Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is one of those authors that I've meant to review for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed his debut Prince of Thorns after picking it up as an impulse buy from the Science Fiction Book Club what feels like eons ago. When the SFBC didn't offer the subsequent books in the series, I allowed my OCD need to have all the books in a series in the same format stop me from reading the rest of the series. I know it's weird but I promise, I'm mostly sane. So when the first installment of his second series Prince of Fools hit shelves, I snatched it up. Then life took a turn for the busy and I stopped reading almost entirely. Fast forward almost a year, and here we are.

Prince of Fools has everything I loved about Prince of Thorns with a much more relatable protagonist than teen sociopath Jorg Ancrath, so readers with more delicate sensibilities can rest a bit easier. Lawrence's tersely elegant prose and well crafted characters are in full evidence and the world building is just as effortless as readers of The Broken Empire have come to expect. I suspect some of that is due to the connection to the previous series, Though my long gap in reading Lawrence as well as having not finished the previous series (a situation I expect to remedy in the coming months) rendered all but the most obvious connections meaningless to me. Even as a standalone, Prince of Fools is a joy to read and readers who haven't read the previous series can start here with no significant disadvantage. Just dive in and enjoy, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

After an accidental hiatus from reviewing, I’ve decided that it’s time to put butt in chair and hands on keyboard again. I almost didn’t. For the record I never stopped reading, just writing about what I read. There were several excellent novels that were consumed during my quiet period and I may try to review those novels properly, but given the amount of time that has passed, it’s probably more realistic to say that they’ll appear in an upcoming Trending Ten post. Which brings me to the book that snapped me out of my malaise and reminded me why I enjoyed reviewing and interacting with other readers, writers, and reviewers. 

Sometimes a novel, just kicks your legs out from under you and holds you down until you’ve devoured every single word. And then you’re sad because your plate is empty and you’re already on the hunt for another novel to take the edge off of the hole closing the back cover left inside you. M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts was that kind of novel for me. Carey gifts readers with an unexpected coming of age story that is surprisingly intimate, heart warming, and sobering despite the zombie tropes and apocalyptic scenery. Fans of Neil Gaiman should take special note as Carey’s prose has the same simple elegance and off-handed lyricism as Gaiman’s best. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel Part Four

As promised, here's the next installment of the Writing the Sequel Round Table. We're talking about responding to criticism and how the writing may or may not be affected by the effect of writing for a known audience. Mileages, predictably vary. I found these responses to be some of my favorites. I'm sure you will too.

If you haven't read the proceeding installments, you'll find them below.

52 Reviews: Is there any pressure to address any criticism that you may have received from reviews or comments from readers when you sit down to work on the second installment in a series? Or do you view criticism as nothing more than a way to focus the inevitable growth most writers experience over time in a specific direction?

Jeff Salyards: When I first started agent hunting two and a half years ago, Scourge was almost 70,000 words longer than what ultimately went to print. While I had agents request partials and fulls, they all passed in the initial rounds. And while no one overtly said, “Hey, bucko, unless you’re Patrick Rothfuss, you ain’t clearing the gatekeepers with a 170,000 word debut,” the feedback implied that the book was too long, or at least that the pacing was off (there was a lot of the central character’s back story woven in). So I started tweaking the submission as I went, cutting, cutting, and still no dice. A lot of interest, a lot of passes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel Part Three

So, sorry for the delay. Life has gotten supremely hectic. But the round table still has two more installments to go, If you haven't read the previous entries follow the links below and enjoy. I will post the next part tomorrow. Happy reading.

52 Reviews: Excellent answers, everyone. There's lots of insight from a variety of angles. Many of which, I'd imagine were completely unexpected. Which brings me to my next question, while I'm sure writing a second installment of a series is easier in terms of world and character building as you've got some baseline information well established, what would you say is the most unexpected difficulty in returning to the scene of your success?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel: Part Two

It's been great to see what a success this Round Table has been. We're surging ahead and asking about the pressures of success and how writing for a built in audience effects the writing process. The answers are often unexpected and definitely give an interesting glimpse into what goes on behind the curtain for some of my favorite authors. If you missed the kick off to the discussion you can find a link below. I hope you continue to enjoy

52 Reviews: With each of you having recently completed work on a sequel to the start of very well received series, I'd like to ask you if the level of pressure changes when you know you are actively writing for an waiting audience and if so, does that change the way you approach the writing?

