Book Review: The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

3.75 stars

I have a few things to bring up about the author’s theology in writing this book.

“I don’t care about your ignorance.”

The author clearly knows her stuff when it comes to ancient Middle Eastern culture and I am still in awe about how deep it went. However, she would work her magic in weaving words you know with words you don’t, removing the descriptive illusion that makes books so enveloping. This bothered me. Yes. Fine. There is a glossary and a map, but there is so much in every page that I no longer wanted to flip back to the glossary to find out what it was that she was pointing out. It might be a hat, or a dress, or a bicycle. I just glazed over it and continued. Because of this, I never truly felt an escape like I do in other books.

“I don’t care if you can read the names or not.”

In a lot of fantasy, author’s take liberties with creating fanciful names. These names go beyond my reading comprehension. And there were so many characters to keep up with, when a name was brought up again, because the spelling is not in my wheelhouse, I have nothing to even compare it to and as a result don’t remember the character at all. At the end, when characters were brought back I was like, do I know you? Are you important? Oh, right, you’re this guy’s dad? What did this guy do again? Just looking at some of these elegant names made my head spin.

Example: Darayavahoush e-Afshin (glad we could call him Dara).

“This book isn’t fantasy adventure, but more fantasy soap opera.”

By the second chapter, when all the ghouls came out, I was like YEAH! this is so cool. And then it wasn’t for a time, then a big fight with a dragon-looking thing and some crazy birds, which was COOL! and then, nothing but pampered politics for 300 pages. Even the climax was like, huh . . . I want the ghouls back.

Plus, I don’t know who the villain is, besides EVERYONE but Ali, the second narrator of the story – a chased, golden-hearted youth, that oh yeah, might have murdered my favorite character in the book.

“Incredulous is the best word ever.”

I find this in a lot of YA fiction where everyone looks incredulous. I guess, this is what everyone in Daevabad looks like, incredulous, which is half between anger and constipation. Every time I read it, a little ding sounded and the points in the book went done. I was saturated with incredulous enough in the Twilight series to never want to read it again.

“Magic will save everything.”

And it really does, because the magic is so beautiful. The world building is very well done and so consistent. Huge points on that.

All in all, I liked it, but it was hard for me to like it. If it wasn’t so fascinating and unlike anything I’d ever read, I probably wouldn’t like it as much. I did find similarities with my own series, that made me giggle. And also gave me hope that I’m doing something right. (mine copyrighted in 2013, btw.)

Book Review: The Hate U Give

I wanted to start off my year with something new, something not so fluffy or fantastical like what I usually gravitate to. This book caught my eye a while ago, and let’s be honest, she has the same last name as me, which makes her cool by default.

This is not what I typically read. I use reading as an escape from the hard stuff, so for me to read something I knew would rip my guts out is a bit strange for me.

The other day my teenage daughter read me the first page of a play called “Nocturne” by Adam Rapp. The first page, first line even, was super difficult for me to hear – about a teenager who accidentally ran over his sister, killing her. My daughter is at that age where this realistic curiosity feeds her emotions. I have grown passed that, having had dealt with real hard situations and having zero desire to revisit them. I have perspective and sensitivity, and it was hard for me even listening to her read this to me.

So, the thought of reading a story about a teen witnessing her best friend get shot by a cop was NOT on my TO READ list.

What changed my mind was Twitter.

I follow Angie Thomas. I have for years, and though I am not super active in the writing community there, I pay attention. She recently tweeter about the audiobook of The Hate U Give being one of the best audiobooks of the decade. THE DECADE.

Well, okay. Audiobook. I was curious. I love audio work and voice artists. Seriously, THAT is my dream job if I wasn’t an author. I have a commute, this should be fine. Listen to it here and there. Right? I think that sounds wonderful. I can do that.

So I downloaded it with a credit I had lying around and started that day.

Some books I can’t listen to on audio. Sometimes my brain needs to voice it. This happens with a lot of fantasy books when I’m engulfed in the cerebral words designed by an artist. Those things I can’t have others interpret for me. I need my head to do the narrating. But books like Eleanor and Park or Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered I wanted to listen to. I wanted to be entertained by the story. Because of the heavy subject matter, I thought maybe listening to this one would be better than reading it. Also, if Angie says it’s one of the best in the decade, than I think it’s worth a listen.

