Tag Archives: reviews

Battery Pack Excerpt and Reviews

So, this is going to be a very long post this morning.  It will contain the excerpt of Battery Pack and then the reviews on it by “Expert Reviewers” at Amazon.  I’ll finish it off with a copy to my page on Amazon where you can download and write your own reviews on it.  I would appreciate any reviews you want to leave here or there (especially there, as it looks like there might be judging based on customer feedback one round), but don’t feel like you have to.  And what you see here is exactly what Amazon got for this part of the contest too.

Battery Pack Excerpt:

I had never been so glad to be a part of SSMS as I was when I got off the plane at Frankfurt International Airport. We were ushered quickly from gate to private room as we waited for a taxi to arrive.  I was thankful that Jim and I didn’t need to use the train.  I had caught sight of it on our way over and had seen the crush of people with luggage that were cramming themselves into each car. Even with my arms, hands, and most of my face covered, there was still a chance that I could come into contact with one of them without meaning for it to happen.

And people and I do not mix well when that happens.

That was why Jim was along as my Battery.  So I didn’t need to go near others in case Bad Things started to happen.  It was the first time we had spent more than a five minute car ride together though, and even on the short plane ride from Scotland to Frankfurt, Germany, he was already beginning to get on my nerves with constant questions, comments, and things that he noticed.  With his arms covered in tattoos, I had hoped that he would draw attention off of me as we traveled.  But no one was allowed to NOT pay any mind to a woman who was almost completely covered from head to toe.

Still, once off the plane and into our room, I was able to unwind the scarf from around the lower half of my face and finally relax the muscles that had been held taut through the two hour flight while I was arm to arm with Jim and the window.

He had been good to switch seats with me once he saw that I was otherwise going to be sitting between two people.

The air was cooler to breathe once the scarf was off and I debated taking off my leather gloves as well while we waited, but ultimately decided against it.  If our taxi came soon, I didn’t want to have much to put back on.  I could wait until we got to our more permanent rooms in Heidelberg before I put on my non-traveling clothes.

“You alright Elle?” Jim asked my, voice rough from use prior to his induction into the SSMS as a Battery.  I didn’t know what he had done before joining with us, but it had to be something that involved yelling or screaming.  Maybe he had been a boss of some sort before the Readers had found him and tested him and brought him into the organization as a replacement…no, not a replacement.  There would never be a replacement for Aaron.

I nodded, a sigh making its way out.  “I will be.  Just…hate flying. Too many people in too close an area. It’s impossible to avoid touching them.”

He made to put a hand on my arm, but then quickly remembered who he was with.  He settled what, for him, was a look of compassion instead, something that looked strange on a 6’5” tattooed man who was build like an all-pro linebacker. “You don’t need to…” He waved a hand about for a moment, letting that finish his question for him.  Poor guy wasn’t comfortable saying what he was here for yet.  It wasn’t like I would have minded him coming into contact with me.  It was going to need to happen eventually, no matter how hard he and I both tried to put it off. Not for the first time, I wondered why I had been paired with an inexperienced and untested Battery.

It was another in a long list of differences from my last Battery, Aaron.  He had been a good kid, and I still felt incredibly guilty whenever I thought about what had happened to him. Readers told me that there was nothing I could have done, that it was what they were there for. But every time I replayed it in my mind, I saw something different.  A sign that I had missed that could have saved him. It was my fault that he was…

If I hadn’t been so careless with what I was doing, with what I had done to him after a Working that I had been forced to do in order to…No.  I had done what had needed to be done to finish the job SSMS has given us. I couldn’t let myself forget that.
I shivered slightly at the memory even though the room was warm and forced it out of my mind.  I had told the Readers at SSMS that I was over it and, for the most part, I was.  But there were some nights when I just couldn’t escape from those memories and found them replaying in my mind until I was sure that if I had done just one thing differently, it all would have worked out. Doubt was powerful.

“Fraulein Malone?” The hesitant voice that came from a short man at the door broke me out of my thoughts and out of the memory path that I was already beginning to walk down.  “Yours…and Herr Mottershead’s taxi is here,” he continued.  His English was hesitant and heavily accented.  I wasn’t sure if it was because he wasn’t used to seeing a woman dressed in long pants, sleeves, gloves and a scarf and hat in the mid April spring season or if he was just that uncomfortable speaking the language that wasn’t his mother tongue.

I wound the scarf back around my face and grabbed the duffel bag and backpack that I had dropped by my chair when I had sat down. Throwing them over my shoulder as I stood, I noticed Jim doing the same with his and we followed the airport worker out of the private lounge and to the taxi stand.

My life in New York had trained me to taxi rides and had conditioned me to expect small, yellow four doors with little trunk space and a driver insane enough to tempt Manhattan traffic in the height of rush hour in order to get you to where you wanted to go with five minutes to spare.  And often times breaking laws of physics and probably magic in order to do so.  I had expected a car like this for the ride to Heidelberg from Frankfurt International Airport and was not looking forward to spending an hour in cramped confines once again. The few hours in the plane had been more than enough for me.

I was wonderfully surprised when I saw what looked like an elongated blue van waiting there for me, and a man who wanted to take our luggage from us in order to throw it into the back before strapping it down.  It had made my day even more when he told me that we would be the only ones riding in it, which wasn’t normally how it worked, but that our business had paid for an express route that would get us there with no stops to drop off other passengers.

Like I said, there were times that I was glad I was with SSMS.  Even though the hours sucked and I rarely managed to spend more than a week a year at my apartment in lower Manhattan, the travel was always worth it.  I didn’t often get a chance to see a lot of whatever country or state I was sent to, but when I did manage to play tourist, I enjoyed it, for the most part.

Some days I thought that it might have even made the nightmares worth it too.

***
The Autobahn wasn’t as bad as the stories had led me to believe it was.  People were generally responsible drivers and only ever went 20 over the limit through the construction instead of the 40 or so they would have been doing back in the States.  There were only two lanes of traffic going in each direction, a right lane for driving in and a left lane for passing.  A lot of people did driving in the left lane too, but that was because they were heading past us.  Only at twice the speed of sound or so though, so it wasn’t a big worry.

Castles dotted the countryside and I remembered the old joke I had been told once when I was younger, before I knew that I needed to have a Battery.  “Everyone in Europe can have their own castle,” was what my great aunt Margo had told me before I had taken a school trip there.  While she was exaggerating, the number of castles, towers, and buildings from the Middle Ages that we passed by on the way to Heidelberg were enough that I could have believed that there might have been a grain of truth to that tale had the population not been as large.

Jim was snoring slightly next to me, the early morning flight finally getting to him.  He had passed out about 5 miles from the airport and the driver and I had been treated with a symphony of his grunts, wheezes and mumbled words as he dreamed on beside me.  Some of what he said made me wonder before I realized he was probably just repeating what he had recently finished learning from training sessions with SSMS. I had talked for months in my sleep about ghosts, Underworld and magic after training.  He had been partnered with me only a day and a half before we were sent off to Heidelberg, which didn’t give me a lot of time to get to know him.  The Readers had offered to let me read the file they had created on him during the interview process, but I didn’t want to go into his private life that much. It didn’t seem right to me to be able to read another’s thoughts on paper, even if they had agreed to it in the first place.

The radio was on quietly on the background and I strained to hear it before I remembered that there wasn’t much of a chance that I would be able to understand much of anything that would be on it.  While I had taken a few years of German back in high school days, not much of it had stuck with me in the intervening ten years since graduation and I could now only remember the bare minimums of grammar and vocab.

It was probably enough to get me beers, bathrooms, and the occasional brat.

At least I wouldn’t go thirsty or die of starvation.

The thought to follow Jim into sleep crossed my mind, but I knew that any sleep I was able to get in a van would be spotty at best and wouldn’t be worth the effort.  I grabbed at the file folder in my backpack and began to read it over once more. Most of the information on the case that we were being sent on I had long ago memorized.  There were, of course, ghosts in Heidelberg, as there were in any old city.  The problem came when they were starting to get bolder than the average ghost and begin to terrorize the people living in “their” building. Not a lot was known about the situation there, only that it had started with no warning and for no reason that anyone could tell.  There were reports of possessions, evil spirits, pranks and poltergeists, none of which were good things for those of us who were supposed to keep the paranormal world a secret from the rest of society.

There were several different accounts of this happening in various places throughout the city.  The University Library was one, the Student Cafeteria in what had been barracks when the castle has been in use was another.  What the locals called Die Hexenturm, or the Witch’s Tower, was a place that was apparently full of them and when I read the history of the place again, it wasn’t hard to see why.  It had been build in 1392 and housed women and ‘witches’ before, during and occasionally after their trial to see if they truly were the magic users and devil worshippers they were accused of being.  It passed to the ownership of the University of Heidelberg and now almost no one is allowed inside of it.  The official reasoning is that they want to preserve the building as it is and keep it as a memorial to World War One victims and fallen soldiers.  It was the only structure from the original building of the city to survive the attacks by World War One and Two soldiers, Napoleon and his Army, various other wars, floods, fires, storms and other such things.  Historians loved the place.

But with the amount of people who were held in it, who saw their last sunrise and sunset through the high windows at the top of the tower, there was little wonder that it was full of vengeful ghosts.  I was pretty certain that was the unofficial reason for not letting anyone inside after a few nasty things happened to the people who went inside.  There weren’t details on those, but I could guess the standard injuries that came from haunted places.

By far the biggest hot spot was the Nazi Amphitheater built on top of the Heiligenberg to the north of the city.  Near it were also Celtic ruins from the fifth century BC, the ruins of a Monastery from the 800s AD, and Roman ruins from the early 40s AD.  It had been a religious magnet, apparently, since the Celtic times, if stories were to be believed, and people still went up to the Amphitheater on May Eve, Walpurgis Night,  to go to a giant bonfire, drumming, fire dancers and drinking. It was little wonder that there was a great deal of energy about the place.

We wouldn’t know for sure what was causing it until we managed to get there though.  If it was ghosts, we should be able to get through to them and find out what was causing them all to stir up.

If it wasn’t…well, then we would get a hold of SSMS and find out what we were supposed to do with that.  But I was really holding out for ghosts.  It had been a while since I had had to deal with a simple haunting and I was looking forward to something that I could do in my sleep and not need to drain a Battery afterwards to recover.

I did not want another Portland on my hands.

I wasn’t sure that I would be able to take it if something like that happened again.
***
We were dropped off a few blocks walk from where our apartment was due to construction on the road that was normally used to get to that complex. We walked slowly through the late morning streets of Heidelberg.  Hauptstrasse, the main street through town, was cobblestone, uneven, rough on shoes and made walking without bumping into people difficult.  I let Jim lead the way, using his height and appearance as a way to push through the crowd and following in the wake he left behind.

We passed by a number of small shops and cafes on our way down the street from University Square, including an antique book seller that gave me chills as we walked past the open doors.  It was another place that I was adding to my list of things we would need to look at while we were here.  The five blocks to the apartment that SSMS had rented for us ended up taking a good 15 minutes to walk due to trying to avoid the large groups of tourists that seemed to appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as fast.  For reasons I couldn’t begin to fathom, a large amount of them were Japanese tourists, speaking rapidly in their language as they snapped pictures of buildings and even other tourists and locals.  There was one tour group that was half blind, and I couldn’t help but give a small laugh as I tried to wrap my head around just why they were showing the architecture of one of the few medieval cities to completely survive the Second World War to a group of blind people.

I bet they had really good imaginations.

There was a pizzeria as we turned a left and the smells coming out of it were heavenly to both Jim and I. “Mind if we stop by here after we get settled in,” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t see why not.  It looks like there might be a few smaller tables in there that we could find a seat at.”

He gave another look at the pizzeria before huffing out a long sigh and kept walking.  The streets were far emptier on this side alley between roads and we were able to walk next to one another.  “Is it…hard to not be around people so much?” he asked me, breaking the silence that had been around us.

“You get used to it after a while, I guess.  A good Battery makes it less lonely too.  Someone to talk to as well as support you during Workings means that there’s a lot of trust between the Mage and their Battery.  And well, they’re always there too,” I told him, refusing to think about Aaron.

Jim raised an eyebrow at my comments.  “You’re saying we’re dogs then?”  I looked up sharply, craning my neck a bit in order to meet his green eyes. I was worried that I had upset him with my words, but the smile showed, I hoped, that he knew he was joking.  “Relax, Elle.  You need to lighten up some.  You’re far too serious all the time.  You’re twenty eight, for christsake.  And travel around the world.  I bet you’ve never done anything touristy ever.”

“Jim,” I warned him.  “Drop it. Now.”  Just when I had been starting to warm up to the man, he had to go and put his foot in his mouth with what I should or shouldn’t do. I pushed ahead of him, feeling a jolt even through my layers of clothes as my arm brushed past his.  For a moment, I got lost in the feeling of pleasure that it induced.  Swirls of emotions filled me and breathing became easier as I felt as though I was floating above the ground for my next few steps.

As soon as the little contact between us ended, the high that I felt was rapidly disappearing and my mind fell back to me, crashing to the cobblestones beneath my feet.  A quick look behind me showed that Jim had the same look of rapture on his face, though it too was fading fast.  I focused on my breathing and forced myself to calm down and to bring myself back into the here and now so I didn’t feel light-headed for the rest of the day. So that I could concentrate and not feel as though the energy addiction all Mages had was going to control me.

Shifting the duffel bag on my shoulder and the backpack on my other, I began to walk again, quickly moving towards where our apartment was.

***
The apartment was up one flight of stairs, but because of the fact that the ground floor is labeled as “ground floor” in Germany, we were still technically on the first floor here. Our names, Eleanor Malone and William Jameson Mottershead, were on a slip of paper taped to the door along with the key to the mail box below.  I tore it down as we walked inside, crumpling the paper into a small ball.  Neither of us really liked our full names.

It was small, two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen and a “living area” that was more of a hallway than anything that was worth living in.  The previous tenants had apparently left some of their belongings behind and there was a couch sitting in the kitchen taking the place of two chairs. Thankfully, there were two more besides the couch, so I least I could choose those if I felt like actually being upright while I ate. A small bathroom with a shower that I could barely fit in with a shower head that moved up and down on a rail (and didn’t seem to stay where you put it for long when I tried it out) rounded out the place that we would be staying in for the next few days or weeks that we were here.

I went for one of the bedrooms as soon as I had unlocked the door and closed it behind me, my mind still on the burst of energy that had hit me.  While getting high from it wasn’t at all uncommon for Mages, it was the first time I could ever remember that I had gotten that level of energy through two layers of clothes and the slightest touch.  Even with Aaron, I had to touch bare skin on skin in order to initiate a recharge after a Working. And I had never gotten high off of it before, or at least not at this level. I wasn’t sure why he was so much stronger.

I stripped off my travel clothes as I continued working through events in my head, trying to see if there was anything different in Jim that wasn’t there for Aaron.  The only thing there was, I realized, was the fact that I had never drained anyone when I was with my first Battery.  Perhaps now that I had, it made it easier and quicker to get the energy addiction back?

It was something to ask Petunia about next time I was at a SSMS building.

My windbreaker and sweatshirt I hung in the wardrobe that was in the corner while the laptop I had carried along was slid out of its case and placed on the center of the desk.  The room wasn’t overly large, but it certainly was roomy for the amount of furniture that it had in it.  The bookshelf was already full of Minor Working supplies like candles, salt and matches, and books. I was pretty sure that the previous owners wouldn’t have had all of it, so SSMS must have been in here at one point to stock it.  While I wasn’t one that often worked with Minor Workings, it was still nice to know it was all there if I was to need it.

It looked like they were planning on turning this place into one of the many safe houses they had all around the world. But there were a few final things to do to it before I felt that I was safe enough in it to sleep at night without Dreamwalking on purpose around the city.
Since draining another, there were more times than not now that I found myself wandering places in my dreams, especially when I felt I was running low. It was as though my body was telling me that if I wasn’t going to keep it charged, it would charge itself for me. In a strange place full of ghosts of unknown power, it didn’t seem the brightest plan.

I pulled four stones out of my pocket–red, green, yellow and blue–and put one on each side of the room.  North was green, east yellow, red went to the south and blue was set on a small shelf on the west side of the room.  I focused for a moment and felt for the siren’s song within me that marked where my stored energy was, where it was singing for me to use it from.  I had it in my hands within moments and whispered “the webbing is drawn” before tossing the energy out and towards the stones.

The wards immediately popped into place around the room and I felt psychic shields surround them a moment later.  The pressure from the city’s life and bustle around me faded quickly until I felt a calm wash over me that came only when I was out of the way of all the people.  Breathing came easier to me and I turned back to my bag to unpack the rest of my belongings I had brought with.

There was a mirror on the wall across from the wardrobe that I caught sight of myself in as I moved around and I stopped to make sure that I still looked alright after the flight, taxi ride, and walk to the building.  My blonde hair was a bit windblown perhaps, but the bob-style cut made the strands out of place look like I had spent hours achieving that look instead of a 15 minute walk.  At least the eyeliner hadn’t smudged around my green eyes when I had rubbed at them earlier on the plane.

knock knock

“Elle?  You ready to head back out?”

“Just…gimme a bit of time, Jim,” I all but snapped back.  I could feel my energy levels lower from the Minor Working of wards and shields and it was already making me cranky not being up to where I was used to being.  I knew that I would need to recharge from him eventually, but I had plans to hold out for as long as possible before I had to.  And even then, I would struggle to draw only a bare minimum from him.

I had made a promise to myself after Aaron that I would never come close to draining anyone again.  No one deserved a fate like that.  And even Batteries needed time to recharge.

“I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready then,” he told me through the door and I could hear bootsteps as he walked away from me.

I felt like a bitch, but I also knew I needed a bit more time to recover from being around what was essentially food for me before I went back out into it again.

Maybe I could try being nicer to Jim, I thought guiltily.  I was his first Mage after all, and he had never even known he could have been a Battery until SSMS had taken him from wherever the hell he had been prior to me.

I had known Aaron was a recent graduate with a degree in linguistics.

Did I really not care that much about my Battery that I was not willing to get to know him?

My thoughts drifted back to some of the other Mages I had seen at one of the main offices for SSMS in Edinburgh.  They walked around like they owned the place, Batteries three paces behind and heads down, spirits broken.  I had always sworn to myself that I would never become like one of them.

And since Portland…

Even the Readers there had mentioned that they were seeing signs of me closing off.  Damn. Was I really going down that road?

“Now is not the time for this, Elle,” I muttered darkly before slamming the door to the wardrobe shut and stalking out into the kitchen where Jim was waiting, his own copy of the file I had been reading in the van in hand.  “Okay.  I’m good.”

Huh.  Jim wore reading glasses.

I suppose I had seen stranger things than tattooed men wearing tiny Walgreens style glasses.

Reviews:

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Interesting characters. Intriguing enough to make me want to continue reading.

What aspect needs the most work?

The idea of a battery has been done before, so that part was not all that original.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Could be a fun story. Good characterization and interesting enough story.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Elle is a mage and Jim is her battery. Things are getting bad in Heidleberg and ghosts are getting active. Jim seems to be a backup source of power and while she has not used him she is aware that she might have to drain and kill him in a power fight.

What aspect needs the most work?

Where is some backstory on the ghosts and what is going on? Is everyone in the country magic or is being a mage a new and different thing. How long has the fight with the ghosts gone on.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Very interesting, full of potential, really draws you into the story, Elle seems a very lonely young woman, alone and without friends. Looking forward to reading further in this story.

Finally, the link to me on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Battery-Pack-2012-Entry-ebook/dp/B007GEJ7CK/ref=br_lf_m_1000778871_1_10_ttl?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&pf_rd_p=1353712382&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_t=1401&pf_rd_i=1000778871&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1BEXWMT38WVGDCAVGJ1F

So, thoughts, comments, ideas?

DEXTER WEEK DAY FIVE: Book Review 8: Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

With this review, we have reached the end of Dexter week.  I hope it was as fun for you to read as it was for me to create it.  Let me know if there are any other themed weeks you would like to see in the future!

Double Dexter is the sixth book in the bestselling Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay.  While it’s publishing date is set for October eighteenth, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy and see how it stacks up to the previous ones in the series.

It doesn’t just stack up to the others; it blows them all out of the water and then some.

The book starts out with a lyrical description of the night, a full moon in the sky and rain clouds ready to burst.  Tension is created almost immediately by the prose here, and my thoughts from last week on the disappearance of “poetry in prose” from books in more recent times have now been rethought.  Dexter, normally written in first person, is written with the word “we” instead of “I”, a word choice that shows a difference between when Dexter has on his mask and when he is free to be himself: the man and his Dark Passenger.

Even the murder that occurs right at the beginning of the book is described in this way, giving it a feel of surrealism that I don’t think could be accomplished another way.  It is only after Dexter realizes that he has been seen, that there had been a witness to his crime, that the word “we” changes to “I” once more, marking an end of his world and a return to the real one.

The majority of the book then details Dexter’s private quest to find the Witness and to kill him before his secret night life can be spilled.  This fear overrides him to the point where he is unable to see the problems at home, work, and everything in between.  With his wife drinking nearly half a bottle of wine at night, his job as a blood spatter specialist at the local Precinct during a case where policemen are being beaten to death, and searching for a bigger house, it’s amazing that he can keep it all straight.

Oh, and he’s being investigated for the murder of a co-worker.

With events coming to a head in the Keys, Dexter finds himself face to face with his Witness, a man who had decided that he was going to be the “next Dexter” and has to choose between taking a safe path and following the events through to their completion.  When his kids are taken from him by the now murderous Witness, his choice is made for him, and the book races towards its darkly devious denouement.

Overall, this book is well written and is full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing.  There are some points where Dexter seems especially dense, mainly those involving Rita and her drinking. Perhaps it’s because I am female that I was able to figure out WHY she was drinking as much as she was before Dexter was.  With him going out at night and not coming home until later, smelling like he just showered…well…I can see pretty easily where her thoughts were going.

As normal, the characters are well-written and any changes between books are explained through events that happened earlier or between novels.  The setting is clear and crisp, a place that truly exists in Dexter’s world and in ours.  Suspense and tension is drawn out enough so that we want to stay up to keep reading, but short enough that we do not get bored and the payoff is worth the time spent.