Django Wexler: In my case, the first draft of the sequel was complete before the first book actually came out, so when I was writing it, I didn’t know if the series would really work out with the readers or not.  Writing for a waiting audience doesn’t really add pressure for me – if anything, it’s an encouragement to know that there are people eager to read what I’m working on, and I’m just relieved that enough people like my particular brand of story to make it worth doing.
Right now I’m writing the third book in the series, and I do feel a little more pressure, but it’s from another source.  For the first time in my writing career, I’m writing a continuation to something that’s actually published and in print; the events of book one (and book two, as of fairly recently) are now absolutely set in stone as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a very strange feeling not being able to make revisions to my own work, and I keep worrying I’ll discover something I did in the first book that badly screws up want I want to do in the third, and not be able to go back and change it.  So far it hasn’t happened, but it keeps me a little on edge!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel Part One

I've been itching to do another round table. Both the Gender Bias and Violence in SF/F series were well received and I really do enjoy moderating these discussions and the chance to get multiple author's takes on various parts of the genre and the writing process. So when I noticed that I was reading or waiting to read so many sequels in the next few months, I thought I'd ask some of the authors with sequels releasing this year a little about the process of writing that second story. I consider myself very fortunate to have such great talent to work with.

M.L. Brennan's second novel in the American Vampire series, Iron Night  was released early this year and has garnered lots of rave reviews. I certainly make no bones about my love for the series. Brennan's unique approach to character development and world building has yet to disappoint and I can't wait to see what Brennan has in store for readers in November.

Django Wexler's The Thousand Names was perhaps the most unexpected treat in my reading last year. His blend of military drama, political intrigue, personal secrets, and powerful and mysterious magic was one of my favorite debuts of the year. With the sequel, The Shadow Throne coming soon I'm sure Wexler will gain even more praise from readers.

Jeff Salyard's atmospheric and gritty debut Scourge of the Betrayers has been on shelves for a while, but it continues to gather excellent reviews and with The Veil of the Deserters just around the corner and great advanced praise it's no surprise I asked Jeff to contribute.

Jay Posey's debut Three was another pleasant surprise for me. Posey's post-apocalyptic tour de force managed to tell compelling personal tale while employing some of the most beautifully minimalist world building I've ever seen. The next installment, Morningside Fall releasing next month, is one of those novels I can't wait to get my hands on.

Lastly, we have the author who's been on my radar for the longest.  Douglas Hulick's debut Amoung Thieves was one of the first novels I ever reviewed on this site, and I've been exciting about catching up with Drothe and Deegan ever since. Sworn in Steel is slated for release later this year and I'm sure Doug has spun yet another edge of your seat tale of cunning, corruption, and the price of power in store for his readers.

It's an awesome panel, if I do say so myself. And with all that out of the way, let's get down to the main attraction.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

The more I read and, by extension review, in speculative fiction the less I enjoy the stereo-typical fantasy novels that populated my reading prior to the start of this blog. Maybe it's the weight of my growing awareness of the tropes and archetypes of the genre or the expansion of my reading habits into different arenas of the genre. It takes more and more to impress me, and I keep looking for fresher perspectives, characters, and voices. Which brings me to Luke Scull's debut, The Grim Company. To put it bluntly, there's not a lot new in this first volume in a proposed trilogy. I've seen versions of these characters, this setting, and this plot before and I've seen them many, many times. A well versed reader could easily pick analogues of any of the principles characters without a shred of effort. Readers expecting to have their minds blown by something completely unexpected and ground breaking should probably look elsewhere. But readers looking for an expertly paced tale with well crafted characters that packs a mountain of world building into a mole hill of a novel should definitely not miss this novel. Scull may not blow you away with his originality, but he shows a deft hand at character, pace, dialogue, and world building that one rarely finds in a debut novel. Fans of the grimdark movement and complex characters who run the gamut of morality are in for a treat. If this is Scull's freshman effort, the following volumes should be even better.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach

February has been an insane month for me personally. My wife and I have sold one house, bought another and are in the midst of preparing for the move at the end of next week. But I'm still reading. Not as often, or for as long, and it's gotten harder and harder to find the time to write reviews but with Rachel Bach's second Paradox novel, Honor's Knight  releasing today I thought I should add my voice to the signal and hopefully get this spectacular sequel some extra sales.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special is the fourth book of Seanan McGuire's I've read. The second installment of the InCryptid series, shares many of the elements that made Discount Armageddon so enjoyable, but suffers from some problematic issues with narrative voice and plot tension that hampered my enjoyment. McGuire is a prolific writer, putting out an impressive number of titles in a relatively short length of time, so it's no surprise that not every offering will be as strong as the last. Feed released under the pseudonym Mira Grant remains one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years, and I will certainly tune in for the rest of the Newsflesh trilogy, but I'm not so sure I'll be showing up for the further adventures of Verity Price.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Interview with M.L. Brennan: Iron Night and Beyond

M.L. Brennan is fast becoming one my favorite interview subjects. Her approach to world building and character is always fascinating and she has a way of explaining concepts that boils things down so well, I always find myself amazed that I didn't see it for myself. On top of all of that she's a class act. a laugh riot, and a real pleasure to work with. With an author some compulsively likable, it's no wonder that her American Vampire series has become one of my favorite new series. In our interview we touch on vampire family dynamics, the mating habits of elves, Vampire Batman and meerkats. I hope you enjoy the conversation half as much as I did. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

With the giants of epic fantasy taking longer and longer between installments, genre aficionados are constantly looking for the next big thing and if the hype is to be believed Brian Staveley's debut The Emperor's Blade may just be it. With a familiar plot structure, characters that are comfortably similar to old fictional friends, and a subtle magical system that begs to be explored in more depth there is certainly plenty to recommend in this first volume. Whether or not the strength of Staveley's story telling can overcome the essential sameness of it all and the few problematic choices in his handling of female characters is the real question.

