27 June 2014

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

It’s been a while since I read Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer, the first book in his Lotus War series.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it and what a wonderful world he had built.

It truly speaks to the Kristoff’s skill that, as terribly messed up as the world of the Lotus War is, still, in the words of Liz Lemon:

I want to go to there.

It’s a beautifully realized world full of interesting characters.  Kristoff has a real talent for making even his villains relatable, for turning our (or at least my) expectations on their head.  For showing the complexity of people and the choices they face.

And even though I sometimes (or often) disagree with the choices his characters make, I still feel like I know them and relate to them.

With a story set in a fantasy world, Kristoff also has a lot more leeway with language than a more realistic book has.  I see his beautiful turns of phrase and yearn for the day I’ll return to writing something more fantastical.

So, enough background.  On to the book itself.  Spoilers follow, so avoid reading beyond if you wish to be surprised.

Kinslayer picks up where Stormdancer left off, with Shima teetering on the brink of civil war and/or revolution.  Yukiko and her thunder-tiger Buruu are again the focus, but the net is cast wider this time: the story touches on Michi, the maidservant of Aisha, trapped in the capital; Kin, the Guildsman who abandoned the Lotus Guild and helped build Buruu his mechanical wings to escape; and two new characters: Yoshi and Hana, sibling orphans living in squalor in the capital.  Hiro, Yukiko’s former love - who she betrayed and left for dead - also has several chapters devoted to him.

The plot meandered at times, and I found myself not caring about some threads as much as other.  Yukiko’s quest to understand and control her Kenning - the gift that lets her speak in others’ minds, including Buruu’s - seemed to take a whole lot of the book up, deviate madly from what was essential, and just didn’t really work for me on a lot of levels, until they finally reached the payoff, which was great - but not entirely worth it.  I thought that segment could have been reduced by half and still been as effective.

It took me a while to get to like Hana and Yoshi, but they grew on me and I ended up enjoying them quite a bit.  I enjoyed that Kristoff depicted Yoshi in an openly gay relationship with his boyfriend Juruo, and that it wasn’t a big deal to the narration or to most people.  That’s not to say the society depicted in Kinslayer was completely accepting, though - Yoshi and Juruo did face some prejudice, but I thought that was well-handled.

Michi’s chapters in the palace were quite powerful, and really explored a lot of questions of morality and love, as she uses her feminine wiles to get her wya.

Kin’s chapters were very interesting to me - perhaps because I find him such a fascinating character.  In some ways I felt like he got short shrift, but what few chapters he did get were for the most part real game changers.

The different threads all wove together into an excellent climax for the book, impressively so, I thought.  Kristoff really pulled out all the stops.

I won’t say I liked everything that happened in Kinslayer - characters took turns I would rather them not have done, things happened that made me unhappy.  But they were all justified.  They all made sense.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy, Endsinger, which thankfully comes out in September.  Not so long a wait - just an eternity!


Books: Still reading The Good Son by Michael Gruber.  Picked up Red Rising from the library and I'm excited to start it next.

Bottles: I'm picking up some today.  Hooray!

Writing: Still sitting on the manuscript for one more week.  Next week I'm going to do one last check for typos, and then on 9 July I start querying.  Which is super exciting!

Guitar: Looking at the live version of "Mother" and also "Monster" by Imagine Dragons.

23 June 2014

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I was attracted to Love Letters to the Dead because it had a cover blurb from Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), which I loved.  Letters had a lot of similarities to Perks, in its epistolary format and in its setting.  Both featured main characters who used writing to cope with the traumas of their past.  It would be easy to call Letters derivative, but it was far from it.  Letters was unique and beautiful and I thoroughly loved it.  I loved it so much I read it in 3 days.  I would have read it in one if I didn’t have to go to work.

Letters tells the story of Laurel, who is given an assignment to write a letter to a dead person.  She soon finds herself pouring out her soul in those letters, and in doing so, we see her struggling through high school, making friends, falling in love, and dealing with her past.

I forgot who said it or what their exact wording was, but it goes something like:

No one ever really leaves high school.

That’s certainly true for me.  Reading about Laurel’s life, I remembered my own years.  I don’t know how typical my experience was compared to Laurel’s.  I went to high school with friends already made from middle school (indeed, from elementary school, and I’m still friends with some of them to this day); I was always, for lack of a better word, a goodie-two-shoes.  I never went to a party, I never drank or did drugs, and I wasn’t even cool enough to be invited or offered.  I knew plenty of people who did.  I wonder how many of them had lives like Laurel’s.

It’s hard to talk about Letters without spoilers.  The question at the heart of the novel really informs the whole thing, and I don’t want to give that away.  I will say that I accurately guessed what Laurel wasn’t saying by about a third of the way through the novel, but I like to think that’s because I’m a careful reader and the author was very good at providing subtle hints.  I don’t think it was that obvious.

The climax was so poignant and cathartic, but it surprised me how underplayed it was.  Sometimes, when people have to face something they don’t want to, they rail and scream against it, and that’s seen in plenty of novels.  Laurel, on the other hand, handles it more quietly, and it really worked.

Letters also had a wonderful denouement.  Not one but several chapters followed Laurel even after her big breakthrough, showing her new paradigm, how her relationships with her family and friends had shifted, and showing us what her future might be like.

It also seems worth noting to me the inclusion of a pair of lesbian characters whose relationship was portrayed very lovingly and realistically.  I have seen a growing trend of this in my reading - the inclusion LGBTQ characters in young adult fiction as a matter of course and not as a matter of sensationalism.

Love Letters to the Dead was a wonderful read, and, above all, it was fulfilling.  That may not sound like much, but it’s high praise.  A lot of what I’ve read lately has been lacking on that front.  I hope I get to read more books as fulfilling as it this year.  So far, I’d have to say it’s topping my list.


Books: Finished Supergods and started on Michael Gruber's The Good Son.

Bottles: K Syrah Milbrandt Wahluke Slope 2011.  Delightful!  Also, Round Pond 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Writing: My query jumped the shark!  Not really, but I submitted it to the QueryShark and it was selected (yea!) and got a positive response (even more yea!).  Also started getting words on the page for my next project.  Mostly just writing whatever I feel like about the new story and I'll figure out if it's actually any use later.  Getting to know the characters.

Guitar: Been gone in Dallas for a week, so no motion on that front.

19 June 2014

The Kill Order by James Dashner

Well, this is it.  The prequel to The Maze Runner trilogy, which I sort-of-liked.

It’s strange.  The Kill Order was in many ways a better-written book than any of the other three.  Language-wise, it was an improvement.  Story-wise, it was much less frustrating.  I liked the characters better.  And there was a significant decrease in the use of falling-unconscious-as-transition.

So why didn’t I like it more?

I loved that we got to see the world fleshed out more.  I loved seeing how things got the way they were.  And actually, I really loved the people we met in the story, even though it was certain things would end poorly for them.

I think the three things that most impacted my enjoyment were these:

First, lack of significance: Even though it was a good story, I had a hard time seeing the significance of a lot of the events.  They were just kind of strung together.  I enjoyed that the characters had actual choices, and they made them and faced the consequences.  That was great.  What was less great was how it felt like none of the consequences mattered in the end, because they were all doomed.  That’s how it felt.

We started with a prologue - and finished with an epilogue - that tied in to The Maze Runner.  Yet nothing else really did, other than sharing the world.  Things could have been tied together so much nicer than they were.

Second, lack of resolution.  This has more to do with my own tastes than anything else.  I think I’m pretty realistic about the world, taking as it is and not expecting too much in the way of karma or cosmic justice.  But I like to see that in books.  I like to see people pay the price for their poor choices.  It fills a deep-seated need in me.

So the fact that evil is never really directly opposed or punished bothers me.  Perhaps it’s childish, but there we are.

Third is the lack of denouement.  This is something that bothered me about the original trilogy as well, but I could never put my finger on it until now.  Both The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trial end in cliff-hangers, so I can more or less forgive them for ending abruptly.  But both The Kill Order and The Death Cure end abruptly, too, with short epilogues added in to make us feel better.

One of the genius things that J.K. Rowling did in the Harry Potter series was that each book (save the last) ended with Harry going home on the Hogwarts Express.  Not only did it give us a chance to come down from the emotional high of the climax of the book, it also eased us out of Harry’s world and back into the real world, in a way that perfectly mirrored what Harry himself was experiencing.

Not every story is structured to allow for such perfect denouement, but even so, as a reader, I need that breathing space.  The denouement is a chance to show the reader all kinds of things: what the characters’ hopes for the future might be, what the new status quo is, or sometimes, just a chance to say that despite all the pain the characters went through, things would ultimately be okay.

The Kill Order lacked that, as did every other book in The Maze Runner trilogy, and I think that hurt them most of all.


Books: Nearly done with Supergods by Grant Morrison.

Bottles: Had two bottles of K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt Wahluke Slope 2011.

Writing: Still fixing the query.  Had a good brainstorm.

Guitar: In Dallas right now (hence the delayed post) so no guitar.

13 June 2014

Ovid 2008 Napa Valley

Oh my, what a delightful bottle!  We shared it at Metro Wine Bar in Oklahoma City.  I enjoyed it with braised beef short ribs.  Heavenly!

Ovid’s 2008 blend is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

The wine a deep burgundy, more red than purple, with a full, lush body.

After decanting, the nose smacked of cinnamon and petrol, with ripe fruits as well.

The taste was bursting with more fruit on the tip of the tongue and a roundness that was quite pleasing.  Midpalate I was hit with spices and vanilla.  The finish lingered with structured tannins and the taste of toasted walnuts.


Books: Finished A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip and now I'm halfway through Grant Morrison's Supergods.

Bottles: Ravenswood Petite Sirah 2012.

Writing: Done!  Working on revising the query now.

Guitar: Looking at "Mother."

09 June 2014

Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori

NOTE: This was supposed to be published 5 June but apparently only got saved as draft.

Why Buildings Fall Down was introduced to me by one of my friends, who is very interested in engineering and architecture.  Though I am not nearly as interested as he is, Why Buildings Fall Down was approachable enough (for the most part) that I found it worthwhile.

The book examines the causes of various structural failures, both historical and modern.  The authors did their best to explain architectural and mathematical problems in layman’s terms, and they succeeded more often than not.  Still, there were parts where the concepts they attempted to explain were more complicated than I was wiling to grapple with, and I will admit to skimming over some of the more technical jargon.

As a native Kansas Citian, the book was of particular interest as it explored both the Kemper Arena roof collapse and the Hyatt walkway collapse.  I’d often heard of the Hyatt disaster, but I’d never heard about Kemper’s roof collapse until reading the book.

Following the main text of the book, there was an appendix that explained and gave examples for many of the most important and basic elements of architecture.  I actually found those to be extremely helpful: not for the mathematics they offered but simply for the more easily-understood descriptions of the structures involved.  It would have been great if they had broken up that large section into smaller ones and preceded each chapter with a blurb about some architectural concept.

Still, Why Buildings Fall Down was worthwhile.  While it was far from a favorite, I don’t feel it was a waste of time to read it.


Books: Just got 3 from the library.  Finishing up volume 5 of Echoes of All Our Conversations.

Bottles: Nothing new.

Writing: 85% of the way there!  Holy crap!

Guitar: Looking at "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" again.  Surprisingly, I can still play it pretty well!

Transformers: The Covenant of Primus by Justina Robson

I have to admit, part of the reason I got The Covenant of Primus was the crazy-cool case it comes in: a transforming Autobot logo.  I didn’t give much thought to the contents, other than hoping it wouldn’t be crappy.

I was pleasantly surprised by the book.  It was surprisingly coherent, well-written, and the illustrations were gorgeous.  The Covenant of Primus laid out the history of the Transformers as (mostly) set out in the War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron games, plus the Prime cartoon.  There were some inconsistencies here and there, and some simplifications, but then again, it can be quite a feat to reconcile conflicting histories from several sources and writers.

What I liked most about The Covenant of Primus were the chapters covering the earliest history of Cybertron, something skirted around but never really explored much.  The creation of the 13 original Primes, and their first battle with Unicron, was especially intriguing.

To be frank, it seems clear that this book was written to sell toys.  That’s okay.  I like those toys, though in truth I don’t really buy any except for Generation 1 reissues or Masterpiece releases.  Still, it’s fun to revisit the world of the Transformers, not counting the Michael Bay films, which I still have a really hard time liking.  If it weren’t for Peter Cullen, I probably wouldn’t even see them.  Oh well.


Books: Reading A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip right now.  Quite fun.

Bottles: Nothing lately.

Writing: Finished with revisions.  Just have a few spots to double-check before I start letting people read it.  YEA.

Guitar: "Shine On."

01 June 2014

Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2012

Dashe’s Late Harvest Zinfandel is only released in years with, appropriately enough, later harvests.  2012 is the latest vintage to meet that criterion, which is good, because I was nearly out of the 2009.  Thankfully the memory of a bottle of 2009 was quite recent for me, so I could offer some comparison.

The 2012 was a lighter purple than 2009, though by no means light - it simply wasn’t as dark as 2009.  In the nose, I noticed a more syrupy quality, rather than the straight honey and clover of the 2009, and I even found hints of sumac.

The taste was bright and happy, with more berry flavors and straightforward sweetness.  The tannins remained in the background but were definitely there.

Dashe’s 2012 vintage of Late Harvest Zinfandel continues the tradition of excellence and remains one of my favorite wines.  I cannot wait to enjoy more desserts with it.


Books: Finished Kinslayer.  Catching up on Echoes of All Our Conversations and waiting for the next arrival from the library.

Bottles: An interesting Teroldego.

Writing: Going to hit the 75% mark today.  YEA!

Guitar: "Have a Cigar" and "Young Lust."