Friday, 31 December 2010
1. I used to read a lot of manga, back when they were hard to find in English and before they became mainstream. I own a fair number of manga in Japanese that have never been translated and/or are now out of print in English (Sailor Moon, Sailor V, Kodomo no Omocha, Hime chan no Ribbon, etc.), but there are a lot of manga that have been translated that I've not read for various reasons. I wouldn't mind reviewing some of those.
2. I also want to start reviewing more graphic novels. I was a heavy X-Men reader in highschool and university and want to get back into comics to some extent.
3. Write out my movie reviews in a more timely fashion so I can publish more of them (before I forget what happened and my likes/dislikes).
4. Reread some of my favourite SFF books and post reviews of them.
5. Read the books I buy faster (rather than putting them to the bottom of my to be read pile, after review books I'm sent that I didn't request).
What reading resolutions do you have for 2011?
Thursday, 30 December 2010
I got an email asking how difficult it is to use the Kobo one handed - particularly left handed. Here are pictures of me holding it with both hands. When I use it, I typically hold the machine in my left hand and turn pages with my right. If you only want to use one hand, it's not hard, just accept you'll likely need a knee every now and then to hold it steady as you run your hand to different areas (which is what I'm doing at the start of the video when the Kobo leaves the screen). Also, your hand will likely cramp, as there isn't much variance available (your thumb needs to be on the right side of the right hand button and you have to turn pages too frequently to make it worth putting your hand elsewhere).
Here's a video to demonstrate. I start with the device on as it takes a while to get to the start screen. And yes, I say 'scan' when I mean 'scroll'. I was in a hurry when I made the video. :)
Using the Kobo left handed. from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.
If you've got a question about the Kobo, feel free to ask in the comments or email me and I'll try to answer it as soon as possible (with a video if required).
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
When I went to Japan this spring I'd planned to go to Kotobukiya for the new Dark Phoenix statue they came out with. While I don't normally collect action figure statues I love Dark Phoenix and this version (manga style) was unique and beautiful. After wandering around Akihabara we found the store, but the statue wasn't for sale yet (we were there one week too early). So I went home without my statue.
Then, on a whim we decided to go to Fan Expo. And wouldn't you know, one of the booths there had my statue! So I got my husband to buy it for me. Since then it's been sitting under our living room table, waiting for Christmas when I could finally unbox and display it.
The scull door knocker was an impulse buy, also from Fan Expo. I'm planning on hanging it on my office door. (The caption says, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here.")
So, what did you get for the holidays that you'd like to brag about?
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
I grabbed this from Mag.ma, which got it from the BBC's youtube site as a preview for The One Ronnie.
Cons: There's some violence, so it's rated 14 and up, some actual swearing (and lots of 'fake' swearing), for stronger teen readers
Unlike the older men in his village of Prentisstown, Todd Hewitt was born on this world. He was born with the Noise - the sound of everyone's thoughts - man and animal, night and day. Born after the war that killed all the natives, the Spacks. Born after the Spacks unleashed the germ that caused the Noise and killed all the women.
Todd Hewitt is 30 days from his 13th birthday. Thirty days from becoming a man when he and his dog Manchee come across something they've never encountered before. Silence.
This encounter turns Todd's world upside down, as everything he thought he knew about his world is brought into question. He's forced to flee with the source of the silence in an attempt to find answers and safety from the men of Prentisstown. Men who are finally putting into motion a plan they've been brewing for years.
Patrick Ness is a master of the craft. He uses first person to get the reader into Todd's head and, despite the Noise, Todd and those around him manage to keep secrets - from each other and the reader.
Repetition is used for emphasis, while clipped phrases are a means of ratcheting up the tension. Ness also cleverly sidesteps the use of profanity by using 'effing', while letting the reader know the boy isn't REALLY saying 'effing'.
Every time you get close to understanding what's going on something else happens, forcing Todd further along his journey, and pulling the reader along for the ride.
There's also a great message towards the end. And you'll want the sequel on hand when you finish this one.
This is one of the best teen books I've ever read. It's great for both teens and adults, and you'll be hard pressed not to read on.
Saturday, 25 December 2010
From their website:
A Free eBook of YOUR CHOICE
Now that you’ve all unwrapped your shiny new Kindles and Kobos, we wanted to give you a very special present—a free eBook of your choice. Yup, totally free, no strings attached, just-because-we-love-you kind of free. Simply e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a message of good cheer and your eBook request. Really, guys, thanks so much for a fabulous year. We are truly grateful for the support and the good will of the reading community at large. So eat, drink and be merry—we look forward to another spectacular year come January...
