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Review: Kitty Takes a Holiday

Kitty Takes a Holiday

So the actual time I finished reading Kitty Takes a Holiday was March 7th, but thanks to my Goodreads updates and some page skimming I think I recall my overall feelings on this installment of the Kitty Norville series. This is my third time reading this book, and it’s getting three stars from me (one star drop from the original rating I gave it.)

Basically, I was coming off of a high from Kitty Goes to Washington. The previous book had such a tight narrative. The pacing was good, and interesting things were happening just about all the time. In Kitty Takes a Holiday, that changes a bit. You see, after Kitty’s traumatic experiences in Washington, she decides to take a break from the public eye and hide out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to write her memoirs. Naturally things don’t go as planned, and her writer’s block is interrupted by a dramatic visit from Cormac and Ben. Something terrible has happened, and Cormac needs Kitty’s help to keep Ben alive. I’ll avoid spoilers, but basically this is one of my favorite moments in the series.

What follows is a really interesting couple of days as Kitty works to handle this incredible dilemma the boys have set in front of her. She tries to keep everyone’s morale up, but of course, tempers flare and fur gets rubbed the wrong way. Eventually, things sort of plateau, and a calm point is reached–until that calm is once again shattered, as another problem demands Kitty’s attention: since she had arrived at her cabin, someone has been leaving dead animals on her porch–likely in an attempt to curse Kitty. Cormac brings in his witch doctor friend, and as that whole issue unravels, things seem to climax in my opinion.

I say seem to, because the trouble is this “climax” occurred around 190 pages in. After that? Things drastically slow down as we see Ben and Kitty wrestle with a legal battle in an attempt to keep Cormac out of jail for his latest actions. As they do that, feelings are wrestled with as an attraction that had been developing between our chatty werewolf and bristly lawyer sort of comes full circle. I really, really struggled with these remaining 110 pages. After enjoying the first half of the book so much, I was very disappointed by the sudden drag in pace.

Ultimately, my feeling is that, while Kitty Takes a Holiday is still a worthwhile read for any Kitty Norville fan, it just isn’t as good as the second book. Ironically enough, I feel this book is probably the most fitting (so far) of the “paranormal romance” tag that everyone seems so eager to attribute to the series.

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: Kitty Goes To Washington

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As with the first book in the Kitty Norville series, this is my third time reading Kitty Goes to Washington. That said, I am very familiar with this series, and my thoughts on this book are glowingly positive–even more than the first time, and I’ll list the reasons below.

In this book, Kitty Norville has fled from her home in Colorado and has taken her radio talk show on the road. She lives her life now as a werewolf without a pack, and she’s coping, but unhappy. Then she gets a surprising summons to speak at a congressional hearing regarding the Center of Paranatural Biology, or some such thing. She goes for it, of course (free publicity!) but as you might imagine, things go awry when she meets an arrogant vampire underling named Leo, and a bible-thumping senator, Joseph Duke.

My original rating for this book had been four stars, but I decided to change this to five because I really, just immensely loved reading this book. I was at the edge of my seat, turning pages like a madman. And the ending! What a great climactic ending! After three times around the track, that says a lot about a story. Carrie Vaughn, like any prolific writer, has her “good” stories and her…well…not so good stories. Dare I say crappy stories? Well this second installment in the long running Kitty series is definitely one of the better ones. Certainly better than the first book!

I even remember complaining about the Church of the Pure Faith story arc, which I mentioned in my first review. It finds its conclusion in Kitty Goes to Washington, and the first time I read the books, I thought its ending had been…anti-climactic? But I thought the fallout from Elijah Smith’s demise was fairly interesting, and it also served as a way of introducing Jeffrey Miles, TV personality and psychic. Jeffrey is a recurring character in the series. It also helped to deepen the character of Roger Stockton, the exploitative weird news journalist. Once I took these things into account, I looked on the Church of the Pure Faith story arc more favorably. It still isn’t one of my favorite Kitty adventures, but it certainly isn’t the worst.

