Monday Review – Nightingale by Jennifer Estep

Nightingale
Nightingale
by Jennifer Estep
Ebook
Superhero Romance

Wow, I’ve been waiting for years to read this book. When I saw that Ms. Estep was re-releasing her other Bigtime books, I wondered if she would release Nightingale, which had been planned but never released.

Sure enough, here it is!

Nightingale was a fun return to the land of Bigtime, New York. Bigtime is Estep’s  version of New York City with a large cast of superheroes, ubervillians, and regular folk.

Abby Appleby is an event planner in Bigtime. Her events are the biggest, the best and the most lavish. She can meet any insane deadline, and can make real the most outlandish concept.

Except when ubervillians crash her parties. Which seemed to happen a lot in previous books.

By the time this book comes around, Abby has a bit of a complex, striving for the perfect event each time. After just pulling off an event that simultaneously announced an engagement and launched a new line of cosmetics, Abby is on the way home when she stumbles on a superhero battle that amazingly seemed to miss her event this time. She quickly discerns that the lone superhero is Talon, a gadget master who is fending off the Bandit and his band of thugs.

Bandit shoots Talon and sprays him with his blinding gas. Abby, a bit of a gadget master herself, whips out her cellphone and scares the bad guys off by playing her police siren ringtone. After they leave, Talon remains conscious long enough to refuse to be hospitalized, and then he passes out. Abby heaves the superhero home via an improvised sled made of a plastic bag and gumption, and nurses him back to health.

It’s the perfect scenario to fall in love.

The complications in this romance are mostly internal. Abby, determined to be as anonymous as Talon (he has a helm that shocks whoever tries to take it off), calls herself Wren, which reflects her own internal image of herself. He turns that around by calling her Nightingale, because of her beautiful singing voice and his own internal image of her that he has built up in his mind. Since she knows she is no beauty, this sobriquet does not entirely please her.

As they each try to get over their hang-ups, they naturally have to contend with the villains behind the Bandit attack. Which makes a perfect circle to the original makup-launch event from the start of the book. This time, Estep has improved her story by making her villains more difficult to guess. Everyone has alliterative names now, which means anyone can be a superhero or an ubervillain. I even suspected poor Piper Perez for a while, a beleaguered secretary who I think  could be the subject of an upcoming book. But in the end, the ubervillain made perfect sense, which is just as it should be.

If you enjoyed the previous books in this series, Nightingale should be a great return to the world of Bigtime. If you have not read Karma Girl, Hot Mama or Jynx, it is not necessary to read them before reading this one, but you may want to read them afterward just for the sheer fun of it.

Merry Christmas, World!

I hope everyone has a great day today. Here are some ornaments from our Christmas tree.

Ornaments From Tia’s Tree

As is true for most fortysomething broads like me, I have collected ornaments over the years, and I now have more “special” ornaments than those that have come out of a box. Here, we have an angel bell with “God Bless the Irish” and a shamrock (didn’t you know those were Christmasy?) and a Wedgewood teacup and saucer, and one of my box ornaments. Sorry it’s a little dark.

I hope this post brought you a little cheer. If you’re feeling glum (I sure was), remember that a great way to get a little cheer is to spread a little cheer. It comes back! Just like a good deed.

God bless you all.

New Feature – Did You Read It?

When a bunch of you say you want to read a book I reviewed, I always wish i could have a followup discussion. I decided, why not? Therefore, I am hereby unveiling a new feature:

Did You Read it?

It’s is a book clubby post in which we gush or complain about books we have mostly all read. On my Sunday chat post, I’ll propose a couple of previously reviewed books. I will only select books that generated positive interest. You pick the book you want to discuss. I will break any tie. I will put up the discussion post on Friday morning, and we can chat all weekend if we want.

At least at first, I may have to delve I back to long ago posts for material. But I should soon catch up.

And as much as I’d love to start right away, I’ll wait till the new year before proposing the first book.
What do you think? Sound fun?

Monday Review – Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man’s War
by John Scalzi
Tor Books

Military Science Fiction

I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, and when I got my Kindle it was one of the first books I got. I read it and loved it.

To me, this was the perfect science fiction tale. It featured a likable hero, the 75 year old John Perry. It involved a twist that I never saw coming, but sure should have. And it involved really, really ruthless enemies, and aliens that are just about as strange as one can imagine.