Here are all our titles available in eBook format. Go ahead! Pick one!
Remember, this offer runs from noon December 25 to noon December 26, so don’t miss out!
Friday, 24 December 2010
Thursday, 23 December 2010
Today's spotlight shines on Laura Bickle, who also writes as Alayna Williams
- Embers by Laura Bickle (Pocket)
- Sparks by Laura Bickle (Pocket)
- Dark Oracle by Alayna Williams (Pocket)
Unemployment, despair, anger--visible and invisible unrest feed the undercurrent of Detroit's unease. A city increasingly invaded by phantoms now faces a malevolent force that further stokes fear and chaos throughout the city.
Anya Kalinczyk spends her days as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department, and her nights pursuing malicious spirits with a team of eccentric ghost hunters. Anya--who is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern--suspects a supernatural arsonist is setting blazes to summon a fiery ancient entity that will leave the city in cinders. By Devil's Night, the spell will be complete, unless Anya--with the help of her salamander familiar and the paranormal investigating team --can stop it.
Anya's accustomed to danger and believes herself inured to loneliness and loss. But this time she's risking everything: her city, her soul, and a man who sees and accepts her for everything she is. Keeping all three safe will be the biggest challenge she's ever faced.
If you like these titles, you might also like:
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Nathan Bransford mentioned Kowloon, the illegal walled city of Hong Kong in his post, which reminded me of some videos I saw months back. Here's the first part of a German documentary (with English subtitles) about the city.
Here's a video about a Hong Kong architect, who designed his own home which transforms a small space into whatever room he needs.
Here's a video about the kinds of furniture you can buy that makes small space living possible.
And for some complete foldaway rooms when you really don't have the space:
*I encountered my first fold up bed at one of the farm houses at the Open Air Museum in Holland.
In early medieval times the great hall where people feasted was also the bedchamber afterwards (bedrooms being more modern inventions). And the Japanese of the same era had movable walls in their houses and the furniture constantly changed location. Even today most Japanese put their mattresses (futon) away and their bedrooms become living areas.
Small space living isn't new, and people continually get more creative about how to survive in the space they have.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Cons: starts very character driven, which some readers will find slow
Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, General of the Wandering Army, is touring his lands when the Desolation occurs. Little does he realize how his life was manipulated with this future act in mind.
Jim Li Tan, 42nd daughter of merchant and spy Lord Vlad Li Tam, is consort to Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States. She has just seen him boast of causing the destruction of Windwir, and with it the Androfrancine Order of priests. Her orders from her father to watch this man are about to change.
Neb's mistake caused his absentee father to be in the city when fire rained down upon it. He is the only witness to the destruction.
Petronus is a fisherman who was once much, much more. His quiet life is ruined when he spots the pillar of smoke in the distance. For his path has also been manipulated and it is now his time to act.
These four and many others find their lives irrevocably changed by the sudden destruction of the Guardians of the Light. And it slowly becomes clear that many people have been set up to act during these trying times. But set up by whom and for what purpose?
This is a fantastic book. The first half of the novel is predominantly character driven. Some people might find this portion slow going. But the interesting, fully realized characters (with wildly different backgrounds, customs and secret codes) kept me entertained until the plot picked up.
Magic is used sparingly and for specific purposes. More interesting are the various codes used by the different powers (smudged words on letters, non verbal languages, etc). And once the intrigue begins, so does the tension, making the ending move quickly.
Three dimensional characters, mild use of magic and political intrigue make this a great start to an epic series.
Friday, 17 December 2010
> What's the premise for The Griffin Mage trilogy?
The griffins are also creatures of fire, whereas humans are creatures of earth. The two types of magic are antithetical, so that griffins literally cannot exist in the same land as humans -- they bring their desert with them, ruining the countryside for human people. And yet they are beautiful as well as terrible, and all through the series we see how human people can be drawn to as well as repelled by the griffins.
> Why griffins?
I like all kinds of mythological creatures, but several wonderful griffins appear in books I really enjoyed -- notably The Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynn Jones and The Magic and the Healing by Nick O'Donohue. I had those griffins in mind when I started Lord of the Changing Winds, though I instantly took my griffins in an entirely unexpected direction. I mean, unexpected even by me!
> Do you think griffins will be the new dragons?
I don't think we'll ever see them appear as often, but that only means they'll retain a more exotic 'feel' while dragons seem comparatively more ordinary.
