Sunday, October 30, 2011
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very short book - a novella rather than a novel - and of course I knew the premise before I started reading. In fact I'm a little surprised that I hadn't read it earlier, it's such a classic. Still, knowing the ending didn't make it any less absorbing or creepy. Although it's a little bit dated in places (cassette tapes!), most of the hints at technology still feel as futurstic as it undoubtedly did when it was written. If you haven't read it, it's worth the (rather short) investment of time.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Death & Magic by Steven J. PembertonMy rating:
A murder mystery in a set in a magical world, this book does indeed revolve around the two elements of its title. But it also focuses on Adramal, a young woman who leaves her home town to escape a difficult relationship with her father, and finds herself embroiled in events far beyond her understanding as she also has to deal with more typical teenage concerns like bullying and first romance.
There are hints at a great deal of epic history in this world, and I hope more of this will come out in the sequel. Overall, a great read, and I'm looking forwards to more.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The Seekers of Fire by Lynna Merrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Seekers of Fire is exactly my kind of novel: a tale of Science and Magic (capitalized throughout the book), religion and politics, which is nevertheless focused on the personal stories of a few characters. Linden and Rianor are trying to study the Science of Magic - a worthy lifetime's ambition, in a world where magic really works, so it's not surprising there are several more books planned. The world feels well-developed and, since the author has a scientific background, I don't doubt that there's a set of logical rules just waiting to be discovered. Meanwhile, the nation's rulers try forcefully to quash any subversive thoughts. I've already downloaded the second in the series and can't wait to see where the story goes next.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the things I really like about Thorndyke stories is that the reader is often well aware of the facts of the case - but there is still a great deal of fun to be had in seeing how Thorndyke will prove the truth and disprove any falsehoods. This is a nice example, with a protagonist who panics, makes a series of silly decisions, and eventually requires Thorndyke to dig him out of the mess.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
A Certain Dr Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I do enjoy Thorndyke mysteries, but this is an odd one. The first half of the book is taken up with the entertaining (but largely irrelevant and most implausible) exploits of Osmond in Africa. Only in the later chapters does Thorndyke actually appear - at which point he naturally proceeds to clear everything up with characteristic thoroughness.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I "met" Keryl through a group on Goodreads, where we're both members. Her first novel, Sylvianna, is a modern-day fantasy adventure with a strong romantic sub-plot. It's a long book but I read most of it on the five-hour Amtrak trip from New York to Manassas last month. I really enjoyed it (although there were a few passages that made me blush to read on the train!) so I thought it would be fun to get Keryl over here to answer a few questions.
Spoiler alert: this interview contains some mild spoilers for Sylvianna. I chatted with Keryl about this, and we don't think it should reduce your enjoyment of the book, but if you'd prefer to read it with no idea of what's to come then you may want to come back after reading the novel.
Let's start with the basics - tell me a little about your inspiration for Sylvianna.
I am, and I'm sure this will shock you deeply, a geek. Old school, hardcore, gamer geek. In college I lived in the Writer's House, and had the joy of some very creative friends who were also gamers. We were playing a RPG based on the Amber books by Roger Zelazny (which are brilliant) and my buddies came up with the very basic characters in my book. Magic user on the run from the apocalypse, the fairy stuck on earth, the buddy who vanishes, the geomancer in love with his boss' wife, and the healer who doesn't know what all is going on, are all basic character ideas from that game.
So that's where I got my basic character sketches from. Why the magic user had been involved in an apocalypse was interesting to me, so I began playing with it. Then, because it's a story written by me, it's got to have a romance and some theology. Especially in fantasy, where supernatural power and Gods are literally, physically, undeniably real, I feel like some level of theology is appropriate. I don't remember when I decided why Chris killed his God, but I do remember it was a turning point for the book. The original version was much darker, with Chris having done it knowing it would end up with everyone dead. But I began to like Chris, and Sarah, and I wanted something less grim for them.
So how much of your friends' original roleplay characters is left in the way your characters think and behave?
