Monthly Archives: January 2015

Just a (not so) humble brag

being-loved-by-somebody-is-the-best-feeling-in-the-worldSo, today was an unexpectedly good day. Well, to be honest, most of it was pretty ho-hum—school run, feeding the home-bound child, let the dog in, out, in, out, in, feed the home-bound child again, school run, three hair cuts, grocery run, piano lesson for one, guitar lesson for another, more tea than can possibly be healthy, etc. Then my husband got home. Nothing special so far, but with him came a surprise.

Out of completely nowhere he sent the girls over to me with a small package. The seven-year-old was bouncing about, all excited. The four-year-old was in a sulk because the box wasn’t for her. She handed it over begrudgingly though and inside was a brand new Kindle Voyage! “Surprise,” he said.

Kindle Voyage

My birthday is not until August. It’s to late for Christmas, too early for Valentines. Our anniversary is in June. He really just bought me a random present. *Swoon*

His comment when I asked why? (Because I can’t just graciously accept a gift, can I? It’s a failing of mine.) “Well, it’s not like you didn’t get enough use out of the last one. I mean the pence-per-page cost of your old Kindle Touch has to be next to nothing.” All of which is absolutely true. (He’s English, BTW, thus the pence instead of cents.)

I’m sitting her with a big, sappy grin on my face. I’m very happy. So, all future review books will be read on my new Voyage. I look forward to it.

If I’m honest though, it’s going to take a little getting used to. I kind of feel like I’m betraying my steadfast and dependable Kindle Touch by moving on. Her name is Audrey, by the way, in honour of the skin she wears. (It’s by artist Audrey Kawasaki, one of my favorites.)

Aubrey

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ll adjust. And the surprise gift makes me feel very loved. Not so much because I got stuff, stuff I wouldn’t have spent the money on if left to my own devices, but because it’s a sign he pays attention to what would make me happy (as I do him).

We don’t often do gifts, surprise or otherwise. For one, we don’t have the disposable income for it. For another, it’s not necessary between us. If we fight, flowers would only feel contrived. If it’s a holiday or birthday, a gift feels obligatory, not symbolic. If it was a regular occurrence it wouldn’t be special anymore.

So, on the rare occasions, like now, when one of us whips out a present, it’s because we’ve seen an opening to provide something more than a material item, but an addition to our life together. He didn’t just buy me an e-reader, he upgraded the single item that provides me the most joy outside of my family. Reading is my hobby, my passion and he’s facilitating that. *Swoon*

Some men are just worth keeping. You hear a lot in the modern media about jocks being popular in high school and such, but shy quiet men being the ones you want when they grow to men. My husband is the perfect example of this. And while it’s completely, disgustingly saccharine to say, I’m reminded why I love him. He gets me. He understands what makes me tick. I’m an incredibly lucky woman and I know it.

…Now all y’all bitches stay back now, y’hear?

Review of Revenge of the Elf (Nysta, #1), by Lucas Thorn

NystaIn June of 2012, I picked Lucas Thorn‘s fantasy novel, The Revenge of the Elf from the Amazon free list.

Description from Goodreads:
Nysta is a new kind of elf.

When nine killers rode out of the homestead with blood fresh on their hands, they reckoned that would be the end of it.

The lost spellslinger was looking for a way out. He figured Nysta could lead him to the safety of a town called Spikewrist. And then there was the tragic creature born in the darkest shadows of legend. He reckoned she would fight the greatest fight of all.

But none of them counted on the violence she would unleash. Because in the Deadlands there is no forgiveness. No mercy.

Winter in the Deadlands could be cold. But the revenge of an elf would be colder.

 Review:
I  went into this book with high hopes of a strong,  kick-ass female warrior. And I had reason to. The following is from the latter half of the Author’s Note:

Nysta is certainly the culmination of many years of dissatisfaction in the presentation of female characters in fantasy.

As such, Nysta will never heal anyone with amazing healing powers. She will never drink tea and discuss dresses. She will not stand back and watch her boyfriend fight the monster.