Interview with Myke Cole

I've been meaning to interview Myke Cole for a long time. I've been fortunate enough to have him write a guest post during my Spec. Fic 101 series and he took part in an excellent round table that just never managed to find its way to completion, so I was pleased that he agreed to be interviewed about his newest release Breach Zone. We ran the gamut from questions about his process, the genesis of his excellent series, talent versus doing the work, and influences as wide as comics, history and film, This interview turned out to be one my favorites and Myke brings his usual brand of plain talk and straight answers to the table. If you haven't read his work, I can't recommend it highly enough. If you have, then I hope that this interview will shed some light on the story behind the story and the man behind the Britton, Bookbinder, Harlequin, and Scylla.

Friday, January 17, 2014

YA Spotlight: Origin by Jessica Khoury

One of my reviewing goals for 2014 is to review more Young Adult titles. So I'm going to read a minimum of one YA novel each month. After seeing a blurb for Jessica Khoury's debut novel Origin somewhere on the interwebs a month or two back, I picked up a copy and poured through it in a day. With an premise that hooked me from the first few pages and a protagonist that is easy to cheer for, Origin is just the kind of young adult novel I plan to recommend to my daughter when she's older. With an engaging premise and real emotional heft, Khoury has earned a place on my fiction radar.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Reading Myke Cole's newest novel has become a bit of a New Year's tradition for me. Fortress Frontier was the first book I read in 2013, and Control Point was one of the first of 2012. This year has been no different, Breach Zone was my first novel this year and it certainly set the bar for the rest of the year. It's been awesome to watch Cole's career and work evolve over the last few years and he really knocks it out of the park with the conclusion to the Shadow Ops series. While I was expecting improvement over his last effort, Cole delivers a novel so much better than his last that there is no doubt that he's earned his place as one of the most watched authors in the genre. With pulse hammering action around every corner this novel could have become just a sequence of strung together set pieces with magic and missiles flying, but Cole layers the narrative with hard truths about duty and service, community and redemption. Breach Zone has a giant heart inside its bruised and battered chest and that's the real key to its success.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: The Jackdaw's Wire & Lessons Learned

Like many avid readers and reviewers I've always wanted to be a writer. I've started many a manuscript that've gone unfinished due to countless unimportant reasons. But my New Year's Resolution this year is a simple one. Write, and finish what you start. So with that in mind when I stumbled across a Flash Fiction Challenge at Chuck Wendig's excellent blog, I decided to get cracking. The resulting story, for good or ill is posted below. Read it if you like, or move on. I'm posting it as a way of making myself accountable and maybe inspiring other wannabe writers in the pursuit of their dreams. After the piece, I'm going to talk a little about the challenges and lessons I found in the exercise.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Iron Night by M.L. Brennan

Urban Fantasy has a bit of a mixed reputation. Many folks see it as an excuse to write erotic detective novels with a cast made up of undead, werewolves, and as many other supernatural beasties as possible. I've never really gotten the appeal of that style novels preferring my urban fantasy to be a more action flick than soap opera. Which puts me firmly in the camp of avoiding any novel with a protagonist that seems to fit that mold. Which basically means vampires as a major part of the cast are essentially a deal breaker for me. M.L. Brennan's Generation V was an exception to that rule. With a protagonist is who is still refreshingly human despite his vampire status and an intriguing, original take on the vampire mythos Brennan set the stage for a urban fantasy novel that I could not only enjoy, but I could recommend to friends without fear of anyone casting aspersions on my masculinity. The sequel, Iron Night was one of my most anticipated novels of the year, and Brennan didn't let me down delivering a superior sequel that offers the perfect balance of humor, heart and action that left me hating myself for devouring the novel so quickly.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coming Attractions: My Most Anticipated Novels of 2014

With the holidays at a close, and a pile of books that need to be read, I thought I'd list just a few of the upcoming releases that have me salivating in anticipation for their release. This is by no means an exhaustive list as I have left off novels that I couldn't find cover art for and releases in series where I am woefully behind. I plan on making a decided effort to catch up on a few authors that I've just discovered or have found my neglecting for newer shinier releases. Take a look and tell me if there is any upcoming novels you think should be added to my list in the comments below. 

Breach Zone by Myke Cole: