Category Archives: Book Reviews

Good Reads and Goodreads

Lately, I’ve been doing a ton of reading alongside my writing. While the school year poses an insane challenge to getting everything done, even a quick fifteen minute read before bed leaves me content.

So, what have I been reading?

A whole mix of things, really. Sometimes, I’m reading short stories. Others, I’m reading books in advance of my freshmen English students. I tend to bounce a lot, switching between literature and young adult, then fantasy, then suspense, etc., and on the nights I can only cram in a small amount, I’ll knock out a short story. I admit I switch back to young adult fairly regularly, a fact I attribute to originally writing YA, and to the genre “growing up” a bit over the years. Currently, Christopher Pike’s Thirst 2 has taken up residence on my nightstand, alongside Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and an anthology of H.P. Lovecraft tales—all of them equally adored as my go-to reads before bed.

Speaking of that nightstand—no matter what the genre, it seems the books are piling up. This is due to my currently exploding To Read bookcase (yes, I said bookcase), which is about to get fuller with the six book order I just placed on Amazon. I should probably put a hold on any more book purchases, or break down and get a Kindle, but I’m still a greedy little kid whenever I hit a bookstore or hop onto Amazon. The only thing that would make it all better would be finding more time to read, since over meals and before bed is simply not enough!

In the past, I wrote some [long-winded] reviews of books here on my blog, and posted what I was reading on my Links Page. This worked out great, until I ended up finding I was tackling more books than I could keep up with while simultaneously writing about writerly topics. So, I moved on over to Goodreads to both write about what I’d read but also keep track of what I’d finished. Hopefully, you’ve heard of Goodreads, and if you haven’t, I’d like to tell you a few reasons you should check it out.

Goodreads is a social network-style website devoted to readers and all their reading finds. On the basic level, you can keep track of books you’ve read and are currently reading, as well as books you want to read. You can also share detailed reviews that you can link to your social media sites, and create customizable badges to proudly display your books on any blog or website (like the one I have to the right, for example).

But the networking aspect of Goodreads is what makes it the true reader’s home—here you can find readers of similar styles and choose to friend them or follow their reviews. You can also find your favorite authors and follow their blogs, books, and reviews. This might be my favorite feature, as I love hearing what some of my favorite authors are reading and their thoughts on books I might have read as well. In addition, Goodreads hosts groups and forums so that you can share your love of books/authors/genres with other like-minded individuals. I haven’t taken full advantage of this feature, but for those more into the social media aspect, it’s a real boon.

While I am no longer writing the detailed reviews I used to, I’ve still made a habit to share some thoughts on my reading on Goodreads for anyone who might be interested. I don’t follow others’ reviews as much as I’d like to, instead keeping tabs on a few connections that have exhibited similar interests or solid, thoughtful reviews.

What about you—do you follow book reviews and share your reading on Goodreads, or do you use/reference an alternative website? If you do use Goodreads, what features do you use, and have you found it helpful in connecting with other readers and writers?

If you are on Goodreads, I’d love to be connected. You can find me here. And if you aren’t there yet…well, I guess we know what you’ll be signing up for momentarily…. 🙂

Happy reading, everyone!

Advertisements

Falling in Love With Short Stories

Depending on whom you ask, short stories are either sweet morsels of brevity or pieces that are forgotten and overshadowed by the bigger, longer, and more familiar novel.

I am one of the former, and today I’d like to share with you how fabulous short stories really are.

While flash fiction pieces tend to run less than 1,000 words, short stories are traditionally described as 1,000 to 10,000 word tales (that’s 4 to 40 pages, if you’re working with the standard 250 words per page theory). Most markets set shorts in the 3,000 to 7,500 range, with some variance depending on the submission guidelines. No matter what the length, though, one thing remains the same: these magical little pieces manage to wrap the reader in an oft complex journey despite a surprisingly small number of words.

