Review: Ghosts

This week I give you GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier:

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Yes, GHOSTS is a middle-grade comic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out.

Here is what it’s about: (via goodreads)

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.

It’s worth a read. Telgemeier takes the subject of ghosts, illness, family, and first love–and intertwines them into an loving story about two sisters dealing with the one thing no one will discuss: what happens after death.

For more information on GHOSTS and Raina Telgemeier, head over to her website: GoRaina.com.

Happy Reading! -A

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Review: Strange Afterlives

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For the first review of the year–I give you STRANGE AFTERLIVES an anthology edited by A. Lee Martinez.

In a short story world filled with a sea of anthologies–some that are good, some that are not–it’s always exciting to picked up one like STRANGE AFTERLIVES. Instead of one or two interesting reads, it’s filled with eleven of them.

I read it in one sitting. I loved it that much.

Here is the Goodread’s summary:

In this anthology of eleven original tales, the undead are never quite expected. From sinister feline mummies to ravenous zombified cars and any and all things in-between, the living dead have returned from their graves, junkyards, and even the war torn skies to haunt the lands of the living. With stories horrific, funny, and weird, Strange Afterlives has a little something for everyone who has ever wondered what terrible secrets could be lurking in that rotting tree or broken toy.

If you’re a fan of horror, and enjoy a bit of humor in the mix–this anthology is for you. As I said before, most times I read anthologies I like one or two stories, but read this one from the beginning, MOUSE TROUBLES by the editor and chief, A. Lee Martinez, to the end, THE SCAVENGER HUNT by John Sanders, Jr.

Happy Reading! –xxoo-A

Friday in Review: The Future is Blue

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I probably should have opened with I’ll only be reviewing ONE story from this collection. [Drowned Worlds–edited by Jonathan Strahan] If you’re asking why, well–that is a fantastic question. My answer is this–I really loved this one.

“THE FUTURE IS BLUE–by: Catherynne M Valente

Now, if you will–imagine a world where people and politician don’t believe the threat of Global Warming is an issue. I know it’s a hard stretch–but please, try.

This collection of short stories are all derived from that notion. The simple idea of what will come of this world if we don’t get ourselves into check.

I actually really enjoyed more than one of these tales–but THE FUTURE IS BLUE stuck out somehow. Here is a short summary “Teenage Tetley lives in a human settlement (one of the last) built on a miles-wide floating garbage dump. She explains why everyone hates her now.”

I know. Sounds drab. Who wants to read a story about a young woman who is hated by all–but it’s an amazing read. So utterly removed from the reality that is floating around her, Tetley exists in a world filled with leftovers from our forgotten era. Simply put, she never romanticized the world she had been born into or the life that was handed to her.

Even though she should be mad as hell, and spitting nails .

There is a very special whimsical element to the main character. It’s this component that helps you cope what what you’re really witnessing. And it doesn’t hurt that the floating world Valente built is stunning, once you sift through the mess. (Rather like Tetley.)

I highly recommend this short story–and the rest of the book. (I mean, may was well… am I right?)

Happy Reading!! xxoo-A

The art of listening–audio books

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I recently entered the world of Audio Books. I got the idea from my writing partner–Michelle Bond. And if I’m going to be honest, I live in a city where audio books should reign supreme. They (study makers) say that people in LA spend, roughly, ninety hours a year stuck in their car.

What is a better way to use that time then to listen to an audio book? I like to call them “bonus books.” I like to find ways to sneak books into my life. I have my “night time” book–and then I have the books I read for research when I’m writing–now I have my traffic books.”

Most of these books I finish, but I’m finding my newly added “traffic books” don’t seem to get the attention they deserve.

I’m only two books into this experience. (Three if you count the time I tried to listen to Divergent, but we won’t count that because I only made it two lines in before I called it quits.)

Why did I call it quits? Two reasons.

#1–Book 1. I came out of the gate with “Gone, Baby. Gone.” Written by Dennis Lehane, who has a magnificent way of weaving words around you like a spider wrapping a fly–the book is narrated by Jonathan Davis, who also did a fantastic job at transporting me into the world of this story.

