A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Alaska Traveler, by Dana Stabenow

Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America's Last Frontier

This is a collection of travel articles on Alaska, most of which Dana Stabenow wrote for her column in Alaska Magazine.  The articles are interesting and the content is pretty varied, from general travel tips and descriptions of glaciers to vignettes of life in the bush and accounts of local celebrations.  I learned a ton, and it inspired me to return to Alaska.  However, the style and structure can get a little samey if you try to read too many close together.  I recommend enjoying them in small doses.

And you can easily read them this way, because it's FREE on Amazon!

Some of my favorite articles:

Ch 4: “Alaska Travel Etiquette”—handy for tourists and culturally interesting.
Ch 12: “I Hear the Train A-Coming”—about the Hurricane Turn flagstop route on the Alaskan Railroad
Ch 16: “Thar She Blows”—about Sitka’s Whale Fest
Ch 17: “Dogs and Beans”—about the start of the Iditarod, from the point of view of normal residents of Anchorage
Ch 20-21: “In the Shadow of the Great One”—about Denali
Ch 24: “Carving History in Ketchikan”—about totems and other carvings by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian
Ch 29: “Two Points, Big Team, Two Points”—about the basketball culture of small-town Alaska
Ch 38:  “Boardwalk Boogie”—about a music festival (and life) in the tiny community of Pelican.
Ch 46: “Some Say in Ice”—about an ice-carving festival

Ch 57: “Marine Pilots”—about the pilots who guide big ships into ports and such.

My overall rating:  FOUR STARS

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Czech Hikes--Troják to Jablůnka

Here are some pictures of my hike last week from Troják to Jablůnka, near Vsetín in the Czech Republic.

The Czech mountains in early fall, along the ridge from Trojak to Maruška
The new Maruška View Tower
Changing Leaves
One of many, many mushrooms
How much better can it get?
The trail headed down to Jablůnka

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Author Spotlight on Isis Sousa's "Stories of Duskland"

I have an author spotlight on Isis Sousa's blog.  Click here to read about Far-Knowing, "Chaos Rises," and Leaving Home

You can see Isis's artwork in her book, The Night of Elisa. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beka Cooper, by Tamora Pierce

This is the first Tamora Pierce book I've read.  While I enjoyed it overall, I did have a few issues.

1)  There are like 12 different made-up words for different types of people (mot, cove, doxie, gixie, spintry, rusher, cuddy, mumper, etc).  I constantly had to stop and translate or just ignore them, because I couldn't remember exactly what they meant, and I hadn't discovered the glossary in the back.  The ones like dog (for cop), puppy (new cop), rat (criminal) and birdie (informant) are great.  They're good imagery and easy to understand and lend nice flavor.  Even with the other words, I understand the style choice, and sort of admire it, I just didn't enjoy it.  Maybe if there were only 2-3 invented words for people...

2)  I liked and understood how the dogs (cops) worked, but I was REALLY fuzzy on who the "Rogue" was and what his place was in the hierarchy.  Something like a mob boss, I think, who holds the criminals to a sort of criminal code, and keeps things from getting too out of hand...but I was never really sure.  With all the explanation of other things, I think a little time could have been spent on this. 

3)  The journal format.  Just a personal preference, but I don't like novels in journal form.  Never have.  From reading reviews, I'm not alone.  It's just so hard to suspend my disbelief.  Beka's always talking about how dead tired she is after a long and eventful shift, yet she has time and energy to write pages and pages of diary, and it all sounds like a final draft, not the rough draft my own journal entries always are.  But again, this is just personal preference. 

4)  Length:  I think it could have been streamlined a little to cut out some of the repetition.

Things I LIKE:

1)  Beka's voice is great.  Very skillful writing.  With the exception of all the troublesome terms for people, most of the made-up words are completely understandable in context.

2)  I like Beka's character and her doggedness.  I also really like Tunstall and Goodwin and some of the other characters.

3)  Pounce.  Best cat ever.  Especially in one scene where he brings Kora and Aniki some cute gifts.

4)  I like the idea of the pigeons carrying the ghosts of the dead, and how Beka can hear them.  I do sort of wonder if someone with so powerful a gift should be risking her life daily on the streets.

5)  It's not a romance.  Romance is fine, but it's so refreshing to find a book that isn't.  Various characters do hop in bed, and there are other references to such behaviors, but the main character is more concerned with fighting crime than finding a man.

6)  The awesome world-building around the life of a dog (cop).

I will read more Tamora Pierce.

