in my novels. For this exercise I chose to stick to low tech gadgets such as a skateboard belonging to one of my boys from the Silver Compass Adventures, and the lute played by the bard in one of my fantasy novels. This led to imagining a variety of scenarios ranging from humorous to embarrassing to downright disastrous. Some of these ideas could even end up in one of my novels someday.

This is where writing is a lot of fun. If a prompt isn’t exactly working for you, build on it, move beyond it, play around with it and make it something that works for you and your writing. I challenge you to create your own “what if” scenarios involving the technology in your own writing, whatever that might be. Have fun with it and see where it takes you. I guarantee it, the ride will be worth it.