Saturday, February 10, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Queen of Ieflaria, Effie Calvin

The Queen of Ieflaria, by Effie Calvin, is the first book in a fantasy series. Esofi, a princess of Rhodia, has been betrothed to Albion, the heir of Ieflaria, since they were young children. When Albion dies in an accident, Esofi travels to Ieflaria with the intention of marrying the new heir, who turns out to be Adale. Adale, as second child, had never intended on becoming queen and, as such, is found lacking, enough that her two cousins throw their hats into the ring for becoming heir and, consequently, Esofi's betrothed. There's also the small matter of dragons attacking Ieflara and the Ieflarian people not having strong enough magic to repel them. Esofi is a gifted mage and has brought Rhodian battlemages with her to help Ieflaria fight this threat.

Monday, February 5, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: It's Not a Date, Heather Blackmore

It's Not a Date is about Kade Davenport, a tech entrepreneur and investor who is a stickler for punctuality and doesn't let herself get close to anyone, and Jen Spencer, CEO of Creative Care, which aims to pair people who need to hire care for elderly or sick relatives with private-care workers. When one of Creative Care's board members falls ill, Kade is called in to substitute, and Kade and Jen find out they have very different management styles even while sparks fly.

Throughout the read, I was hovering between 4 and 5 stars, but by the end, I was completely charmed by this story. Honestly, I didn't understand some of the stuff about investments and venture capitalists, but it never took away from my enjoyment of the story. I could still very much understand where each woman was coming from and the stakes each was facing.

A lot of Jen's concerns about being a female CEO in the tech industry are real-life issues women face. Her colleague was pushed out of her CEO role for becoming pregnant. Jen thinks that Kade, who basically has no private life, has set an example for successful businesswomen that essentially advises women to value their job over their family. And Jen worries that having to leave work unexpectedly to care for her grandmother, who has dementia, will hurt her prospects in the field.

On Kade's end, she has some very real trauma from her youth that she's never gotten over. Because of this, she's never been in a relationship and only has one real friend. Jen, through her kindness, helps her grow as a person.

This is what I loved most about this book and what ultimately won me over--how Jen and Kade are written. There's always going to be miscommunication and angst in a romance, but it's very subtly done here. Their differences arise from them being completely different people, but I always understood both points of view. There were multiple points where their differences could've been used to amp up the angst. Instead, Blackmore often has the character or characters in the wrong take time to cool off and understand on their own why they were wrong. It's very refreshing.

I also want to say that the ending scene was one of the most satisfying romance ending scenes that I've read. It tied things together in a lovely way.

There were a few things that didn't quite work for me, however. I see from a lot of people's reviews that they loved the beginning set in Maui. While I enjoyed it, I found myself questioning the authorial choice to devote an entire 12% to it. I think it could've been pared down, but I realize I didn't enjoy it as much as some others because I don't care too much for instant attraction. I like when characters have a bit of a struggle getting there.

I also thought the points of view were a little imbalanced, especially toward the beginning. We spent a lot of time with Kade first then lots with Jen before it evened out. Perhaps I would've found the beginning 12% more interesting if there had been more of a balance. Along these same lines, sometimes it took a paragraph or two to figure out whose point of view we were in. These types of things definitely aren't deal-breakers for me, but they could be improved upon in the next book.

I'd definitely recommend this to romance readers, especially those who enjoy f/f romance, and I'll be looking forward to more stories from Blackmore.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Heather Blackmore for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Writing Update, January

You might have noticed that I added another manuscript progress bar to the right side of the page (and yes, I'm keeping the YA post-apocalyptic one even though I haven't worked on it in a while). The first draft of book two is currently with readers, so I find myself mostly twiddling my thumbs while I wait for their comments. To keep myself productive, my main focus over the next few months is (hopefully) going to be this manuscript, tentatively titled To the Edge of the Galaxy.

While I've written sci-fi short stories, this is the first sci-fi novel I'm embarking upon. I'm more familiar with SF movies and television than I am with SF novels (and the other way around for fantasy), so I'm also going to try to prioritize reading SF over fantasy in the foreseeable future. If you have any books you think I should read, feel free to suggest them.

My goal is to finish the first draft by the end of April. I'm shooting for 70,000 words. I have almost 9,000 right now, which means approximately 20,000 words per month. That's certainly doable, providing I don't let myself get distracted by shiny new ideas. I'm posting here to keep myself accountable.

Although I have some words already, I'm very much still feeling this project out. I originally envisioned one point of view, but now I think two might serve the story better. I'm dealing with all the exciting and scary questions that come with starting a new novel. I'm excited to see where this journey will take me!

Monday, January 29, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins

Daughters of the Storm is the first book in Kim Wilkins's Blood and Gold series. I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and they're not necessarily organized, so bear with me. The book is about five sisters who are the daughter of a king. Bluebell is the oldest and a warrior who is rumored to be unkillable. Rose is married to the king of the neighboring nation as part of a peace treaty, and her heart belongs to another. Ash struggles with her burgeoning magic. Ivy lives to be admired by men, and her twin, Willow, is devoted to the gods.

The story starts when their father, the king, takes ill. Bluebell believes it to be the work of magic, so she drags her father and her sisters off to save him. The synopsis also mentions a "treacherous stepbrother" intent on seizing the throne. This isn't untrue, but the sisters aren't really aware of it, which makes for an anticlimactic climax. But more on that later! I'm going to try to split this up into categories in order to keep it more organized than it is in my head.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Seven-Sided Spy, Hannah Carmack
This was an interesting and unexpected read and, consequently, a bit difficult to review. It's really hard to explain without giving much away. During the Cold War, a group of CIA agents is captured by the KGB and experimented on. They escape but get trapped in a state park, leading to a standoff with three KGB agents.

The synopsis makes it seem like the majority of the story will be these two groups of agents matching wits, but there's really not a lot of plot here.There are a ton of flashbacks. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'd say half the book is flashbacks to the agents' previous missions, which aren't even that detailed. As a result, the story is so choppy that I felt adrift most of the read.

The main problem is that there are too many characters for the story to focus on--at least eight. Everyone has code names and real names, and the narration flops between them, so it's sometimes hard to keep track. More than that, though, is that they all get points of view. In fact, some scenes even seemed omniscient, switching between characters' thoughts. Despite all these characters having points of view, it was so hard to get a read on their motivation. Okay, the CIA agents want to get away from the KGB, but they don't do anything about it in the present, and in the flashbacks, their motivations are even murkier. Why is anyone doing what they're doing? The synopsis gave me the impression that Diana is the main character, but after reading the whole book, I still barely have an idea of who she is or what her relationship with the KGB agent was like.

As far as the editing goes, there were many little typos or errors, such as comma splices or capitalizing the first word after a comma. I'm attuned to that sort of stuff anyway, but it felt like this manuscript needed another run-through to catch those things. The writing is decent and flows well, but some of the phrasing is awkward.

It's not that this wasn't an enjoyable read--I definitely liked aspects--but it was frustrating one. I think there are a lot of good ideas here but that the execution is lacking. I'd probably read more from Carmack in the future, but I don't think I'd recommend this to anyone except readers who really like spy novels.

Thanks to Hannah Carmack, NineStar Press, and NetGalley for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 12, 2018

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Comics of 2017

I had to separate these from my prose books list because I would've ended up with more than five! Without further ado:

Morning Glories, Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma
Technically, I read the first volume of this in December 2016, but I read all the rest in 2017. I've been thinking a lot about it since I watched Marvel's Runaways last week, although there aren't too many similarities beyond focusing on a group of six teenagers whose lives become crazy. This series certainly kept me reading in order to find answers, and Casey's one of my favorite comic characters. Unfortunately, the ten-book series ends on a cliffhanger. Hopefully there's more to come, but in the meantime, I might reread this one.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh
I miss this show, and this was a wonderful continuation. It was nice to drop back into this universe, but I did think it was a little short, leaving some of the scenes too abrupt. I'm excited for volume two, though, which comes out toward the end of the month.

Bombshells, Vol. 2: Allies, Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage, Laura Braga, Mirka Andolfo, Sandy Jarrell, Maria Laura Sanapo
Hey, I loooove this series, and this is my favorite volume out of the five. I loved seeing Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batwoman, and the rest of the DC heroines in this alternate-WWII era. One of my favorite developments involved sisters Kara and Kortni, and I love that this series always has commentary on the power of stories.  "Symbols and stories got power, sugar. Fairy tales and propaganda. It's all in the story you tell. It's all in the story you sell. Never trust the man with the microphone. Write your own ending." - Batwoman to Stargirl

The Legend of Wonder Woman: Origins, Renae de Liz, Ray Dillon
Hands down, this is my favorite Wonder Woman adaptation. Maybe because I came late to reading comics, by which point Diana's history was difficult to dive into. But this is a wonderful introduction to the character, and I was really drawn to the fact that she's searching for her place in the world. My very favorite aspect, though, is the emphasis on Diana's friendship with Etta and the Holliday girls and even takes precedence over her relationship with Steve. Also, the art is lovely. Very happy with this one and very sad it got canceled.

Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood, Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
Look. I can't even be coherent about this one, okay? Everything about it is incredible--the art, the characters, the premise, the world. I should probably go read it again before #13 comes out in 12 days, shouldn't I? Yeah, I should.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Books of 2017

I read a lot last year! Part of the reason is I tried to slow down and get more reading so as to better inform my writing. Another is that I really got into audiobooks and I have a long commute to work. And let's not forget that our country went to the dogs last year, so reading became even more of an escape than usual. So, a list of my five favorite reads of 2017, purely in alphabetical order.

The Pearl Thief, by Elizabeth Wein
Wein's previous book, Code Name Verity, emotionally destroyed me, and then I thanked it for doing so. I loved it and didn't really think this could top it. Plus, it's a prequel that follows Julie, one of the two main characters in CNV, so I wasn't sure if I would walk away with a different view of her. But I still loved her, and I still loved Wein's writing. Truly a pleasure to read!

Run in the Blood, by A.E. Ross
I joined NetGalley just a few months ago in the hopes that I could find new titles to read that I might not often come across and because I reviews kind of make the literary world go 'round and I wanted to give back. I requested this title because of the premise, and it definitely didn't disappoint! I love high fantasy, but I especially love it when it's not centered around straight white men, so this was a nice breath of fresh air. I'll be looking out for more by Ross in the future!

I've been a fan of MWT and this series since I was in sixth grade, I think? The fourth book came out in 2010. It's been a long wait, but it was well worth it. This series is interesting because Turner always does something new in terms of perspective, and she always works in twists. Every book in this series is cleverly plotted and rooted in complex characters. I'll be eagerly awaiting book six, but I won't hold my breath!

Whispers at the Altar, by Allan C.R. Cornelius
Allan's a friend of mine from our MFA program. He's awesome, but this isn't a favorite read just because I know him. It's because this story is pretty much right up my alley. It's high fantasy, and the main character, Christa, is a heroine in the vein I like best--a little bit dark, a little bit lost. Excitedly looking forward to book two (but I won't pressure him, because I know what that's like, haha).

Who'd Have Thought?, by G. Benson
This one took me by surprise. I found it almost by accident one night when I wanted a romance to read and searched for "fake relationships" because that's one of my favorite tropes. I found this story to be a delight! It's about Sam, an awkward but brilliant neurosurgeon who needs a wife for secret reasons and Hayden, a devoted but underpaid nurse who could use some extra cash to pay off her school loans and send back to her family. It's sweet without being too sweet, and its emotional moments are the perfect counterpoint. Will definitely have to read more from Benson in the future.