That’s really the only complaint that I have for this book, and as you can see, it’s not really a complaint. Kitty Goes to Washington has a fairly tight plot. The action was fast paced. The mysteries were intriguing. I have stated that the Kitty Norville series has this side to it that I likened to nerds at D&D night, that side where the story goes down weird “what-if” avenues and paints a broad and colorful view of how the supernatural might exist in our world. In this book, I think the best example of that is displayed in Fritz, an old German werewolf with a sad and violent past. This is really important for people to realize about the Kitty Norville series: it tips its hat to old fantasy pulp magazines, wherein strange and speculative stories were published. Why else would Carrie Vaughn use the tongue-in-cheek title convention of “Kitty and the…” I sort of chuckle when I see people whine about Kitty’s ironic name, and the funny book titles. They’re missing the joke, and it’s a shame!

But that leads to my next point: this series is not for everyone. It revels in its pulp fiction qualities and giggles at the ironic situations it presents. It’s self-aware humor. Kitty’s narrative voice is witty and humorous, and she isn’t shy to point out the stereotypes that populate her world. She can get whiny at times, and she really, really loves to run her mouth. Her idealist beliefs might frustrate some readers too. Another thing that might turn people off is its lack of smut. As paranormal fiction goes, there isn’t as much romance as you might expect in the Kitty Norville series. I’d still classify this series as PNR, because I think the target audience is still the same, but I’d do so with the caveat that not all the Kitty books are smut-laced adventures so much as just…adventures with some occasional sexiness. This book is just such a case. Kitty Goes to Washington has a very sexy love interest in Luis, the were-jaguar, but he isn’t really a central character in the book (even if he is a recurring character in the series.)

The climax to this installment is leaps and bounds better than the last, so that’s another good point for it. Once I got to the end, I couldn’t stop reading. It feels satisfying, it feels significant. If you were frustrated by the downer ending of Kitty and the Midnight Hour you’ll be happy to know that Kitty Goes to Washington has a much more kick ass conclusion.

I’m actually surprised by how much I liked this book a third time around. Despite enjoying re-reading the first book, I was afraid this one would be stale, or perhaps just not be as awesome as I remembered it. Thankfully, this was not the case. How reassuring to know I had such great taste as a teenager!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: Kitty and the Midnight Hour

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This is my third time reading this book. I first read it back in high school in 2006, when I was in the 11th grade. That was just a year after it was published. I’ve been following the series ever since, and these characters have become some of my favorites. That said, I obviously love the series, but I’m not blind to its flaws.

Since the series is almost finished (the final book releases this summer) I decided to read the entire thing from the start. It’s been a few years since I last read the first book, so it felt fairly fresh to me. There were a lot of things that I had forgotten. Kitty grows so much as a character, but right away I could remember the reasons why I liked her so much. In Kitty and the Midnight Hour, she was a submissive wolf on the bottom of the pecking order. She was timid and abused all the time, but when she accidentally starts a nighttime radio show talking about the supernatural, she discovers success, and with that success comes new confidence. Little Kitty doesn’t want to get pushed around anymore, and this disrupts the status quo.

Witty characters in PNR is hardly groundbreaking–in fact it’s a trope–but with Kitty it’s a little different. In many similar stories, a character might crack a joke, but it’s with too much gravity and disconnect from reality. It’s usually, I’m a “three dimensional character” wisecracking about the supernatural, but hey take me serious at all times because I’m in a dark and gritty world, and my story is art, understand!?Kitty, on the other hand, is a character who recognizes her own flaws, and is not afraid to comment on the absurdity of some of the typical situations you encounter in PNR. It’s self-aware humor, and this book pulls this off because the author herself is a great big nerd (and that’s a compliment!) All you have to do is go to Carrie Vaughn’s blog to see that she is the kind of person who loves all aspects of sci-fi and fantasy, not just the mainstream bits. She’s the kind of nerd who prefers Johnny Mnemonic to Elysium. The kind who recognizes how much Guardians of the Galaxy owes to the original Star Wars trilogy for its success. In short: she’s old school. And old school nerds know one thing: campy humor and fantasy easily go hand-in-hand.

