Book Banter: Vallista

Vallista-FinalCover-740x1106Title: Vallista (Vlad Taltos #15)

Author: Steven Brust

Length: 334 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Jhereg assassin Vlad Taltos once again meets the strange little girl, Devera, who says she needs his help. Vlad finds himself in an impossible house that he can’t leave. The rooms loop back to nowhere and is mysteriously empty. When he does encounter another person, they have a tendency to disappear. If he can pin them down, he might have an opportunity to escape.

Banter Points: I’ve missed Vlad and Loiosh and their banter. There’s plenty of banter in this one, particularly as they deal with the looping house. Vlad’s got all his panache back as he talks with unhelpful suspects and tries to unravel the mystery. He’s got some great one-liners, particularly quotable bits he wants to make sure are attributed to him. He’s not missing his ego, for sure.

Bummer Points: The fault here isn’t Brust’s but mine since it’s been since 2015 that there was a new Vlad Taltos book and I don’t really remember all of what’s been going on. Once he’s done with this series, I really need to reread them all. Or maybe before then.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I think I liked the early parts of the series better, but I am still intrigued enough to want to see how Brust will tie it all together.

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Guest Post: Wayne Avrashow

The Nerds are happy to welcome debut author Wayne Avrashow to the blog today to talk about the writing process for his  book, “Roll the Dice.” 

wayne aIt was not a simple task to write my first novel, locate an agent, and then have the agent sell the book to a publisher. I’m proud that my first novel Roll the Dice will be published. The novel’s main protagonist is a rock ‘n roll star who exits the stage to campaign for the United States Senate.

Although there were delays, false starts and bumps; having Roll the Dice published provides immense satisfaction.   I salute anyone embarking on that endeavor.  I enjoyed the process, I never had “writer’s block,” never stared at a blank computer screen with a blank mind.

As an attorney, I am comfortable writing documents, but had no clue on how to start writing fiction. My process began by taking writing courses at UCLA Extension’s program.  My writing teacher at UCLA talked about all writers having a, “creative dream.”  Here are a few ideas for you to pursue your creative dream:

Write What you Know.  It is a cliché, but an accurate one.  My novel is centered around the political world.  I volunteered in my first political campaign when I was 18, served as political campaign manager for two successful Los Angeles City Council campaigns and was Deputy/Chief of Staff at City Hall for those two Councilmen.

Write Your Passion.  Beyond writing what you know, your book should reflect your passion.  A couple of years ago I saw Paul McCartney perform at Dodger Stadium.  In his early seventies, Sir Paul performed for a blistering two hours.  How?  This is his passion!

The Blank Palate.  The beauty of fiction writing is you have the unlimited freedom to create your own world.  Each character is your own.  If you’re a lawyer, you can write legal thrillers, or, if you are skilled enough create a fictional world of your choosing.  There is no world similar to Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but someone opened their mind to develop that world.

Study Your Craft.   Take advantage of the wealth of information available on writing. Go on-line, attend writing classes, read books on writing, watch Michael Levin’s YouTube videos, or others, designed for writers.

Be Selective on Feedback.  Feedback from others is critical.  However only seek feedback from supportive and knowledgeable sources.  I would prefer no feedback than negative, non-constructive responses.   The best persons are those who share a creative dream.  A writers’ group is a great source.

Keep Writing.  The prolific author John Grisham advises aspiring writers to write at least a page a day.  A simple rule—keep writing.

Be Aware.  Every character needs depth.  Your workplace, family, neighborhood and in various social interactions are populated with people with mannerisms, quirks, and habits that are adaptable for  your use.  Do not mimic, but exaggerate, combine, and mangle those interesting qualities to create your characters.

The Pursuit of the Perfect Kills a Lot of Good.  Drafts are Drafts.  You should re-write each chapter, but pursing a perfect chapter one will never allow you to commence chapter two. Write, rewrite it and re-write it again. Then move on!   I rewrote Roll the Dice many times, but I kept going.

 

Book Banter: Two Kinds of Truth

truthTitle: Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch #22)

Author: Michael Connelly

Length: 402 pages

Genre: mystery

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Harry Bosch is still working as a part-time detective for the San Fernando Police Department after LAPD forced him into retirement. But when two detectives — including his old partner Lucia Soto — come visit him, they bring bad news. A 30 year old case that sent a man to death row is being reopened for new DNA evidence that may show Bosch put the wrong man away. A Bosch works to prove his had the right guy, a double homicide in San Fernando sends him into the opioid crisis.

Banter Points: The plot is great. Connelly takes on current criminal problems like the opioid epidemic with Bosch’s usual care for the underdog. There are some appearances by other characters Bosch readers will know and that was kind of fun.

Bummer Points: I feel like Connelly is on auto-pilot for Bosch’s actual character. He didn’t really change during this story. Also, the books seem driven mostly by the procedural elements and not the people anymore. Maybe it’s the fault of all the CSI shows on TV, but sometimes the story gets bogged down in technical stuff.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Way better than his new series with Renee Ballard and probably still enjoyable for a long-time Bosch reader, but if you’re looking to jump in, go back to the beginning!

Boo

halloween 2017

Hope you have a nice, creepy book to read to celebrate!

Book Banter: The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson

revieTitle: The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson

Author: Bryan Furuness

Length: 312 pages

Genre: fiction

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Revie Bryson’s mother has told him stories about Christ’s lost childhood episode, so much that he thinks he’s going to be the second coming of Christ himself. When divinity fails to appear, and Revie’s quirky family starts to fall apart, he finds himself caught up in his own episodes.

Banter and Bummer Points: So, depending on what day you ask me, I like this book or not. Furuness was an Emerging Author Finalist for the Indiana Authors Award this year. Without that, it’s probably unlikely that I would have ever picked this book up.

He draws compelling characters; I truly did want to know what happened to him. However, Revie often felt far older than he was in the story. In fact, one of the traumatic things in the plot (no spoilers), is because he’s about 12 and yet I kept reading him more like 16 or 17. His voice was more mature.

Also, the second coming of Jesus stuff if hilarious at the beginning but it kind of fails to follow through satisfactorily for me. Yes, it has consequences, but the back of the book makes it sound like that’s the only plot and the truth is, it’s really all about Revie and his family.

But the weird stuff that happens to this kid…it’s not abuse, but it would be hard for me to pick this book up and read it a second time.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like strange coming-of-age stories, then this one is a doozy. If you’d rather have a story where kids get to remain innocent a while longer, skip it.

Book Banter: An Unkindness of Magicians

magiciansTitle: An Unkindness of Magicians

Author: Kat Howard

Length: 354 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came from: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Among the Houses of the Unseen World, the Turning comes seven years too early, seeking to re-balance power among the Houses and give outsiders an opportunity to win a place. The great Houses have their own feuds (such as Ian Merlin hiring himself out to the be the champions for rival House Prospero). But bursting on to the scene is unknown magician Sydney, representing newcomer Laurent Beauchamps who hopes to secure a House. Her magic is powerful, but set on revenge.

Banter Points:  When I saw this book was blurbed by Neil Gaiman, I was fairly certain that meant I should read it, and right away. Everything about the concept — secret, dueling magicians in NYC — sounded like my kind of book.

And, Kat Howard delivered. Not only did she build a compelling world in the space of 350 pages, she brought to life great characters to boot. It’s a complex cast of a lot of people and she deftly handles them all and their foibles in her compact, smart, near-perfect work.

I’m not sure if Howard was going for “unkindness” as the name for a group (such as a herd of cows, galaxy of starfish or murder of crows), but if that’s what a group of magicians is called, she proved why.

Banter Points: Some of the plot becomes a bit predictable.

Word Nerd Recommendation: This is a great book. I wish there would be a sequel but it seems like this is going to be a standalone book. I suspect that “An Unkindness of Magicians” will make my top 10 for this year.

2017 Q3 Reading Stats

I was nothing in the last quarter if not consistent.

Seven books each month, though July and September each included at least two audio books.

bar graph

Here’s how Q3 stacked up:

21 books
4673 pages
56.75 hours of audio books

In this quarter, I read five of the six books from winners and finalists of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and got through my first (and likely only) Charles Dickens novel.

Now that the Award is over and winners have been named, I’ll probably Book Banter some of my favorites because there are some great reads in that bunch.

With the Award (and the required reading done), I’m bingeing on all kinds of urban fantasy things — more Rachel Caine, Ben Aaronovitch and relative newcomer Kat Howard.

I’ve already hit my Goodreads goal of 52 books for the year, so everything from here on out is gravy!

Book Banter: Bitter Blood

bitter bloodTitle: Bitter Blood (Morganville Vampires #13)

Author: Rachel Caine

Length: 404 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: After defeating the draug, the vampires of Morganville are taking the top spot again, despite promises to give humans more equality. When the humans are asked to carry identification, Claire and her friends take issue. As usual, Claire and co. get in way over their heads as they try to figure out what might be behind the vampires’ behavior.

Banter Points: I’ve been trying to finish this series for ever and I’m down to the last two after this one. The first six books are still the best, but of the recent ones, this one was really good, probably because it felt like a return to the beginning of the series. The humans v. the vampires was the main plot — no weird drugs, no strange enemies in the water-monster draug. Forcing the characters to figure out who they could trust, again, was a nice echo of the first few books.

This one also had interesting ideas about political resistance which felt a little too on point for today.

With two more books to go, I’ll be interested to see how Caine puts an end on the series.

Bummer Points: I started reading these books when the series launched in 2006. In the ensuing 11 years, I don’t have quite as much as patience for the YA side of these books, especially the romantic drama.

Also, there was a strange subplot with ghosts that was never fully explained and just bogged down the interesting part.

Word Nerd Recommendation: For an older teen reader, these are still a good choice.

Book Banter: The Late Show

lateshow The Late Show

Author: Michael Connelly

Genre: Mystery

Length: 405 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Detective Renee Ballard is stuck on the “late show,” the overnight shift for the Hollywood division of LAPD. She rarely gets to see cases through, just doing the initial legwork. But when terrible beating is followed by a mass shooting at a nightclub, Renee finds herself uniquely positioned on both cases.

Banter Points: This is Connelly’s first foray with a new detective that’s not Harry Bosch. The crimes are interesting and the twist is a nice one.

Bummer Points: Connelly should stick to Bosch, or maybe Mickey Halley. Renee Ballard isn’t a compelling character. While I have no problem with authors writing main characters that are the opposite gender from them, Connelly falls terribly short on writing a female cop. Yes, Renee has to be tough to fit in with the “guys” in the department. But in private moments, she’s just wooden and terrible. She should have emotions, or worries and she has none of them.

Also, without being too much of a spoiler, something happens to Renee that just feels cliched for a cop novel.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Unless you’re a die-hard Connelly fan, skip it.

Book Banter: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

who killedTitle: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (Shadow Police #3)

Author: Paul Cornell

Length: 358 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: The Shadow Police team are back and this time their victim is none other than London’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Or maybe just the idea of him. “Holmesmania” is stirred up in town because of three film project all featuring the famed detective. But after Holmes’ death, subsequent murders start mimicking his great cases. But the Shadow Police themselves are struggling after their last case and not functioning well as they try to get ahead of the Master Detective and make sense of the clues.

Banter Points: If you like convoluted mysteries, this one has a doozy. I can’t say much without spoilers, but keep your thinking cap on as you read because the twists are pretty mind-bending.

My friends and I have been playing a number of games based on the Lovecraftian Cthulthu mythos and in such our game characters are regularly going mad. Because of that, I think I appreciated more what Cornell was doing in this one of letting the toll of the supernatural horrors the team has seen really affect them, particularly their DI, James Quill. Still the series is building nicely on itself, ratcheting up the action and tension with each installment.

Bummer Points: Because it’s been a while since I’d read Shadow Police and had read the Pete Grant magical London books, I was getting the two systems mixed up. I think I was expecting Shadow Police to be like Peter Grant and that’s never going to be the case.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you want some dark urban fantasy, then the Shadow Police series is for you. Bordering on horror