She will not be rescued by the hero, because in my book, she IS the hero.

And in some ways Nysta is bad-ass. She’s certainly skilled with a blade or two (dozen). But that’s not really the same thing as strong. I could excuse all the tears and even the way her thoughts are scattered one moment and obsessive the next; she’s grieving the loss of the love of her life, after-all. (And Talek seemed wonderful and worthy of her love.)

But the author fell into the same trite trap as many others when he made her a victim of sexual abuse and circumstantially forced prostitution as a child (starting as young as seven presumably). The book also starts with rape threats and whoring comes up frequently in conversation or insults. Nysta’s very ashamed of what she had to do to survive and when discussing this history is the only time in the book that she feels fragile. I swear authors, there really are other ways for women to become strong. But you would never know it from reading fiction. How very pat.

I wouldn’t even mention it, since it’s basically the norm. Except that Thorn made it apparent in the above note that he was aiming to break the pattern of women’s presentation in fantasy. Then why go with a plot device so overused as to have become cliché? Men don’t have to be victims before they can become strong. They don’t need that forging process and frankly neither did Nysta.

What’s more, Nysta’s presumed strength is of a very male sort. She can kill more people than the next guy therefore she must be strong. But I would argue that’s skill and something else entirely. Internal strength needs to based on something more and Nysta lacks that. To paraphrase Chukshene, she’s still just that scared little girl, servicing some minor noble on her knees in a dirty back alley.

So, I’ll give it half marks for my hope of a strong, kick-ass woman warrior. She’s kick-ass sure, but she didn’t strike me as strong in any sense but the muscular type. Disappointing, to say the least.

The book also has a cool cover. But again, being as Thorn apparently wants to widen women’s available and acceptable place in fantasy, I should ask why she’s half-naked. Especially considering the book is set in winter and she’s fully dressed in leather armour and a full length, fur-lined cape (mostly even with the hood up) for the entirety of the book. Again, for someone trying to break new ground, Thorn keeps falling into disappointingly well-trodden paths.

As for the rest of the story, I’ll give it half marks too, because I liked it in a lot of ways, but feel very little compulsion to continue the series. For one, Thorn has a tendency to overuse things. Nysta, and to a lesser degree Chukshene, have a habit of dropping puns and one-liners. At first, it was funny. Then I couldn’t decide if it was genius or just cheesy. By the end and the 100th such occurrence, I’d started imagining a ‘ba-da-bum’ and a laugh-track in my mind each time one of the characters dropped a clanger. It had been wholly reduced to Dad Joke level humour and definitely fell on the super-cheese side of the equation. Same thing with Nysta’s constant threats and Chukshene’s endless needling, it was effective in the beginning but just disruptive to the narrative by the end.

And the end, or lack there of, is one of the biggest reasons I don’t think I’ll continue this series unless I come across the sequel as a freebie. The whole plot of this book is set up by the blurb to be about Nysta hunting down and killing her husband’s murderers. However, she doesn’t find them until about 80% into the book. Then there is about a one-page altercation in which most of them escape. That’s it. That’s the entirety of the fight between her and the men she’s hunting.

She fights some robbers, some zombie type things, walks, rides a horse, cries, refuses to eat, talks and talks and talks, but she doesn’t fight the Bloody Nine much at all. Then, just at the end something else entirely happens, opening the plot to a much wider path and the book ends.

You don’t get the satisfaction of seeing Talek’s killers caught or much of a sense of vindication on seeing them realise that Nysta isn’t ‘just a whore’ but a dangerous killer they should fear. You don’t know what’s possessed Nysta (she’s unconscious at the end). You don’t know why Chukshene is sticking with her. You don’t have much more than a hint at where the series is headed. It’s just one big question-mark, making this whole book feel like little more than a prologue to something more. It is not a stand-alone book.