Which is why Vaughn writes such great material. Kitty’s discussions on her radio show sound like the kinds of things fantasy nerds shoot the shit about over drinks on D&D night: “What does life imprisonment mean to a vampire? How can a human maintain a relationship with a werewolf?” These portions of the book are really fun and bring a lot to the story. Kitty utilizes her radio show as a source information at times, hoping to find answers to personal problems. Other times, the show is what introduces plot threads that Kitty finds herself wrestling with throughout the series. It’s really great, because it creates a sense of spontaneity that makes me think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that example, Joss Whedon often had multiple plots and subplots running concurrently in his show. For the Kitty Norville series, this keeps things fresh and interesting, allowing Vaughn to focus on interesting material and constant action instead of having to make us suffer through awkward filler.

But readers might find themselves frustrated by the basic concept of the book to begin with. Maybe the random radio talk show discussions might annoy you? After all, it’s essentially nerd-talk, and not everybody’s into that. Or perhaps Kitty’s initial submissive nature and gullible decisions might frustrate you? Like any well-rounded character, Kitty has less than admirable traits–including running her mouth and being overly idealistic. The introduction of so many sub-plots so early on might frustrate readers as well. It’s always been my belief that this show would function great as a television show, partly because it already feels like one. So many things are happening, and so many characters are getting tossed into the mix, that fans of the series have come to name and recognize certain story arcs (like my least favorite: The Church of the Pure Faith, which starts in this book.) Another thing that might discourage people is this book’s ending. It’s a bit sudden, and it can be frustrating. To this day, I’m surprised Vaughn decided to begin her series on the note that she did. It was definitely a risk for a first book.

If you think you can forgive some of those things, or if you think they won’t bother you at all, then definitely give Kitty and the Midnight Hour a read. These days, you can get the second book used pretty cheaply, and believe me, you’ll want to immediately after finishing this one!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: Dragon Age – Asunder

Asunder

David Gaider is the lead writer for the fantasy game franchise, Dragon Age. Up until Asunder I had been unaware that there were any books published for the game series, but as I understand it, none of the other novels were as directly important to the main storyline as this one. Not only does it feature several characters from the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, it sets up the events of the latest installment in the franchise, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Since Asunder was written by Gaider, the novel maintains an authentic “Dragon Age” feel to its writing. The setting, the characters, the plot–all feel like something you might encounter if you were playing the actual video games. But the game series has been lauded for its writing, and this strength carries over well in prose-form. In this tale, we hop between characters as a mystery and mission are laid out in parallel: Wynne, one of the companions from the first game, has gone to the White Spire in in the Orlesian city of Val Royeaux to retrieve her son, Rhys, for a mission to rescue a mage friend who was researching something of great importance elsewhere. Rhys, meanwhile, is wrongfully accused of murder. The actual perpetrator is a lonely, misguided young man named Cole, whom no one seems able to see or remember aside from Rhys. Evangeline, a templar under the orders of the strict Lord Seeker Lambert, accompanies Wynne and Rhys on their mission. What they discover has the potential to throw the balance of the world upside down.

The beginning was slow for me, and I remember skimming pages as I ground my teeth in frustration. Much time was spent introducing the large cast of characters and the various circumstances that both cast them together and complicate their relationships. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I started to feel more invested. It was quite an uphill battle to get to that point, taking nearly a year to hit over %50 completion. But once I made it over all the exposition and dramatic set up, Gaider started dropping bombs. They came one after the other, and while I found myself trying to wrap my head around the implications of one thing, he would sling another at my face at high speed. It was exhilarating, and just the kind of stuff I’d wished he’d opened with, but for a story of this complexity, I know Gaider was taking his time with things, and I’m glad I had the patience to let him work his magic. The thing about Asunder is that it’s as much about the politics as it is the action. None of the stakes make any sense until you understand why, for instance, the Rite of Tranquility is such a disturbing practice, or why the Lord Seeker might seek to act directly in opposition to the will of his religion’s leader (the Divine), or why a mage might still feel the need to support the Circle of Magi.

