These Aren’t Your Disney Mermaids: Review of Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Title: Lost Voices (Lost Voices Trilogy Book #1)

Author: Sarah Porter

Genre: YA fantasy

Where I Got It: Bought It

Score: 4 out of 5

This summer of big reading lists has gotten off to a good start. I ended the last couple days of finals week re-reading Chalice by Robin McKinley because I needed something short, light, and sweet to get me through grading.  Then I dove into The Hunger Games trilogy at the behest of my friend (which I reviewed here).  And now I’m beginning the long haul through all the books I’ve bought or received since the semester started.  Purely on a whim, I started with Lost Voices by Sarah Porter, which came out in July 2011 (but I didn’t buy it until it came out in paperback about a couple months ago), and which is the first in a forthcoming trilogy.

In Lost Voices, fourteen-year-old Luce is abused by her uncle and ignored by her classmates and other adults in the little town in Alaska she has been stuck in since her father (who was a thief, but still a good father), died in a shipwreck.  Finally, her heart grown cold by her uncle’s treatment, beaten and left for dead on a cliff over the sea, Luce falls into the water and transforms into a mermaid.  There she is gathered in by a tribe of mermaids, all young girls who were abused, abandoned, or unloved by the adults who were supposed to care for them, including their queen Catarina – the most beautiful and best singer of the tribe.  Luce loves being a mermaid, loves the beauty and the freedom and the joy of it, but she is tortured by the fact that mermaids feel a compulsion to sing to ships, causing them to wreck and then killing all those on board.  She loves her new-found voice, but she doesn’t want to use it to murder humans, no matter how badly they may have treated her and others like her.  As she struggles with this, things grow increasingly more tense and violent among the tribe, loyalties are questioned, and Luce must make choices about what she will follow: the rules of the tribe, or her own conscience.

What I Liked:

This was a very enjoyable book, and a fast read.  The premise is classic: a cross between the mermaid myth and the siren myth, in which beautiful unearthly mermaid-girls sing to men on passing ships and lead them to their deaths.  These mermaids are not the innocent, peaceful creatures from The Little Mermaid.  They are beautiful and unearthly, but they are also angry, bitter, and often violent.  The moral dilemma of the story is pretty gruesome, though Porter does not dwell in descriptions of gore or death (this is a YA novel after all), and the fact that even the main character participates in several of these murders makes the morality even more complicated and uncomfortable.

But Porter balances these elements fairly well in the character of Luce who realizes what she is doing is wrong but feels a physical compulsion to participate, and is desperate for some way to fight it.  And I like Luce as a character.  She’s sweet and intelligent, and she is at heart still a good person despite the things she does.  She’s also very naïve, and is pretty slow on the uptake when things start to go seriously south and others are plotting against her.  It was frustrating, because the reader sees it all coming and she never does, but it was also a believable trait in a girl who is barely fourteen, and did not have the best socialization before she became a mermaid, let alone after.

The most important secondary character, the mermaid queen Catarina, is also a very intriguing character.  Not likable, exactly, because she’s jealous of power, paranoid and suspicious, and a little unstable.  But she is also beautiful, powerful, protective, and passionate.  Catarina is a hard to pin down, and hard to like, but she was interesting to read, and her unpredictability kept both the other characters and the readers on their toes.

Almost all of the other mermaids, on the other hand, were just irritating.  Bitter and angry, for understandable reasons one-dimensional degrees; or whiny, selfish, and brainless.  Take your pick.  Except for one, who was also conniving and a text-book psychopath (but I won’t tell you about that one, you’ll see her coming if you read the book).

Parts of the novel where also beautifully written.  For instance, this bit right after Luce has changed into a mermaid and doesn’t yet understand what is happening:

“Up above, the moon was golden and wide-eyed, and it watched Luce tenderly.  Its light gleamed like floating coins all over the tops of the waves, and a slab of shining ice bobbed past.  A misty glow covered the smooth side of the cliffs just behind her, and then Luce realized that all those dreaming people were on a ship, and that the ship was coming toward her, and toward the cliffs, as fast as a train driving out of a tunnel.  Still the music throbbed on, coating the night with its bliss, while the ship’s sharp metal prow sped straight at her forehead.”

However, the writing is also uneven and inconsistent.  Parts of it are very lyrical and beautiful, and other parts are a little awkward and clunky.  This is a clear sign that this is Porter’s first novel (which it is).  But it’s not the end of the world, and doesn’t completely ruin the novel or anything like that.

What I Didn’t Like:

Okay, so the clunky prose isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but it’s not too big a problem.  The insert of dream sequences, on the other hand, bug me a bit.  They are, like all dream sequences (even the ones I occasionally find myself writing) unavoidably overdone, and in this case, don’t really do anything for the plot.  Yes, they are meant to show Luce’s state of mind, but her state of mind seems pretty well explained without the dream sequences.  Once in a blue moon, a dream sequence is either so well-written or so informative that it cannot nor needs to be avoided.  But in most cases, including in my own writing, they should usually be left on the cutting room floor at some point in the editing.

Again, most of the other mermaid characters were WAY one-dimensional, and REALLY irritating.  I imagine at least a couple of them should be fleshed out some more in the book #2, but only time will tell.

Also, the ending SUCKED.  Okay, this is the first of a trilogy.  I get that.  Really, I do.  And some kind of cliff-hanger is often unavoidable in a series.  But this ending was just plain ridiculous.  It just sort of STOPPED.  In the middle of nothing.  With no real point, no direction, and no hint at what might be coming next.  Drove me nuts!  It really did a lot to ruin the experience for me.  I still like the book, and I do recommend it.  It was fun.  But the ending really bothered me.

