Day 366

2016, you have loomed over us, a seemingly malevolent force, wielding Death’s mighty sickle, sparing none, young or old, human or major appliance. Tonight, you can go die in a barren winter field where your carcass will be scavenged by coyotes. No one will miss you.

We can all agree that it’s been quite a year.

Thankfully, our 2016 suckitude was limited to replaceable things. Personally, I managed to avoid any major health crises despite being pregnant, so in comparison to the previous two years, this year wasn’t so bad.

Once again, however, my goal setting fell by the wayside in favor of more important things like…taking naps. Growing a tiny human is hard business and my slightly older and thyroidless body wasn’t as  adept at dealing with it. Meals were definitely not planned any better. I didn’t even come close to reaching my reading and writing goals-posts on this blog being one of those. Last month, I even decided that finishing NaNoWriMo was not the highest thing on my priority list and thus my fifth year of that endeavor was a bust. We also had a few large appliance/house issues which were an unwelcome added stress.

This year wasn’t all bad for us. I did get to attend LTUE in February, which I never got around to writing about but was nonetheless a great experience and it marked the first time I’d left my family by itself for more than a few hours and flown on an airplane all by myself since I was nineteen. (Flying on an airplane without children is heaven, isn’t it?)

We also tried some fun new activities as a family like camping on the beach, which was a lot of work but was so fun when I think back on it-even though it was pouring rain, the heaven’s parting just long enough for us to put up the tent.

Of course we also had a healthy pregnancy and baby this year which trumps any other 2016 lameness. She is truly a joy.

I think I’ve made some strides this year learning how to prioritizing the pursuits in my life and just letting things go if I don’t have the time or inclination to do them. This little dumpling is going to be coming first most of the time for a little while yet:


So, here’s to a year of not being so hard on myself, blogging whenever I feel like blogging, reading whatever and whenever I feel like reading, and not caring so much about whether I’m fulfilling my self-imposed obligations or not.

Now, where did put my new apron? Time to make a cheese ball.

Book Review: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The OutsidersI was passing my friend in the hall at church about a month ago and she stopped me to ask a literature type question, you know, because I read stuff.

And the question was along the lines of: if I were to see a shirt that said “Stay gold, Ponyboy” on the front, would I know what that meant?

Though the name Ponyboy sounded vaguely familiar, alas, I had no clue.

I certainly read stuff, but freely admit that I have not read many of the classics. Now, I vaguely knew the plot of this book before reading it because I had been to the CliffsNotes of this generation, Wikipedia, to look at the plot at some time in the past. Who knows why. I don’t remember. I guess I was too lazy to actually read the book even though I was curious about it. ‘Cause it’s not really my kind of book and I typically don’t go out of my way to read books that aren’t my kind of books. I’m a book xenophobe.

But I did promise to read and review a classic once a quarter this year so here it is, my first quarter venture into realms heretofore unknown: The Outsiders.

The setting is Tulsa Oklahoma in 1965. The  main character is Ponyboy… That’s his name. For reals. He lives with his brothers Darry and…Sodapop…Parents can be cruel in any century. The brothers are orphans but the eldest is twenty and takes care of the other two. They’re Greasers and they’re from the ‘wrong’ part of town and they have a few friends from their neighborhood who comprise their little gang. Their rivals, the Socs (pronounced SOSHes), are the rich kids from the other side of town and the two gangs tend to come to blows on a regular basis, which is where we get our main plot conflict (which I won’t ruin for you if you haven’t read it).

Published in 1967, the author was a mere fifteen years old when she started writing The Outsiders. She was eighteen at publication(!). Hinton was inspired by her friends at the time who were dealing with the kinds of issues presented in this novel. This is one of those books that has been considered controversial in the years since it’s publication because of the portrayal of gang violence or…something. Guys. Guys. Most of the the gang violence happens off screen and the stuff that you do ‘see’ is SO mild. Do we see the consequences of violence? Absolutely, but the only real on-screen stuff is one, fists only “rumble” between the rival gangs at the end of the book…But then again I read epic fantasy where people are impaled by swords and stuff so a fist fight is no big deal. Or perhaps I’m subconsciously comparing the violence here to actual, real world violence, which everyone knows is so much worse…Whatever the reason, I see nothing controversial here.

There is just one, tiny thing that made me cringe – but only because it’s a major modern writing no-no and it happened in the first paragraph. Since this book is from the 60s, it’s partially forgiven, but if you’re writing a novel right now, remember that it’s very bad form to have the main character describing himself or herself like their lookin’ in a mirror.  Just don’t do it, kids. Especially in the first paragraph. There’s always a better way to get those details in.

Overall I liked this book – in Goodreads terms that’s 3 stars! And at 192 pages, it’s novella length and a fairly quick read.

Stay tuned for more reviews!

Happy reading!

 

~ ebook checked out from the local library.

*This post contains links to Amazon Affiliates.

Book Review: Updraft by Fran Wilde

UpdraftOnce again, here’s an author that came to my attention because she was a guest speaker at my writing group. I wanted to “do my homework,” so to speak, before the meeting so I checked this one out from the library.

So, Updraft – it’s a fantasy about a society that lives in living bone towers above the clouds. Their method of transportation is to fly from tower to tower on wings made from silk and bone. The book cover is highly inaccurate, so don’t pay it no mind. The wings are small enough that they attach to the body and can be furled, so the people can walk around with them. The protagonist is Kirit and she breaks some serious rules, the consequences of which drive the remainder of the book’s plot.

Something I really liked about this book were the ‘monsters’ – which are called Skymouths. They fly around, silent, invisible, except when they open their mouths and they have wicked teeth and they eat people whole – so awesomely terrifying.

Also, I could tell the author had done her research when it came to the wings: how they worked, materials, etc. It all made sense and is based on real physics.

Unfortunately, there were some things a didn’t like:

  • Kirit. She’s kind of a Mary Sue character. She’s too good at everything – I can’t tell you what that ‘everything’ is without spoiling the plot, so I’ll just leave it at this: her abilities were not realistic.
  • The bone towers. They have tiers, they’re circular, but how big around are they? Again, the cover is no help because the book never says they’re spine-like. Also, I never could understand how the living quarters were arranged within the towers.  How many people live on each tier? Is each tier divided into smaller compartments like the spokes of a wheel? I gathered that one family have an entire tier all to themselves, but that doesn’t make any sense. From top to bottom the tower was only, like, twelve tiers of habitable space, does that mean there are only twelve families in the entire tower? No. Doesn’t work, sorry. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Population. Here we have a society that is very dangerous to live in. If your wings fail in flight, you fall to your death. When you’re learning to fly, you could easily mess up and fall to your death. The government has very harsh punishment for (in my humble opinion) minor infractions and comes to take people away and toss them to their deaths. There are monsters that fly around eating people on a regular basis. A lot of people die, often, which, if you want to maintain your population (nevermind growing it) you have to have a lot of babies. Like, all the babies. And yet, our main character: only child. Her best friend: only child. Just mentioning that there are children (but not actually see them) or showing one pregnant lady doesn’t convince me that the author’s got a handle on population issues or that she even thought about it. Kirit’s home tower is considered ‘overpopulated’….Twelve families per tower? Everyone has one kid? People are dying left and right? Over-populated my foot.

Ms. Wilde did admit at the meeting that, coming from a short story background, one of her weaknesses was that sometimes her prose were too lean. I think that some of my criticisms could stem from that. Possibly. Or I’m just a natality statistics nerd so I’m just not the person an author wants reading their book if they haven’t considered population issues in their world.

Final verdict: B-. I did like it – it had an interesting premise, but there were just a few things that drove me nuts.

Thanks for reading!

 

~ Hardback book checked out from the local library.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Book Review & Giveaway(!): Phoenix Island by John Dixon

PhoenixIsland

Phoenix Island first came to my attention when I went to my first meeting of the Brandywine Valley Writer’s Group. The special guest speaker was a member of the group, John Dixon, who’d just published his second novel, the sequel to Phoenix Island titled Devil’s Pocket. He spoke about the sources of inspiration for this Phoenix Island (which is always interesting for a wannabe writer like myself), his experiences breaking into the publishing  industry (short version: years of hard work and lots of rejection) and the process of writing Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.

Dixon just seems like a super humble, normal dude who’s passionate about his writing and that made me want to support this person’s writing efforts. Plus, he read a little from something he’s currently working on at the last writer’s group meeting and his characterization is just phenomenal. And there’s a fist on the front cover of this thing, so I pretty much had to read it.

Now, I consider myself to be well versed in the YA genre, but I’d never heard of  this John Dixon bloke. Phoenix Island was the winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in 2014, which is apparently a big deal in the horror genre. I can sort of see why this would be considered horror…The official definition of horror: it’s intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle their readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror and terror.

Yeah, that’s about right.

So, our main character is Carl. He’s sixteen and a champion boxer. Unfortunately, he has the habit of starting (and finishing) fights with bullies (the boxing was supposed to be an outlet for all the aggression). Carl finds himself orphaned and bouncing around the foster system thanks to his fists. We meet him at the “end of the road” so to speak. He’s picked a fight with the wrong bunch of kids and finds himself in front of a judge  who recommends Carl be remanded to a camp for hard cases until he turns eighteen. Carl accepts the deal because he doesn’t feel like he has a choice and he understands where his future lies if he doesn’t change his ways. Of course, not all is as it seems when he gets to this place, which turns out to be an island out in international waters…

I really enjoyed this. I read it in one day – during the lovely blizzard we had about a week and a half ago – and there is nothing that I can think of that I didn’t like about it. The fight scenes were great. I love a good fight scene. Dixon lets Carl fail over and over again, which had me thinking “he HAS TO succeed this time!” and then he wouldn’t, but he’d get right back up again, which I thought was a refreshing change from the norm. It certainly wasn’t predictable. At the writer’s group meeting, Dixon talked about how he had wanted to make a strong male character in his book and I think he’s succeeded here with Carl.

Dixon also mentioned that much of the criticism he received for this book was that people thought it was too violent for the YA genre. I really have to disagree. If you write a book about a ballerina, for example, the expectation of the reader will be that there will be dancing. There has to be dancing, otherwise, why a ballerina? If you write a book about a boxer kid who likes to thrash bullies, who ends up on some prison island, the expectation is that he’s going to hit someone.

Carl’s being a fighter is essential to the plot. And seeing him using this *ahem* ‘talent’ is also essential… I think what these critics were really saying was “This book wasn’t for me,” which is fine but it’s not the same as “This book is too violent for the kids.” Was the violence gratuitous? I didn’t think so. How is this any more violent or disturbing than The Hunger Games, for example? Or The Chocolate War? I really don’t think it is. Swearing is virtually non-existent, in that I don’t even remember there being any, which is very unusual for a YA book, period, let alone a YA book of this subject matter, but maybe that was a deliberate choice by the author – violence OR language, not both. Anyway, all I’m sayin’ is, get your expectations in line-this isn’t a book about bunnies and rainbows.

This one may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the book is well written and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t not give it an A.

And now for the super fabulous reward for reading this review – I am giving away a hardcover copy of Phoenix Island to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment below. Any old comment is fine but if you’re out of ideas, tell me about your favorite fight scene in a book. Please fill out the email address field in the comment form – your email will not show up on the comment post but I can see it in my comment admin. This is how I will contact you, should you win. I will randomly select a winner by comment number using random.org. The contest will close at midnight on February 14th, 2016, and I’ll contact the winner shortly thereafter.
Thanks for reading!

~Hardcover purchased from Amazon Marketplace.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Book Review: Infinity Squad by Shuvom Ghose

Inifinity SquadIt was really good to get back to some aliens, clones and explosions.

I actually started this back in November – which is the worst month for me to start reading anything because of NaNoWriMo. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to finish the thing at the time. I finally got back to it last weekend. This book came on my radar because it was on my sister’s Goodreads feed and I thought the plot sounded awesome. I got it from Amazon for the low, low price of zero dollars. And you can, too! Right Here.

In this world, the military has the ability to ‘download’ your mind into a cloned body if you die in combat (an infinite number of times, presumably). The narrator is Second Lieutenant Jonah Forrest who becomes the commander of Infinity squad after their First Lieutenant dies (permanently) under mysterious circumstances. The humans are in the midst of a war with the Hell Spiders on a planet far from Earth. Forrest discovers something very interesting about this alien enemy and stuff starts to hit the fan in short order.

The military science fiction I’ve read in the past always moves along at a good clip, not a lot of description or pontificating like fantasy does, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just different. The focus is on tactics, weapons, explosions- that sort of thing- as opposed to visuals and exhaustive world building. I really liked the narrative voice – it reminded me of Mark Watney from The Martian, but with a lot more swearing. There was also some sexual content, so reader beware.

This was published by an indie author, but again, it doesn’t show. It was entertaining and well paced. The characters were funny and real. The premise was well thought out and executed. Some interesting uses for the clone technology are used in the character’s various exploits, some of which made me laugh out loud.

Verdict: A-.

Thanks for reading!

 

~ebook purchased from Amazon for $0.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.