John Perry is celebrating his 75th birthday by joining the army. He intended to join with his wife, but she unfortunately died before the requisite age. He joins for a ten year term, and knowing that he can never return to Earth.

Before actually being able to join, he undergoes a rigorous series of physical and psychological exams. One of my favorite parts was when a doctor tells him that he has testicular cancer. The doctor is unconcerned about it and is totally uninterested in treating it.

“Why wouldn’t you cure it?” I asked. “If you can ‘shore up’ an affected region, it sounds like you could probably fix it completely if you wanted to.”

 

“We can, but it’s not necessary,” Dr. Russell said. “You’ll be getting a more comprehensive overhaul in a couple of days. We just need to keep you going until then.”

 

“What does this ‘comprehensive overhaul’ mean, anyway?” I asked.

 

“It means that when it’s done, you’ll wonder why you ever worried about a spot of cancer on your testicle,” he said. “That’s a promise …”

By this time, I was in total suspense about this “comprehensive overhaul” and dying to find out what it meant. And I never expected what it turned out to be.

For the entire first half of the novel, this suspense was more than enough to keep me turning the pages. The only real conflict was between the recruits and the military’s medical personnel, and even then, it was like the above. And the usual conflict between recruit and drill sergeant.

So what’s missing? A girl. And yes, there is a girl. Several, in fact, but really, the only girl for John is his dead wife, Kathy. She has an impact on the story in a big way. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Through most of the book, the other character drift in and out of the story and then die off. The story focuses on John exclusively and almost to its detriment. However, toward the end, it starts focusing on a core group of characters, especially one named Jane Sagan. She is a lieutenant in the ever-intriguing Ghost Brigades, the subject of the second novel in the series. (Which I read as well.)

One final thing–although this book is quite gritty, the gritty portions made me wince only because I was so taken with the main character. More importantly, the author did not overwhelm the story with grit– it is also full of humor and heart. I will be giving this novel a rare five stars at Amazon and GoodReads.

This Kindle version of this novel is the same price as the paperback, and that will spawn a gripe in an upcoming post. But regardless of which version you buy, it is well worth the money.

Tomorrow's Review, and Community Interviews

Tomorrow, I am reviewing a well-known science fiction novel. Here are three hints:

  • It was was nominated for a Hugo award within the last ten years.
  • The author is a popular online personality.
  • It has been optioned for film. (I’d love to see it.)

There is also a hint buried in this post. Any guesses?

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That was fun. I think I’ll do this every Sunday for my Monday Review.

Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to start doing reader interviews. I decided to call them Community Interviews. For my first interviewee, I would like to interview a fantasy fan. Here are the totally frivolous questions:

Why do you read fantasy?

What’s your favorite fantasy genre?

What’s your favorite fantasy ever? And why?

Who are your favorite fantasy characters? And why?

If you would go on a quest, would prefer to:

  • Travel to a far-off locale to kill or defeat a powerful enemy?
  • Quest for dangerous and powerful relics through fantastic lands?
  • Guide a Child of Prophesy to his fateful destiny?

Who are you, Frodo or Sam? And why?

Which fantasy system of magic would you love to wield?

If you are a fantasy fan and would like to be interviewed, please email me at tia at tianevitt dot com or leave a comment here. Maybe I can even line up several of you. I will ask for a bio, any online presences you have (Facebook, Twitter, whatever), and your handle, if you don’t want me to use your real name.

I hope you enjoy this new feature!

Four Favorite Writing Tools

Here are my top writing tools:

Notebook and pen. Despite the presence of a smartphone in my purse, I still capture those fleeting ideas with a pen and notebook. My ipad is fun, but it has not been the writing tool I thought it would be. I keep intending for it to be, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work. Maybe the technology has not reached the comfort level of a battered notebook and a favorite pen. Yeah. That must be it.

So I mostly use the ipad for social networking and web browsing.

Microsoft Word. Because of the Document Map–renamed the Navigation Pane–no other slick, cool writing tool has replaced Microsoft Word for me. I could not do without the Document Map.

I use the Document Map as a plotting tool, along with Word Styles. For the fairy tale I am working on now, I have about 30 named scenes that serve as a basic outline of the entire story. Years ago, I wrote a bunch of articles on how I use Microsoft Word. (The link goes to the article on the document map) I am thinking about updating it, but I’ll need to make a withdrawal from the Time Bank for that.