The stakes are high, the world an unforgiving place, and the plot twists delicious. I enjoyed this book, and I might even try and read the rest of the book series now.

If you’re a die-hard fan of the Dragon Age franchise, you may as well read this. It’s fairly interesting, and as I mentioned earlier, this book acts as the prequel to Dragon Age: Inquisition.

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: The Eternity Cure

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This book picks up about four months after the first. If I recall correctly, I think it takes a bit for things to pick up as Allison reminds us of the importance of her current mission: Save Kanin, her vampire sire. She also muses for a bit about the fact that she left her dubious human love, Zeke Crosse, back at the human settlement known as Eden. As she goes, she closes in on the vampire holding her creator captive, a bat crazy vamp (pun intended) known as Sarren, who is apparently so powerful even Master vampires are wary of him.

Allison’s search brings her to the remains of D.C. where she suspects (without knowing the significance of her surroundings) that Sarren is being held in the White House. But when she manages to get there, she finds instead her blood brother, Jackal, the former raider king and antagonist of the first book. Naturally she isn’t happy about this, but Jackal explains that he had called Allison to him on purpose (using a sort of psychic blood link she had been using to track Kanin) because he wants her help to investigate a lab underground. She refuses at first until he persuades her by reminding her of just how dangerous Sarren is. Since he’s going after the psychotic vampire too, they should work together, he reasons. Reluctantly, Allison agrees.

And that’s how things start, essentially. Eventually we see some familiar faces, including the dreamy Zeke Crosse. (That isn’t really a huge surprise, but I’ll refrain on saying how he makes his return anyway.) The stakes are raised in this book when a new mutation of the Red Lung virus that had wiped out millions is released, thus threatening to wipe out what’s left of the world’s population. What at first was a race to save Kanin becomes so much more, and it’s such a riveting read.

In the first book, the major question of the story seemed to be, “How can Allison maintain her humanity when she has become a monster?” That question still hums through The Eternity Cure, but it takes a back seat to the new theme: Loss. More specifically, coming to terms with it. Allison finds herself fighting to save two of the most important people in her new undead life, but she stands to lose them both in a tragic fashion that threatens to completely demolish her spirit. Can she let them go without losing what little grip she still maintains on her hope, sanity, and humanity?

Since Allison finds herself in the company of a number of vampires in this book, we get to see more of what vampires are like. I remarked in my review for The Immortal Rules how Kagawa’s vampires, while very much traditional in style, are very satisfying. They are violent and ruthless. They remind me a lot of Anne Rice’s idea of vampires, though I’ve never read any of Rice’s books (only seen the movies). Some might not be too impressed by that, but given the saturation of vampires in the reading world today, I think Kagawa was smart to take the tried and true approach, and do it well.

In my reading updates on Goodreads, I talk about how Julie Kagawa manages an efficient and focused plot by wasting no time with unnecessary details. Just about everything, from her world building, to her scene setting, to even her character descriptions, serve a greater purpose. I admire a story with such a tight and focused narrative, and I take my hat off to Kagawa for her accomplishment. The Eternity Cure is certainly a bigger and better book than The Immortal Rules, but it it’s bigger in the way of a massive tank–solid and powerful–and less like a giant squid–slippery and confusingly branching.

So do I recommend this installment of the Blood of Eden series? Yes! A thousand times, yes! It’s got so much going for it, including a hot romance, a wise cracking vampire, and a fantastically evil antagonist. You really have no reason to skip out on this book if you liked The Immortal Rules. Even if you didn’t like the first book somehow, the second book is an improvement of the first by leaps and bounds.

Bottom line: get this book. I don’t give out five stars all that often, but this was certainly a five star book!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: The Janus Affair

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m a little too generous with my stars given (in this case it’s a four), but I can’t deny that the Janus Affair was skillfully written with great depth and attention to detail. Any annoyances I suffered came as a result of my very niche tastes, and I know not everyone will agree with my views. I also tend to avoid giving reviews for any books below four stars, partly because of professional courtesy, and partly because I just can’t be bothered to finish anything less than a four star book these days anyway. I think I can even count on one hand the number of times I went so far.

First the positives: This is a very strong steampunk adventure novel. The world is rich and vibrant with imaginative technology. The characters are oh-so-very British (or colonial, depending on who we are focusing on) but it’s all great fun. I wonder why the authors insist on calling Eliza a “colonial pepper pot” when the story keeps focusing sympathetically on a feminist movement. I mean, wouldn’t she object? But the description is used less in this book than the last, I think. I read the first book right when it first came out, so I’m late to the party on the second. I actually like the plot better in The Janus Affair than Phoenix Rising, mostly because it maintains a level of fantastic adventure without somehow getting into an almost sleazy pulp-fiction quality I felt from the first. (Rutting nobles in a pseudo-cult out to dominate the world? Sure. I know you just wanted to write in an orgy, guys. It’s okay. We’re all adults here.)

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris really do achieve a level of epicness in their books, both in the scope of their plot and characters. Their antagonists are decidedly villainous, and their schemes indeed both clever and dastardly. They weave in details with care, timing things to such a degree that you feel a sense of admiration at their story-weaving. What’s great about their stories is that you can envision them as blockbuster movies with their larger-than-life characters striking poses and making funny quips, while at the same time managing a depth and fallacy in their being that feels both sympathetic and real.
Now for the…possible negatives? Depends on if you’re like me, really. If you don’t care about these things, then The Janus Affair is really a five star book for you, and you should check it out. But me? I like to focus on the subjective. The sticky, tricky, icky relationships that people have with each other are important to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a romance or a mystery or a horror. It’s the relationships of the characters that allow me to best relate and sympathize with them. Not how they solve problems or how freaking clever they are. I will say this though: if I AM reading something that is going to bother with romance, then damn it, I want the romance to be central in some way, not a hanger-on to the “action packed plot”. Otherwise, don’t bother. I don’t like canned romance, like the variety you get from action movies. “Every cishet hero needs a girl to kiss at the end!” No thank you.

I don’t like it when stories go in between The Notebook level of romance, and the amount of romantic focus you get out of Big Trouble in Little China either.

Sadly, I feel this is exactly where The Janus Affair falls on the romance quality spectrum.

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Book 2 picks up roughly close to where the first ended (apparently there was an interlude that I missed, but it seemed hardly important.) In the first adventure, Phoenix Rising, Books and Braun definitely exhibit signs of a mutual attraction to one another, but because of their adventure and their personality differences things just don’t get happenin’. In the second book, safe to say, we see a bit more movement there. I just wished there had been more…passion? Emotional connection?

For instance, and I’ll try not to spoil things, there is one portion of the book where Eliza does a pretty selfish, ditzy thing to Books, and though she realizes her mistake, there is NO RECONCILIATION for it, whatsoever. Nope, in Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ book, we just pull up stakes and keep moving, missing a prime moment to really stop and focus on the developing relationship of our two lead characters. I mean sure, we get there towards the end with some catharsis, but would it really have killed the authors to inject a little more focus on the budding romance? It’s a major part of Books and Braun’s dynamic, I certainly don’t think it would have harmed their precious plot if they had.

But I digress. You see? This is a niche issue. Not everyone wants the same thing like I do. Some might accuse me of trying to squeeze blood from a stone. I’ve made my point, though. I still think The Janus Affair is a damn good steampunk story. MoPO was the first of the genre I read, actually. I’m glad I did. Looking forward to starting the next adventure!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: Gone Girl

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I’m a huge fan of Gillian Flynn. I first read Sharp Objects, then Dark Places. Loved both. I saved Gone Girl for last, not necessarily because I felt it would be the “best”, but because I wasn’t really sold on the story’s premise. Not even the fact that it was Flynn’s most popular work and being turned into a movie could move me either. I didn’t feel like reading about some narcissistic character (an erroneous descriptor attached to Nick I later learned, the fault of some random review I glanced at on the internet. Nick isn’t so much narcissistic as a bit self-involved and hyper-aware of how others perceive him.) But then, after I read the deeply haunting Dark Places I saw Gone Girl on sale at Costco and thought, “Oh to hell with it. I may as well.”