Though I wrote lots of smaller pieces growing up, I didn’t write what I considered my first true short story until a college Creative Fiction class. When I finished, I yanked my fingers off the keyboard with a gasp—I’d literally found myself in a trance for the course of 15 pages, my mind churning and my heart racing as this entire story unfolded in such a short amount of space. It felt magical and fantastic, and it occurred to me that writing shorts might be the path I wanted to take.

I didn’t, of course, but after years of toil over Kyresa and learning that I needed to write more often (from start to complete finish), I’ve spent a lot of my energy writing short stories lately. I’ve also been reading them incessantly, for which the purpose is three-fold. First, I’m looking for great short stories to share with my English students as we begin to study narrative writing, since they make excellent between-text reads to discuss. This in turn is good for my second reason: I’m often only able to accomplish short bursts of reading, and the joy of a short story is that I can finish it in that miniscule chunk of time.

The third reason I’ve been reading shorts, however, is the most important to me. Reading always makes one a better writer, and I’m finding that reading short stories that follow the entire narrative path in no more than 10,000 words is actually starting to strengthen my ability to write them. My first drafts are getting cleaner, and I’m finding myself in that same college trance—except now I’m knocking out 4,000 to 5,000 word stories in a two to three-hour sitting. It feels cohesive, empowering, and quite fun! It also makes it easier to not get so darn attached to one piece, and to circulate many pieces in the world while I work towards getting something published.

On the reading side of things, I wanted to share the list of short stories I’ve managed to tackle in the last two weeks. The list below is in no particular order, but most of these pieces are first person, since that was my initial focus for my students in our narrative unit. I’ve included a very brief description as well as a link to the anthology so that you may track them down. My advice? Read them all. 🙂

From The Essay Connection:
(The following are first person narrative essays.)
“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan — a first person account of Tan’s changed perception on her mother’s “broken” English.
“The Inheritance of Tools” by Scott Russell Sanders — a tale of father and son bonding through tools, and the pain of losing that connection. (Loved this one!)
“Learning to Drive” by Ann Upperco Dolman — a funny tale about the author’s experience learning to drive a standard transmission car alongside her extremely patient father.

From The Writer’s Presence:
(The following are first person narrative essays.)
“The Problem with T-Shirts” by Thomas Beller — a little ditty on the comfort (and eventual death) of t-shirts.
“Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self” by Alice Walker — Walker’s path toward acceptance of an obvious facial scar. (This was one of my favorites!)
“If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?” by Geeta Kothari — thoughts on the integration of Americanized foods in an Indian home, and the questions of cultural identity that follow.

From Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa:
(The following are first person speculative fiction stories by the fabulous Camille—I met her at the Cascade Writer’s Conference, and I’m absolutely loving her work!)
“The Italian” — a woman’s connection to a past incident through her Italian bicycle.
“The Taste of Snow” — a woman in a dystopian future adjusts to losing her aging family.

From The Best of Talebones, edited by Patrick Swenson
(The following pieces are all speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, and I also met the awesome Patrick Swenson at my conference. I really enjoyed each of these.)
“Cats, Dogs, and Other Creatures” by Steve Rasnic Tem — cats, dogs, and other creatures have more control than you might think.
“Snow on Snow” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman — a man hopes to draw his wife back to him from an unusual place.
“Seepage” by Caterine Macleod — an agoraphobic adjusts to her interesting house.

And others…
Okay, I admit it—nobody throw anything at me!—I somehow fell under a rock while everyone else read the work of speculative fiction author Neil Gaiman. But I’m hip to him now! I enjoyed the first piece I read in Fragile Things: “A Study in Emerald,” where a detective must solve an unusual royal murder (in a unique setting). Lastly, from a textbook our freshmen use that I particularly enjoyed, and have found on the internet for your reading enjoyment is “Marigolds.” It’s a contemporary piece by Eugenia Collier, where a girl has a tantrum—and a slight coming of age—in her neighbor’s beautifully symbolic marigold garden.