Why did I stop? The subject of this book is a hard one for anyone to read. As a mother and a woman, it was even harder. I found myself yelling at the stereo, and then I realized anytime I listened to Gone, baby. Gone. I would be depressed for the next hour or so.

My son has never had so many hugs as when I was listening to this book.

So I chose to stop because my heart couldn’t handle the content. That said, the characters in this book are incredible. If you’re a writer looking to get into the mystery market–read some Dennis Lehane. He’s very, very good at what he does.

 

#2–Book 2. Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher. Now, I haven’t officially given up on this book. I have four days left on the copy I downloaded from the library–but there’s a chance I’m going to let it expire and put a hold on the paper back.

Initially excited, the book is narrated by James Marster (whom you may remember as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show), but then it became an issue… Every last word goes up at the end. Every. Last. Word. At first I shrugged it off as a character trait–which it may be. Proven Guilty is book 8 of a series, and was the only one available when I went looking at Jim Butcher books–but the longer I’m listening the harder it’s become to deal with it. At times it makes the MC feel insincere. But this is my number one grievance for audio books. If the narrator doesn’t pull it off–then the listener will turn it off.

 

That’s what happened with Divergent. I don’t have a clue who the narrator was/is. I’m not going to go look it up, but all I remember is how she delivered the first two lines, and I turned it off.

 

At this point I plan to keep trying. There have to be some books that are waiting for me to hear their sweet words, but if you have any tips on how to pick things out–I would love to hear them! I really don’t want to lose my bonus books… the make my day brighter. Mostly.

Happy reading! –Aryn–xxoo

How to make it better–Transparent review

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Welcome to a television review. I would prefer to only review books, but I feel when you find a good, even great, story–it’s worth a watch.

If you are unfamiliar with TRANSPARENT, here is the synopsis from IMDB:

“An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone’s secrets to spill out.”

Honestly, this doesn’t clear much up, so I’ll tell you this. After living a lifetime in confines of a mans world, Mort Pfefferman comes out as a transsexual named Maura. Set here in Los Angeles, the Pfefferman’s live in a world that most would be envious of. They have the house, the bank account, the two cat in the yard–but no one is happy.

TRANSPARENT first aired on Amazon Prime in 2014, and let me tell you, season one wowed me. This is a topic you don’t see on television. Maybe more now, but not when it first touched the airwaves. As a writer I love how complex the roles are. The cast of characters are all slightly crazy, living lie after lie. One by one the socially acceptable words they built around themselves crumble leaving each character in a hot mess of their own making.

I like this show, BUT I actually didn’t care for season 2. Firstly, I didn’t hate it–but the story lines for each character turned me against them. What feeling I had build for them in season 1 dwindled away by the season finale of season 2.

Season 3 is what brings me here today. Turning a reader or viewer around is hard as a writer/creator. A lot of times the reader/viewer will simply walk away. There are thousands of books to read and thousands of television shows to watch–but I went back, and I’m glad I did.

My contempt for Ali–the youngest and possibly the most messed up Pfefferman–transformed into compassion. That actually happened for all of the children of Mort/Maura. Their selfish nature’s that forced me to condemn them last season turned me on my heels this season and turned me into a total mom.

“It’ll be okay, honey. Just eat this and come sit for a while.”

As a writer, what I learned from TRANSPARENT Season 3, is forgiveness. Humans are fallible, we all know this–but displaying true navel deep vulnerability will bring your characters to life. This makes them relatable–even when they’re life is nothing like yours, because deep down inside all of us is that flicker of insecurity we have to master, daily.

If you haven’t had a chance to see TRANSPARENT, all three season are available on Amazon Prime for your streaming pleasure. Created by Jill Soloway and staring Jeffery Tambor, Gabby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and Judith Light–it’s the best 24 minutes you’ll treat yourself.

PS–Judith Light really should get a nomination for her role as Shelly Pfefferman this year. If my two cents counts, please make that a thing.

Happy watching! xxoo-A

Friday in Review — Six of Crows

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A little over a month ago I began the #BooksWithFriends Challenge with my crit partner Michelle Bond–and look! I finally finished!

In my defense, I get my books from the library–and the waiting list was long… The title Michelle choose for me was SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo.