…and I’m very glad I did.

The best way I can describe this book is “Important.”

A quick rundown of THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas – Sixteen-year-old Starr Parker witnesses her best friend from childhood get shot by a cop for no other reason but for the color of his skin.

This book talks about race, social issues, culture, social politics, education, class . . . honestly, I think it touches every issue that people are afraid of. I was tremendously impressed with how it was handled.

Things I learned:

  1. It’s important to stand up for how you feel and what you believe in. Starr was afraid to talk about her experience with her friends. She attended a private school because of the poor education in Garden Heights. In the end, she stood up for truth and justice, no matter who was looking. — I have learned this over the years working in health care. I liked how it was represented so strongly in a book for youth.
  2. A community should act like a family. During the rioting in Garden Heights, the community rallied around Big Mav (Starr’s father) to keep their store open, even when it looked destroyed. Having small business and a strong community with you is important. It brings in safety and a sense of belonging. — I know my neighbors, they are good people. But there are several on my street that I don’t know. If something happened to my home, would they be there to rally for me? I seek that kind of support. I loved reading about that here.
  3. Sometimes people get in a bad way because they are trying to do a good thing. In the book, Khalil (the victim), was highlighted in the news as a drug dealer. Later you find out that he was doing it to protect his mother, not because he wanted but to keep her safe. — I think it’s always good to understand the whole picture before siding one way or the other. The underneath matters too. I really liked this point, because I don’t like how sometimes things are only told from one side. This is an important part of this book – Immediate reaction and sensationalism. When investigating anything, make sure it’s sourced. And it’s okay to form your own opinions, and don’t be a jerk to those that differ from you. Find the root cause of problems and help solve the problems. Be the sunshine in the change that we need in the world.
  4. Family unity. This family was very unified in what happens. And the family isn’t perfect and it shows the imperfections, but it centers on trust and love throughout the whole thing. I really enjoyed the side characters like Nana. Bahni Turpin did such a great job bringing in a rather grumpy old grandma to the stage. The whole performance was masterful. — Family is relations, but it is also who you chose it to be. My family takes in the strays, all are welcome. Believing in others and supporting is what a family should do. We all belong.
  5. Be proud of where you come from. Starr talked about having two versions of herself – the Garden Heights Starr and then her preppy school Starr. She hid the horrors of where she lived from her boyfriend Chris, who is white, which always thickened the perspective of everything. She grew to understand the real Starr and be proud of it. — For the longest time I was ashamed of how poor I was growing up. I later have found similar people with similar stories like mine, ones who understand what it was like to be the odd ones and struggle and to not fit in. I’ve grown to love my upbringing and wear it like a badge. I’m proud of it. Be proud.

This book makes me want to be a better human. The message of this book is about justice, doing what’s right, standing united. . . all things that many are timid about. It’s in my nature to be afraid to ruffle feathers, but when it’s important you should use your voice and stand up for what’s write.

I think right now is a perfect time to understand where you are and where you stand. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book. There is a lot of swearing because it speaks true to the culture and the situation, and I think it’s just as important to the book as anything else. That might scare off readers, but I embraced it and appreciated the authenticity.

THE HATE U GIVE really deserves the attention it has received. I’m glad I gave it a listen and plan on reading more from this author.

Cover Reveal: Fresh Re-Imagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is a driven, fantastical, lyrical retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in a world just adjacent of our own.

People have been wondering what my “SUPER SECRET” project has been lately, and I’m proud to tell you all about it!

Five or so years ago, Alyson Grauer (Aly) came and stayed with me and my family. This was a fortuitous meeting for both of us, and it felt strange that two people could be so similar yet live thousands of miles apart. This was close to the same time her book On the Isle of Sound and Wonder would be released.

The beautiful book was released in 2014 to tumultuous applause, but with the passing of time has been slowly quieted by the ever drowning sea of books. This little book was all but forgotten until a small conversation this summer planted the seeds of a much bigger adventure.