I hope you have a chance to check out some of these fantastic pieces, and now I’m curious—what do you think of short stories? Writers, do you enjoy writing them? Readers, do you enjoy them as much as novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!


A Brief Review of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, By Jay Asher

***Before I begin—a quick reminder that I am still taking suggestions for Third Thursday Flash topics up to 8 p.m. PST tonight. Be sure to email me at evariederauthor@gmail.com with your suggestions, or head on over to my contact page to send it in!***

I’ve been a maniacal reader lately, doing my best to devour as many good reads despite having far less time with the start of the school year. I tend to alternate between short stories, novels, and a handful of young adult books to keep it interesting, and there was one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is now one I’d like to share with you.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a gripping young adult novel about the death of a high school girl named Hannah Baker. Hannah died of a suicide, and while everyone dismissed her death as that of a lost and selfish teenager, the narrator, Clay Jensen, is about to discover that there was a lot more to Hannah’s death than everyone suspected. There were thirteen reasons, as it turns out—thirteen people who affected her life in the worst of ways when she cried out for help, and thirteen people to whom she’s addressed a box of cassette tapes as a pseudo-suicide note to be passed around after her death.

Hannah’s voice plays through the entire book, taking us on the haunting journey of a misunderstood teenaged girl, whose life was worth far more than anyone gave her credit for and for whom the impact of rumors, gossip, and bullying teens drove her to a tragic and terrible choice. In listening to her tapes, Clay leads us through all thirteen people who brought Hannah down. He changes his perspective about how we as humans treat one another on his path to understand her, and the result changes his life forever.

The book was a New York Times and International Bestseller, and it’s really no surprise why. Moving, heartfelt, and devastating, the book makes you rethink how you interact with those around you, each moment creating tiny cracks in the surface of our being that together have the potential to form one gaping hole. Most of us adults have learned how to get past this sensation—but for our teenagers, it’s a heavy stress that they may not yet be ready to handle.

I think this book is one that everyone should read, particularly teenagers. I also wish it was on our district’s reading list, but alas, I don’t know how most parents would react to such a moral lesson told in the pained, distant voice of a lost little girl. Instead, I’ll just recommend it here—over and over again.

Great book, friends. Be sure to check it out.


Juliet Dark’s THE DEMON LOVER

Oh my goodness, am I excited to tell you about this book!

For years I’ve loved Carol Goodman‘s work. You’ll even find her book, The Lake of Dead Languages, listed as one of my favorites on my Links page. Ms. Goodman’s stories usually fall into the genre of contemporary/mainstream literature, and her style is quite gothic and eloquent. So, suffice it to say I was delighted to discover she’d made a crossover, writing a gothic paranormal romance under the pseudonym of Juliet Dark.

And what a read it was! Goodman/Dark’s prose is enchanting, and her imagery is mind-boggling and rich. Every time I read her work, I find passages to read over and over for their lush beauty.

The same held true in The Demon Lover, in which a college professor with a background in the supernatural—vampires, fairies, incubi, and the like—found her way to an unusual college in the remote town of Fairwick, New York. Callie McFay has spent her life sharing her knowledge of supernatural creatures in literature, and something about the town draws her in. She is also captivated by an old Victorian home in the area, but soon finds there is something more to her love of the house than she realized. Callie has a demon lover, a man made of shadow who comes to her in her dreams and sucks her life breath in exchange for the love they share, and while she realizes the danger of their affair, she must find a way to separate her heart.

What I found delightful about this book—besides breathtaking love scenes and settings filled with beautiful detail—was the collection of other mythical creatures Callie finds in Fairwick. Callie learns a lot about herself as well as her supernatural studies through these people, and the relationships between the characters are natural and well-portrayed. In truth, when I finished the book and realized it was the start of a series, I decided I might very well have found my next Sookie Stackhouse collection. The difference between Charlaine Harris and Juliet Dark, however, is tremendous. Callie’s tale sits closer to the dark, gothic world of Thornfield Hall in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (another favorite!) than that of Sookie’s Louisiana world, and her story is far more serious.