> How do you find time to write around breeding dogs, gardening, cooking and tutoring?
Well, first, my job is part time and also is arranged so that I can take off an entire month over Christmas. That's important, because I usually try to arrange to have a book ready to finish over that month. Also, I completely stopped watching TV while writing the second and third books of The Griffin Mage trilogy, and I haven't started again. So far in 2010, I have watched exactly two hours of television. And I definitely owe the success of the gardens to my retired mother, who lives across the street from me and is very energetic. She does the lion's share of day-to-day upkeep.
Cooking really good food doesn't take any longer than cooking out of a box as long as you make the right dishes. When I'm working on a book, I may not want to spend two hours making my own pumpkin ravioli, but there are plenty of dishes that can be made quickly or can be set up to cook slowly without needing much attention. Many Indian dal dishes are like that, and so are many Chinese and Thai dishes. Indian cuisine also offers lots of wonderful slow-braised dishes that take a long time but require minimal attention. And I'm not cooking for a crowd, so I don't need to cook every day.
The dogs do take some time, especially when I have a show coming up. I show in rally obedience, regular obedience, and the conformation ring, so that's a lot to prepare for! But Cavaliers are cooperative and intelligent as well as beautiful, so as far as real training goes, a few minutes every other day for a month or so is really all it takes to teach a puppy all the novice rally exercises. Just yesterday, my six-month-old puppy not only did fine in her first conformation show, but also got a score of 97 and first place in her rally novice class. That was her first show weekend, and she only had about three weeks of casual training because I was busy, yes, finishing a manuscript.
I have to say, though, that having puppies can indeed be very distracting. Things can go wrong -- whelping and raising puppies is not for the faint of heart! Or if you have a premature puppy you're trying to nurse through aspiration pneumonia, there's not a lot of attention to spare for anything else. And of course it's very upsetting when you then lose the puppy despite everything you can do, and that kind of emotional roller coaster definitely interferes with writing.
> What made you want to be a writer?
Reading! Doesn't everybody who loves reading at least think about writing?
> In the books you’ve written, who is your favourite character and why?
That's a tough one. I do have a real soft spot for Lady Tehre in Land of the Burning Sands. She is wonderful! Physics isn't really my subject and I had to do a tremendous amount of research to write her because she is a physics genius. It was entertaining to re-cast modern materials science into the natural philosophy of Casmantium.
> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
I don't think so! I like modern technology and I don't think I would want to face the kinds of challenges my characters face -- not even for the chance to do magic.
> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
It was an epic fantasy trilogy that was probably about 1200 pages long. I had just read a fantasy about an immature, sulky, irresponsible twit of a princess who couldn't think about anything but herself, so I thought I'd write a book with a princess the way she should be -- responsible and mature and intelligent. Then other plot threads came in, ghosts and gods and genus loci, and a character who was growing into her magical gifts, and a prince who was forced to seize power from his father . . . for a first try, I think it wasn't bad. Maybe someday I'll rework part of it, but I have so many other ideas that honestly, probably not. It took about three or four years to write, but I wasn't working on it steadily.
> What was the hardest scene for you to write?
In a book that should come out in 2011 or 2012, tentatively called House of Shadows, I wrote the entire climatic scene, realized it was all wrong, took it out, and wrote a completely different climax. It finally wound up in good shape, but even though it was several years ago, this still stands out as definitely one of the hardest scenes I ever wrote.
> What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing
I have a master's in ecology, animal behavior, and evolutionary theory. So far, it only helps in subtle, tangential ways.
> When and where do you write?
At home, on the couch, with my laptop, surrounded by a crowd of spaniels.
> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?
Good things are the extreme satisfaction that comes from finishing a manuscript, from selling a book to a publisher, and from seeing your very own books on shelves at bookstores. Reading reviews from people who love your books gives you a wonderful high.
Not-so-great things include the painful slog to write a scene that isn't cooperating, the need for day-in-day-out work when you'd really rather be doing something else, and the uncertainty about whether a new book you've just written will actually be sold and then do well enough to make the publisher happy.
> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?
Oh, I didn't know anything! Well, I knew I needed an agent and I knew that the pace of publishing can be glacially slow, but I didn't know anything else. I certainly didn't realize that the pace can also be lightning fast and present you with amazingly tight deadlines -- I wrote the second and third books of The Griffin Mage trilogy in seven months total because Devi Pillai at Orbit wanted to bring the whole trilogy out in one year! This was great, but it was not easy.
> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?