After some simmering on the idea, Aly messaged me and said she was all in; she wanted her book to get new breath. We worked on it secretly trying to iron out details, giving smallish hints of the rumbles going on. When I spontaneously hopped on a plane to Florida to help her attack some of the critical steps in finalizing everything, I think people started to suspect something was up. Finally, we are in a place to share what we’ve been working on.

Several may recall that I received my publishing rights in January of this year, re-releasing my books under my own indie press. This experience taught me a lot, I mean A LOT, and helped me gain confidence that I can do about anything and ignited my desire to help others with all the things I had learned. On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is Shadesilk’s first adventure in Indie press from an author.

With the independent spirit in mind, I wanted Aly to retain as much integrity with her book as possible. Shadesilk was used as a guiding hand and a launch pad for this magical book to reach a new audience, and hopefully rebuild confidence and renew the beauty it once had.

I thought I would send Aly some questions to help you know more about her and this incredible book. Here are her heartfelt answers.

How do you feel about relaunching your book? 
I am so excited to bring this book back in a new way. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that it was first published, but on the other, so much has changed since then, and there were things I had taken for granted in my manuscript that I really, really wanted to change. I didn’t do a complete rewrite and overhaul of the novel, but I made some well-needed adjustments and I am so pleased with how it fit together. I can’t wait to share this stronger, updated version with the world.

What does this story mean to you? 
In many ways, Sound and Wonder was a surprise to me. I had the idea during National Novel Writing Month 2013 to do a rewrite or retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and I kind of just let my imagination run wild with it. Then, in reworking and revising it for publication, I learned so many things about how complicated and challenging I had made it for myself in retrospect. I had never written anything like it: large cast, complex backstories, vengeance and dark magic and a lot of hard emotions woven throughout. Oh wait. Actually. The first long-form work I had ever drafted in high school was a historical fiction pirate story with a large cast, complex backstories, and vengeance charged with difficult emotions. No magic in that one, just a lot of cruel twists of fate. I’ve never realized this parallel before! 

What are some changes we can see in this version?
No spoilers, but there was a specific moment late in the story cut from the original version by editors that has been rightfully restored.
Also, what was I thinking, writing a 25 page prologue that was a flashback-within-a-flashback??? I’ve restructured the opening chapters more sensibly and smoothed out the distribution of flashbacks across the board. 

How has your writing changed over the years?
In the NaNoWriMo community people refer to ‘pantsers’ and ‘plotters’ – that is to say, people who write by the seat of their pants, and people who plot until they can’t anymore and then they start writing. For my whole life I was a pantser, and a lot of Sound and Wonder’s original drafts were pantsed, to a degree. But the thing I forgot was that I wasn’t truly pantsing — I was using Shakspeare’s dramatic structure from The Tempest to guide me. So I was pantsing-with-a-plot? It’s a mess in my head. 
Since the original release of this book, I have read much more widely in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction, and done a lot more research on how other successful authors hone their crafts. I read a lot of Brandon Sanderson, too, which changed the way I viewed epic fantasy.

Oh, and I married a plotter. So I became one too, much to my chagrin. 

What projects are you most excited by?
I like stories that have high emotional value, stories that connect with people and move them – whether it’s drama or comedy, romance or mystery. I love a sense of wonder and whimsy – magic that isn’t quite what you think it is, or unusual, silly twists on traditional archetypes or tropes. I see things in cinematic scale, and sometimes I have a hard time giving myself permission to zoom in or zoom out to find the right balance for a story, but I love when the action, the feeling, and the characters all join together.

You can find Aly’s book for Pre-Order at the Shadesilk Webstore here! And follow all the @dreamstobecome media on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review – Bleakwood Lore, the Little Book That Happened

I happily wear the editor badge for the Billy Blacksmith series by Ben Ireland. Creatively, Billy is the most fun I’ve had on a project, and a lot of that fun factor has to do with it not being my idea. The idea of Billy and his lovingly called “Billyverse” is too much for my brain to process sometimes. In this dynamically designed story, each character wears their own suit of armor, each has their own piece to the over-arching puzzle. So, in the editing process, there were several times when Ben would add a detail to the story that didn’t make sense, and I would highlight it as a problem, but he would insist it being there, because it would become important – very important, like a locket no one can open hidden in plain sight. I trust his work and believe in the story, so I will move on like a good editor.