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. I am a slow reader, but I found myself reading it everywhere—on the cardio machines at the gym, at stoplights, standing in lines, and for an hour or two every night—because the world Goodman/Dark creates is so detailed. She is an author able to make characters out of setting, breathing life into things as simple as snow, wind, and plant life, and thus it is no wonder I found myself as seduced by the shadowed incubus as poor Callie.

I highly recommend this one, folks. For now, I’m off to pre-order the second book.

Happy reading! 🙂


Metamorphosis of a Reader

Or perhaps I should say Rieder (yes, it’s pronounced Reader 🙂 ).

I’ve decided that my To Be Read (TBR) stack has grown up to a height mighty enough to rival Jack’s beanstalk. At first, this alarmed me—but then I found myself ordering more books, so I figure the momentary fright was more akin to temporary insanity. 😉

My reading has transformed quite immensely over time, but one thing has remained the same: I love to read. In my preteen years, I devoured books by V.C. Andrews, Christopher Pike, Susan Cooper, and Andre Norton. These authors took up the majority of my focus, though I did pick up various others along the way. No matter what occurred in the surrounding world, my nose remained firmly in a book because reading was my passion. I still remember a plethora of camping trips with my dad and sister, where I shooed them away while I stayed back in the camper, quietly reading until dinner.

In my teens, my interests changed and I fell in love with books by Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Margaret Atwood. I also found myself delighted with almost anything assigned in my English classes, simply because each book was something new that I might not have found on my own.

In college I discovered works of a more literary style, something fostered by a slew of contemporary literature courses. I loved the anthologies we covered in these classes, and had I not donated all my texts, I would still read from them today. Short stories became a new favorite, both for their brevity and for the craft involved in telling so much in such a small space.

After college I opted for lighter reads, switching into the type of books I referred to as “those smutty-looking crime books you see in the checkout aisle at the grocery store.” This style came mainly through the work of Erica Spindler, stories where clever heroines played detectives hunting serial killers, yet the killers often ended up playing their boyfriends (yikes!). I loved these books because they took me on a wild journey with murderers, strong women, and plot lines that could, in theory, be real (they also made for a long run of really bizarre dreams). The first book I picked up by Spindler was Shocking Pink, and I still have not forgotten how its plot sucked me right in.

Later I started reading more contemporary and mainstream novels, many of which were by Carol Goodman. She stands out as an incredibly talented literary writer—her novel The Lake of Dead Languages remains one of my most favorite books of all time. I recently learned Ms. Goodman had slipped into the paranormal romance genre under the pen name of Juliet Dark, and The Demon Lover is what I’m thrilled to be reading now (beautifully written and a paranormal romance!).

image

Just a small portion of the full TBR stack decorating most of my side tables…

These days I find my favorite books are a mix of genres, either contemporary works, or fantasy works, or even a few from the YA shelves. I read slowly but thoroughly; rarely do I not finish a book, even if I don’t like it much. There are few books I’ve read more than once, but they stand out: Jane Eyre, anything by Christopher Pike, and I’m sure, in time, Anne Bishop’s entire collection.

Clearly, I have some reading to do—but what about you? What are your favorite genres and authors? What are the books you love to return to, or even books you’ve read recently and can’t stop talking about? I’d love to know. Please share!

And of course, happy reading. 🙂


Stephen King’s ON WRITING

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. —Stephen King

About a month ago, my friend loaned me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. The friend, Mari Naomi, is a brilliant San Francisco based graphic memoirist and cartoonist, whom I look to as a mentor. The book—well, it is a genius piece of insight that I think every writer should look to as a mentor of sorts.