TiddlyWiki. I use this for my story bible, which I call my gazetteer. Every serious story gets a gazetteer. The value in TiddlyWiki is I can link everything together, so a main character will look  something like this:

TiddlyWiki screenshot for Beauty and the Beast retelling. Click to enlarge.

The above is a spoilery screenshot for the fairy tale I am working on now. See how everything is linked together, so you have character and concept relationships at a glance. This is accomplished so easily by means of WikiWords (which look just like that), [brackets] around words for WikiWords consisting of one word, and the use of special characters to build tables. My husband loves it as well.

Hubby. Speaking of my husband, he is also my instacritic. Every writer should have one. He gets to listen to all my stories read aloud. He helps me make decisions. He helps me with does-it-make-sense checks. And most important–he supports me in this writing habit, and believes that I could do it full time.

And really–that’s it. I wanted to have a list of five, but I really only have four.

Got any recommendations?

DNF Review – The Furies of Calderon

Furies of Calderon
Jim Butcher
ACE Fantasy

Epic Fantasy

This book was lent to me by my sister Alice, who touted it as one of her favorite fantasy series ever, which she re-reads every once in a while. Kind of like me with Dragonlance. If you’ve already read Furies, you probably know what the rest of this review will be like.

I didn’t read the blurb before I accepted her much-treasured copies of the entire series, and if I had I would have saved her book the wear and tear. Here goes:

For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies – elementals of earth, air, fire, water, and metal. But now, Gaius Sextus, First Lord of Alera, grows old and lacks an heir. Ambitious High Lords plot and maneuver to place their Houses in positions of power, and a war of succession looms on the horizon.” “Far from city politics in the Calderon Valley, the boy Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans’ most savage enemy – the Marat – return to the Valley, he will discover that his destiny is much greater than he could ever imagine.” Caught in a storm of deadly wind furies, Tavi saves the life of a runaway slave named Amara. But she is actually a spy for Gaius Sextus, sent to the Valley to gather intelligence on traitors to the Crown, who may be in league with the barbaric Marat horde. And when the Valley erupts in chaos – when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies – Amara will find Tavi’s courage and resourcefulness to be a power greater than any fury – one that could turn the tides of war.

I cannot believe an author as prominent as Jim Butcher would be burdened with such a terrible blurb. Adjectives and adverbs and cliches abound, and we are supposed to have sympathy for a boy who can’t use furies to fly or light his lamps. Aww, poor baby. And the metaphors? Wars loom. Caught in a storm. Erupts into chaos. Plus, it is a coming of age novel. Ugh! I set the book aside for a week.

On the strength of Alice’s recommendation alone, I finally started reading it.

Tavi is a fifteen year old boy who has lost his sheep. And since he does not have furies, his mighty uncle Bernard decides he must accompany him in order to protect him. We are at first quite impatient with the uncle, but his instincts turned out to be dead-on. And when Tavi ends up saving his butt, it’s a pretty good start to the novel.

The next character is introduced, Amara. In short order, she finds herself betrayed and on the run. The betrayer, Fidelias, unfortunately gets his own point of view. I don’t mind villain point of view, but they have to be compelling. I did not find Fidelias or his companions anything other than contemptible.

Then Tavi and Amara get thrown together and the furyless Tavi saves her butt as well. But by this point, I have been noticing problems. The point-of-views are shallow, with very little character immersion. Therefore, I only felt the most tepid engagement with the characters. They had my sympathy for their predicaments, but I didn’t particularly like them. Tavi was whiny, Amara was a bland beauty.

A third POV character, Isana, had some potential. She is plain, thirtysomething, never married, and her fury powers make her an empath. However, I did not get enough of her, and I got too much of the other two. If the book was mainly about her, this would be a very different review.

The plot went on and on, and I got over halfway through the novel. Additional points of view were added. Stuff happened. Bad guys kept doing bad things. Good guys kept trying to keep ahead of the situation.

Then, I hit Chapter 28, where a minor villain makes Isana watch another woman get gang raped while he gives Isana his impressions of the proceedings. It is clear that she was next, but I didn’t read on to find out if she got away. The rape was a book killer for me. I set it aside without caring about Isana’s predicament, the upcoming savage/traitor invasion, or anything else.

I am sorry, Alice. Maybe we can read Dragonlance together.

A Sunday Miscellany

Site Updates

I have a book review prepped for tomorrow for Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher. I am going to *try* to resume weekly book reviews. I have some other regular features I want to introduce as well, one of which I detail below.

