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.

Book Review – Ready Player One

It’s been close to a year or so, that I first heard about Ready Player One. Ladies of Nerditude (shameless plug for these girls – Episode #25: Book Review #2) reviewed it on one of their podcasts. I didn’t listen to the whole episode at that time. They warned of SPOILERS, but I didn’t know anything about the book, so I listened on for a little before I thought I might enjoy it. (I’ve now listened to the whole thing. It’s fun. You should check it out.)

Then… I moved on, forgetting about it entirely until I saw a trailer for the movie. Okay, maybe I should look into this book again.

…but I’ve been rather busy with edits and writing and redoing my house, so I didn’t think I had time to read. BUT… I did have some Audible credits… and WHAT?? Wil Wheaton reads it??? I hit BUY before I really thought it through, and regret nothing.

….and this is another reason why authors should love me, because I don’t just like to listen, I like to read it. Reading is experiencing, using my eyes, so I started to listen, but then had to go buy the book too, so I could read it at night all snuggly in my bed. So, I basically bought the book twice! You’re welcome, Ernest.

This review is on BOTH!

Ready Player One is – one word – FUN! This book appealed to my nerdy soul. I had asked a few friends about reading it and I got mixed reviews. Some thought it was awesome, some couldn’t get into it. I now understand why. There is a very deep-rooted level of nerd that this book reaches, not only gamers or RETRO gamers, but those growing in the early experimental personal consoles and arcade venturing folk. This book hits so many pop culture references that I felt like I was transported back in time watching commercial after commercial. Toys in cereal, Family Ties, Holy Grail, Votron, Rush… every genre-defining 80’s reference was crammed into this book. I feel the author channeling Halliday’s nerd obsession. I can see how some of my gentler down-to-earth friends couldn’t get into it. It’s not for them… but, this book was definitely for me.

The eighties were my fundamental growth years, living in a small home with three older brothers. We didn’t have much, but we did have a ColecoVision.

I remember the year we got it. It was Christmas and we were all so excited. When we opened it, inside was a brick, not the game system at all. My dad returned the brick back to the store and exchanged it just to find another brick in the box. It took us DAYS to finally get our ColecoVision, but once we did, it was MAGIC! The only games we had were Donkey Kong, Venture, and Smurfs – but seriously, they were SO much fun. We grew in our collection and I get pretty good. (My sister STILL has most of our Coleco Vision games and we retro game sometimes. Any time my nephew starts talking smack about being better at video games than me, I pull out Q*Bert and make him play. Games without cheat codes, save spots, and online buddies to co-op.)

This was just the start. I grew up surrounded by games: Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation… my favorites are still on the Dreamcast (Revolt) and PS2 (Timesplitters 2 is still SO MUCH FUN!) and I’m stupidly good at the Sega Genesis original Sonic and Sonic 2. (The world of Sonic has exploded beyond my gaming rations, but I’ve got those two down.)

My gaming has waned over the years, devoting time to book writing and kid rearing, but some of my best times and memories surround sitting at a console and playing with my family and friends.

So… when I first started listening the Wil read Ready Player One, I really had no idea how deep in my childhood it would reach.

Ready Player One is set in a virtual reality-based world placed in a bleak future. The best way to escape is through plugging into the OASIS. Wade Watts is written after my brother Nathan, the BEST video gamer there is, so you know. We would watch him for hours, and he’s still has amazing dexterity and can cream you easily at any game.

So, when I started reading this cyberpunk dystopia, the last thing I expected was a trip back in time. The entire book is jammed with references to every 80’s nerd pop culture reference there is.

When I was listening to it, usually in the car, I had a good time capturing back memories that I had completely forgotten about. This became a problem, since I would get lost in headspace and not pay attention. But, I got to a point where I didn’t want to miss anything, so that’s where I bought the book. I would revisit the chapters I had heard, bonding with the pages and the reading on. It probably took me longer because I reread a bunch. But I loved both ways.

Wil Wheaton does a great job at reading the book. He is perfectly cast. And any time Star Trek: NG was mentioned, I giggled, like all the rest of the listeners. AND nice job too, as the Vice President in 2045! I laughed out loud. The only thing that started to bug me were the ‘then’s. Wil would pause his reading and an excited upturn of the word ‘then’ would happen. It began to hear a ding of a bell every time he did this, like ‘incredulous’ did in the Twilight series. When I looked through the book, the ‘then’s weren’t as noticeable. I will say this… I was in the car when listening to Wil Wheaton recite all the early video game systems. When I heard “Coleco Vision” said with such reverence, I yelled and raised my fist in the air! I was being represented.