In my younger years, I read a lot of Stephen King (fun fact: I originally wanted to write YA horror). I tore through his tales because I found his work riveting for content, but also because he used blatant and perfectly concise language. Cut to many years later, and Mr. King completed a book about the craft! It took me a long time to stumble upon it, but thank goodness I did.

Besides a compelling section on the path that led to the King of Horror becoming such, the book contains a thoughtful and articulate take on the writing craft. King shares his views on the “writer’s toolbox,” as well as clarity on things all writers should avoid (for example, excessive use of adverbs or passive voice). His is a lesson in get to the point, and one warranting of every writer’s attention.

Personally, I’m delighted I found the book just before I tore my own apart for its final edit a couple of weeks ago. The advice is invaluable, and it would be a shame to not have checked it out.

I think non-writers can also enjoy the book, both because it reveals some of the work and secrets behind the craft, and because King’s distinctive voice is present throughout—the same clever master of horror we all know and treasure, but this time talking about something personal and craft-based instead of purely fictional.

So, in summary, if you have not yet read this book, I suggest you rush right out to grab it and start. 🙂

Happy reading!


Hacksaws, FRINGE, and Some Darn Good Books

One of the upsides to my current once-a-week blog schedule is that I’m finding myself stocked up on things to talk about! Picture me as the little kid with my cheeks poofed, holding my breath all week long to say something… 🙂

First item: Hacksaws

A hacksaw would be the metaphorical utility I’m using to edit the crap out of Kyresa. Somehow I’m still working on it (!), but I’m having a good time. I noticed at some point that Kyresa had started sighing too much. They say some of your traits appear in your characters, and I’m a sigher in real life—less because I’m a romantic than because I tend to over-analyze and think too hard—but this is clearly not an acceptable trait for a powerful, immortal Queen. Nope, nope, nope. So, we had a long pep talk, and now she’s a much stronger character. Phew!

I’d also like to share this nifty editing software my friend passed along, SmartEdit, which helps you track overused words, phrases, adverbs, etc. You name it, this program will find your errors and blow your mind with your redundancies. The catch? It only runs on PCs. I myself run on a Mac platform, but fortunately my netbook is a PC, so after a few file transfers…boom! I learned that my real-life tendency to smile all the time is getting a little old in my characters. “Find and replace” is currently my best friend, and I’m delighted to report that so far, between an ending change, some general cleanup, and my recent obsession with tightening up my manuscript, I’ve cut Kyresa from 111,400 words down to 98,400! I’m not done yet, but I’m thrilled with this progress. THRILLED.

Second item: FRINGE

I am fairly intrinsically motivated, but I like a good reward on occasion. My latest “gift” has been one episode of Fringe a night after I reach my editing quota. At 22 episodes per season and four episodes to catch up on, you might imagine this has taken me an extraordinarily long time—it has! But it’s been such a great reward, and now I can’t wait for the fifth and final season to start in the fall!

If you haven’t checked out this incredibly intelligent Sci-Fi series, please do. I’ve talked to a couple people who said they started but couldn’t get into it, and it’s my belief that Fringe takes a few (read: four or five) episodes to get completely sucked in—unless you’re a Sci-Fi person, in which case I suspect you’ll be in by Episode 2. Fringe follows the FBI’s Fringe Division, a super secret department responsible for solving unusual and otherworldly cases. They might involve radically unknown toxins, strange disasters, shape shifters and DNA mutations, telepathy, or even trips to another universe! In fact, there’s a whole element of this other universe flowing beautifully through Fringe, and it’s quite fascinating. What’s thrilling about this show is that it’s not just about the Sci-Fi elements (which are indeed spectacular) but also about the dynamic between the four main characters. Anna Torv plays Olivia Dunham, a uniquely talented FBI agent who partners with an offbeat genius scientist, Walter Bishop (played by John Noble) and his wickedly clever son, Peter (played by Joshua Jackson). Jasika Nicole plays Astrid Farnsworth, a big-hearted FBI agent who assists Walter in his research. Walter and Peter Bishop have a touching father-son relationship, which is complicated by a serious faux-pas Walter committed in the past. It is this very faux-pas that creates many of the Sci-Fi elements of the series (that I cannot describe without giving away the geniusness of this show), and which forces them to work through several definite tangles. Meanwhile, Astrid and Walter have a kind closeness, sharing some really lovely moments as she helps him—a once-committed, wild scientist—work through the cases. Anna Torv as Olivia is the most complex of all; she’s a strong agent who works through the cases with ease, but she must also shuffle through the trauma of her youth which makes her so essential to these cases. At first she comes off a bit flat, but as you go through the series—wow. Her range proves to be completely astounding as the story unfolds. As-tound-ing!

Add a little romance, some good special effects, and a bit of clever dialogue to these stellar characters and you have one of my favorite shows of all time. The only negative thing I can say is that the show ends after season 5. Boo!

Third Item: Darn Good Books

I finished a book and started a book this week. Currently, I’m about 100 pages into Stephen King’s On Writing, and it’s great. I can’t wait to share more after I’m done!

The book I finished is preparation for the fall semester, when I become the Math-English teaching hybrid. (I feel a Sci Fi story here. Truly.) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is well-written and sweet, and narrated by Christopher John Francis Boone. Christopher is an autistic teen who leads you through his investigation of the “curious incident,” one that also happens to carry through the relationship between him and his father, as well as the connection between his parents. Christopher is an intelligent young man, and Haddon’s portrayal of his eccentricities is pure brilliance. Haddon worked with autistic individuals in his past, and his empathy shows on every page. Christopher is lovable, clever, and detailed, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in his adventure. It’s also a great experience to follow the mind of someone in his shoes—it really makes you reevaluate the way you look at the world. I highly recommend it!

All right, the little girl pushed her fingers into her cheeks, expelling all the intel she’d held for the week for this one information-packed blog post! 😉 Now time for some more editing.

Hacksaw at the ready!


The Readathon

This morning I woke up, rolled out of bed, and finally realized I’m on summer vacation.

Really—it can take that long. And I will probably have this realization every week when I remember I don’t really have to set my alarm clock (which I’ll still do, because I can’t stand wasting the whole day). Fortunately, I’ve done a pretty good job of “chilling out” as I threatened to do in my last post.

To start, I locked myself in my house to do nothing but read for three days! Okay, I did take some breaks—I did the housework, I went to the gym everyday (and worked it so hard I’m still having trouble walking), I ran a couple errands (and by ran, I mean hobbled from my car into each destination because my legs are so sore), I planned with my collaborating teacher about next year, and I also went to a few appointments—but otherwise, I did a darn good job of reading, reading, and more reading. I don’t think I’ve done that much straight reading since my teen years, and I have to tell you, it felt fantastic!

Only eight of twelve…but you’ll want to read them all!

I started by finishing Charlaine Harris’Deadlocked. It’s the twelfth book of the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series, the very series on which HBO loosely based their True Blood series (I stress loosely). The books are a real treat, and though I can tell, and understand, that Ms. Harris is winding down the series, I still find the characters and their adventures incredibly entertaining. Sookie is a telepathic waitress in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps. With the frustrating ability to read everybody’s mind, she is thrilled to discover she can’t read the minds of vampires—so naturally, she takes up with one. From there she takes up with a whole slew of vampires…and eventually, a whole collection of interesting beings. Also important to note is that vampires are now mainstreamed into society, thanks to the creation of a synthetic called “True Blood” that keeps them from having to feed off humans (except for fun).

Hilarious? It is. The joy of Harris’s series is that she manages to intertwine all sorts of fantastical creatures in a modern setting, mixing race (humans versus supernaturals), southern town culture, love, government (vampire politics), and the dealings of an average southern girl as she handles some not-so-average events. The series is fun, genuine, and clever, and I have delighted in the whole thing. I will admit I had trouble really getting into it until the second book, but since then I’ve been hooked. I also watch the show, but only because I love a good train wreck, and this show is by all means a train wreck that jumped off the book storyline halfway through season one (Why? Why?!). View at your own risk, and know the books are about a hundred times better…eh, the Math teacher in me needs to revise. Make that a million.

After my delightful adventure in Sookieville, I decided to tackle some of the blog posts I’d missed. I’m still catching up, but it was refreshing to have a bounty of posts waiting for me in my inbox from my favorite bloggers. Some of them were funny, some thoughtful, others clever or artistic—at some point in the future, I will showcase all my favorite blogs here. I really love the people whose writing I’m reading, both because they’re amazing and because most of them are some truly fascinating people with the best hearts in the world.

Next up: half of the final reflections I asked my Precalculus students to write at the end of the year (still going through those, too!). This assignment is one I started a couple years ago, and it is the very one that made me want to teach English. The papers are honest, thoughtful, and interesting, and I get a kick out of reading my students’ page-long descriptions of what they learned/hated/mastered, and how they grew (or didn’t grow) as students. In the math classroom, we don’t often get to see this reflective side—and so I suppose now you can see why I figured out English was the way to go. 🙂

Finally, I opted to tackle one of the books from my reading list to prepare for teaching English in the fall. Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, is one that some close colleagues weren’t sure about because they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to read it. I am so glad I picked it up! Brave, warm, and heart wrenching, the tale is written in Ellen’s 9- to 11-year-old narration as she leads you through her troubled life. The story bounces a bit between her present life and her old life, carrying through the death of her mother, her abusive father, her discovery of a “new mama,” and all the experiences in between. The book also covers issues of race, the culture of the South, and of course, domestic violence. Ellen is definitely an endearing character, and I can’t wait to explore the book more (and again, and again…) in the fall with my students. It’s a fast read, so I encourage you to check it out.

What’s next? I intend to spend a good chunk of tomorrow editing my book, but naturally I’ll need to pick another book to read. My to-read stack is a bit out of control, and I haven’t decided on fantasy or literary just yet…

Only time will tell. If, that is, my muscles will let me get out of this chair.

Ow, ow, ow…

🙂


Review of SUCCUBUS IN THE CITY, by Nina Harper

Almost two years ago, I wrote a short story about a succubus (which, by the way, I’ll soon be building into a full length novel—more details to come). Since I hadn’t read much fiction on the fascinating creatures, I took a perusal of good ole Amazon and found Succubus in the City, by Nina Harper. 

Though the style, context, and plot is far different from where I’m headed with my tale, I enjoyed Nina Harper’s take. Succubus in the City is actually the first book in a trilogy and follows the life—or rather, part of the long life—of Lily, a succubus living in New York. Spoiled as one of Satan’s chosen, Lily has a day job as an accessories editor for a fashion magazine, and a night job as a sex demon who delivers male souls to Hell. The book is a light, fun, and entertaining read, merging elements of Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, and also the classic tale of the demon spawn that is a succubus—except this particular succubus wants to find love. Lily, it seems, can’t catch a break with men, since certain details of her demon contract put a damper on her dating life.

If this sounds hilarious, then you’ve caught the general feel of the book. It’s one part fashion, one part fantasy, one part romance, and two parts comedic sass. I couldn’t help but giggle at Lily’s plights, while also appreciating the gal-pal power that Harper weaves throughout the story. Lily’s closest friends are Eros, the Demi-Goddess of Sex; Desi, the Demon of Desire; and Sybil, the Demon of Greed. Together they make a sort of Spawn and the City quad, each of them exhibiting the classic Miranda, Samantha, Charlotte, and Carrie traits that a SATC audience member will most certainly recognize.

