Jun 28, 2011

Review: The Amulet of Samarkand


The Amulet of Samarkand
By Jonathan Stroud
(Book 1: The Bartimaeus Trilogy)

Alternate History of London with a mischievous djinni

Paperback, 480 pages

Published by Hyperion Books
Released May 3, 2004












My Summary:


Nathaniel is a young magician who has a death wish. At least that’s what Bartimaeus, the 5,000-year old djinni the boy has summoned to do his dirty work decides when Nathaniel bids him to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace – a master magician with an unmatched ruthless ambition. Bartimaeus doesn’t really care that the kid is bent on getting himself killed, he just wants to get the job done and leave this dimension. When Lovelace turns out to be more deeply entrenched in a plot of magical rebellion and a string of murders, they both realize this might be more than a ten year old magician and a djinni can handle.

My Review:

This book is delightfully fun to read. Stroud chose a snarky demon as his anti-hero and I don’t think he could have found a better one than Bartimaeus. A very quick read, my only problem with the book in general was that I still didn’t like Nathaniel by the end.

Buy, Borrow, Brush Past:

This is a fun book to have on your shelves, but if you don’t want to buy it, definitely take a trip to the library and check it out.

The Other Place is so much nicer than this…

Jun 24, 2011

Book Break

Since the beginning of May, I’ve been working on a Steampunk Western, and I love it – in theory. I spent the first three weeks of May flying through it on a total tear… and then I had to take a break from it to work on something more pressing. Sadly, when I returned to it, I didn’t feel the same way about the ms, and it was almost a chore to write.

Because of this sad state of affairs, I’m giving it more time to rest. Hopefully, when I return to it after this break, I’ll love it again – or at least know how to fix it.

But for now, I’m getting to work on the novel I wasn’t supposed to start work on until the first of July (at the earliest)

Have you come upon this issue before?

Jun 22, 2011

My Novels' First Sentences:


"Finished":

1. It wouldn’t matter that I was the one to kill him. (Duty & Death)

2. It was simple enough, he bit me and I died. (Forfeit Souls)

3. It was just another ordinary dusk, just like every other dusk had been before it. (Magic is for the Birds)

4. Space, the final wasteland. (The Lies of Calliope Druthers)

5. Ash struggled to find her footing in the disheveled corridor. (Ashes & Stardust)

6. The digital geisha flowed across the black lacquer stage, a wraith in the smoky air filling the room. (Sun Drops)


Unfinished:

7. Garrett Nelson stood at the bar on the far end of what Mrs. Masterson called a boarding house dining room. (Steampunk Western)

8.  Rabat spread out from the crowded ocean-side docks like jumbled stacks of brightly colored children’s blocks.(YA Space Opera)

9. Life was normal until she came to town…. Well, it was my kind of normal at least. (YA Urban fantasy)

10. Glasses clinked and clattered around Jedidiah as maudlin revelers whispered his epitaph behind glazed stares. (Science Fiction)

11. There are only two days of each year the Drones are allowed to pass through the Third Wall gates into the Citadel. (YA Dystopian)

12. Eri sat on the cracked and sun bleached concrete steps of the old high school auditorium waiting for the man in front of her to die. (YA Dystopian)


Jun 21, 2011

Review: A Clash of Kings

By George R.R. Martin

(Book 2: A Song of Ice and Fire)

Epic Fantasy with a resurgence of magic
Paperback, 1009 pages

Published by Bantam
Spectra

Released November 1998










My Summary:

When you’ve got seven kingdoms and four kings things should be easily divided…. Except when three of them lay claim to all the lands. During a time of severe unrest, The Late Robert Baratheon’s brothers, both vie for the throne, while his widow and the rest of the Lannisters attempts to keep her bastard son in his iron chair. Kings Landing lay’s undefended save for its walls, while Robert’s youngest brother slowly moves toward them and the Lannister’s host attempts to overtake the North.

The Night’s Watch has mounted a force and traveled beyond the wall. Their scouting parties find no sign of the wildings. When John dreams of the place where Mance Ryder and his wildlings are massing, his party tries to escape. In the end, John is forced to make terrible sacrifices.

