Friday, October 12, 2018

THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE


Review of THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE by AVI

I last read this book back in sixth grade and remember my mind boggling at everything Charlotte experiences. I consider this one of my formative feminist reads as I remember having thoughts like, “A girl can do that? A girl can have adventures like that?” To my sixth grade brain, this was a boy adventure book featuring a girl, and that was both revolutionary and worthy of my complete adoration. I’m pleased to say that the book holds up on a re-read in later life, though my enthusiasm is mildly tampered only by having much more life experience now. This may have been one of my first feminist reads after all, but it was certainly not the last.

Set in 1832, the story follows thirteen-year-old Charlotte, sent to meet her parents across the Atlantic Ocean via ship. It was expected she would have companions her own age and station, but due to unforeseen circumstances she winds up travelling alone. Luckily, the charming captain promptly befriends her and promises to look out not only for her safety but also her comfort during this rigorous journey. So you can imagine Charlotte’s confusion when one of the crew starts warning her against the captain and then her further alarm at hearing whispers about mutiny.

The book is much shorter than I remember, but then again I did read it when I was younger. Then and now, it amazes me how much is packed into such a small book. At times, the older me did want more development, of the characters, the relationships, but I also recognize the book is probably perfect as is for the middle reader target audience.

I’m a bit nervous about re-reading old favorites, concerned I might actually dislike books I adored and considered formative. THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE holds up as worthy of the high place it held in my memory for so long.  

Friday, October 5, 2018

CRUCIBLE OF GOLD


Review of CRUCIBLE OF GOLD by NAOMI NOVIK
(seventh in the TEMERAIRE series, based on a review copy)

This installment in one of my favorite fantasy series finds the dragon Temeraire and his human companion Lawrence stranded among Incan islands in South America. Since the Incans are considering an alliance with Napoleon, this proves...problematic. However, courtesy of their unyielding moral compass, Temeraire and Lawrence frame this as an opportunity, to perhaps sway the Incans away from a French alliance.

I love the growing cast of dragon characters and that the dragons have an equal role in the story as the humans. In fact, one of my other favorite aspects is how the different settings of each book explore the difference in dragon treatment based on each culture. Some revere the dragons like gods while others control them like slaves.

I will never tire of the dragon banter, both amongst themselves and with the humans. Temeraire is a lovable blend of majestic and juvenile. His petty squabbles with Iskierka, usually over who has the most treasure or is best looking out for their human, never cease to amuse me. Temeraire can be equally worked up that Lawrence’s jacket is in tatters as he is regarding political debates. Novik has brought decorum to dragons, crafting a unique interpretation of these vain, materialistic, noble creatures.

This is one of those series I hope will never end, although I believe it already has and that I only have two books left before the end. Oh, well. Temeraire will live on in my heart long after I finish the last word.
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Friday, September 28, 2018

TOLETIS


Review of TOLETIS by RAFA RUIZ
(based on a review copy)

I enjoyed this slim, illustrated middle reader novel far more than I expected. In all honesty, the publisher sent me this book along with another than I had specifically requested. I had no qualms about trying it, but wasn’t expecting it would align with my tastes and found myself surprised when I enjoyed this one even more than the one I requested.

The story follows young Toletis, each chapter focusing on a significant moment in his life, and united more by theme than overt storyline, the theme being, foremost, environmental battles.

I really liked Toletis, and his friends. They’re mature, but not unbelievable; I’ve met countless children who surprise me with wisdom beyond their years. The story also has an appealing dreamy tone, a tall tale feel with folkloric hyperbole and metaphor.


TOLETIS juxtaposes the hope of the young against the cynicism of those older, and in so doing manages to instill some of that youthful hope in its readers.

Friday, September 21, 2018

THE FAIRY BIBLE


Review of THE FAIRY BIBLE by TERESA MOOREY

This book is a must for any fairy addict. It could as well be called The Encyclopedia of Fairies for that’s what it feels like: a half page to two pages each devoted to numerous types of and lore regarding the fey.

I will say that the approach, with regards to the tone, was a little too spiritual for me, but perhaps better explains the choice of Bible over Encyclopedia in the title. I genuinely couldn’t tell if the style was a gimmick or sincere, but the book is written with the understanding that fairies are real. It speaks of science closing our minds to magic and includes specific rituals for summoning fairies or finding fairyland. Numerous times, the book refers to itself more as a “field guide,” to be utilized during one’s search for fairies. While leaning towards the notion that this approach is more tongue in cheek (but not entirely convinced), I regardless find it annoying and distracting. I would have much preferred an objective overview of fairy folklore, something presented with analysis but minimal speculative judgment, more like an anthropologist’s approach.