But as much as I loved listening, I enjoyed reading it more. The type and font is thoughtful and the graphics for the scoreboard are really fun. And that’s where my memories were made, late at night reading a book and pressing the pages with my tired fingers. It was still a time travel trip through life in the 1980’s. The way Cline described the typical 1980’s home, the gold carpet, the paneled walls to the vintage 80’s arcade with accompanying pizza joint, was spot on to my memories.

I’d like to think Cline did his homework, but I’m leaning more toward Cline knew his stuff. Like my brother, there are so many nerdy gamers that recognize what he’s talking about, and the fact that I caught a lot of the references tells me enough that Cline wanted to write a book that honored his upbringing and something he’d want to read himself. The writer in me forgave his rookie novel because of the sheer fun of it. But it was easy to read, and so much fun, I’ll probably let me teen read it, if not just for the history lesson it teaches.

I don’t know how the Ready Player One movie will compare, but I already know I will need to view them differently– Book AND Movie not Book V.S. Movie. I can see Spielberg’s draw to this, I see it fitting well with his E.T. , Close Encounters, and authentic 80’s cinematography. But, I doubt very much that he could capture the nerd nostalgia that you get from the book. I personally think that to take the words in the book and recreated it would be confusing to a third of the audience. I can see that being a factor in the screenplay. But what I think will be something to look forward to is just how visually stunning the virtual reality world of the OASIS has to be. I’m beyond excited to see that.

This book not only is a good trip down memory lane, but a good retrospective glance to all Millennials that have it tech-easy. Some days in my house we play 1989, and remind my kids how it was to live without instant download or Wikipedia. It’s also a comment on our current videogame culture and how social interaction has become more online than in person. Cline’s vision of the future is not so distant and that is terrifying. We really have an amazing world around us. Yes, Skyrim is also, amazing, I will admit that, but sometimes I just like to go outside, smell fresh air, feel wind, and lay on the real grass and just be.

I recommend Ready Player One to anyone who knows this deep culture and wants the 80’s flashback. For those who don’t understand what I’m talking about but want an 80’s culture fix without watching old John Hughes films, try Stranger Things.

Follow Ladies of Nerditude on Twitter at: @ladiesofnerditude

 

“Reading A Memory” Book Review – A Wrinkle In Time

Most people know of A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve always listed it as one of my influences, a creative muse from my past that helped fill the reserve. I remember seeing a quick trailer for the movie last year and got really excited and told my girls we should see it. A few months ago my 10 year old was looking for something to read and I suggested A Wrinkle In Time, which had been hiding, tucked in a quiet, dusty corner in her bookcase.

She looked at it and then asked me what it was about. My answer, “Umm…. I don’t remember.” She wasn’t a fan of that answer. She wanted me to tell her everything, to convince her it was amazing. I tried to run some of the details in my mind, but really, had I forgotten everything about this book? “There is this girl, and her father goes missing and I think he was a scientist. I don’t remember where he is. I remember it starts with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ which has made it into our social-culture….” Her body language told me enough that she was not interested. “Promise. It’s really good.” Oh boy. Losing Mom points here. “I could read it too.” She perked up at this idea.

I’m not a person how enjoys re-reading books (unless it’s Harry Potter and that’s actually categorized as Memorizing). Re-reading is hard for me, and it really doesn’t have to do with remembering the details, it’s all about disrupting the memories.

Trapped within these printed words, among the browning of each folded edge of paper, lies a memory. The memory has to do with how old I was when I read it or what was happening around me, sometimes foods I ate, the oily fingerprint visible on the pages… but also the feeling of experiencing it for the first time. How I like to relive a book is through recommending it to others, talking about it with friends, or writing a blog post :).

Memories can be trapped in everything. Remember the smell of baking bread? It’s your grandma’s bread. She passed away years ago, but when you follow her recipe, it smells like Grandma’s house, more personal to me, it’s my grandma’s caramel popcorn. But, it’s not like I don’t want to re-experience my memories of caramel popcorn, that’s easy. Books are much more involved, more complicated. And I don’t like touching those memories, because it was a journey and it took a long time to feel and experience and triumph. I feel like I lived through something and depending on the book, I may not have the strength to relive it again.

Re-reading A Wrinkle In Time was opening a memory, and I didn’t know it was there until I read the first page.

This was the scary cover I remember

Fifth grade. Ten years old.