Across the Narrow Sea and the Red Waste Daenerys finds a modicum of solace in the trading city of Quarth, but her dragons seem only to bring gawkers and she finds that everyone who claims to wish to help her seeks only to take the dragon’s for themselves.

My Review:

Like many second books, this one sort of falls flat. There are some wonderful plot lines, but I feel like they get muddled in a part of the story that’s too big for its own good. This is a novel with little forward movement. Nothing from the first book is resolved. In fact, to paraphrase a character in this very book: I went in looking for answers, but only returned with a hundred new questions.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that most of the perspective characters have no real forward movement. Arya and Sansa are no better off in the end of the book than they were in the beginning, but they’re no worse off really either. They just sort of stagnate in this book. I will always have a problem with Catelyn because her character seems to be there only to go show you things happening when there isn’t another perspective character available. She also remains static. Daenerys chapters are sparse and frankly, they only felt like they were included because he didn’t want you to forget about her. They don’t lend anything to the novel itself.

Buy, Borrow, Brush Past:

Obviously, if you haven’t read the first, you really shouldn’t read this one – it will make no sense. I have been told that the 3rd one makes suffering through the 2nd worthwhile, but I’ll give you my verdict on that once I get to A Storm of Swords.

The story is intriguing and an easy – if long – read, I ended it feeling unfulfilled, if you can deal with that and you enjoyed the first book, you’ll want to get your hands on this book.

Jun 20, 2011

Jun 17, 2011

Friday Counts Are Back!

That’s right, after a brief hiatus, we’re back up and running (however slowly.)

W/C from May 27th

This week's W/C

If you’ll notice, the target word count has jumped a bit – as I recently realized I was shooting quite low on my estimate :P

Jun 15, 2011

A Taste: Sun Drops

The digital geisha flowed across the black lacquer stage, a wraith in the smoky air filling the room. Lights from the holoviz below played across the brocade of her dress, rendered nearly transparent as it stretched over her ridiculously coded breasts. Her gold fans flickered as they swept in front of her lithe form. Somewhere, a programmer was undoubtedly pleased as pudding with his work.


Glitchy entertainment wasn’t unusual in Puerta Pulgas. A dive like this couldn’t afford to pay for the latest updates, so the fact that this joint had a newer model was surprising. The geisha’s outrageous F-cups swelled gently with her false intake of air. Lashes came together at semi-regular intervals as she smiled down at the patrons ogling her. Lex could think of a dozen women she’d met who would have either been taken aback or made completely insecure by the display. It was uncannily convincing.

If Lex hadn’t known better, she would have said the owner of this particular establishment was breaking ten different employment laws by having a real woman on stage. The man sitting across from her seemed convinced as he stared at the entertainment, eyes locked on the unrealistically weightless bosom bouncing above him.

Stroking his mountain-man beard, Jayzen Tandeki wrinkled his knot of a nose at the inviting glances of the well programmed piece of software. “It’s getting to the point where you wonder when we’re going to be completely unnecessary anymore. I’d swear she was real.”

“Real or not, she’s a distraction,” Lex said, sipping on the watered down tequila in her glass.

“Exactly,” he replied, “It’s the perfect place to ensure no one’s paying too close of attention to us.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re paranoid, as usual.”

Jayzen’s eyes pulled back, his cheeks sucked in. She knew exactly how to offend him.

“With every right to be. This run is for some sensitive cargo.” He glanced back up to the gyrating image above him.

“When isn’t your cargo ‘sensitive’? You want me to peddle something hot?”

“It’s not stolen. I would have said so if it was. What you’ll be carrying is completely legal—”

“Probably only because they haven’t had time to make it illegal yet.”

“Precisely,” he said.

Lex heard the crinkling paper before the envelope tapped her knee.

“The delivery, plus the first half of your fee, as usual.”

His leering smile made her stomach turn. When had she become a willing drug mule?

This was the worst part of her no-questions-asked courier service. There was really no way to refuse a shipment if you weren’t technically supposed to ask what it was.

Jayzen’s eyes had traveled back to the entertainment. The transaction was done.