It’s also sometimes a stretch what they call a fairy, but for me that wasn’t a problem; I’m interested in pretty much of every branch of mythology, folklore, etc. I don’t consider a valkyrie part of the fey, though, for example. 

This book is perfect for reading in little snippets given the brief sections focused on one specific topic. And, of course, you can easily read it out of order.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

CODE NAME: BUTTERFLY


Review of CODE NAME: BUTTERFLY by AHLAM BSHARAT
(based on a review copy)

This novel follows teenage Butterfly through typical adolescent issues shadowed by darker themes of political tension and occupation in the Middle East.

Butterfly’s voice is amazing, distinctive and convincing. I found myself glued to the page, because I could almost imagine Butterfly herself telling me all this, the flow a cross between conversational and storytelling.

At under 100 pages, the book felt underdeveloped to me. I enjoyed it, but felt it ended as soon as it began. The story made me feel, but didn’t have has much plot structure as I wanted. Also much more info is relayed through subtext than stated explicitly, which left me feeling this book benefits most from a very close reading.

Though CODE NAME: BUTTERFLY left me wanting more, Butterfly’s voice stands out among the wealth of complex themes packed so tightly into such a slim novel.

Friday, September 7, 2018

NO GOOD DEED


Review of NO GOOD DEED by KARA CONNOLLY

Teenage Ellie is an archery champion, in the running for a future with the Olympics. However, her success is dampened by the loss of her brother Rob, also an archery legend. Ellie’s specific skills with a bow and arrow come in handy when, logic aside, she finds herself thrown into the Sherwood Forest of the past, unintentionally playing Robin Hood.

Time travel is not usually my taste, but I think the same reasons this worked for me might be criticisms to others. Let me explain. Connolly uses time travel as the catalyst, but the science (or magic) is not explained. This works perfectly for me, because I most care about the characters and how they handle the catalyst anyway, and also almost every attempt at explaining time travel only further unconvinces me (explaining why I don’t particularly like the sub-genre). Connolly addresses some key questions quickly and efficiently, such as language barriers, but then focuses on what’s really important: the story.

Time travel stories can be vastly different, with potential for both serious and silly approaches. Connolly manages to ride that line and do both. There’s an underlying threat of danger fitting for the period, but the story doesn't swerve into any horrific directions that it certainly could. And the abundance of playful banter and silly snark adds a lighthearted layer to the adventure.

NO GOOD DEED is a fun read with the feminist twist of a female Robin Hood figure.

Friday, August 3, 2018

ARTEMIS GREY



Interview with ARTEMIS GREY

Artemis Grey was raised on fairytales and the folklore of Appalachia. She’s been devouring books and regurgitating her daydreams into written words since childhood. She can often be found writing by a crackling fire or romping through the woods on horseback, searching the depths of random wardrobes and wriggling into hollow tree trunks. She hopes to make her readers look at the world they’ve always seen, and see the world they’ve always envisioned.

What are you reading right now?

We’ve been on overtime at work for almost two months, and my reading has been happening only in audio from (graciously provided by a coworker who shares his audible account). Recently, I’ve been listening to the LEGEND OF DRIZZT series, by R.A. Salvatore. The books that started everything for me, were the original DRAGONLANCE trilogy, and the CRYSTAL SHARD trilogy. Specifically Raistlin Majere, and Drizzt Do’Urden have always been, and will always be, my two great loves in regard to character romances. Drizzt, in particular, is a comfort for me, and his stories are the ones I go back to again and again. From his character itself, to the fact that that character was actually created on impulse and without any intention of having the character “mean anything” Drizzt represents to me the what-ifs and the indomitableness carried within oneself.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I accidentally answered part of this with my first answer. Like many writers, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories, but it was reading fantasy books like the ones above that started me writing my own stories. That, and the desire to be able to maybe create characters that would mean as much to someone, somewhere, as characters like Drizzt mean to me. In more recent years, writing nonfiction (specifically for the theatre of conservation) has been sparked by the need to educate the public and spread information, to be a voice for the voiceless.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

What I love most about writing fiction is everything about the process and actual creation. “Meeting” new characters, learning about them, seeing their stories unfold. What I like the least is the need to try and convince members on the commercial side of things that my stories are “worthy” of being put into the public’s reach. In writing nonfiction, what I love most is being able to engage the public and teach them things they didn’t know. I also love, in a warrior’s sense, being able to combat those who would exploit voiceless animals, nature, and public ignorance, to make money, and damage that which they profess to care about. Most people are shocked to realize the truth about some of the most visible “conservationists” they’ve heard of. What I like least in nonfiction is the willful ignorance, and blind devotion that I’ve encountered on widespread levels. The willingness of humanity to warp or destroy principles, or overlook the same, even as they acknowledge it, in exchange for either their own gain, or because it’s more comfortable, or convenient to do so.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