10%? Not all that much. Take Chris for example: his red hair, running away from the apocalypse, flesh melt, and missing his wife are all from the original character. All but the red hair I messed with pretty intensely. Why was he part of an apocalypse? That's entirely new. Why and how did he use flesh melt? Completely different. What happened to his wife? Also completely redone. Basically, my role playing buddies were a significantly less sympathetic group than my characters. We were having fun exploring our (very) dark sides, and when I began the book, I started off closer to the original characters. But the more I wrote, the more I began to like Sarah and Chris, the more I wanted them to be 'good' guys. So I toned down the evil, and made the characters more sympathetic.
Mostly the similarities remain in how the characters look, some key aspects of their back story, and some speech and mannerisms. The motivations, almost all of the back story, and all of the current plot are new.
Can you explain your decision to make Sarah Jewish? Do you think things would have turned out differently if she'd had a different religious background on Earth?
Originally, back on page one, Sarah was Jewish because I was interested in writing a character who wasn't the typical Urban Fantasy Heroine. They're usually godless or Christians. I've got a background in Religious Studies, and a long time ago I began to study Judaism, and found it compelling. I wanted to share what I liked about it with my readers. Over time, as I kept writing, and the story kept developing, Sarah's Judaism became more and more important to how the sequel shapes up.
I suppose most of Sylvianna would have been pretty close to the same if Sarah had been Christian, but I would have lost the opportunity for the home based religious interaction. For most Christians Church is where the majority of religious observance happens. For Jews, it's at home. So, some of my favorite scenes with Chris and Sarah would have had to been majorly restructured.
I also think, that had I written Sarah as a Christian, Chris' sexual acceptance/forgiveness arc wouldn't have worked as well. While it's true that there are plenty of devout Christians who do engage in pre-marital sex, I think if Sarah had had the same level of devotion as a Christian as she does as a Jew, their relationship would have remained chaste.
I can definitely say the things that will happen in the sequel would have been remarkably different if Sarah had been anything other than Jewish. The core of Christianity is forgiveness. Any and all sins can and will be forgiven by Christ, and Christians are supposed to emulate Jesus and forgive each other. Jews don't believe in that. They believe The Lord forgives sins against Himself, and that the rest of it is up to each individual you've wronged. In addition to that, Judaism is very big on Law, on following the Law and the creation of a just society.
As you know, there's a huge mess waiting for Sarah and Chris, and if she had been a devout Christian, what's coming up would have been very different.
Sylvianna is set on Earth, but there's a whole world in the background which we barely see, except in snatches of visions and memories. How did you go about constructing that world and its cultures?
Good question. I'd say The Ossolyn of Hidiri are an organic out growth of years as a gamer/history/religious studies wonk, but that sounds like a whole lot of thought didn't go into it, and it did.
So it worked something like this: I had an image of a character, who eventually became Ahni Al Ath Gyr Bui. Red hair, blue skin, white eyes. Why did he have these things? No idea. It looked cool. Likewise, I had his name, and also the name Cellin Ath Dath Wa. From there I built my Ossolyn naming structure, and once I had the names, I suddenly had positions for Cell and Ahni. Once I had positions for them, the others sort of fell into place. From there I started to round them out. I built a medieval-esque structure because that's the sort of world I'm most familiar with and could make the most 'real.'
Meanwhile, I knew I was going to destroy that world, and I knew my characters would be responsible. So I wanted it to be disagreeable enough so that the readers could sympathize with my characters. But it was also their home, so it had to be nice enough that the characters would miss it, and feel bad about what happened.
I knew that I had to come up with a compelling reason for apocalypse to be a worthwhile risk, so that meant the big bad had to be really big, and really bad.
And then there were just bits and pieces that hit me, and I liked them. So they got worked in. The war was one of those ideas. It wasn't part of the set up originally, but when it occurred to me, it really worked, so it got added into the mix.
As I wrote Sylvianna, I was also working on the back story and sequel. By the time Sylvianna was done I had about 75k words of back story finished as well. And that made for a very concrete world, culture, and storyline to play off of as I got into the edits and revisions on Sylvianna.