I was attending my third school that year. My parents uprooted us from our simple, country living to the big city. I started my fifth grade actually in middle school, then went back to elementary in November when we moved. I felt like I had been demoted. My parents were building a house, so in February we moved yet again, to our new home. This was really hard. There wasn’t Facebook that could keep me involved with my old friends’ lives, it felt like I moved a million miles away and all my friends were gone forever. To start a new school was hard, as anyone who has moved can attest to, and back then I was shy and kept to myself, so shy I didn’t ask for a pencil when I needed it and would fail tests because I pretended I had one. I didn’t make friends easily, I mean, I never had to. I was awkward and came from a strange family that didn’t conform to the suburban lifestyle. My memories of the second school are all me being made fun of—how everyone thought I farted when I actually sneezed and cracked my lip open, being called ‘Star Underwear’ because I was growing too fast and my clothes no longer fit and boys saw my panties (which was mortifying and I went to wearing a sweatshirt around my waist), and living in the rented house the neighborhood kids thought was haunted. Yes. I was that kid. But I knew it was temporary, so I just kept quiet and stayed weird.

When we moved to our new house, everything changed, and not in the best way. Here was a different environment, this neighborhood was new and the kids were believe it! not as friendly. I came the last few months of elementary before moving to jr. high, already discouraged and friendless. And here, a carefree spirited country girl, didn’t fit in AT ALL. Because of all the moving, I missed my Maturation program and felt rather clueless with all the girlie issues happening around me, and I was too damn shy to ask about it. And my grades were all over the place. I drifted in imagination all the time and got in trouble for daydreaming and not paying attention. How could anyone keep track of a shy nobody transferring from place to place?

So there is the stage for you – a shy ten year old with poor reading comprehension and imagination as her only friend.

Mrs. Hickman, my tired older teacher, who did not really impact my life any beyond this, decided to read A Wrinkle In Time to the entire 5th grade. I wasn’t interested in listening, I tended to draw on my shoes during Reading Time. During the first chapter I learned about Meg Murry and how much of an outsider she was at school. This… THIS! is a very important fact. Meg was like me, in so many ways. This was when I started to pay attention.

This is the memory – the feeling – I felt when I heard A Wrinkle In Time for the first time. I was ten, and lost, and somehow found a compass. Meg was a girl, like me, and she had a starring role in a science fiction novel. I wasn’t interested in the Babysitter’s Club or Ramona the Brave, they lacked imagination. Instead of pretending to be Shea Ohmsford or Frodo Baggins, I could pretend to be Meg Murry. She’s the one that saved everything. It wasn’t her dad. The book also had wild imagination that I gravitated to. I wanted to tesseract other places and disappear from my life. I think everyone has felt that. These four points were what I really remembered, what helped root my imagination.

In my re-reading as an adult, I discovered some very interesting things. This book was very forward-thinking, something I didn’t think about when I was ten. L’Engle had a very hard time publishing it, because it was too grown-up for children. It’s science-driven and bazaar, and pushed imagination to different planets, realms, bridged time-travel, quantum theory, and ended in love being the power that can conquer any evil.

The book is all about diversity, about being different. Everything in Camazotz was about being the same, about not having new ideas, or feeling pain. This is why this book has such a strong purpose and has been around for so many years. Life is about experiencing, about making mistakes and about being an individual. I was different – I still AM different – and this book was one of my first lessons that it’s okay to be different.

Meg is slightly complain-y. She wasn’t when I was ten, but I think I was more complain-y then. I think that’s important to the character and for the reader to feel that, because it makes for such a powerful ending. As a writer, I understand character development and journey and I was okay with accepting the whinier Meg.

But the thing that is most surprising, a lot of what I write and what I read stems from this tender encounter. I search for creativity that blows my mind and this is certainly not like anything else. This book made a footprint on my creative path, an imprint in my brain that made me ache to find something equal, similar. I’ve been searching my whole life for powerful imagination that leaves footprints just like this did. I have found and worked on some gems that I cherish, and that has done this very thing.

A Wrinkle In Time is reading a memory. For the good and the bad of it, I am stronger, more creative, more energized, and more thoughtful in my writing because of this. It was good for me to be that shy, awkward girl, or I wouldn’t have identified with Meg. We might not have been friends.

Thank you Meg, for being my friend and teaching me how to Tesseract.

 

Book Review – Off To Be The Wizard

When I was researching wizards for a presentation, this book popped up and I got the giggles just reading the description. It looked clever, and I like clever. Anything that I wished I’d come up with, those are my faves. That puts Off To Be The Wizard by Seth Meyer on my TOP SHELF.