It’s definitely not a deep book by any stretch of the imagination, and the plot is perhaps spread a little too thin since it’s part of a trilogy (I myself probably won’t make it through all three). Nonetheless, it is a fun, quick read. Something I really enjoyed was Harper’s attention to the fashion detail both at Lily’s job and in her own clothing; the author has some experience with these pieces having been in the fashion industry herself, and it showed. I’m not sure that these details would appeal to a broad audience, but I appreciated them.

For many years, my favorite books were those you could find on the shelves of a grocery store checkout stand—the paperback bestsellers that boasted suspenseful, smutty plots filled with sex, crime, and some sort of female protagonist who usually fell in love with the wrong man. (Erica Spindler, by the way, is one of my favorite authors in this style.) Though Succubus in the City lacked the crime and thriller elements I favor, it did have that silly, over-the-top raunch drama that I can appreciate in my reading.

I’ll give it three stars. I like a little fluff sometimes, so this one did the trick.

🙂


Professing My Love for Anne Bishop’s THE BLACK JEWELS TRILOGY

About two years ago, it occurred to me that I’d been writing a fantasy novel for a long while, and yet I’d somehow forgotten how to read fantasy. Sure, it was there in the back of my mind—a very young Eva devoured sci-fi and fantasy books, while the adult Eva had developed an addiction to urban fantasy vampire novels. Still, I’d ventured somewhat from the roots of the genre.

So, a friend of mine—a gal I often refer to as the Fantasy Queen—shared a few recommendations. I spent that summer reading many good books she’d pointed out, but none of them were as sensational as Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels Trilogy.

Published yearly from 1998 to 2000, the trilogy follows the powerful young Jaenelle Angelline as she learns to wield her magic and eventually rule as Queen. The story travels through three worlds—essentially dimensions—introducing us to characters both living, dead, and in between. Across the levels is a definitive caste system, based on specific jewels that each character holds as his or her birthright power. While there is some ability to increase one’s strength, those born into the darker jewels hold the highest ranking in power and usually in society.

There are some conflicts in the jewel system of course, many of which have led a group of upper-level women to retaliate for the horrors wrought upon young girls of power—but to explain this further would give away far too much. Here’s what you really need to know: the trilogy contains a brilliant storyline rich with masterful themes of greed, love, power, domination, and a general hope to save humanity.

Perhaps the most beloved aspect of the series is the love story between Jaenelle and Daemon and the father-daughter relationship between Jaenelle and Saetan. While the former share a gripping, addictive chemistry, the latter display a charming familial bond; both of these relationships tend to carry you rapidly and enthusiastically through the books. However, for many fans—myself included—the end of the trilogy left several questions about the complexities of Daemon and Jaenelle’s relationship, as well as the entire jeweled family. In response to this, Bishop ended up crafting a more conclusive story that she published in a collection of trilogy-based short stories. It is clear through perusing the many fan blogs and reviews about the story that this last addition delighted most everyone.  (I myself read it on vacation, likely driving my friend insane as I stopped every other page to gush about the series, and about how amazing I found Bishop to be in writing it!)

If you’re aching for more thorough summaries, I would recommend those at the Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatales, and Fantasy blog. They devoted the entire month of March to Ms. Bishop, starting with the first book of the series, Daughter of the Blood. You can also find numerous websites focused on the trilogy thanks to a plethora of enamored fans, so a quick Google search will find you most anything you want to know…short of the awesomeness of reading the trilogy, of course. 🙂

After reading the series, I realized that not only was I thrilled to be writing fantasy, I was exhilarated to be writing in a genre with someone as gifted as Anne Bishop. Her talent is extraordinary, and I haven’t found myself so inspired in a while. If you haven’t already checked out The Black Jewels Trilogy, I highly recommend that you do—and I hope that you find the series as truly phenomenal as I did. I’m certain I will read it again myself…if not once, than two or three more times!

Happy reading, everyone!


%d bloggers like this: