April 19, 2014

Book review: William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher


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Description:
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearstome Stormtroopers, signifying...pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: 
One of the boxes that I dreaded in the Reading Outside the Box challenge was the box for "Poetry or Novel-in-verse" because I just don't like reading poetry. It puts me to sleep. So when I heard about William Shakespeare's Star Wars from Alison, who also introduced me to the reading challenge, I immediately knew which book was going to be my "Poetry or Novel-in-verse" selection.

Throughout the book, the Star Wars-loving side of me warred with the Shakespeare-not-so-loving side. There were times when I got a kick out of reading a scene in iambic pentameter, like when Luke first sees R2D2's recording of Princess Leia. However, there were times when the verses put me to sleep... literally.

If you're a fan of Star Wars (which I am) or Shakespeare (which I'm not), you will probably enjoy William Shakespeare's Star Wars. And if you're lucky enough to be a fan of both, you'll love it! Otherwise, if you're just a peotry-phobic reader who thinks this will change your mind about poetry, look elsewhere.


April 12, 2014

Heinlein's Third Rule

In his essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction", Robert Heinlein listed five "practical, tested" rules that he recommended writers follow. The rules are:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you start.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
  4. You must put it on the market.
  5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

I like those rules. They sound simple enough and easy for me to follow... except for rule #3. Every story I've published has been subject to rewriting. I've even been known to re-work parts of my manuscript more than ten, or even twenty, times! I can't help it. It's the perfectionist in me.

However, I also hate revising my manuscripts. So why should I keep doing something that I dislike? Well, I'm going to try to stop doing it. I just started working on a new novel. This time, I've told myself that I will follow ALL of Heinlein's rules, um, to some extent. For the third rule, I will allow myself one pass at revisions after the first draft to correct obvious problems. Then it's off for editorial feedback. Then, I will make another round of revisions and repeat the editorial cycle until my editor is satisfied. I won't make any more changes unless my editor asks for them.

Aside from disliking the editing process, the other reason why I'm willing to embrace Heinlein's third rule is that I finally feel ready to do so. I'm more comfortable with my writing now. With each successive book, I cringe less and less upon reading the first draft. All of these years of writing must be paying off, or I've become numb to my own incompetence. Either way, I don't think more rounds of revisions will help me anymore.

By editing less, I don't intend to produce an inferior book. On the contrary, Heinlein's advice is rooted in the belief that re-writing doesn't necessarily improve a book. Just because you re-work a chapter twenty times doesn't mean that the twentieth revision is better than the first. I should know. I've been there. If there is a problem with a story, I should be able to catch it on the second pass, or hopefully my editor will tell me so.

In the end, by following rule #3, I hope to still write a great book and save myself the headache of months of editing. It's a win-win!

April 5, 2014

Book review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman


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Description:
Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: 
When I watched the film version of Stardust about five years ago, I thought it was a good movie with an original story. I hadn't yet heard of Neil Gaiman, who wrote the book upon which the movie was based. It wasn't until a couple of years later, when I read Neverwhere, that I became a fan of Gaiman. Since then, I've read three of his novels and two short story collections, enjoying all of them, but I still hadn't read Stardust. With the Reading Outside the Box challenge, I can now address that omission and check the "Accidentally Watched the Movie First" box too.

Overall, Stardust was a good book. It's a typical, magical Neil Gaiman tale set in a typical, magical Neil Gaiman world. However, as I read the book, I couldn't help but compare it to the movie, perhaps unfairly. Having seen many film adaptations of books, I was prepared for differences between the two. While the major story arcs were similar in the movie and the book, there were two aspects of the movie that I wished was in the book: (1) more interaction between Tristran and Yvaine and (2) the climactic battle in the witches' castle. The story in the book was good, but it lacked the development of the relationship between Tristran and Yvaine. The two sort of fell in love too quickly and inexplicably. Also, the conclusion of the book wasn't as entertaining or suspenseful as the one in the movie. Everything was wrapped up too easily without much conflict, lacking the energy that the movie provided.

While Stardust was a worthwhile read, it wasn't Gaiman's best work. In this rare case, I'd have to say the movie was better than the book.