Tamara Pierce's Website
Beka Cooper on Amazon

Friday, October 3, 2014

White Fang, by Jack London

I'm currently obsessed by Alaska, yet I'd never read White Fang.  So I gave it a go.

I love this overall story:  being in the dog's head, getting to see cultures and lifestyles I've not personally experienced, watching big changes.  I also love the relationship between White Fang and Wheedon Scott.

I was, however, surprised by the amount of repetition in the novel, especially when London talks about White Fang's fighting style or the clay he's molded from.  I got it the first time.  Surely the second.  I didn't need to be beat about the head with it.  I also thought the ending felt a little tacked on, like it didn't really spring organically from the rest of the story.

I did enjoy it overall, and would have given it four stars with a bit more rigorous of editing.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Indie Author Spotlight: Tim Stead

The Seventh Friend, by Tim Stead
Review and Author Interview

From Goodreads:

Hero. Monster. Saviour. Butcher. Madman. Recluse. Wolf Narak, the deadly and charismatic god of wolves, has earned all the names men give him, and since the climactic and bloody final battle of the Great War he has shunned the company of mortal men and withdrawn to his forest home. There he is troubled by dreams of blood and fire, tormented by memories of his own deeds. 

But fate has not quite finished with the victor of Afael. 

He receives an impossible message, and as he follows the trail a suspicion grows to a certainty within him. War is coming again, and Narak must leave his beloved wolves and once more take up his twin blades. Once again he must become the general of the six kingdoms, the terror of his enemies, a hero, a butcher, the bloodstained god

My Review:

The writing here is beautiful, the imagery and characterization very good.  The worldbuilding is fascinating, complex, and epic, while the story stays very close to the characters, which is the best of both worlds.  I love the cultural differences between the five kingdoms and the Seth Yarra. I couldn’t always keep all the ancillary geography and political structure straight, but Tim Stead did a really good job of subtly re-explaining what was necessary as he went, so I never had trouble following the actual story.  If the academic geography essay in the prologue puts you off, just skip it and go back later if you need a refresher on the layout of the kingdoms. 

Some parts are too detailed for my taste, and there’s a bit of repetition.  I may not have noticed these had the book not been so very long.  For example, the final battle builds up for a long time, in great detail, and then ends rather abruptly, followed by a really lengthy denouement.  I really enjoyed the novel, but I would have enjoyed it even more if it had been trimmed a bit.

I would also have liked to see a few more female characters with the same depth as the male characters, who are wonderfully drawn.  Narak is fantastic, as are many of the others, and I love getting in the head of the Seth Yarra spy.  Well done there.

There are a few typos, but not enough to distract from the enjoyment of the story or the excellent writing.  This is the quality independent authors need to aspire to.

This is a great story, with great writing, and so close—so very close—to earning five stars, something I don’t give out liberally.  I will certainly read the next book.


Exclusive Interview with the author:

I loved Narak’s character.  Was he your favorite character to write, or did you have another?
I have always been fascinated by characters with real power. What is it that restrains them? Why don't they run amok? Narak is constrained by conscience and a deep mistrust of his own personality. It is conscience that redeems him. I really can't say if he was my favorite character, but he was certainly the most fun to write. Many of my major characters, Narak included, are fragments of my own personality broken off, exagerated and distorted by the funhouse mirror of fiction. Cain Arbak is another that is close to my heart. When I wrote the first chapter when Narak met Cain it was going to be Cain's only chapter, but Narak liked him, and so he survived to grow and become a rival focus for the tale.

Narak is the wolf god.  Other members of the Benetheon are gods of sparrows, bears, and other animals.  If you were one of the Benetheon, what animal would you have an affinity with?
A sloth? Perhaps not, though I do confess to enjoying sitting down with a good book, sitting down to write, sitting around with friends and a beer or a glass of wine - sitting seems to feature prominently. As a former diver I have to say that it would be hard to go past a dolphin. I met one once, a lone dolphin off the coast of the UK in about twenty feet of water. I juggled for it (that's hard underwater) which it seemed to like. We shook fins and went our seperate ways. Yes, I think a bottlenose dolphin.

Though the Seth Yarra are universally feared and hated by the people of the Six Kingdoms, their culture and traditions have some redeeming qualities, and that’s part of what makes the book so interesting.  What would you say the best things about the Seth Yarra are? 
Now that's an interesting question! I deliberately made Seth Yarra society egalitarian - a quality I much admire - but handicapped them with a destructive dogma. It's a poke at how I see fundementalist societies, those that persecute difference and change. The majority of people do well in such societies, but they tend to stagnate. The kingdoms on the other hand revel in their freedoms but are quite firmly elitist, and not especially troubled by the condition of the poorest among them. Like Narak, we tend to side with freedom, but for the Seth Yarra it's more important that everyone has enough to eat and a house to live in. How can you not find good in a society that cares for its citizens?