Martin Banks, a computer guy/pseudo-hacker stumbles upon a computer code for EVERYTHING. He finds his name and can conveniently alter his height and bank account. He also finds that he can alter his timeline and essentially become a time traveler. And where else would he go but to medieval England to be a wizard. Dawned with a Draco Malfoy robe and his handy smartphone with his custom app he sets off to be a wizard. Trouble is…. so have a lot other people.

This book is THE BEST! It tickles every geeky sensory nerve I have. It delves deep into Nerdity too, crossing generations – from the Commodore 64 and Coleco to smart phones and Macbooks, D&D, WoW, LotR, the Simpsons, not kidding when I said it hit everything. It covered them all. I found myself laughing out loud all the time, because…. I get it! This book was beyond genius, way more clever than I could ever come up with. It’s funny and witty, clever, cool, and just the most fun I’ve ever had in a book.

If you have these threads of nerdity, the geekiness of gaming, and herding in the nerd culture, this book is made for you.

It is Brilliant! I’m already heading into book two!

Wonderful job Scott Meyer, I tip my wizard hat to you.

Book Review – A Piece of Sky

A Piece of Sky by Ann Hunter

This delightful, scrumptious re-imagining of Chicken Little is one of the best pieces of magical fiction I’ve ever read. I don’t say that lightly.

I met my dear friend Ann Hunter at a meeting of like-minded authors a few years ago. She has seen me at my best… and my worst, and she still thinks I’m cool, which I will always love her for.

Her book, A PIECE OF SKY, caught my eye when we were in a booth together at Salt Lake Comic Con…. I mean, it’s gorgeous, but I didn’t buy it. I remember her being super excited that JoBe Cerny (THEE Pillsbury Doughboy) recorded the audio version of the book. I thought that was so very cool to hear, and my heck, I have some really cool author friends. But…… I had a lot of projects happening and didn’t listen to it.

We ran into each other at other various events and still I didn’t buy her book. Why? I was busy with finishing up my series and a myriad of other excuses. And I tend to shy away from reading things my friends write, a principle I am repeatedly breaking lately, because curiosity has bitten me (and they are all so brilliant).

Then Ann did something I didn’t expect, she contacted me this past fall asking to buy my trilogy. How awesome! Of course I wasn’t about to tell her no. I met her on the side of the freeway, like some illegal drug deal, and gave her my books. She later chastised me – I completely forgot to sign them.

This last month, at Salt Lake FanX, I got the privilege to team with her again in our fantasy author booth. And there sat that little book, staring at me with a cute, chicken eye. But I still didn’t buy it. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?! I planned to, but yet again, it was another busy con and everything was packed by the time I returned to the booth. Ann also told me that Vivatera, MY VIVATERA, was the next in line for her book club read on for her newsletter. I was so touched.

I tell you all these facts to illustrate my bad character and highlight Ann’s thoughtful gesture, one that I couldn’t shake. I have a very strong community of author support, and I have always been there encouraging their creativity and success, but I wasn’t prepared when someone wanted to help me.

So….. in-between books and adding a boring commute, I decided to look what I could get on my Audible. A strange remembrance sparked in my brain and I looked up A PIECE OF SKY. and WHAT? It was only $5. I immediately downloaded it.

And with my long explanation, here is my review…

I loved it. Loved is not a strong enough word for it. It wrapped its arms around me, seeped into my soul and enveloped every fiber with its magic. And I found myself in awe, still struck with the fact that this is Chicken Little… CHICKEN LITTLE! And I was so in love with it that I didn’t want to stop listening. It was joy, pure joy to experience it in audio form. But, the book is just as illuminating, with the different playful fonts illustrating the story for you.

Ros is your Little Red Hen, who gets struck with a golden acorn, fallen from the God Oak – the Tree of Life. And she knew, from the moment it struck her, that this was something special – not an acorn, but a piece of sky! .

Ann brings in such a strong, magical core to the story I found myself scratching my head at how she came up with such wonder in a story about a chicken. The imagery is absolutely beautiful and enchanting, the characters are so lovely, and it still follows the formula you would expect in Chicken Little, taking the acorn to the dog, a mare, a fox, a kelpy, and then to a griffin, cause…. MAGIC!

I laughed out loud several times, and may have shed a tear at the end. And the points of the book, the parts that keep rolling around in my brain, are these:

  • How great acts can come from the smallest things.
  • How having faith in yourself and belief that what you are doing is important, can make you stronger than you ever imagined.
  • …And last, that there is a piece of sky in all of us – the potential to grow and be what we dream of being.

Bravo Ann! Truly beautiful work. 

You can DOWNLOAD A Piece of Sky for FREE on Instafreebie right here:

A PIECE OF SKY BY ANN HUNTER