Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was fantastic. The conceit is a great twist on some very tired stories. I was reluctant at first because, really, who wants to read about a group of unnamed princes from other stories? There are so many of these kinds of things out lately that it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to add their own version (think "Once Upon a Time," "Wicked," (or any other Gregory Maguire book). However, I had a nine-hour drive ahead of me and the audiobook to this title fit the time-slot perfectly.

When the story first began, Cinderellea's prince charming (Frederic) was a whiny little turd no one could like. Even worse, we liked (Cinder) Ella better. In fact, as the story progressed, and we met Gustav, Liam and Duncan, I was still afraid Ella was going to steal the show. She was far more proactive (and more of a protagonist) than any of the four princes. Here we were, following around the four guys who couldn't get their act together, while the woman was off outwitting witches and giants and saving captive prisoners.

Healy takes us on a long journey as these four princes learn to overcome their personal failures and work together as a team to actually save all of their kingdoms, and more. By the end of the book, I'm ready to read the second one. (In fact, while I have the audiobook of this first one, I will likely buy both the first and second book together so I can re-read the first in its intended format).

Regarding the audiobook version: Bronson Pinchot narrates the audiobook, and he is absolutely wonderful. If you can get your hands on the audiobook, I recommend it. He lends the perfect voice for each character, and his narration of the exposition is amazing. My only reference for Mr. Pinchot comes from his roles as the gay shopkeeper from Beverly Hills Cop and as Balki Bartokomous from the television show Perfect Strangers. I don't believe I have every once heard his natural voice (and perhaps I haven't yet).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It is such a fun and quick book. Amazing!

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Review: The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deeper than me

As a writer, I am always looking for books on craft in an attempt to hone my own techniques of craft. The Art of Subtext sounded intriguing. Subtext has always been an anomaly to me, something I assumed came during literary reviews and analysis, not for the author directly but, rather, from the reader and his or her own baggage.

Baxter has proven to me the author does have some responsibility in adding subtext of his own through dialogue, gesture, and facial expressions. That said, Baxter's analysis of the works referenced, and the subtext implicit in those works, was well over my head.

I feel I need to return to this book again, with referenced materials in hand, to fully understand Baxter's interpretations of the subtext within these stories.

Admittedly, I am not a "literary" author h it more of a commercial author. Perhaps I should be reading books withdrew meaning, or, perhaps, sometimes a frown is just a frown.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Clearly. It's one of the few to which I've given more than a 3-star rating for some time. I'm going to admit something here which may seem blasphemous, but I've never actually read a Jane Austen book. I've seen all the movies (both the direct adaptations and those adaptations which were a little more obscurely veiled), but I've never actually read the books.

I first heard about Mary Robinette Kowal in an episode of Writing Excuses, a podcast developed which discusses writing techniques and writing life. She described her book as "Jane Austen with magic." I was intrigued, but the time period of Austen's books (and, by extension, this book) doesn't intrigue me. I simply cannot wrap my head around the pomp and circumstance of propriety like this.

That being said, I've had this book shelved on my #TRB list for almost a year. I've ready several of Mary's short stories, and enjoyed them, but getting into an Austen-esque novel seemed a daunting task. One I wasn't sure I wanted to undertake. However, since my goal this year is to read through as many of the science-fiction and fantasy classics upon which the genres were founded, I've already suffered through a relentless torrent of dry and underwhelming books. One more couldn't hurt. Right?

I cannot describe how relieved I was that this book was so intriguing and so well written. It wasn't dry or boring at all. It took me a little bit to get into the world of the story, to understand the propriety, to really wrap my head around the magic and root for the main character, Jane. But, by the time Mister Vincent is introduced, I was hooked and desperate to know not only what would happen to Jane, but I also needed to know what would happen to Jane's sister and Jane's friend and neighbor and the (view spoiler) they had been set upon.

This book truly was Jane Austen with magic. The magic is a part of the world, a part of life. It is integral to the climax but is not the sole means upon which the story was to be resolved. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. Too often it's the cool magic which must be used in order for the characters to affect a favorable outcome. The magic was there, but it wasn't the magic which saved the day.

Anyway, I don't want to give too much away. All I can say is this: I would highly recommend this book to anyone, and it has made me want to give Jane Austen herself a try. Thanks, Mary.

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