March 29, 2014

Something to Take on the Trip


Next week, a new short story of mine, "A Flurry of Footsteps", will appear in the anthology Something to Take on the Trip. This collection of short stories will include other established authors such as Kevin J. Anderson (author of various science fiction novels and co-author of several books in the Dune series), David Gerrold (another sci-fi author perhaps best known for his Star Trek books), and Ron McLarty (author of The Memory of Running and other books). In all, the anthology will include over 40 stories by writers from eight countries. If that's not enough reason for you to check out the book, proceeds from the book's sales will go to the children's charity The Grand Appeal. Look for Something to Take on the Trip on Amazon next week!

March 22, 2014

Book review: The Never List by Koethi Zan


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Description:
For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: 
The Never List started out great. I loved reading about the compulsive way that Sarah guarded herself from potential dangers through following a list of things to never do in order to stay safe. From the first few pages, I had the impression that this would be an awesome psychological thriller/mystery.

However, as the story unfolded, I found myself asking why Sarah was doing the things she did because they seemed to fly in the face of the regimen she established for herself. In one scene after another, she thrust herself into situations that a brave person wouldn't enter, much less someone as compulsively cautious as she was. I know that these events had to happen in order for there to be a story, but it still bothered me as I read it.

While the book was well written and entertaining throughout, I just found it too unbelievable given the makeup of the main character. Nevertheless, I recommend The Never List if you can suspend your beliefs.

Note that while this book isn't for the squeamish, I was grateful that the author didn't go into details about the tortures that various characters endured. Most of it was left to the reader's imagination. Well done in that respect.


March 15, 2014

Protect (The Driver Series #2)

If you enjoyed my post-apocalyptic short story, "Drive", you'll be happy to learn that there's now a sequel! "Protect" is available on Amazon and Smashwords for 99 cents. Haven't read "Drive" yet? Pick it up for FREE on Amazon, Smashwords, or Barnes & Noble!


Description of "Drive":
Claire knows only a world where most of humanity lives inside sparsely populated cities protected from the Outside by guarded walls. She is a new Driver whose job is to transport items between these cities. Under the watchful eye of her Protector, Shaun, Claire makes her first run from San Jose to Angel City to bring back medicine needed to save hundreds of lives. However, the trip takes them through the dangerous land of the Outsiders. Using their skills, Claire and Shaun must escape from their armed pursuers in a chase across miles of barren wasteland with no hope of help.

Description of "Protect":
Claire is a Driver, tasked with helping to transport items between walled cities shielded from the Outside. On three previous runs, Claire successfully avoided the Outsiders to complete her missions. This time, the mayor asks her and her Protector, Shaun, to bring back precious cargo from Sacramento. From the start, Claire notices this run is different. She isn't allowed to see the cargo loaded onto a big rig truck, another Driver and Protector from Sacramento accompanies them, and there is a decoy truck to throw off the Outsiders. Despite all of the precautions, Claire's convoy runs into a trap set by the Outsiders. She's no Protector, and she doesn't know what she's transporting, but Claire knows that she's all that stands between the Outsiders and whatever lies inside the truck she has to protect.

March 8, 2014

Book review: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan


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Description:
Annabeth is terrified. Just when she's about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo's fantastical creation doesn't appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.

And that's only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close—the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?

Annabeth's biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he's now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.

Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare....

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: 
I was a big fan of the Percy Jackson books. Then Rick Riordan wrote the Kane Chronicles, which I didn't enjoy so much. I'm glad he returned to the world of Greek mythology with his latest Heroes of Olympus series.

Although it was released over a year ago (and book 4, The House of Hades, is already out), and even though I gave both of the first two books in the series five stars and couldn't wait to continue, I just recently read The Mark of Athena. I'm bad with reading through a series that way.

The Mark of Athena is similar to The Lost Hero and The Son of Neptune in that the narration shifts between multiple characters, which each character receiving four chapters at a time. It's a format that works for me and isn't as hard to follow as you'd think because all of the narrators are on the same mission. Also, like books 1 and 2, the pace of this book moves along quickly. There's plenty to action to keep you interested throughout.

My only two complaints (and the reason the book received four stars instead of five) are that the book is a little too long for the plot (some chapters felt like filler material) and that the book ends in a cliffhanger. I hate cliffhangers! If the book suffered from only one of those ailments, it would have been more of a 4.5, which I would round to five stars. However, despite my criticism, it's still a very good book and I can't wait to read book 4... which most likely means I won't get around to it for another few months.