In conclusion: Yes, I recommend the book.  Especially if you like mermaids and don’t mind a darker twist in the premise.  And yes, I will be buying the sequel when it comes out.  I just want to make sure you’re all aware that this book is not perfect.  It has some flaws.  You’ll still enjoy it, though, I promise.

(For the curious, the next book on my agenda: Fool Moon, book 2 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher)

Fire is, in fact, catching: A Review of The Hunger Games Trilogy

Title: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Dystopian

Where I Got It: Gift

Score: 5 out of 5

So, one of my best friends bought me The Hunger Games series boxset for Christmas, and because I didn’t have enough time to read it during the semester, I promised him that I would read it first thing when the summer started.  And I did.  I started the first book a couple weeks ago.  And I just finished Mockingjay (the 3rd book) last night, by which point I was seriously depressed, because the ending: Seriously depressing.

I thought, instead of doing separate reviews for each novel, I would do one review for the whole trilogy.  Partially because I think these books work best when you keep in mind the build up of the whole series, and partially because I simply don’t have the energy to write three separate reviews.  I will try my best not to give too much away, however: a) its hard to talk about a whole trilogy without at least spoiling parts of the first couple books, b) even if you haven’t read the book, you probably saw the movie, and c) I realize I’m seriously behind the curve and practically everyone else has read the books already, so it probably doesn’t matter much anyway.  In other words, yes, there will probably be spoilers.

Briefly: The Hunger Games is a YA dystopian about a girl named Katniss Everdeen, who in the first book volunteers for the Hunger Games (a brutal, televised bloodbath in which children are sacrificed for the entertainment of the Capital) in order to save her sister, and accidentally becomes a symbol of resistance to the government.  In the second book, Catching Fire, having survived the Hunger Games, Katniss is paraded around in attempt to calm the masses, and then is thrown into the Quarter Quell, which is essentially an uber-Hunger Games in which former winners are pitted against each other.  Finally, in the third book, Mockingjay, Katniss takes up an active role as the face of the resistance, as things get crazy and complicated.  In the midst of all the fighting, blood-letting, and political intrigue, there is a growing-up story (as Katniss tries to figure out who she is, what she wants, and what she believes in), and a love triangle.

Now, before I say anything, I would like to make it clear that I definitely enjoyed these books.  They were fun, (mostly) quick-paced reads.  That being said, I am a little baffled by some of the people I’ve heard talk about these books, or some of the comments I’ve read in various places online.  A lot of people rave about these books like they are the best thing ever, as if they are brilliant writing on par with some classic piece of literature like… I don’t know, Farewell to Arms or something.

Maybe I’m simply more critical than most people (I’m a PhD, so I can get away with that), but I’m sorry, these novels are NOT brilliant prose.  The prose itself is decent.  It’s clean, it’s simple, it keeps the focus on the story and does not get in its own way too often.  That’s the most that can be said for it.  But that’s OKAY.  Because I’m not reading a YA novel because I expect or even want beautiful, poetic, brilliant prose.  If I want that I’ll go read Rikki Ducornet or Margaret Atwood or something.  What I want from a YA novel is a fun, entertaining story, a quick plot, and likable (or at least relatable characters), and THAT The Hunger Games gave me, absolutely. Let’s just not pretend it’s the next great American classic or something like that, okay?

So, What I Liked: 

The story.  Now, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale.  And I’m not denying the similarities in theme and basic premise.  But the people who are angry and ranting about it (I could name names, but I won’t…) need to get over it and themselves.  The premises are similar, especially in the first book, but the basic premise also has similarities to Lord of the Flies, Ryan Gattis’ Kung Fu High School, a variety of Star Trek episodes, and of course reality television and ancient Roman gladiators (which Suzanne Collins cite as main influences).  Battle Royale can just as easily be seen to be a rip-off of Lord of the Flies and, as Stephen King once pointed out the similarity: the Survivors reality tv show.  The POINT is that all of them begin with a very common premise/theme that is a deep part of human culture, and go off into many different directions, with different end goals and messages in mind.

So yes, I liked the story.  I thought Collins took a common, oft-explored trope and made something interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining out of it.  The amount of thought that went into the world-building and the logic behind the government workings was impressive.  I think it was highly important that Collins made the resistance’s own possible corruption a part of the plot as well.  The love triangle sub-plot is not strictly necessary but is a common and accepted element of many (perhaps even MOST) YA novels that I just have to learn to deal with it.

And, of course, I loved the characters.  My friend who gave me the books prefaced the gift by telling me I would love the main character, Katniss Everdeen.  And I definitely like her.  She’s a complicated, strong-willed character who grows a lot throughout the series.  However, she’s not my favorite character.  Peeta, one of her two love interests, is by FAR my favorite character. BY FAR.

Now, let me make something clear: I like flawed characters.  I saw some complaint a while ago about how people don’t seem to like flawed female characters.  For me at least, that’s not true.  I like flawed female characters.  And Katniss is definitely flawed.  So flawed that it really started to frustrate me after awhile.  But not in a way that means I don’t like her as a character – her flaws are what drive the story, her flaws are necessary and fitting for both the story and character.  Her flaws did, however, often make me very frustrated with her as a PERSON.  There were many times I just wanted to SMACK HER.  HARD.

Peeta, on the other hand, though still flawed, was the real moral compass of the series.  The kindest, wisest, and most moral person in the whole series.  And I adored him for it.  Even though it got him screwed over several times over.

(A couple of my other favorite characters: Finnick and Johanna.)

Which brings me to, What I Didn’t Like: 

Starting with Gale, the other love interest in the triangle.  H really rubbed me the wrong way.  While he certainly had many good qualities, and Collins meant him to be likable (and he probably is to many others), I found him pushy and morally questionable.  He makes some very dubious moral choices.  And while Collins tries very hard to still make him sympathetic, to couch all these choices in the necessities of war and the understandable rage of recent loss, it was not enough for me.  I really REALLY disapproved of the character, and I don’t think Katniss (or Collins) does enough to demonstrate that Gale’s choices were WRONG and SHOULD be disapproved of.