I’m going to steal a page from Michelle’s playbook and post the general description from GoodReads.com on here for you to aquatint yourself with the title–if you don’t already know it.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

The ambiance of this novel reminded me of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch, and maybe even a little bit of THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie. There is a grit to these titles, just as there is grit to THE SIX OF CROWS. Now, no one likes an antihero who had a soft life. Where does the hate come from? Where is their drive for vengeance if not born from trials, tribulations, and an inherent need to survive. Okay, maybe more Locke Lamora than The Blade Itself–but the ambiance… read them all and you’ll see what I mean.

SIX OF CROWS is a longer book–running over 400 pages–but there is a lot of of world building and back story that is intergral to the plot. You need to travel those first 250 pages to float through the rest of the novel. It’s worth the work–I promise you that.

Each character presented was relatable and likable (in their own warped way.) Yes, they aren’t Mother Teresa, but you felt for them. You rooted for them. You wanted them to win.

But here is my complaint.

Above I’ve listed three books. All three of these titles are series. THE LIE OF LOCKE LAMORA is book #1 in the Gentleman’s Bastards Series. THE BLADE ITSELF  is book #1 in the First Law series. SIX OF CROWS is book #1 in it’s own series as well. Book two–CROOKED KINGDOM–was released on September 27th.

Now–what they have in common are:

  • great characters
  • general ambiance
  • epic fantasy

What they don’t–both Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself are stand alone books, and The Six of Crows is not.

I am not a fan of this. I just am not. I don’t like the feeling I’m being bullied into a series. When I arrived at the cliff hanger of an ending it immediately squashed the excitement I had for this title. I wanted a conclusion to this adventure. Does that mean that there can’t be a sequel–absolutely not. Let’s use Star Wars as an example.

I’ve come to notice this seems to be a YA thing. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are Adult titles out there that have open ended finales so you’ll ‘tune in next week’ for the new title–whenever that will be. Over all, I find it disappointing.

It may be my age, but I look at series like this–J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t have to do this to make me move on to the next title. Neither did J.K. Rowling.

I’m not going to say, “don’t read this book,” because I really did enjoy Bardugo’s writing style, and the world, characters, relationships, magic, etc.–but that doesn’t change the hit of disappointment lingers like a bad taste in my mouth.

I wish this trend would go away. I think we would all be better if it did.

 

 

Friday in Review–Toby’s Room

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“Toby’s Room” by: Pat Barker

TOBY’S ROOM isn’t my normal read. Yes, I like a good historic fiction from time to time, but in my experience a good story is hard to find.

I picked up TOBY’S ROOM for an online course I was taking on World War I heroism and art. There was a list, and this was the first one my library had a digital copy of–so it won out over all the rest. This may not sound like the most compelling reason to read a novel, but it turned out to be luck of fate.

I very much like the sadness that encompassed Toby’s Room.

Toby’s Room is the story of the civilians during WWI. More specifically, artists. Before this war–the war to ‘end’ all wars–the world was a much different place. Imperialism was just coming to an end, and how we–the public–viewed war was filled with chivalry and grand gestures. World War I put men in trenches and was anything but whimsical and heroic.

The story was twisted, much as life often is. There are a lot of gray areas in the real world. Moments that complicate life, making it anything but cut and dry. That is what I enjoyed the most about this tormented tale.

There are so many moments you should look away. Too many broken people who deserve your charity rather than your gawking–but gawking I did. From the first chapter to the last.

No, this is not an every persons book. If you don’t like history, or war, or gray patches–you may want to pass. But I feel the complexity of the character and Ms Barker’s ability to force you to feel compassion, even for those who don’t deserve it, will leave you turning pages.

Happy reading! xxoo-A

Friday in Review–Already Dead

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ALREADY DEAD–(A Joe Pitt Novel)–by Charlie Huston.

I’m branching out. Well, sorta. As a writer, I prefer to read in the genre I’m currently writing it. It helps me stay focused and–just how music enhances a writers emotional state while writing certain scenes–reading in the same genre keeps me from floating my characters off to Never, Never Land when they should be lying in the dirt.

Upon doing multiple searches on noir-esk urban fantasies–after bypassing Sandman Slim (one of my Books with Friends choices for my reading buddy) I discovered Joe Pitt and his vampyre underworld in good old New York City.