Lindsay is once again at the top of his game in Double Dexter and I enjoyed every moment of this book.  If you are a fan of Dexter, either the books or the TV show, I suggest you pick this up as soon as it comes out and read it for yourself.


Roadtripping and Books

Thursday through yesterday was spent Road tripping with S. as we went to his grandfather’s 90th birthday party.  I ended up meeting all of his family at once (at least on his dad’s side), which quickly got a little overwhelming.

But there were also wonderful conversations about books and writing, and how it seems now we, as readers, are more interested in the “instant-gratification” of books and story, and hate to sit through those that have too much detail and setting creation.

It got me thinking about what books are still out there today, being written today, that are written like that: poetry in the prose.  As much as I want to be able to, I can’t think of any off the top of my head (though that could be lack of sleep), and that is something that saddens me.  A lot of books in times past truly were able to take you away, and we as readers could almost hear and smell the world around us after getting sucked into that world for hours at a time.

Are there any books out there that still do that to you?

In other news, Borders is closing.  As sad as that is, it also means great deals on books.  A quick trip with S over to the local one landed me three new books for under $3 each.  Now on my reading list is Demon Bound by Caitlin Kittredge–I fell in love with the first one and lept at this one when I saw it–Mercedes Lackey’s old book The Fire Rose, which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in San Fransisco in the 1800s, and finally, upon much squeeage from Jim Butcher and his Gnome Priscilla, I also picked up Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire.

There’s also a surprise that I am currently working on for next week, but it involves me finishing another book first, and writing up a weeks worth of material.  For next week, my friends, is Dexter Week here on Inkblabber!

Now to get ready for work and then recover from this road trip.  See everyone later!


Reading the Classics

In last week’s post on HG Wells‘ classic The War of the World, two commenters really made me stop and think.  First was Mymatejoechip, who cautioned against feeling as though I had to read all of the classics.  Then there was Joachim Boaz, who suggested that I try reading Wells other “classic” book, The Invisible Man.

Within these two comments, there are two different thoughts on the classics, I feel, and whether an author—or a reader—should feel pressed that he/she should read them.

There are some of the classics that I feel should be read by those wishing to pursue writing as a career, as these were the books that did it first.  So, in no particular order, I give you Megan Hammer’s List of Classic Books Authors Should Read (or at least try):

Dracula, by Stoker, is first on this list.  It really created the modern horror genre as we think of it today, not to mention that it began the vampire craze that has carried over to this day.  It showcases three different writing styles—journalistic, narrative first person and narrative third on occasion—and truly reveals how it’s possible to have one story told from three or four different perspectives.  The fact that Dracula is so rarely seen in the latter half makes him even more frightening, and truly puts forth the idea that horror is caused by the unknown, and that we, as readers, don’t need to know everything.

I also believe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein should be on this list.  While not as horrific in the traditional sense as Dracula, it is excellent for seeing the nuances of human behavior through the eyes of what society deems a monster.  And how, by naming something, we can often bring about its existence, simply because we see it is there.  Frankenstein was also one of the first books in the “modern” world written by a woman, which really helped to, I think, pave the way for the rest of us woman writers out there.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, in fact, anything by Jules Verne, is well worth a read, I think.  Each of his books are well written, and explore ideas that were so far-fetched in their days but are brought to a level that makes sense. Travel around the world in eighty days?  Impossible in the 1800s to even imagine.  Now we can do it in 80 hours. Journey is brilliant for the fact that most of it is fantastical, a rather revolutionary idea at the time of writing, when most books weren’t involving strange creatures and places.

Lord of the Rings might be cliché, but it really did cement the place of Fantasy in the hearts of many, and was one of the first main-stream fantasies to be out there.  Yes, it’s long and drawn out, but think of the fact that Tolkien was writing it while in the trenches in order to keep everyone amused and away from the horrors of war.  They are well written, and every last loose end is accounted for.  In terms of setting creation, there is no better book to come to than Lord of the Rings to watch a master at work.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is one I suggest reading if you have time and are willing to read it several times in order to make sense of it.  The name has become a catchprase in our modern culture, which really shows its lasting power.  I did a 20 page research paper on it back in High School, and even after spending that much time on it, there were things I was still discovering about and laughing at.  This book takes the cake for a study in narrative and character creation.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a good series, and I think mystery writers especially should read at least one of them in their lifetime.  It’s an exercise in clue-gathering, and wondering why you didn’t see that the Maid was actually the victim the entire time you were reading!  Most of the books are rather short, and easy to get through in one afternoon or so.

So there is my list of classics I think people should read.  What ones are on your list?  Are they classics, modern contempories, or that one book you found just last week on the bargain shelf at the bookstore that you fell in love with?


Post Potter Depression Reading List

Now, if you’re like me, you probably went to the midnight release of Harry Potter last night/this morning for the final movie.  And, when you walked out, you were on the “that was BRILLIANT” high.  But then you woke up.  And the Post-Potter Depression hit you.

“Now what do I read?” you’re asking yourself.  Well, here is my list of recommendations of books to help with PPD.

The first is So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane.  It was originally published in 1983 (Long before Potter Mania) and currently consists of nine books in the series.  This first book follows the tale of Nita Callahan as she discovers a book in the library while hiding from bullies tormenting her.  Called “So you want to be a wizard”, she takes the wizard’s oath in it that night, and awakens the next morning to find her name in the back of it as a wizard.  She meets Christopher “Kit” Rodriguez, a new wizard like herself, and together, the two of them find themselves caught in a plot that ends with them taking on the Lone Power in an alternate Manhattan to regain a book that has contained in it all that was and shall be before the Power can destroy Nita and Kit’s Manhattan for good.  Find a copy here

Now, if epic Fantasy is more your thing, and you have already gone through Tolkien, I suggest Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of Ages Trilogy, the first of which is called Rhapsody.  Published in 1999, there are now three other books besides, all detailing the lives of Rhapsody, Achmed the Snake and Grunthor.  The first tells the story of how the three meet, and, in an attempt to escape that which is chasing them, find themselves in the root system of the oldest tree in their world: one that mythology says goes all the way through the earth.  And it does.  They climb through it for what seems to be years for them, and when they finally make their way out of the other side, they find that 1000 years have passed and the country they left from is now gone, sunk beneath the seas.  In a new world, they need to find their own place while dealing with mistrust around them because they are of races that are not normally welcome.  Rhapsody can be found here.

Now, if vampires are more your thing, Jeanne C. Stein has a wonderful series called the “Anna Strong Series”.  They are shorter than Potter (around 300 pages) and the blurb on the back of the first book, The Becoming, compares them to “a cross between Mary Janice Davidson’s Undead series…and Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series”.  A bounty hunter, Anna Strong finds herself attacked one night, and when she wakes up, she’s…changed.  Vampires to her are a thing of myth, and as she struggles to come to terms with what she is, she must also decide if she will walk in the Mortal world, the darker world of vampires, or both, and who she’ll trust in this new society she finds herself in.  There are six books out now, and all are very, very well written.  See it for yourself here.

Finally, there is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. This series of 4 has been in creation since 2003 and the fourth and final book is coming out November of this year.  This book tells the story of a young boy named Eragon when he finds a strange blue stone is a forest when he is out hunting.  Unable to sell it, he keeps it, and is surprised when, a few days later, a dragon hatches from it.  From here on out, Eragon is forced into a role as a Dragonrider, a role which he does not understand, as he searches for the Rebellion, known as the Varden, to help in their fight against the dark Emperor Galbatorix.  The similarities between Star Wars, Tolkien, and Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series are there, but it is still worth a read.  Check it out here.

Well, hopefully that’s enough to ward of PPD for now!


Book Review Three: Dragonsong by Anne McCaffery

The first book in the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffery, Dragonsong remains one of my favorite fantasy books to reread when I get a chance.

It tells the story of a young girl named Menolly, who wants nothing more than to be a Harper.  There’s a problem with this plan though: only boys can be Harpers and Half-Circle Sea Hold is horribly old fashioned.

Stuck doing nothing but teaching the littlest the history of Pern, Menolly is banned from ever playing anything of her own creation because, in the eyes of her father and head of the hold, only a Harper can do that, and she is not one of them.

After a fishing accident leaves her unable to use her left hand to play any instrument, Menolly leaves the hold on morning and finds herself stranded outside when the deadly threat of her world comes upon her: Thread.  With the choice of either finding shelter or burning when the Thread touches her, Menolly happens upon a cave on the seacoast where she finds the eggs of a rare species–Fire Lizards–beginning to hatch.  In an attempt to save them from the deadly Thread, she feeds them all, and finds herself with nine new friends who could do with some more to eat.

Here starts the tale of Menolly living outside of the hold and on her own for the first time in her life.  Living with the Lizards isn’t easy though, and when Menolly finds herself outside of the safety of her cave during another Thread-fall, she nearly runs her feet to the bone before she is rescued by those who protect Pern from Thread as best they can: the Dragon Riders.