Tossing her glass onto the floor, she left as janitorial drones raced to clean the damp spot seeping into the uneven wooden floor. The glass rolled after her, clinking to a stop at the first board too high for its momentum to carry it over. Lex looked down as the glass shed a single tequila tear, then pushed her way through the saloon-style doors into the street.

Jun 14, 2011

Slow Your Roll

As of late, I’ve been… overly ambitious. It’s not something that’s easy for me to admit, but I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

I’ve adjusted my calendar so that hopefully things are not quite as squished.

As you can see, it's still quite full.
How about you? Have you found yourself biting off more than you can chew lately?

Jun 13, 2011

Pieces of An Enchanted Forest

This is a part of a series of posts I’m calling Monday Inspiration. Each Monday I’ll post a picture (or maybe more) that inspires me in some way. Maybe it will inspire you also!


Jun 10, 2011

Query Critique #12 - Dream Walker

Dream Walker by Liz

Query:

Dear (Agent or Publisher),


(: Personal factoid with a hint of admiration :) I am seeking representation for Dream Walker, a completed 70,000 word science fiction novel for young adult readers. Without delay, I will hand the reigns off to a sixteen-year-old named Suri, who is determined that even my query be told in her own narrative.

The dreams I have are not my own.

Every time I fall asleep, I find myself in a dimly lit hallway with nothing but a piece of chalk and endless doors to keep me company. Behind each door is a person I know, and should I decide to open one, I can leave my hallway in hopes that their dream is more interesting.

I choose a door I have never been in before and identify the dreamer as Taylor, the quiet guy who sits in the back of the classroom during second period. I enter his dream, expecting to see him fantasizing about his latest crush, or scoring the winning touch down, but his dream isn't about him. He is dreaming about three men dragging me out of my house and throwing me in the back of an unmarked van. He then does something that no one else ever has; he turns to me, and tells me to run.

When I wake, my heart is pounding and tears are streaming down my face. "It's just a dream," I tell myself. Still anxious, I climb out of bed, with plans to check the locks. As my feet touch the carpet, I hear the sound of heavy tires pulling into the driveway.

Taylor's dreamscape has become my reality.

Dream Walker appeals to adult crossover readers as well as young adults, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres. While it can be a standalone novel, I have already outlined the next book in the Dreamscape Series.

Thank you for your time and consideration. A full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to your response.

(Contact information)


Redline:

Dear (Agent or Publisher),


(: Personal factoid with a hint of admiration :)[as a general rule, I tend to feel that the personal factoids and hints of admiration aren’t necessary. Let your novel and your writing speak for itself.] I am seeking representation for Dream Walker, a completed 70,000 word science fiction novel for young adult readers. [I would rewrite this as: Dream Walker, my YA science fiction novel is complete at 70,000 words. It’s simpler and with this housekeeping, simpler is almost always better. Also, a lot of agents want this at the end of your pitch – some would rather have it at the front. All in all, I think it comes down to personal preference for the writer.] Without delay, I will hand the reigns off to a sixteen-year-old named Suri, who is determined that even my query be told in her own narrative. [I don’t like the way you introduce the MC and the fact that the book is in first person. Writing a query in first person isn’t something I would personally recommend. It works occasionally – you can see a query that landed an agent for Miranda Kenneally’s Novel (recently retitled Chasing Jordan) – I think that one of the major things holding you back is this introduction.]

The dreams I have are not my own. [I get you’re trying to use this as a hook, but I don’t think this works. It’s just too disconnected.]


Every time I fall asleep, I find myself in a dimly lit hallway with nothing but a piece of chalk and endless doors to keep me company. [Because you don’t clue us in to what he chalk is about, I’d drop it.] Behind each door is a person I know, and should I decide to open one, I can leave my hallway in hopes that their dream is more interesting. [This is kind of blah. It needs strength and a reason for us to care about what’s behind those doors!]

I choose a door I have never been in before and identify the dreamer as Taylor, [This seems really clinical, give it some life] the quiet guy who sits in the back of the classroom during second period [I’d say what class this is helps remind the reader she’s in highschool, but second period is a bit to generic]. I enter his dream, expecting to see him fantasizing about his latest crush, or scoring the winning touch down [one word], but his dream isn't about him [I like the detail you give to this sentence, but I think you could start and end it a little more succinctly]. He is dreaming about three men dragging me out of my house and throwing me in the back of an unmarked van [You need to liven these up a bit. There’s no real emotion here, nothing to make us care.]. He then does something that no one else ever has; he turns to me, and tells me to run.

When I wake, my heart is pounding and tears are streaming down my face. [This seems out of place with the lack of emotion in the last chapter.] "It's just a dream," I tell myself. [If you want to keep this, I’d rework it so it’s not actual dialog.] Still anxious [this needs to be a stronger word – “freaked” maybe?], I climb out of bed, with plans to check the locks. As my feet touch the carpet, I hear the sound of heavy tires pulling into the driveway.


Taylor's dreamscape has become my reality. [Check the notes below, I took a shot at rewriting this one for you.]
 
Dream Walker appeals to adult crossover readers as well as young adults, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres. [I’d toss this. It’s like telling an agent your novel is funny. In the long run, you want the agent to come to this conclusion on their own because of your writing.] While it can be a standalone novel, I have already outlined the next book in the Dreamscape Series. [This I would put with the rest of your housekeeping – whether you move the WC down here, or this to the top – and I would make the statement stronger: Dream walker is a standalone novel with the potential to branch out into a series.]


Thank you for your time and consideration. A full manuscript is available upon request. [This can be tossed. If you’re querying and you’ve already said the novel is complete, they know the full is available] I look forward to your response. [I always say: I hope to hear from you soon – or something to that effect, because there are so many “no response means no” agents out there anymore that I feel like stating that you’re expecting a response can come off looking a little unprofessional.]

(Contact information)

Notes:
 
I don't normally do this, but in your case I took a moment to rewrite the pitch paragraph. The things in parentheses are things I guessed at and you'll probably have to change if you decide to incorporate some or any of my suggestions in.
 
My name is Suri (last name) and for sixteen years a dreamless sleep is all I’ve ever wanted.


Each night when I fall asleep, my dreams take me to a place so familiar I could tell you (the number of holes in the acoustical tiles). The hallway in my dreams is an unending vein of doors. Each door holds the dreams of someone I know, each time I open one, (I wish I hadn’t.)


When I choose a new door, I’m pulled into Taylor’s dreams. The quiet boy from my (algebra class) isn’t fantasizing about his latest crush, or winning the state championship by scoring the impossible touchdown. This dream isn’t about Taylor. We’re on my street, in front of my house, an unmarked van skids (noiselessly) to a halt. Three men burst through my door and drag me out, (my mouth open in a silent scream). As I watch my abduction next to him, Taylor does something I never expected. No one has ever been able to see me in one of their dreams, but Taylor is different. He turns to me and tells me to run.


Shocked back to consciousness by Taylor’s words, my heart is pounding in my ears. That doesn’t drown out the sound of heavy tires pulling into the driveway. My fingers split the blinds and I see that Taylor’s dreamscape has become my reality.

I hope this helped!
 
Thanks for sending me your query.

Jun 9, 2011

Puddle

IF YOU MISSED LAST WEEKS POST (I DIDN’T GET IT UP IN TIME) READ IT HERE FIRST: SQUALL

Marion waited near the baggage claim, her perfectly coifed white hair stood out like a warning beacon as I slipped toward Nancy.

“Let’s go before she has security start looking for me.”

Nancy shuffled me to her car and we were out of the airport faster than I’d thought possible.

“What do you think she’s going to do when she finds out you gave her the slip?”

“Well, first she’ll call me, then she’ll have a psychotic bitch melt down and then… well, hopefully things will be all settled.” I leaned back in the chair and stretched my legs. “Besides, she didn’t tell me she was coming to pick me up – though it may have been implied – and she can hardly get mad at me for not seeing her and having made plans of my own…”

“If she hadn’t made that phone call, I might be scolding you right now.”

I laughed, but we spent the rest of the short ride in silence.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” Nancy asked as I held the door open in front of the house that no longer felt like a home.

“I’ll be fine.”

The car door thudded shut and I let out a breath as that avenue of escape drove off. Shattered glass crunched under my feet and I remembered with aching clarity how my last day in this house had ended. These shards must have fallen out of the trash bag on pick up day.

John was alone in the kitchen when opened the door. His face turned sheet white when he saw me alone.

“Sorry, I didn’t think it would be fair to have your mom here to feed you lines. I want a divorce. I know your family doesn’t believe in them, but you obviously must. I’m sure your girlfriend will be happy to fill in as the dutiful wife your family always thought I was. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll both actually be happy for once – Heaven knows we haven’t been there for years.

“I figure I have about twenty minutes. I’m going to pack up my stuff and I’ll be out of your hair. I’m leaving the state, so I’d suggest you file, I’ll have to wait three months.” I waited for him to say something, but he only stood gaping at me like one of the fish mounted on the wall in his den.

Without anything left to say and John obviously incapable of stringing a sentence together, I went to the closet and tossed all of my clothes into the two suitcases left. They looked like the bloated carcasses of two tiny beached whales and I had to sit on them to get them to zip, but everything fit in… except the shoes.

It took three trips to the car one for the two suitcases and one for each of the massive boxes that held my shoes. I hoped they wouldn’t get too scuffed in the drive.

The last thing was down stairs: my office. He could keep the rest.

The Mac and my cameras were easy. I put the cameras in their cases and the Mac fit snuggly into a box surrounded by a comforter. It was the other things that gave me pause. I couldn’t take the antique whitewashed desk, or the toile covered chair. It was Ironic that after all this time I’d miss them more than him.

Everything fit in the back of my Subaru. I’d gotten it for potential offroad shoots, and now I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of adventure it would take me on as I found my way back to California.

I pulled out of the driveway and gave Marion a mocking wave as she ran down the driveway after me, breaking a heel.

I was free for now, but tomorrow was a whole new day.

Squall<<

***

This is a piece of ongoing fiction inspired by The Red Dress Club’s Red Writing Hood Prompts. This Week’s prompt was to write a happy ending.

We’re far from the end of Zoe’s story, but this is a happy ending to this chapter of her life.

Squall

THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN POSTED LAST WEEK, SORRY ABOUT THE CONFUSION.

I was doing the one thing I didn’t want to do.

Sitting in the hard plastic seat at gate seventeen, I thought about how much I wanted to get on that plane and relax. It was a foolish wish. Even with the first class ticket Marion had bought as a guilty leash to pull me home with, I knew no amount of padding would make this return a comfortable one.

The stiff back of the chair was encouraging the knot that was slowly tangling between my shoulder blades. I knew exactly what this was: Marion doing whatever she could to rope me into staying. She wanted her son with his perfect marriage and doting wife back.

There was a large wrinkle in her plan. We’d never had the perfect marriage and I certainly never was the doting wife. We’d put up a wonderful farce. I couldn’t lie. The first year or so had been fine – it wasn’t spectacular by any means. John hadn’t been any happier than I had. Sometimes I think the only reason we stayed together was his dreadful father.

It’s an ironic thing to think about… but it’s true. That man scared me to death and I hated him for it. Now that he was gone, the only one in the family who knew about John Senior’s vindictive ways was his wife. Regardless of how she’d treated me after the funeral, that phone call had said it all. I was expected to maintain the Krieff family values. A set of rules engrained into their heads so deeply that it ran through their blood, but not in mine.

The phone buzzed and I answered it without looking at the caller ID. At this point there was no point hiding from anyone.

“Mrs. Krieff, I’m with the La Grande Gazzette and we have it on good authority that you’ve separated from your husband. I’d be grateful if you’d care to comment.”

“You’ve got a wrong number.” I hung up the phone with out another word. That was the easiest way to get rid of press vultures. Saying “No comment” translated to “call me back” to most of them.

The phone buzzed again and I answered, annoyed, “I said, you have a wrong number.”

“Are you sure?” Eli laughed and I felt some of my tension slipping away.

On the list of places I’d rather be right now, with Eli was number one on the list. “Sorry, a reporter from Oregon just called me.”

“I thought we’d grab lunch, where can I pick you up?”

I winced at the question. I’d hoped to be out of the state before I told him my plans. “I’m at the airport.”

I’d told him about the call and the plane ticket the next day. I hadn’t told him I was going to use it.

“Zoe, don’t do it. You know she’s just trying to suck you in and make you stay.” Eli’s words were pained and the dry ache of disappointing him clutched at my throat.

“I can’t hide forever. If I don’t go back now, it will just get harder.” I finally realized what was important enough to me to force me to hand my boarding pass to the gate agent. “I want the lie I’ve been living all these years to finally be over.”

Flipping off the phone, I followed the others down the jet way and sat in the plush seat. I may not have paid for the ticket, but I was going home on my own terms this time.

I made one last call before the flight attendant sent out the all call for any electronic devices to be shut down and settled into the ridiculously comfortable seat.

Dry << >>Puddle

***

This is a piece of ongoing fiction inspired by The Red Dress Club’s Red Writing Hood Prompts. This Week’s prompt was to write about what your character wants most.

Jun 8, 2011

Diversification

A beta reader pointed out the other day that I’m a bit spastic about subgenre. Here’s why:

Book 1 – Romantic Fantasy (technically a YA title)

Book 2 – YA Urban Fantasy

Book 3 – YA Epic Fantasy

Book 4 – Space Western

Book 5 – Romantic Science Fiction

Book 6 – Hard Science Fiction

Book 7 – Steampunk Western


(The rest of these are in my queue to finish and are at various stages of being completed.)

Book ? – YA Space Opera

Book ? – YA Urban Fantasy (with lesbian protagonist)

Book ? – Science Fiction Thriller

Book? – YA Dystopian

As you can see, I stick to mainly Adult SF and YA Fantasy, but within those two category/genres. I bounce around a lot.

Jun 7, 2011

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

A Dystopia with Zombies


Paperback, 336 pages











My Summary:

Mary has always trusted the truths of the village. They were the truths of the Guardians and the Sisters. When those truths are revealed to be false, Mary clings to the one thing she’s been told to forget: the Ocean. She’s never seen the sea, but she longs to escape the village and find it. When an outsider comes to the village – hidden away from the villagers by the sisterhood, Mary knows there’s life beyond the fence; beyond the unconsecrated. When Mary sees the outsider on the other side of the fence, dead and returned, she knows she must escape before the sisters can throw her to the unconsecrated as well.

My Review:

I read this novel as part of my celebration of Zombie Awareness month. In general, the novel felt a little rushed. And I have to admit, I felt absolutely no connection to a character I think as the reader, I was supposed to. The setting was interesting, a future after the zombie apocalypse where one small town has survived by vigilant upkeep of the fence surrounding them and a religious set of rules that keep people appeased and safe.

The main character is a bit of a sticking point for me. I don’t know what she wants other than to get to the ocean and in the end, she basically hurts everyone she loves in the process of getting there. And the end leaves several characters up a creek (or in their case – in the middle of the woods) with no resolution. In the end I felt like my copy of the novel was missing a few chapters.

Buy, Borrow, Brush Past:

If you enjoy zombie novels, and don’t mind a protagonist who doesn’t know what she wants, I’d definitely suggest getting this from the library. Or, if you love protagonists that don’t know what they want, and don’t mind zombies, Amazon has the hardcover edition for $3 less than the paperback .


Can you escape death when it’s trudging after you?






Jun 6, 2011

A Sea Before The Storm

Today I’m beginning a series of posts that I’m calling Monday Inspiration. Each Monday I’ll post a picture (or maybe more) that inspires me in some way. Maybe it will inspire you also!


Jun 3, 2011

Sometimes My Love of Alliteration Slips in...

~Lex covered her head, curling into the fetal position as the cacophony of clattering cargo crashed about her.~

Jun 1, 2011

Why I Haven't Been Around

(For those of you wondering why I'm holding these - I just went through the last of the ink in that pen. Fancy, huh? Well, back to the ol' grindstone.)