I have been doing a lot of site maintenance and clean-up, and I created a new header image. I may tweak the color of the gradient. Feedback welcome.

~*~

Thanks to …

Many thanks to Jennifer Estep and Rabia Gale, who invited me to guest post on their blogs for my upcoming release. I am looking to fill out a blog tour of at least one week, starting on President’s Day. I have flagged that week for vacation at work. My day job will not make a blog tour any longer than that feasible, so I also want to plan out some Friday or weekend posts for another month or two after that.

The official release date is February 18th.

~*~

And Now, a Rant

I have been pining for a wonder-filled fantasy again. I am beginning to think the genre is dead. All we get is endless grit, grit, grit. I first wrote about this four years ago:

I think all novels need that sense of wonder, even ones that are gritty, dark and snarky. After all, Arthur C. Clarke managed it with hard science fiction.

If you are an author or aspire to be one, does your novel have an unforgettable “oh, wow!” moment? Will I be able to remember, twenty years later, the exact moment when the characters met the point of wonder? The grit and dark and snark might be diverting and popular at the moment, but will it all blend into the rest of the grit and dark and snark as I read other novels? Will I remember your novel as that one, or will I say, “Oh, yeah. I read that novel. What was it about?”

Will I purchase multiple editions of your book? Or will I eventually give it away?

… Give me a bit of wonder, and I’ll remember your novel forever.

We still seem to be in this grind of endless grit. And YA novels have gotten that way as well. That may be why I have been gravitating toward fantasy romance recently.

~*~

Community Interviews

I have removed the Review Policy page from this site. I don’t accept review copies at all, and it was giving a false impression. That said, I want to step up my guest postings, and I want to start with longtime readers.

I try to keep my blogroll of longtime readers and author buddies current, but if you would like to be added, please pop a comment on this post. I will start inviting people on this list to interviews starting as soon as I get the interview questions written. Let me know if you are interested.

Squeezing it All In

The older you get, the more you tend to add things to your schedule without taking anything away. It’s an illogical practice, and if you can avoid it, it will save you some angst. Since I did not avoid it, I am living with the consequences.

Of course, things get squeezed out, even if you don’t want them to. Here are some things I’ve given up or reduced to occasional activities:

  • Playing the violin or piano on a regular basis. I can be a competent musician, but I’m not at present. I am out of practice. I hopefully keep my fingernails short, but when the Time Squeeze occurs, this, unfortunately, is what is squeezed.
  • Calligraphy. I have pens, ink, paper, paint–all the accoutrements. But I no longer have an art desk or a magnifier light because there’s just no time for this activity. When I do decide to do a project, part of the time involved is practice and brushing up. And each project takes three or four drafts, so the occasion has to be very special.
  • RPG Games. We don’t have a group anymore, either, and it’s so hard to find gamers who at the same level of geekiness as you. Gamers that are too geeky just make you feel awkward, and if they are not geeky enough, you make them feel awkward.
  • Book reviewing. I hated giving up Debuts & Reviews. Hated it. This blog has languished without a clear subject ever since. I am considering dipping my big toe back in it, but really–the thing that made that blog distinctive was my Debut Showcases, and there are just too many debuts for me to handle. If I were to return to book reviewing, it would be one review a week, unless I could lure back my review partners.

Lest this post become totally negative, why did I have to give these things up? For reasons that were worth it.

  • My daughter’s education. Something had to be done, and we’re doing it. It involves a private school and lots of time, but it has totally been worth it.
  • A new job. My old career as a business analyst was pretty much played out, and now I am a product manager. It has been hard, and it will continue to be hard for at least six months or so. And it does involve extra hours. But when I get this product managed (that’s the idea, eh?) things should get easier.
  • Increasing my writerly output. I don’t blog as much because I am writing more. I am trying to add 2000 words to my WIP a week. A measly amount I know, but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and that’s all the time I’ve got.

But mostly, I don’t ever want to give anything up. Note that I still have my musical instruments and my calligraphy pens. And I still have this blog, along with a remnant of my audience (thank you!).

I know that I am probably in the busiest years of my life. As time goes on, and as my daughter grows up, I know the demands on my time will slacken, and I’ll be able to tackle those activities in the top group again. I was in Orchestra once with a woman who picked the violin back up after 30 years.

Have you had to give up any activities that you still miss? Or have you picked an activity back up due to a surplus of free time?