Healed by the Dragon Riders, Menolly discovers that another guest of the Riders is none other than Masterharper Robinton himself, the head of the Harper’s guild.  At his request, Menolly joins the Harpers, all nine Fire Lizards in tow, as they journey off to the Guild hall to begin her education.

While the story of “the youngest girl who doesn’t fit in” might seem old to fans of fantasy now, McCaffery was actually one of the first to do it.  Her world of Pern bound together the idea of fantasy dragons and space travel, though the sci-fi aspects of Pern aren’t seen in this novel.

I will likely be tarred and feathered for dare saying it, but some of the motivations of the characters left a bit to be desired, such as just why the Hold was so against Menolly singing her own songs or becoming a Harper.  While it is explained by “no dishonor to the Hold”, that explanation leaves me wondering just how a good singer/Harper could be a dishonor.

The book is quite short as well, so it’s a nice read if you’re after something quick in between meetings or classes–or that is easy to hold up with one hand while you have a broken elbow!

If you haven’t read it, I suggest it.  If you have, well, then you already know that it is worth the reread.  I give it five out of five starts.

…and I’m off to go get more pain pills.

Cover art from: http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/.a/6a00d8345169e469e201287611ee6d970c-250wi


Book Review Two: Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

My immediate reaction upon finishing Alastair Reynolds‘ book Chasm City was “what a ride”.  Even now I’m still absorbing the myriad plot lines that were expertly woven through the book that shouldn’t have worked together, but somehow did.

My 2003 edition of the book begins with the main character, Tanner Mirabel, tracking down the man who killed his boss.  Owing a debt of honor to his boss, Tanner has vowed to track Reivich to the ends of space to kill him if he has to.  What starts innocently enough as a murder attempt (if attempted murder can ever be called simple) begins to get complicated once the space elevator to Orbit explodes with Tanner on it, and he awakes decades later on a planet light years away from his own planet: Sky’s Edge.

Suffering from the after effects of being in a cryogenic sleep for the past thirty years, Tanner begins a trip down to the surface of Yellowstone and the only livable city there: Chasm City.

But a plague had struck the city not long ago, leaving those with nano-technology in them racing to have it removed before it took on lives of their own or was destroyed, and the buildings that had once grown only to accommodate new tenants grew wild and created their own tree-like structures.  The rich live in the Canopy, while the lower dregs of society are found in the Mulch.  Those in the Canopy had once been immortal with their nano-technology implants, but now found themselves searching for a new cure for death. 

The answer, a near drug called Dream Fuel, causes Tanner to find himself woven into a spiraling web as he searches for Reivich in the city.  In a stunning turn of events, he abandons his death quest to go after the source of this drug, both to help someone to whom he owes another debt, but to also unlock questions about his own past.

Because when taken, Dream Fuel unlocks memories for Tanner that he didn’t know existed.

By the time Tanner has finally tracked Reivich to a ship in orbit, he has come to some startling revelations about himself that even he was unaware of.

Woven into this story is the tale of Sky Haussmann, a member of the Flotilla  of Generation Ships that left Earth centuries ago enroute for a new home by a star nicknamed Swan.  We witness his descent into madness and are silent observers as he becomes consumed with getting his ship, the Santiago to the planet first.  What follows is an increasingly horrible series of events that made even me wonder just why I was still cheering for this man to succeed and have his ship land first on a planet that would later be renamed Sky’s End.

Finally, there is the tale of Tanner and his boss, Cahuella, and the attack by Reivich’s men that began this whole affair.  Told through flashbacks, there begin to be startling revelations towards the end that hints that Tanner might not be who he thought he was.

When all these plot lines converge in the last one hundred or so pages of the novel, it was all I could do to put down the book in order to do things like eat and sleep. 

There were a few aspects that seemed to come from out of left field, such as giant space-faring maggot/flies running from Machines that ate them.  Generally though, the world, for being Sci-Fi and taking place far from any reality we know, is completely believable.  Even the Canopy, a place where genetic mutation and enhancement is a common-place for the inhabitants, is a place that I could see existing.

About halfway through the Haussmann story, it was relatively clear to see just where Reynolds was going with the story, but the revelation of Tanner’s true identity was kept a closely guarded secret until the very climax of the story and reveled in such a way that it didn’t feel contrived or weak.

Being true “hard Sci-fi”, it was easy enough to suspend disbelief while reading this that the world created made sense.  While not a sequel to Revelations Space, I have been told that this is more of a fleshing out of the universe created in it, so it heightens the experience more if you read that first.  I did not though, so I can not say for sure one way or another.

Alastair Reynolds’ book gets a definite 5 out of 5 and I will be making room on my shelves for more of his books, I feel.

Read it for yourself here