I asked Ben exactly how he came up with the idea of Billy. He said, “After writing Kingdom City: Revolt, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. A little more fun. But I had no idea what. Then one day I walked into my kitchen in Houston, and it’s like a voice just popped into my head: “My name is Billy Blacksmith.  I like cupcakes, videogames, and baseball, but not necessarily in that order.  My best friend is a demon. And for some reason, I’m supposed to save the world.”

A flood of creativity can happen with any overwhelming idea, and sometimes it takes over every logical thought. When I started forming my series, the ideas just came so fast, and before I knew it, I had drawn a map of the world, character bios, a list of Latin rooted words from which I began crafting the magic. I have a binder I dedicated to this creation process. I don’t know what his notes first looked like, but I get the image of a mad scientist scribbling equations and laughing with no one. I mean, the world is MASSIVE.

After Ironsoul, the emotionally driven third in the series had finished and was published, I needed a break and maybe some time to heal from the unexpected middle school scars it opened. I was so heavily invested in the story and the characters, that after I closed the book I had felt like I had trained for a marathon. But then again, I missed the hard work. I longed for more Billy stories, and I knew that the fourth book was not even close to finished.

…and then Bleakwood Lore came along…

During the last few years I devoted to these books, sometimes Ben would mention a side story here and there. I think a lot of us writers like to think of our characters doing other things than just appearing in their story. I usually call mine WRITING EXERCISES in order for me to get used to how the character thinks and acts. In Ben’s case, it helps thicken the depth of the world and the plot. These side stories are not writing exercises, but essential, in some part, to the developing story. Even IN the Blacksmith books you see a folklore chapter here and there, or an excerpt from the Space Vikings. These are all progressing in a direction of a plot with so many moving parts, my brain is blown.

Ben began writing and collecting these side stories, I think in part for his own personal amusement, but others because there is value in the information given to the Billy fan. It’s easy to get hooked on Billy. Demonslayer is the foundation book, Hellforged is a freaking adrenaline rush, and Ironsoul is a complex, psychological thriller. Each took crafting and long hours. And I won’t say that Bleakwood Lore didn’t take a while to craft, but the scope is completely different. And the book just happened. Four months after Ironsoul was released, all Ben did was ask me to beta read. And here were are with a brand-new release.

So, what is Bleakwood Lore?

Simply put Bleakwood Lore is a collection of eleven short stories set in the Blacksmith Universe, plus some bonus material in the back.

Complexly put, Bleakwood is the critical tethering of the current Act One (first three) in the Blacksmith Legacy to the up-and-coming Act Two. But better than that, it’s a chance to get to know the characters, deepen your knowledge of the threads that have already been woven into the tapestry, and just have a really great time reading.

Unlike the other books, there is no centralized plot or villain or problem that needs to be solved, and because of it, there is a lot of joy in this book. One of the key elements that makes this journey in reading so enjoyable is you can feel how much fun the writer had writing it. There are stories that are funny, tender, absolutely adorable, heart-wrenching at the expensive of my own tears, and completely adrenaline fueled. I truly adored this book, so let me get on with the review…

Review:

“Ben Ireland is an author who appreciates that people are complex and that every person (or demon) has a reason for the way they act and react. This book reminded me that people are very much affected by their life experiences, for good or ill.”

– Amazon Reviewer

I wanted to go over a bit of each story, WITHOUT SPOILERS, so everyone could get a flavor for the book.