We've talked a little about the book, but what about your personal writing process? How do you get from page one to the end?
I use something called the BIC method. Butt in Chair. Every day, I sit down and write for at least two hours. I go to the gym, my kids go to the Kidzone, and I take advantage of the baby free time to write. Most days I write in the evening as well, but not all of them.
You change viewpoints a lot in the book, and the characters have very different levels of knowledge. Do you have any particular techniques for switching between different characters' thoughts?
I have a physical reminder I use when I'm writing. I did the different characters in different fonts so that I could easily "see" when I was in each character's P.O.V. Also for Sarah and Pat, what they know (or don't) is very much part of their motivations, so it made it easier to keep who knew what in mind.
Beyond that, there's very careful editing. I re-read the book like seventeen times to make sure no one knew anything they weren't supposed to. I'm working on the sequel now, and ran into a flashback where I completely muffed who knew what. Fortunately that wasn't too difficult to fix, but still... Mostly it's just a matter of really paying attention to what's on the page.
Thanks Keryl! Sylvianna is available in paperback or on Kindle. Personally, I can't wait for the sequel...
Monday, October 17, 2011
Fudge Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoy this series as light relief when I don't feel like concentrating too hard. In that sense, this book lived up to my expectations: fun, but nothing too challenging. I particularly liked the mystery of the secret ingredient which runs through this book in parallel with the murder plot.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Liberator's Ruin by P.J. Johns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Liberator's Ruin is a tale of war, politics, and adventure set against an imaginative and beautifully drawn backdrop. The world of Rhivellia and Illys isn't quite steampunk, but I can't think of a closer genre to describe the feel of it. I enjoyed the very different sets of characters and their environments, from Nathan's airship and Claye's arena fights to the Inquisitor's intrigues and Anna's insurgency. And everything came together nicely towards the end.
The book does need a thorough line-edit; I don't deduct stars for that kind of thing, but if typos bother you then you should probably wait for a revised edition.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Irreparable Harm (Sasha McCandless #1)My rating: Legal / Thriller
by Melissa F. Miller
I really loved this book; I raced through it in no time, and actually wished it had been a bit longer. It's a fast-paced mixture of legal drama and thriller, with tiny, ninja-esque heroine Sasha taking matters into her own hands when she discovers that one of her cases is linked into a deadly plot.
Sasha is a workaholic who nevertheless manages to train as a top-notch martial artist in her spare time, but she's also a sympathetic, convincing character with a caffeine addiction and a stubborn streak. I'm really hoping we'll see more of her in later books.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Darkness Falls by Allan Leverone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don't really enjoy horror stories - unlike a good thriller, I don't find tales of the supernatural all that scary. But I've read other work by this author, so I did want to read this as soon as it came out, and I did like it more than I usually would for the genre. It's an odd length - somewhere between a short story and a novella - but manages to pack quite a lot in to a few short pages. I particularly liked the ending.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
That Summer in Ischia by Penny Feeny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a gentle, easy read, with a vivid Italian backdrop (and some sections in an equally-romanticized Liverpool). The characters are all well-drawn, each with their own faults and foibles, and their stories are compelling. If there's one flaw in the plausibility, it's that everyone seems very quick to forgive people who worm into their lives under false pretences. But I really enjoyed it and would happily read more from this author.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Omicron by Patrick Reinken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was an enjoyable thriller, whose action criscrossed the globe from its first pages. Reinken's style is very distinctive, including detailed descriptions of locations and more-or-less-relevant facts, along with a fast-changing cast of characters, many of whom are introduced only to be brutally disposed of or - in a manner common enough in real life, but which I've seldom seen in fiction - just in time to play a major role in changing the course of the drama. Throughout this, a small number of more central characters pick their way. In 'Omicron' the eponymous character is a sleeper agent, suddenly (and reluctantly) activated to step in when many of his colleagues are compromised and killed. This is advertised as 'Aristotle Project #1' so I'll be interested to see if later books cover some of the other agents.