In fiction I’m a panster to the core. A story, or character, or set of characters will blossom inside me, and for a varying amount of time decided by each, I’ll let them grow there, developing and maturing. Then I simply start writing. Most of the time, the greater story arch will already be visible to me. I’ll know the start, at least have an idea of the journey, and where things end up. But my rough drafts are very much that. My second drafts are where hard lines get drawn. I still write long hand in pen, when I’m able, and when that’s happened, it’s the transcription process that stands as my “second draft”. In nonfiction, I do a ton of research for articles. That’s very rewarding in itself. It’s all about taking hard science, and/or verified facts, and then presenting it in a way that reaches out and physically impacts the public, opens their eyes, and permanently alters them afterward, hopefully in all the best ways.

What are your passions?

Writing. Being a voice for those (animal or human) who have none of their own, but doing so in a way that remains true to them. Being alone, surrounded by nature, with as little indication of the presence of humanity as possible. The intangible connection and exchange possible with nature and animals that requires you to step outside yourself and not perceive the world in the manner of how it exists in relation to you, by rather in how it exists without you.

What inspires you?

Everything. Literally everything. From the things I love, to the things I most hate, or fear, it all inspires me in some way.

How was CATSKIN born?

I have always thought humans with albinism to be exceptionally beautiful not just in form, but in the sameness so often denied them by the rest of society. I feel likewise about all other “differences” perceived and maintained by society. At the same time, there were no male characters (that I knew of) which embraced “broken” females as they were, without trying to “fix” them because they saw them as not actually “broken” but simply the same as everyone else in a different way. The parallels of society treating those with albinism as being “different” and society treating those who have suffered a trauma as “different” developed into a story about a boy who was just the same as everyone else in his “differences” falling in love with a girl who likewise was the same in her “differences,” but who had been conditioned to believe she wasn’t “right.”

Do you think you will ever return to write more with Ansel and Catskin?

I sincerely hope so! I actually have outlines for two more books, one which follows Catskin before she met Ansel (which would address some issues like you can’t really walk around in Alaska for months surviving on nothing as it seems like Catskin did before meeting Ansel. I'm looking at you, Erynn) and one which follows them after the events in CATSKIN. Because CATSKIN was released through a very small press (Clean Reads, you’re the best ever) and because my writing is rich in satisfaction and joy, but poor in monetary matters, I have to split my time between a full time job, and my writing efforts. Clean Reads was the only publisher willing to publish CATSKIN (seriously, Clean Reads is a phenomenal group of people) so I’ve been trying to work on other projects which might be more commercially viable in the hopes that subsequent contracts would provide me with more time to write. Still working on that but also still working on CATSKIN related books!

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

The best advice I can give aspiring authors is to take the time to learn themselves, to learn their inner beings as far as their writing goes. Learn, accept, and respect what matters the most to you. Do you want to write for the love of writing? Do you want to be commercially and monetarily successful through your writing? Do you want to achieve some functional change in the world with your writing? The answers are vital, because they will guide you, and embracing them will allow you to be happy. Also, there is no wrong answer, and the answer can change dependent upon subject matter and situation. If you want to be a monetarily successful author, if what will make you happy is seeing your name in headlines, then you can shape your writing, what you write, and how you write it, with the goal of achieving those things. Yes, unexpected lightning does strike. But documenting the lifecycle and daily struggles of a hellbender salamander in an Appalachian stream-bed is not likely to gain you red-carpet receptions, or invitations to Dragon-Con panels. However, if what you love most is being able to take something that most of society doesn’t even know about, and turn it into a gripping tale that might mean everything to just a few people, then red-carpets and Cons don’t matter. A writer who wants to make money off their writing, is no less an author than a writer who wants only to document the comings and goings of the field mice in their backyard, and vice versa. Neither are the two exclusive. You can desire monetary success through one type of writing, while wanting only to document something for the sake of that thing with another type of writing.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

Because I took over a month to get these questions answered and sent to Rachel (and I love Rachel immensely and very much appreciate her interest in interviewing me) I think she, and readers, deserve something extra, so I’ll tell you a secret: I have a habit of leaving scraps of paper sort-of hidden in all the places I go (public, or natural) with little things written on them. It might be a little stanza of poetry (I’m not an accomplished poet but I try) or a (hopefully) inspirational quote, or it might just say something like “You are enough in yourself.” Or something like that. But I believe that little unexpected bits of magic, and discovery like that help keep us alive in all the important ways, so I try to help them happen whenever I can.