The writing itself is pretty good. Mechanically readable with believable dialogue (outside of the puns). There were a couple editing hiccups, but not enough to bother me. I was confused with the world-building. The author does set up a rather complex religious and political landscape, but it’s set up, not described or explored. So, I only ever had a vague understanding of it. It was enough to follow the story, but not enough to feel fully invested in it.

The author also seems to have an odd attachment to spiders. Chukshene runs with his knees too high, like an injured spider. A hill looks like a spider squatting. Runes looked like spiders dancing. Someone is described as cold, like a spider. Plus, apparently Chukshene just doesn’t like them and they can get as big as a hand. I second Chukshene here, hate them, so I notice these things.

All-in-all, if I had gone into this book with different or no expectations, I might not be as disappointed with it as I am. It’s not a bad book, a lot better than many indies I’ve read. But I really wanted that strong warrior Thorn promised in the beginning and I didn’t find her.  (Maybe we just have very different ideas of what makes a woman strong, but I still finished in a sulk.)

And as one finale snarky side comment, though she never drank tea, Nysta did in fact discuss a dress, a red one. Maybe not in the ‘I’m a pretty-pretty princess’ way a lot of fantasy, especially YA fantasy (which this is not, it’s harsh, violent and gritty, with lots of cursing—none of which I mind) does when they want to let a man provide the woman with the femininity she’s obviously lacking by being a fighter, but still there was a dress, it was discussed.

Review of The Urchin, by Adrianne Ambrose

The UrchinI nabbed a copy of Adrianne Ambrose’s book, The Urchin, from the Amazon free list.

Description from Goodreads:
Since the End came, leaving the United States a confused and desolate wasteland, what is left of society has been trying to pick up the pieces and put itself back together. Nick Miller is willing to do whatever it takes, and is flying a top-secret mission over the devastation when he is forced to make a crash landing. Luckily, he is rescued by the brooding, enigmatic Vance Amherst and his dubious crew of teenage boys, who are eking out an existence in the remains of their boarding school. But Nick quickly realizes that something is very wrong at Stanton Academy: the school has been turned into a fortress bristling with giant spikes; the boys, armed to the teeth with wooden stakes, exude a desperate, fearful discipline; the teaching staff is conspicuously absent. And night is falling…

Review:
I was quite impressed by this book. I can’t say I liked all of it, I never quite warmed up to Nick, for example, but I enjoyed the read. I loved Vance as a lead and Johnny as a motivating side character. Some of the other boys also really snagged my heart, most notably Martin.

I also liked the idea of a group of ~8-17 year old boys surviving in a vampire infested, post-apocalyptic America. They’re barely fending off a shift toward Lord of the Flies-like behaviour. Really, just one boy/man is standing between them and self-destruction and then one incredibly selfish boy/man drops out of the sky, decides he knows what’s best for all of them and disrupts the balance, leading to chaos and ruin. Lending a bit of admirable grey to the story is the fact that his motives are selfish, but he’s also not entirely wrong.

I’m always thrilled to find a little room for moral ambiguity in a story and Nick provided that, as did the ending. Was it a happy one? It depends on whose ending you’re looking at. I think Vance and Johnny had a happy ending, probably Nick and Dave, too. But Martin and the boys? Maybe not so much. It’s hard to say for sure and I like that a lot.

I did have an issue with…well, how to say this without a spoiler…there was a deception at one point and the perpetrator of this deception has to act in accordance with it, obviously. But we’re treated to his internal dialogue, which also runs along the same lines of the deception. It was unbelievable to me that he would internalise it to the point of even thinking to himself as if he’s done as he’s pretending. Yes, it more effectively led the reader to believe the lie, so that the reveal is not totally obvious, but if you think about it, it feels wrong.

The book was also in need of further editing. It was readable and I’ve definitely seen worse, but there were some copy edit mishaps, some head-hopping and one scene (with Dave, under the trebuchet) that doesn’t seem to correlate to the rest of the book. It might have been a dream (or an act, maybe), but if so, I don’t know whose.

All in all, however, Ambrose is a most impressive writer and I’ll be looking for more of her work.