  1. (1 and 11) If Bleakwood Lore had a central heart to its plot, it would be the first and last stories in the book. These chapters involve Chris Blacksmith, Billy’s older brother, who I have always wanted more story about. He and his Minor League team, the Sugar House Wasps, get into a bunch of trouble searching for the giant spiders trapped n the world when the Threshold was burned (from book 1). I enjoyed the fast action and the characters a lot. It reminded me of Scooby Doo and his gang searching out the creepy, abandoned warehouse.
  2. I think any story with Ash-Lea is golden and THE RHINOCEROS AND THE FOX is her spotlight. She has the personality I adore and is totally ready to kick ass all the time. In this one, Ash-Lea finds herself alone when a fight comes along. I really enjoyed the setting, the new characters, and the crafting of words and language used.
  3. In THE WALL BETWEEN we get a taste of Billy’s demonic demon squad in a different light. Lilly is always so put together and straight forward, but when a situation pushes her to drink (or not drink) she can become quite the character.
  4. FAILING PRINCESS is one of my favorites. This has Krios taking care of a sick Princess Patricia in the Human Realm, and it’s insanely visual and the interaction with the character Melissa, is a pure delight.
  5. A BIG HELP is the adorable one I mentioned, focused on our dragon friend Osamu trying to take care of those rambunctious demonhound puppies. My heart warmed so much reading about what these little guys were doing and the havoc they were creating. I laughed out loud. LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH!
  6. SUPER SUCKY POWERS is the one that brought me to tears. In the books, you never like Billy’s foster parents. I was sure they would gang up on Billy the moment he left the house. But, here again, I was corrected by the tender storytelling of Billy’s foster parents back story. It also told me a lot more about Billy’s character and his compassion for others. (HEART)
  7. We’ve been following the Space Vikings, wondering when they will get their moment in Billy’s story. In THE SPACE VIKING’S PLIGHT, we get a chance to really see the real danger they are in traveling in the darkness of space. Queen Natalie shows why she’s in charge in this one and what makes her a true leader of her people.
  8. No Billy book could be complete without a slice of folklore. THE DEMON WHO SOUGHT LOVE is so deep, so beautiful, and so revealing to the plot IT’S INCREDIBLE, and I can’t say anything else, besides I LOVE THE FOLKLORE and IT ROCKS!
  9. THE SIDES WE CHOOSE goes into Belle’s back story. Belle appears in the first chapter of Book 1, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, but she also appears again in the third. (Remember when I said when editing I needed to leave some things alone? Yeah, Belle was one of those. I tried to cut her character. That would have been a big mistake. See? I trusted him.) She is a complex, layered character, that I didn’t think much of, but now a huge sub-plot of villainy is brewing, and Belle is finally the star player.
  10. OH MY FREAKING HECK! I think THE BALLAD OF GREYSON ASH is one of the most funny and delightfully awkward pieces of fiction I have ever read. Boys can be so stupid when it comes to impressing girls. This one is ALL THE THINGS! I happened to be there when my mother was reading it for the first time, and what a joy to hear her laugh out loud and then read us the parts that were so funny. To see the fiction played out like that is the best way to reflectively experience it.

See my shiny Billy Editor badge? I am proud of this one, as I am of all of them. But Bleakwood just happened. I hardly had to do anything. The writing is getting better, as is our working partnership. I can identify his writing like a fingerprint.

I didn’t pick up Billy because I really wanted to edit it. I’m a writer. Why become an editor? It was because the storytelling was too good to pass up, and BECAUSE I am a writer, I recognized an amazing opportunity to be a part of something great. I feel incredibly lucky. If you stick with Billy, I promise YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. It’s perfect for the teens, but is growing a strong adult audience as well, adults who get the adventure of it, get the humor, and need that missing connection to those books they missed as kids. Here it is.

I always suggest buying paper books, because it gives a textile memory when you read it, but the ebook versions are inexpensive if you want to give it a go first. BLEAKWOOD LORE has some extra material like art, notes, and puzzles, plus it’s only ten bucks right now. I highly recommend this read.

Find the Blacksmith Legacy here on Ben Ireland’s Amazon page and website: benirelandbooks.com

Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic (Shade of Magic Series)

I didn’t feel right to review just one book, when I was reading the series. I finished A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC last year, but had editing commitments that prevented me from diving in and finishing the series until now. Now that I have finished, I will still be focusing on the first, with the reach of the other two in the series.

I met V. E. (Victoria) Schwab last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2017, back when it was called that. I get more excite about authors I admire than big-time celebrities. I actually dressed up as her character Delilah Bard – tweeted at her with a picture – she hearted it, it was fun.

She remembered my costume. She was waiting to meet me and found out I was an author too. We talked for a bit, and of course I gave her my card. She’s with TOR! It was REALLY a fun moment.

Cool. Calm. Collected.

Super goofy grin.

I got the chance to see her again on her tour a few weeks ago. Out of all the cities, she decided to stop at quaint, little Salt Lake. And she again, totally remembered me, even after a year of meeting countless other Bards. I wasn’t even wearing the mask. I was so impressed by the sincerity and funny candidness. It felt truly special to have a level like that with someone I admire so much.

REVIEW

It’s very hard for me to put this reading experience into words. One of the things I look for in books I read is “Mind-blowing creativity,” something I admire in style and envy as a writer. I state this a lot because I hunger for it, and when something surpises me or takes me off my guard, I can’t help but smile. Ms. Schwab has done that very thing in A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC.  I stepped into reading this book without any prior knowledge of the books. I followed Ms. Schwab on twitter and I liked her online persona. I looked into her books and I FREAKING LOVED the covers and how graphically intriguing, and yet, how simplistic they were. And when I started reading it, I knew within moments, that this book did things right.

A first page is critical in setting up EVERYTHING. I learned that at my very first writers event I went to, where praised authors Shannon Hale and Dan Wells gave feedback on my first page before I even became a published author. THat experience changed a lot of the way I view first pages and writing style, I personal imprinted it on my writer soul. So, when I looked at this first page, I picked up very quickly that this was something new.

It starts with a very simple line, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” That’s the first line, a line that told me so much about the story without telling me anything. It turns out this coat as different identities, depending on where it was and what Kell needed it to be. This coat had its own character and story before I even knew anything about the plot. I was very intrigued. I immediately was thrown into a rich world, not of fantasy, but one with dimensions – ALL London.

RED LONDON – Rich and vivid, smelling of roses and deep with magic.

WHITE LONDON – Cold and colorless, where the magic has nearly vanished from the world.

GREY LONDON – OUR London, or the one from King George VI, industrial grey-sooted London.

BLACK LONDON – We do not speak of it, it’s that bad.

The idea of dimensions added with magic, blow me away. Antari can travel through different Londons as long as they carry something from the world, and as willing to use their own magical blood to create a portal. And what happens when a clever Londoner thief, Delilah Bard, picks Kell’s pocket from his magnificent coat? The beginning of a great adventure.

The series as a whole was unpredictable and clever. It continually surprised me. It’s not like anything I’ve read before, and that was so refreshing. Each character is well-developed and has their own purpose and drive. Ms. Schwab writes gender-fluid characters, both hard and soft, light and dark in their own way, and stays true to their flaws. I found myself not rooting for just one character, but more rooting for the magic to win. In A CONJURING OF LIGHT, Kell says Delilah Bard is “…one of a kind,” which is so true. She is fearless, determined, daring, and lethal. Kell’s character is sacrificial and honorable, everything Bard wasn’t. It was a great juxtaposition. The whole cast did a great job, though I gravitated to Kell and Holland.

It was a brilliant idea, told in a brilliant way. And again, it was a story done right.

Schwab set out to tell a complicated story, from several POVs, and delivered a magnificent work of fiction. It’s hard to rate the two books after, because I look at it as a whole piece. Just like any continuing story, the first magical sparks of imagination can’t be duplicated. Fans are the ones coming back to read the stories of these characters. I feel it ended perfectly well, though it was hard to guess who would die (because I thought everyone would). I had a hard time wrapping up the series. I’m excited to go back there with her continuing fiction in this world. I leave the series feeling better than when I started, a better reader and a better writer. I’m so tremendously grateful I found this series and this author, because it changes my view of what fiction can be, and that has a magic all its own.

Well done, Ms. Schwab. Anoshe.