There are now many, many good blogs written by agents and editors. Follow a couple for a while. I would suggest Janet Reid's regular website and also her QueryShark website. Also Nathan Bransford's site. And Miss Snark's archieves. You can learn a whole lot about writing good queries and the whole publishing process. I wish those sites had been up when I was learning about the query process.
Also, a good agent really is worth her weight in gold. It's not just getting your foot in the door; your agent is valuable because of her editorial advice and her knowledge of contracts. You definitely do need a good agent.
> Any tips against writers block?
I think a lot (not all, but a lot) of so-called writer's block is mere self-indulgence. When you're stuck, just put words in a row until you figure out where you should be heading; then you can write with more focus. When you're not stuck, just not enthusiastic, you simply need to slog ahead with a daily minimum until you reach a scene you can really enjoy writing.
> How do you discipline yourself to write?
I don't have a particular time of day where I must write, but when I'm working on a book, I do have a daily minimum number of pages. That can be two to eight pages a day depending on whether I have a looming deadline or not. If I don't make the minimum, then the next day's minimum goes up to compensate. This gets the job done.
> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?
I got eleven rejections or no-responses for The City in the Lake.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Next week I'll be working more than usual, so while I have posts set up, I won't be checking comments, etc. as often as I normally do.
And since my Christmas message is pre-written, let me just say, Happy Holidays to all!
Cons: I wanted the kids to do the smart thing - rather than the right thing; because a lot of the actions taken are adult, I kept picturing the kids as being at least 16 when the protagonists were actually 14
For Parents: good for reluctant and/or weaker readers, no sexual content but a fair bit of violence and some racial slurs
It's school as usual for Sam until the teacher disappears. It doesn't take the kids long to discover that everyone in Perdido Beach over 15 is gone. There is now a barrier they can't cross enclosing a 20 mile radius and powerful bullies are setting themselves up in positions of power.
And some of the kids are acknowledging they have strange abilities.
Gone has an excellent mix of characters. There are bullies who manipulate with words and others who use violence. There are decent people who want someone in charge who will keep order, who don't want to be the one in charge. There are cowards and heroes, kids who are responsible, kids who are victims. I thoroughly hated a few of them, particularly Quinn and his use of racial slurs.
It was easy to forget that the protagonists were all 14 or under. While there was one real psychopath in the book, most of the kids were adverse to killing - even when it was in their best interest (I find it frustrating when characters in books don't get their comeuppance. In life I'd never urge a 14 year old to kill another kid, but in a book you want to good guys to win and the bad guys to die, not come back in the next book to make things hard for the good guys again. On the other hand, it's a better message for kids that they shouldn't kill, so the author did the right thing).
The pacing was great. For a 550 page book, it's a quick read. There are numerous plot twists and the cause of the disappearance is explained in a rational manner.
Great for adults who want a quick, entertaining read, or kids who want a good story. There is some violence but I don't remember any swearing and there's no sexual content.
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Author Spotlight is a new series designed to introduce authors with 3 books or less in the different SF/F subgenres.
Today's spotlight shines on Chris Evans.
Chris Evans's books include:
- A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans (Pocket)
- The Light of Burning Shadows by Chris Evans (Pocket)
Here's the cover copy for A Darkness Forged in Fire:
First in a stunning debut series, A Darkness Forged in Fire introduces an unforgiving world of musket and cannon...bow and arrow...magic, diplomacy, and oaths -- each wielding terrible power in an Empire teetering on the brink of war.If you like these titles, you might also like:
In this world, Konowa Swift Dragon, former commander of the Empire's elite Iron Elves, is looked upon as anything but ordinary. He's murdered a Viceroy, been court-martialed, seen his beloved regiment disbanded, and finally been banished in disgrace to the one place he despises the most -- the forest.
Now, all he wants is to be left alone with his misery...but for Konowa, nothing is ever that simple. The mysterious and alluring Visyna Tekoy, the highborn daughter of an elfkynan governor, seeks him out in the dangerous wild with a royal decree that he resume his commission as an officer in Her Majesty's Imperial Army, effective immediately.
For in the east, a falling Red Star heralds the return of a magic long vanished from the earth. Rebellion grows within the Empire as a frantic race to reach the Star unfolds. It is a chance for Konowa to redeem himself -- even if the entire affair appears doomed to be a suicide mission...
and that the soldiers recruited for the task are not at all what he expects. And worse, his key adversary in the perilous race for the Star is the dreaded Shadow Monarch -- a legendary elf-witch whose machinations for absolute domination spread deeper than Konowa could ever imagine....
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
My gateway book was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. My brothers gave me the trilogy (Sword of Shannara, Elfstones of Shannara and Wishsong of Shannara) for Christmas one year because they liked fantasy and they wanted to read the books.
I was probably around 9 or 10 at the time and not at all interested in fantasy books. I'd read The Hobbit and liked it, but not enough to look for other books of the same style. And I remember reading a book when I was a fair bit younger than this called The Seventh Princess by Nick Sullivan. I enjoyed it (and hunted it down as an adult) but again, it didn't inspire me to read other fantasy books. I was also an indifferent reader at the time, preferring Christopher Pike to anything else. So the Brooks trilogy sat on my shelf.
I remember picking the first one up once and reading the back. The idea of a man without training in magic or swordmanship skills going against the most powerful evil in the land (and presumably winning) struck me as unrealistic. I tried a few pages and found it boring so I put it back down.
Finally, when I was 12 going on 13, I hit a rough patch in my life and needed some escapism. Maybe it was simply a matter of the right book at the right time, but I started The Sword of Shannara and pushed on past the still boring opening. Somehow, this time, about 20 pages in I got hooked. I couldn't put the book down. I read the 730 page novel (probably the largest I'd tried up to that point) in record time (I later clocked myself at 2 1/2 days - but that was when my reading skills were better).
I loved the book. The protagonist was real to me. His struggle to learn magic in the face of feeling like a useless appendage to the more experienced members of the group resonated with me. I liked the flowing descriptions. I liked Menion Leah - the comic relief who's there to prove that he can be more - and who, when faced with murdering someone in cold blood to help his friends, can't do it. I liked the philosophy and the recognition that everyone faces challenges. And that with help and perseverance those challenges can be overcome.
The book was full of difficult choices for the characters. There was action but there was also time for the characters to consider their actions and the consequences of those actions - both immediate and long term.
In the end, it was about a man who has to become a hero, despite a lack of ability and courage.
All of a sudden I was a voracious reader. I ripped through the rest of the trilogy and then moved onto my brothers' collections and when I'd exhausted those, the public library. Tolkein, Feist, Salvatore, Eddings, Weis & Hickman, McCaffrey, Greenwood, no one was safe. I spent the entire summer reading, and when I started highschool I branched out and found more and more authors. I've never looked back.
I've read The Sword of Shannara so often I can't read it anymore (as I know what's going to happen at every point). But I still have that copy (autographed) and it still inspires me. And someday I'll read it again and feel the magic I felt that first time.
In the meantime, it has opened the door for hundreds of other fantastic authors and stories. Oh, and I never found the opening boring again, even though I've read the book numerous times since.
So, what was your gateway genre novel?
Friday, 10 December 2010
Cons: uneven pacing made the ending drag a bit
Stenwold Maker knows the Wasp Empire is going to attack the Lowlands… sometime. He's been warning the people about it for the past 17 years while other nations have fallen to their army one by one.
To find proof that their reprieve is at an end, he sends a group of loyal university students to Helleron to spy for him. But while they're decent duelists, the students are untrained in the art of espionage and the mission quickly changes focus.
The races, humans with various insect affiliations, were fascinating. Ant kinden who can speak telepathically with their fellows, wasp kinden who can fly and shoot bolts of energy, spider kinden who can stick to walls and mesmerize others. Even the history of the world, with the Lowlands once belonging to the moths and manta until those who could use and understand machinery (the apt) caused a revolution, was original. Tchaikovsky obviously spent a lot of time individualizing the races and creating the backstory.
As a novel preluding a war there's a lot of fighting but an oddly limited amount of spying and intrigue. I was amazed that Stenwold would send these kids off without teaching them any useful spying skills, like designating a meeting location in the event they are separated.
And while it's an exciting read, the story seems to climax early, even though the later events are the important once with regards to the coming war.
Ultimately it's a good book with some room for improvement.
Thursday, 9 December 2010
Here's the first one I did, posted a few weeks back. In future I'll try to post them the week after they show up on SF Signal.
Today's spotlight shines on James Knapp.
Just because you're dead doesn't mean you're useless...If you like these titles, you might also like:
A thrilling debut novel of a dystopian future populated by a new breed of zombie.
They call them revivors - technologically reanimated corpses - and away from the public eye they do humanity's dirtiest work. But FBI agent Nico Wachalowski has stumbled upon a conspiracy involving revivors being custom made to kill-and a startling truth about the existence of these undead slaves.