If I was to do a pros and cons list, my cons would be short. Honestly, I just wasn’t a fan of it being in New York. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE New York. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Hell, it’s on the same list as Paris and London–but everything is set in New York (or Los Angeles–the birth place of Noir Fiction. Thank you Raymond Chandler.) Regardless of my jaded opinion, Charlie Huston does a wonderful job of using his New York backdrop to pull you right into the story.

On to things I liked! Before I do that I must explain that I haven’t read any vampire novels in an extremely long time. I didn’t set out to read ALREADY DEAD because there were ‘vampyres’ in it. That said–I enjoyed this world immensely. It is cleverly constructed, putting a new spin on what a vampyre is. (That is how it is spelled in the book, by the way.)

It’s a perfect example of a modern noir with it’s down and out PI who has a drinking problem–in Joe’s case, his drink of choice is blood. The ‘damsels in distress’ have been (thankfully) updated. All of them prove to be very much in control of their own lives and bodies. <- This is something I loved. I’m more willing to accept a story in a ‘sexy’ location than I ever will be of accepting a woman who can’t save herself. There was havoc, destruction, and suspense. All the ‘will he or won’t he’ moments kept me turning the pages. Over all, ALREADY DEAD was a fantastic read, which makes me excited to dive into the other four books in the series.

Check your local library for a copy–I read it on Overdrive as an kindle ebook–or head over to Amazon. And you can learn more about Charlie Huston’s other series on his website.

Happy reading!! xxx-Aryn

Friday in Review–The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

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THE PECULIAR MIRACLES OF ANTOINETTE MARTIAN, is the story of sisters Rose and Lily Martin. As children they were the best of friends. Raised on a flower farm in Tennessee–they were the sisters we all wish we had. Finishing each other sentences and dreaming of flowers and a life together–life was perfect until one day Rose had a daughter named Antoinette.

Antoinette is special. She is autistic to such a degree she needs constant care and supervision, but Antoinette is special beyond her diagnosis. She can heal with her touch and bring peace to places and situation where there once wasn’t any.

The birth of Antoinette, and her condition, drove the sisters apart–but can it bring them back together?

I very much enjoyed this book–heart wrenching, beautiful, and well written, PECULIAR MIRACLES is wonderful book that I’m so very glad I took the time to read. Very much like the author, Stephanie Knipper, PECULIAR MIRACLES has this way of drawing you in. Warm and caring, this world surrounds you with magic and and new beginnings.

Check it out here, and check out Stephanie Knipper on her blog.

Friday in Review – Ready Player One

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I am late this week, but alas… I will make it worth your while. I give you READY PLAYER ONE, a novel by Ernest Cline.

To be frank one of my biggest passions in all of the world is Science Fiction (and yes, some fantasy as well). The list of books I have been posting have not been in that genre, but that is about to end…

I now give you, by far, one of my new all time favorites – READY PLAYER ONE!

Here is my list of why:

#1 – The old adage, “Write what you know.” This book is an amazing example of writing what you know, but in a way that is fresh and new. Set in the future but ripped from out past – Rush (the band), acid washed jeans, pizza parlors, and video games all dropped into a Digital L.A.R.P.ing setting (Live action Role Play). Did you like Dungeons and Dragons growing up? Than read this book.

#2- Realism. This world could exist! It’s the notions of taking the truth and keeping it mostly intact to add to the terrifying idea of what’s to come. Such a wonderful way to add ambiance to a book.  This setting becomes its own character and you forget where you’re at. I was so absorbed I dreamt I was in OASIS (the digital LARPing game that dominates in this title.)

#3 – The Characters. Maybe you’re not a nerd. Maybe you weren’t in marching band in high school and didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons, and when you hear the word “Universe” you don’t automatically think of Marvel vs. DC, but all of that was part of my life. (And mostly still is.) For me I felt like I knew these kids. These are the people I spent a lot of my awkward teen years with, and even some of my twenties.

I loved this book SO MUCH I hijacked nearly every conversation I had for a week after I finished reading it to ask, “Have you read, Ready Player One? You really should – it’s amazing!” And now I ask you, have you read Ready Player One? Because you should!

 

I would love to hear from you! What are you reading?

Until next week! Happy reading!

Aryn