How long did it take you to write, revise, and publish The Seventh Friend? 
 If you stitched all the time I spent on it together, probably about a year. At the time I was writing a steady 5,000 words a week, perhaps a little more. Chronologicaly it probaby took three years. After I finished it I went on the write the other two in the series almost without pausing. At the same time I was offering the book to various agents and publishers with no success (though one complimented me on my writing - I'm not sure the others got past the submission letter). After I'd completed five novels and got some pretty good feedback I decided to go indie and see what happened.

What are some of your favorite fantasy books or series?
I have to start with Lord of the Rings, which I re-read quite recently. It still presses all the right buttons if you can get past the absence of women in leading roles. Robin Hobb's Assassin books are good. My reading of George Martin has been overtaken by the TV series. I loved the first book, but will probably wait for the show to finish and then some before I resume with the second. Pat Rothfuss is entertaining, though I fear the third book is too long delayed and may be just too long when it comes out. I have a problem with books over a thousand pages - there is a tendency to ramble. I like Naomi Novik's dragons and ships, Kate Elliott's Crossroads (Gate) series, Michelle Sagara's Cast in ... series. I could go on for ever, but can't stop without mentioning Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, which started me down this road, and Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, which is a slightly more challenging read, but quite exceptional (check out the reviews for this on amazon - it's a love or hate it book).

What are you writing now?
I'm writing a fill in novel - The Lawkeeper of Samara - for an unpublished series (The Fourth Age of Shanakan). This is seriously ambitious for me, so I will expand on it a little. There is a main series of novels which concern another power figure who is not totally unlike Wolf Narak, but the first book picks up his tale when he's no more than eighteen. There are three books in this series, but they are widely spaced. Allied to these are several other 'Mage' books that deal with the lives and times of other Mages living in the same place and time. Then, just for the fun of it, I'm adding a fantasy detective who will be solving a series of bizarre cases in the great city of Samara - that's what I'm writing now (71,000 words done). There will also be an explorer/mathematician character with his own series, and more may be added. I have no idea how many books it will take to finish this - it depends on how many people like it, I guess, but I can't see it being less that 12 books in total. Hope I live long enough :-)

How can people find you online?

About Tim Stead:
Born in the UK, lived in Hong Kong, London, Hampshire, and eventually moved to New Zealand.
Always seem to be moving to more deserted places.
He wasted many years not writing, but now has the time to devote to it. He has written six books, three of which are available on Amazon (The Sparrow and the Wolf trilogy). The others will follow, as will editions for Createspace and Smashwords.
He writes fantasy because it is so open to the imagination, which is half the fun, and also because it permits exaggerated explorations of humanity and all its excesses.
He is a former avid scuba diver, a former beekeeper, and a very poor skier, archer and fencer.
Torn between reading and writing, but writing is winning.
He now spends most of his time writing, reading, planting trees, cutting them down and cutting them up, and trying to persuade people to read his books.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Second Life, by RJ Crayton

Second Life, by R.J. Crayton

From the Book Cover:

After helping friend Kelsey flee the country in Life First, Susan Harper is being held captive by the government in the thrilling sequel, Second Life. As the normally feisty Susan’s hopes of freedom dwindle, a mysterious stranger sneaks into her room and promises to help her.

Susan and mystery man Rob grow close as he tries to orchestrate her escape. When the duo discovers the truth behind Susan’s captivity, they realize she is in grave danger, and they must act quickly. Susan and Rob will need more than passion for each other and their wits to succeed. They will need help from old friends, including Kelsey.

Susan gave Kelsey a chance at a second life, but will she get her own?

My Review:

I enjoyed First Life, and also Second Life, the sequel.  I would have preferred the book to center a little more heavily on the suspense and dystopian aspects, and a little less on the romance, but that’s mostly a personal preference.  Still, I think the romance got in the way of the plot sometimes, and the arguments between Susan and Rob could have maybe been trimmed. 

The errors and punctuation quirks weren’t frequent or distracting enough to detract from the story, and the writing was good.

Susan’s first few chapters really drew me in, and the story kept me reading.  I finished it faster than any other book I’ve read recently, which is always a good sign with me.

Though Rob was a little too perfect, I really enjoyed seeing the gray areas within the characters of Dr. Grant and Dr. Patricia Donnelly.

Second Life is an enjoyable book, with some great tension, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes their dystopian seasoned with a lot of romance.