In fact, Katniss’s inability to articulate the wrongness of many of the choices in the novels bothered me as well.  She often had a vague FEELING of their wrongness, but she could almost never actually say WHY they were wrong, or really confront anyone about them.  I get that its just one of those flaws in her character.  And I get that some people in real life often have trouble with things like that. But I feel that by the third book, after she’s been through SO MUCH, she would have be able to more clearly SEE what was wrong with some of things that are going on (and I’m trying very hard to be vague so as not to give too much away).  In her defense, she does rectify this in the end, but it still really bugged me.

(Also, Katniss’s mother really pissed me off. Like REALLY.  REALLY REALLY.)

Most of the other things I don’t like have to do with the writing itself.  For instance, at a number of places in all three books, Katniss is rendered unconscious or whatever and then when she awakens, both she and we as readers are gifted with an enormous info-dump, often with things that feel rather too deus ex machina for my liking.  This felt like lazy writing to me.  I feel that more of the info could and should have been incorporated into the action of the story, rather than as some kind of report giving to Katniss because she missed it all while she was sleeping.  On that same note, some times the descriptions of things often felt rather clunky to me, and I found myself skimming over whole sections of setting description without any problems or confusion later on.

AND all three books have excruciatingly slow beginnings.  Most “experts” will tell you that beginnings are IMPORTANT.  If you don’t hook someone quickly enough you could easily lose them completely.  Honestly, if I had just picked up The Hunger Games (the first book) in a store to skim through the first couple pages – without it’s having a reputation in the media or among readers, and without the recommendation from my friend – I probably would not have kept reading.  Obviously, I would have been missing out, because I did really enjoy the series after I got through the first few chapters of each book, but STILL.  When all three books have painfully slow openings, that’s a bit of a problem.

And then there’s the ending. Well, it’s not that I don’t like it exactly.  I mean, from an emotional standpoint, I DON’T like it; but from a narrative standpoint I think it’s appropriate.  I knew going in that with the subject matter and tone that there could not be a “happy” ending.  At least, not if Collins knew what she was doing.  A nice, everything-is-tied-in-bow, happily-ever-after ending would have been inappropriate, inauthentic, and an insult to the tone of the series as a whole.  STILL, the ending was DEPRESSING.  Good grief, was it depressing.  There was a war, of course there were going to be casualties, but some of the deaths surprised me, and some pissed me off, and some just did not seem necessary for the story.  I really do think the last really horrible death (if you’ve read it, you know which one I mean) was really only put there to resolve the love triangle, and I think that’s cheap.  In fact, now that I think about it more, I really DON’T like that part of the ending.  The rest of it, while depressing, was appropriate.  But that last important-character death felt like cheap writing to me, like it was the only way Collins could figure out to resolve who the hell Katniss would end up with – rather than letting it come out of the character development, she had to use a cheap plot device.

*deep breaths* Okay, I’m all right now.

In any case, while I definitely think there are some flaws in the writing, overall, I really enjoyed the series.  It was a blast to read, I was able to relate to many of the characters, and the story had a lot of interesting things to say about how and why governments function, the ability to humans to turn anything into entertainment, and become inured to violence, pain, depravity, etc.  It also says a lot about courage and duty and doing the right thing for the right reasons.

All in all, I highly recommend The Hunger Games – except, of course, that I’m probably the last person to actually get around to reading them so there’s no need for me to recommend them anyway. :D

(Also, I apologize for the egregiously excessive use of capitalization in this post.)

Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet

Bookworm Wednesday: Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet

Hello all.  Sorry I’ve been absent from the blog so much lately.  Unfortunately, sometimes school does that.  And while I absolutely LOVE this blog (and it’s WAY more fun than schoolwork), doing my PhD is, in the end, far more important.  Still, I feel really bad for missing the last three post-days. I don’t have a TON of time on my hands currently, but I wanted to give you all a quick post.

Right now I’m reading a book called Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet by Graham Meikle.  It’s research for a paper I’m writing about the use of Twitter and other social media in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  But it’s also a really fascinating book so far (I’m about a third of the way through it right now).  Here are a couple different descriptions of the book from the back cover:

Future Active is an exploration of the widening field of internet activism, of the key players and their ideas, and of the tactics and technologies that inspire them.  The internet has enabled unprecedented global commerce and helped create new oligopolies but it has also mobilized millions of people locally and globally with very different visions of connected world communities.”

Future Active examines the uses of the internet as a tool to effect social, political, and cultural change.  Graham Meikle talks to activists from around the world: from culture jammers to right-wing resistance movements, from political parties to pioneer hacktivists.  He provides case studies of milestone Net campaigns key figures explain how Belgrade radio station B92 used the Net to thwart Milosevic’s censorship, how the McSpotlight website contributed to the campaign of the defendants in the McLibel trial, and how the global Indymedia Phenomenon was born.

Meikle argues that it is the unfinished and open nature of the Internet that is most radical.  It is through creating open media spaces that people can come to make their own futures and those futures will be much more exciting than the media McWorld of corporate ‘interactivity’.”

These descriptions give you a pretty good idea of what’s going on in this book.  It’s detailed, uses some very interesting examples (mainly from the 1990s) of internet activism, and offers some useful critiques of what works and does not work in each situation.

The one thing that does make it perhaps not as useful as it could be is that simple fact of its age.  It was published in 2002, which means it was probably written at least a year or two prior to that.  All of this was before Facebook, before Google had become the monolith it is today, and before Twitter.  This severely limits the continued relevance of the specific technologies, websites, and systems discussed in the book.  But the general ideas of internet activism and continually evolving as the technology evolves still hold true.  I suspect Meikle watches the developments of the last couple years, especially the Arab Spring uprisings and now the Occupy Wall Street movement and often shouts: “I told you so!”

Meikle, Graham. Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Frustrated and Worried, A Review of Claire-Obscure by Billie Hinton

Bookworm Wednesday: Frustrated and Worried, A Review of Claire-Obscure by Billie Hinton

A couple months ago I mentioned that I had started reading one of the ebooks I had received for free through the Blog Tour de Troops event back in May.  This book was Claire-Obscure by Billie Hinton, and I said that I would no doubt have a new book review for you in a week or two.  And then… nothing.

Two months later… I have finally managed to finish Claire-Obscure and can now offer up the book review I promised all those weeks ago.

There were two factors that caused me to take so long finishing this book.  The first is, obviously, that it’s the middle of my first semester of my PhD coursework, and both time and energy are at an all-time premium right now.  So it’s really no wonder that it took me so long.  However, I actually started reading this book two weeks before the semester started, and I have read longer books in less time than that before.  So the real problem was that this book was very difficult for me to read.  This is not to say it’s a bad book, because it’s not.  But before I explain, let me give you a brief summary.

Claire-Obscure is about a young woman named Claire Caviness.  It is written in first-person present tense, and the opening lines, in Claire’s words, give you a good sense of her: “Dear Virginia Woolf, My name is Claire Caviness.  I am twenty-one years old, with an English degree and a job at a bookstore.  I am the only child of parents I rarely see.  My mother has never hugged me.  My father takes pleasure with men.  I am no longer angry about that, but jealous, because he does something I cannot.”  Yes, Claire writes letters to Virginia Woolf, telling the story of her life.  She collects words as if she is desperately seeking the right word to make everything better (and accordingly, a word and it’s definition open each chapter).  She buys and wears eccentric vintage clothes. We also quickly learn that as a teenager Claire was raped not once, but twice, and this is (unsurprisingly) the deciding factor in her relationships with men.

And as the book opens, she meets a man at an art gallery named Finn Weston.  Quickly, more quickly than seems possible (to her or the readers), she moves in with Finn, fancies herself in love with him, and becomes increasingly obsessed with him as she realizes he will not sleep with her.  He has gone so far as to give her her own room in his apartment, and he locks his bedroom door at night.  From here, things get more and more strange.  One of Claire’s friends kills herself, her female boss at the bookstore comes on to her, and she meets another man named Raoul at a club, who quickly places himself Finn’s rival.

Put simply, this book is the portrait of a woman in crisis.

What made it difficult for me to read, especially in the first half of the novel, is that I was continuously frustrated by Claire’s actions and choices.  I understood that the things she did were in a variety of ways reflections of the immense damage done to her, but that didn’t make me any less frustrated.  I wanted so badly to grab her by the shoulders, shake her really hard, and explain to her exactly WHAT she was doing, WHY she was doing it, and why it was the WRONG thing to do.  Because most of the time, she really didn’t know.  And because I am always extremely hyper-self-aware, I sometimes have difficulty staying calm when others aren’t.  So, every twenty minutes or so, I would get frustrated, growl at my Kindle, and toss it on the bed.  Then after a couple hours of this back and forth, I would give up entirely and not read again for a couple days.  Which meant it was going to take quite awhile to get through the whole novel.

What I want you to take away from this, however, is NOT that this is a bad book.  Rather, the fact that I was able to be so painfully frustrated with this character, should tell you something about how real Billie Hinton was able to make Claire.  I felt for her, I didn’t want to see her get hurt, and I didn’t want to see her do stupid things.  I was worried about her.  I wanted to jump into the novel and be the one friend who could figure out how to stop her and help her.

The two main male characters, Finn and Raoul, were also interesting, fleshed-out, and complicated characters.  But most of the time, I didn’t want to help them, I just wanted to smack them.  Hard.  If I tell you why, that will be giving too much away.  If you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

So, the characters are real and human and interesting.  The story, slow in parts, frustrating in others, and pretty intense towards the end, probably would not have kept me going if I wasn’t so invested in making sure Claire ended up some place better than where she started out (though, toward the middle, I was beginning to worry that I was reading a tragedy and hadn’t been warned).  It sort of felt like walking someone home because you want to make sure they get there in one piece.  The ending, while not precisely “happy” in the traditional “and she lived happily ever after” sense, was satisfying.  And I felt it was safe enough to leave Claire at her front door, about to go inside.

There is, as I discovered at the end of the book, a sequel called Signs That Might Be Omens.  But I’ll be honest, as much as I ended up liking Claire-Obscure in the end, I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequel.  The ending of Claire-Obscure seemed complete enough, and I don’t feel a sequel is necessary.  And the short description of the sequel sounds a little like something a fan-writer would do when they felt the girl didn’t end up with the right guy at the end of the book.  I have no doubt this is a gross overgeneralization and is probably not fair to the sequel, and maybe I’ll give in and read it eventually, but it just seems unnecessary to me.

If you’ve read Claire-Obscure, what do you think of my review? Fair, or not?  If you’ve read the sequel, PLEASE tell me what you think!  And if you haven’t read either, and you’re not sure what my final verdict is from this: Yes, I definitely recommend Claire-Obscure, and you can find it here, on Smashwords.

My Heart Has Joined the Thousand: Watership Down

Bookworm Wednesday: Watership Down

“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

– Lapine Mourning for the Dead, Richard Adams, Watership Down

(I would like to take just a moment to once again thank the WordPress admin people for featuring my post about Literary Tattoos on Freshly Pressed, and to thank all the lovely people who liked my post, left wonderful thoughtful comments, or even subscribed to the blog.  Thank you all.)

Last Friday, in my post about literary tattoos, I mentioned that I was thinking about getting a tattoo based on Richard Adam’s novel Watership Down, and it occurred to me that I’ve never written a blog about that book.  Which is a travesty that must be rectified, as it is not only one of my favorite books but also an absolute classic.

Fiver and Hazel

Watership Down, by British author Richard Adams (1920–), tells the story of a group of rabbits who escape the destruction of their warren by a humans and must face a number of trials and dangers in order to find a safe place to live.  The main characters are the rabbits Hazel and Fiver.  Hazel is the leader of the group of rabbits who escape the warren, though he is not the biggest or strongest, he is loyal, brave, and clever.  Fiver is Hazel’s brother and a runt; he is a seer who has visions of danger, is highly intelligent and intuitive.  (Fiver is also my favorite character.  I identify with him quite strongly.)

It is Fiver’s warning that allows the rabbits to escape the destruction of their warren at the beginning of the book, as well as several other dangers throughout their epic journey.  Some of these dangers include hunters and dogs, but the largest threat is from another warren.  The main antagonist of the novel is General Woundwort, the tyrannical leader of the Efrafa warren, who rules his warren with brutal efficiency, and kills any dissenters.

El-Ahrairah and Frith

While the rabbits live in the wild (and Adams based much of their behavior on The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964), by British naturalist Ronald Lockley), they are obviously anthropomorphized.  They have a system of government, language, poetry, proverbs, and religion.  Their god is Frith (meaning ‘sun’ in Lapine); their mythical founder El-Ahrairah, The Prince of a Thousand Enemies, and their grim reaper is The Black Rabbit of Inle (Inle meaning either ‘moon’ or ‘darkness’ in Lapine).

The name of the novel comes from the place the rabbits are trying to reach, Watership Down (down as in hill) a real hill in the north of Hampshire, England, near where Adams grew up.  In fact, several of the locations described in the novel, including the farm, are based upon real locations.

According to an audio interview with Richard Adams (found here), the novel began as a series of stories he told to his two daughters, based on some of the struggles he and his friends encountered in the Battle of Oosterbeek, Amhem, the Netherlands, in 1944.  His daughters insisted her write the stories down, but the resultant novel was rejected 13 times before it was finally got picked up in 1972 by a small publisher who could not even afford to give Adams an advance.

Now, it has been made into a movie (1978) and a television show (1999-2001), and it is Penguin Books’ best-selling novel of all time.

Watership Down follows many of the tropes of classic epic storytelling, exploring themes of exile, survival, heroism, political responsibility, and the “making of a hero and a community.”  Many critics have drawn comparisons between Watership Down and the Aeneid or the Odyssey.  And many of the themes of the novel were, without a doubt, influenced by Adams’ reading of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Watership Down is incredibly touching, suspenseful, intense, and beautiful.  Adams ability to balance a wide range of main and secondary characters, a adventurous plot, and lyrical almost philosophical prose is downright magical.  It is one of those novels that will never leave me, and I hope I may one day be able to read it to my children (or my friends’ children, which is more likely).

If you’ve only seen the movie, or if you’ve never even heard of it before now (though that’s probably unlikely), you definitely need to read this book.  In my opinion, everyone over the age of 10 needs to read this book.

“El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

Richard Adams, Watership Down

If you have read it, please feel free to chime in!  Favorite characters?  Favorite scenes?  Favorite lines?  I’ll be honest, if you didn’t like the book, I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle it.  You might break my heart.

Trolls, Penmonkeys, and Reading While Traveling

I don’t know why exactly, but I always read a lot when I’m traveling somewhere.  I can’t write to save my life when I’m traveling, but for some reason I read a whole hell of a lot more than a normally do.  Case in point: between leaving Houston last Wednesday and last night, I have read three and a half books on my kindle.  Why is this?  I don’t know.

It’s absolutely wonderful though, so I don’t complain.  Well, I complain about not getting any writing done while on vacation I really don’t understand why that part of my brain just cannot function while traveling but I am grateful for the chance to get some reading done.

Does anyone else have this issue?  Do you read a lot when you travel?  Or the opposite issue?  I have a friend who tends to write a TON when she travels.  Anyone else like that?

And what have I been reading?  Well, I finally got around to read Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Trilogy.  All three, in four days.  (Thanks to Angela Kulig for buying them for me.) And I am beginning to see what all the fuss is about.  The series was smart and funny, with an excellent pace.  The main character, Wendy, was likable and relatable without being too perfect.  The concept was unique seriously, who ever thought of making the secret beautiful magical kingdom with the prophesied princess a TROLL kingdom.  I will admit that I found the romantic sub-plot a little cliché how often do we have to have two wonderful, passionate, good-looking men fall in love with the heroine seemingly out of nowhere (and, of course, the heroine is attracted to both)?  However, I understand that it is a common YA and romance trope, and the characters were at least interesting enough to not make it too insipid, even if I could tell almost immediately which one Wendy was actually going to end up with.  The political intrigue/warring kingdoms plotline was interesting and played-out well, though I found the conclusion a little anti-climatic.  But all in all, it was a very enjoyable YA series that kept me entertained and kept reading, quickly and often, for the last four days.

I am also now approximately halfway through King Penmonkey Chuck Wendig’s 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, which is hilarious, insane, terrifyingly true, and amazingly useful all at once.  If you haven’t read any of Wendig’s works his books, short fiction, or blog then you need to because Chuck Wendig is a profane insane genius with every curse word in the book engraved on his golden tongue.  Go to his website: Terrible Minds, you’ll see what I mean.

Next on the list will probably be Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters.  One of these days, I’ll get around to a nice post about the brilliance that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

In the meantime, I continue to spend time with my family while on vacation.  I know we’re going to be very busy over the next couple days, so I may not be able to post anything on Wednesday.  I’m going to do my best, but I’m afraid we’ll just have to see.

I shall see you all when I see you.  Have a pleasant week.

Musical Obsessions and Wondering What Happens Now

I admit, I have an obsessive personality.  When I find new tv shows I really like, I obsess over them (just a few of which include: Stargate, Star Trek, Criminal Minds, In Plain Sight, and Fringe).  When I find new foods I like, I get addictive pretty quickly (like my grilled ham-n-cheese with havarti, grilled onion, and green apple – I can’t get enough of it!).  And when I find new music I love, I sometimes can’t stop listening for days.  It gets pretty bad sometimes.

For instance, last week I discovered Irish alt-rock band Snow Patrol.  I’d heard of them before, but I’d never actually listened to any of their music until last week.  Their album A Hundred Million Suns is fantastic.  And I have literally had the album on repeat on my itunes non-stop since last Thursday.  Yes, LAST THURSDAY.  NON-STOP.  I told you I got it bad.  However, it was their song “The Lightning Strike” that really got me (it’s now one of my new favorite songs).  It’s a 3-part song, like 3 different songs strung together, making it almost 17 minutes long.  However, my favorite is Part 1: What If This Storm Ends?, which is the part I’ve included here:

As I was listening, I discovered that “The Lightning Strike” was also a near-perfect song for my WIP Midnight’s Knife.  That was the only song I listened to as I wrote the last chapter last Saturday.  Over, and over, and over again.  And now, though I’m currently taking a little break from that WIP before beginning the long process of revisions, I still can’t stop listening to this album.  I keep wondering what will happen if I keep listening to this.  Another part of me wonders what’s going to happen when I start revising.  Maybe my head will explode?  Maybe I should find something new to listen to?  Or maybe it’ll keep me moving through the revision process?  Or all of the above?

‘Cause seriously, I listen to it while doing EVERYTHING – cleaning house, writing, reading, sleeping.  And it has kept me moving through quite a busy week.  And it HAS been busy, despite the fact that I haven’t written as much this week.

So, what HAVE I been up to this week?  Well, as I mentioned, I’ve started a new short story.  I haven’t put much energy into a short story in a very long time – I’m definitely more of a novel-writing person, every idea I have generally turns into a huge, long, involved story.  But I think I can keep this one down to short story, or at least novelette length.  It’s about a woman whose best friend has disappeared off the face of the earth without a single physical trace – except that people keep reporting seeing her in random places all over the country: on the side of the road, in parking lots, standing on the shore of a lake.  So the woman begins to dig through her friend’s possessions – letters, journals, photographs, etc – in hopes of discovering what might have happened (though she fears her friend may have committed suicide, as she’d always had problems with depression).  My thinking is that this story will probably classify as magical realism.  However, it is a very internal story, mainly focusing on the woman’s attempts to deal with her friend’s disappearance.  I just hope it isn’t SO internal as to be too slow.  I suppose we shall see.

image from Angela Write Now

I have also been recruited to edit my friend Angela Kulig’s manuscript: Pigments of My Imagination (which has an AWESOME cover, by the way).  The story is a YA fantasy/paranormal romance dealing with magical paintings and past lives, and Angela is preparing to release it as in ebook at the end of the month.  Unfortunately, the pro editor she hired bailed on her at the last second (and I think she should release his name so the rest of us know to avoid him), so I agreed to do the final edit for her.  And let me tell you, I am SO GLAD I DID! Because the story is WONDERFUL so far.  I’m about a third of the way through it, and impatiently waiting for Angela to send me the next section.  I want to know what happens next!  Seriously, I highly recommend this book and I will keep you updated when Angela has actually released it.  In the mean time, you should definitely go check out her blog: Angela Write Now.

(I wonder if I can count an unpublished, but completed, manuscript as one of my #ToBeReMo books…?)

I’ve also been crazy-busy with family and personal stuff.  But you know, that stuff is boring to talk about unless you’re prepared for my whining, so I’ll just move on.

So here’s something I’m curious about: does anyone else ever get completely obsessed with an album and play it non-stop for days or weeks?  Or is that just me?  What songs or albums stick in your head like that?  And which ones keep you moving throughout the day?  Also, is an obsessive personality common among writers? I’ve met a couple who are similar to me in that way, but was that just a coincidence?

Oh! And because I was dumb and posted a couple questions in a blog that was otherwise devoted to a book review, I didn’t many answers, so I’ll ask again: 1) Would anyone be interested in me posting some excerpts from my WIP Midnight’s Knife, or would I just be shooting myself in the foot?  2) Can anyone suggest any books or articles about writing summaries/synopses, and queries?  ‘Cause I know NOTHING on the subject.

#ToBeReMo Book 1 and a Quick Update

For #ToBeReMo (“To Be Read Month” – see Suzan Isik’s blog for details), I’ve decided to try to read six books during the month of June.  The first book I read was a mystery novel by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Confessions.  Ryne Douglas Pearson is the author of several books, including Simple Simon, which was made into the movie Mercury Rising, and has worked on several screenplays as well.  The summary of Confessions from goodreads.com states:

A call in the dead of night summons Father Michael Jerome to a suburban Chicago hospital—a police officer has been shot. As department chaplain, Michael arrives to find that the officer will survive.

The same cannot be said for his assailant, who lays mortally wounded on a gurney, begging for absolution for some past sin. Offering last rites to the dying man, Michael hears his final confession and is shaken by the admission of a crime committed five years earlier.

A murder that shattered his family.

Struggling with the constraints of his faith, Michael moves cautiously as he tries to identify others involved in the vicious killing. But every secret he uncovers leads him further down a path where it becomes clear that someone is desperate for the past to stay buried.

I used to read mysteries a lot, but for the last few years I’d let that particular genre fall by the wayside. However, in the last few months I’ve been trying to pick them back up again, and Confessions was a wonderful addition to my collection.

The first-person present-tense narration was fluid, and full of character and emotion without being florid or melodramatic. The narrator/main Mike Jerome was a flawed but highly likable character who defies the strictures of his position in order to solve his sister’s murder. The murder mystery and the progression of Mike Jerome’s difficult choices kept me anxious and kept me reading. And despite my attempts, like Mike, to figure out the answer, the solution shocked me greatly. I never saw it coming. And I like a story that keeps me on my toes.

I highly recommend this novel. If I tell you I started it at 9am in the morning and finished at 8:30pm the same day (in between doing household chores and writing a blog) that should give you some indication of how much I liked it.

For my second #ToBeReMo book, I am currently reading On Dark Paths, an ebook collection of short horror stories by Andrew Kincaid.  You can expect another short review from me on that book, probably next Wednesday.

However, I have spent most of the week writing feverishly, and I am proud to say that I am almost done with the first draft of my demon-hunter WIP, tentatively titled Midnight’s Knife.  I finished Ch. 29 last night, and I think Ch. 30 will be the last (perhaps with an epilogue thrown in, though I’m not sure at this point).  I’m right in the middle of the final battle now.  I had some trouble yesterday morning diving into the scene, but once I got moving I couldn’t stop.  I wrote 6500 words yesterday alone; the words just flowed out of my fingers.  It felt a little like magic.  It was awesome.  My plan is to be done with the last chapter by Sunday, at which point I will probably take a little break to get some reading done before I begin the long process of revisions.

If you aren’t participating in #ToBeReMo, you should consider it! It’s a great motivation to get through some of the to-be-read book piles most of us have.  If you are participating, how many books are you planning on getting through?

Also, I’m always curious to know what sort of projects you all are currently working on, and what kind of progress your making.  I want to share my excitement with as many people as I can, ‘cause seriously, finally making some progress is an awesome feeling.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Recommended Reading: Forsaken by Shadow

Hello all! I’m currently in Delaware visiting one of my best friends.  I flew in on Monday morning.  Today and tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday) we’re planning a trip to the beach, and I don’t think I’m going to bother bringing my laptop with me, so I figured I should post my usual Wednesday blog this morning before we leave.  Because I’ve been so busy preparing for the trip, and then spending time with my friend once I got here, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to share with you all today.  However, I would like to offer another little reading recommendation.

image from kaitnolan.com

Forsaken by Shadow by Kait Nolan:

I bought this urban fantasy ebook novella on my Kindle, intending to read it during the flight from Houston to Delaware (despite the fact that my flight left at 7am, I woke up at 4:30am, and by all rights I should have slept the whole way).  It kept me entertained for about the first two hours of my flight, and I really enjoyed it.

Forsaken by Shadow is the first installment of what I assume will be a series of novellas (and perhaps novels?) about the Mirus – essentially a society made up of magical and mythical creatures and people, who live in secret among humans.  A few of these creatures include the usual vampires and werewolves or wolf-shifters, as they are called in the novella; they also include a few more exotic creatures like the Drakyn – who can shift with ease from human-form to dragon.  The Mirus also include the Shadow-Walkers, who have the ability to travel through shadows, which brings us to the two main characters of the novella.

Forsaken by Shadow opens with Cade Shepherd who awakens in a hotel room with burned hands and no memory of his life.  He has no idea who he is, how he got to a hotel in the middle of Las Vegas, or what he’s supposed to do.  Fast forward ten years later and despite never recovering his memories, Cade has made a life for himself as an Ultimate Fighting Champion, with a few friends and comfort, and an unabated to desire to know his past.

Enter Embry Hollister.  She knows who Cade really is.  Ten years ago Cade Shepherd was Gage Dempsey, a human taken in by Embry’s father, a Shadow-Walker, and taught the skills of the Shadow-Walkers despite laws against it.  His injured trying to protect Embry, and his memory stolen my magic.  Now Embry must return his memories in order to recruit his help as a Shadow-Walker to save her father.

This is a fun, entertaining, story with interesting likable characters.  The novella is just long enough to give the readers some time to invest in the characters and get a glimpse into the society of Mirus.  And the romantic scenes and action scenes are well-balanced.  It’s a nice way to spend a couple hours.  I’m planning to pick up the next novella in the series, Devil’s Eye.  However, I hope Kait Nolan decides to write a longer full-length novel or two in the series.  I prefer stories that build up slowly, give me time to really get into the characters, something I can sink my teeth into it, as it were.

For anyone who’s curious, here’s Kait Nolan’s website.

Has anyone around here read it already?  Or Kait Nolan’s other work?  Please add your opinions to the comments! The more the merrier.

No Prison, Except in Your Mind: A Review of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

official cover from Tor Books

In the opening of The Quantum Thief, Jean Le Flambeur, the most notorious thief in the Heterarchy, is stuck in the Dilemma Prison where he is forced to kill twisted copies of himself everyday before they can kill him.  Countless times, he is killed and brought back to life, always fearing that the next time will be the last time he wakes up.  So when the mysterious woman Mieli, an Oortian agent whose employer may be a goddess, offers to break him out if he will assist her on a heist, he has little choice but to agree.  However, in order to pull off this as-yet-unexplained heist, Jean must first steal something else: the memories he apparently hid from himself years ago.

To find his memories, Mieli takes Jean to the Oubliette, the walking city of Mars, where the streets moves, Time is currency, privacy is strictly controlled, and all events, thoughts, and memories are stored on a gigantic database.  Jean’s quest to find himself is hampered by mind-thieves, post-human gods, conspiracy theorists, and people who know more about who he used to be than he does.  Meanwhile, Isidore Beautrelet, an architecture student and amateur detective who solves mysteries using old-fashioned deduction (a la Sherlock Holmes), is hired to stop the legendary criminal Jean Le Flambeur, and finds he may be in over his head.

The Quantum Thief, is Hannu Rajaniemi debut novel and first of a trilogy (and is due to be released in the U.S. May 10th).  It is a complex and daring undertaking.  It requires quiet a lot of effort on the part of the reader, and is not an “easy” or “light” read.  The ‘in media res’ opening is somewhat disorienting, though I believe in a way that successfully highlights the alien environment and introduces the readers to some very exotic technology and concepts.  The first three chapters introduce quite a few important characters in rapid succession, without much background.  And the most difficult and frustrating aspect (at least for me) is the rapid catalogue of neologisms and jargon that Rajaniemi throws at the reader in the first few chapters – generally with little-to-no explanation and very little context to muddle through with.

There is certainly no way to avoid such jargon in a high, far-future science fiction, and I actually enjoy neologisms.  And, of course, as the story progresses the reader does begin to gain a sense of what the jargon actually means.  However, there are a number of words and concepts that remain frustratingly vague, and I think Rajaniemi might have overdone it just a little.  The use of neologism and jargon is, in fact, so ubiquitous that there is already a Wikipedia page filled with definitions.

All that being said, this novel is well worth a little extra effort on the part of the reader.  The intricacy of the plot (which I won’t even attempt to summarize for fear of giving away too much) is a treat in and of itself.  The reader pieces the puzzle together right along side Jean Le Flambeur as he rediscovers himself, and that discovery offers many rewards with each “aha!” moment, as well as several twists you will never see coming.  The first few chapters may prove a challenge, and some may be tempted to lay the book aside in favor of something that requires a little less active participation, but I believe those who stick around to the end will be very glad they did.

One of the great enjoyments of this novel is, of course, the setting – as is often true for science fiction that is set in the distant future.  Rajaniemi’s vision is complex, epic, and mildly dystopic.  The Heterarchy is a far-future version of our own solar system, where various cultural and political factions struggle for control.  The Sobornost seem to be the most formidable power in the solar system, and are the ones who created the Dilemma Prison, but they remain mysterious and unexplained throughout the novel.  The zoku colonies are an individualistic society who once fought the Sobornost and lost, and are apparently the descendants of an MMORPG guild that turned gaming into reality.  The society in the Oubliette is, thankfully, described in more detail.  People communicate through shared memory, post-human bodies can be built and your consciousness downloaded into it, and when you run out of Time, you “die” and spend years as a Quiet – your mind downloaded into a machine to perform the necessary tasks that keep the city moving until you are “born” again.

However, I believe the greatest aspects of this novel are the characters themselves.  While, much of their back-stories are referred to only in passing, left to guess-work (and probably to further explanation in the sequels) the flashes of insight offered, and the interactions between the characters, give the reader plenty to work with as the novel builds on itself.  Mieli is a fascinating character with motivations only hinted at in this first book, but whose deep sense of honor and duty, and highly volatile temper, make her likable without being too perfect.  Furthmore, Mieli’s sentient spaceship is flirtatious and sarcastic, making her a perfect a foil to Mieli’s more serious, straight-backed attitude. The amateur detective, Isidore, is so intelligent, so determined, and yet so awkward in social situations that I, at least, cannot help but find him adorable.  Also, he quotes Sherlock Holmes on a number of occasions and even has a pet named Sherlock – what isn’t there to like?  Finally, there is Jean Le Flambeur himself.  He is, in his own words, a genius and “the god of thieves” – this is, at first, hard to imagine as the reader first encounters him in the face of failure, having been caught and imprisoned at the beginning – but as the novel continues, Jean’s increasingly elaborate plans certainly indicate a ridiculous amount of intelligence and deviousness.  He is also a consummate charmer, highly arrogant, and so amused by life in general that it is hard not to like him despite yourself.  He is one of my favorite kinds of characters: he isn’t really a villain, but you can’t really categorize him as a “good guy” either.  He lives in a constant state of amoral ambiguity, with a complex set of rules, where his own desires trump all else, but sometimes doing the honorable thing is okay too.  His mantra throughout the novel is: “There is always a way out.  No prison, except in your mind,” and it is this belief that has kept him going for centuries.

It is obvious that many things influenced the writing of this novel.  For one, Hannu Rajaniemi, is a physicist who holds a PhD in String Theory and is the director of a think tank that specializes in advanced math and artificial intelligence.  Of course, as I mentioned, Rajaniemi’s indebtedness to Sherlock Holmes is clear and unabashed.  I also think the character of Le Flambeur was probably highly influenced by that most famous of fictional thieves (also with a French name) – Arsene Lupin, from the novels by Maurice LeBlanc.  Some readers have noted the influence of Charles Stross; I must admit I haven’t yet read any Charles Stross so I cannot make that comparison.  However, I believe the similarities between The Quantum Thief and William Gibson’s Neuromancer are too many to be ignored.  This is not to say that The Quantum Thief is not original in every way, because it is, but the influence is obvious – as I think is true for many science fiction writers who started after the beginning of cyberpunk.

The Quantum Thief is an intellectual work-out, full of complex twisting plotlines, abstract technology, and big philosophical ideas, but at its heart is a still a human story about betrayal and revenge, about desire in every form, and about choices and the consequences of those choices.  This novel does require effort and close attention which may turn off some readers, and yet I finished it in six hours flat, which should tell you something.  And when the sequel, The Fractal Prince, comes out in 2012, you can bet I’ll be first in line to buy it.

For another reviewer’s opinion of the book, check out “The Criminal is a Creative Artist: A Review of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi” by Stefan Raets.

Sidenote: I received an ARC of The Quantum Thief from Tor Books during a Twitter drawing, but I was not asked to write this review.