And boy am I glad I did.

I don’t know if my family can say the same.

You see, I lost myself in this book. I neglected chores, became a couch barnacle, barely ate, and turned into a grunting conversation partner, my eyes always stuck on this…damn…book! Finishing this story was like an exorcism for me, and I knew it. I had to get it all out as swiftly as I could. And I did. And my god, I want to go back and experience it again!

Okay. The back story and fan-girl gushing is done. Now to get to the important details. First, Flynn is an amazing writer with a very modern voice and an uncanny ability to catch nice succinct vignettes that have you nodding your head (“Yeah! That’s totally how it is!”) For example, here’s an innocent bit from the beginning:

A group of loudmouthed white-haired ladies, each trying to talk over the next, a few of them texting, the kind of elderly people who have a baffling amount of energy, so much youthful vigor you had to wonder if they were trying to rub it in.
And even if you haven’t seen this in real life, you can just SEE it, because Flynn sets scenes and characters so effortlessly (sometimes in just the space of a few lines, a few words) that it takes hardly any effort on your part at all to catch on to her thinking and envision what she does.

I’m trying to write a spoiler-free review, but I know many people who have reviewed the book must have commented on whose “side” they were on. Nick or Amy’s. Well since you’re reading myreview, I want to be more coy about my thoughts, because if I really got into how or when I started to sympathize with either character (or both) I might ruin things just enough. This story is really too good to be allowed such a horrible act. Suffice it to say, like ALL of Flynn’s work, things are not always as they seem, and you may very well find yourself changing your mind about things…more than once!

There was even one point where I felt like Flynn was poking fun at me as a reader. “Oh-ho! You thought things would turn outthis way, didn’t you?” Cue loud wet raspberry sounds.

Last point, and again, I have to be vague, but wow. The ending was amazing. I’m almost certain the film just doesn’t do the story justice. Overall, Gone Girl is just an amazing examination of marriage, connection, perception, and even identity. I mean, it had me looking very honestly at my life. It was disturbing and unnerving, and like any of Flynn’s books, the story just stays with you long after you close the cover.

Read this book. Just read it. You owe it to yourself.

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Review: The Immortal Rules

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The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like to do my reviews off the cuff so I’m sorry if it isn’t as organized or well thought out as some other reviews. I like to do things this way because it guarantees that I’m honest and in touch with my emotions.

In this case, I feel pretty positive about my experience reading “The Immortal Rules”, despite occasionally feeling annoyed with Allison, the story’s protagonist. I’m okay with characters making mistakes and/or behaving less than admirably, but there was a moment or two in the first half of the book when I (literally) said out loud, “What the fuck?” There’s one moment I’m thinking of in particular where Allison has this big revelation regarding her vampire sire, and I couldn’t fathom how this POSSIBLY could not have occurred to her sooner, even given her recent transition to vampirehood. I mean, the girl is given a lot of time to think at one point, and she still manages to miss this huge detail about Kanin, her vampire master.

That was really the worst of it, as after some drama goes down, Allison strikes it out on her own and faces a number of interesting challenges. Namely, things get REALLY interesting when she encounters a group of humans traveling out in the wilds, and she decides to pretend to be a human to join them, all for the explicit purpose of feeding off them. That’s the thing that I love about Kagawa’s world of vampires. They are brutal and bloodthirsty, and Allison is no exception.

Like many vampire protagonists in books, one of the key themes revolves around humanity and the loss of it, but not just that, what constitutes humanity at all. Time and again throughout the book, we see Allison exercise amazing self-restraint, meanwhile engaging in brave and self-sacrificing acts. In contrast many humans in the book exhibit selfish, callous, and vicious behavior, betraying Allison’s trust the moment it becomes convenient for them. Does it sound lame? The idea that a girl could somehow discover her humanity as a vampire in ways she never could as a human? Maybe it IS a little hokey, but I thought Kagawa handled the theme well, and it made for an enjoyable read.

Also, props to Kagawa for writing a protagonist of Japanese ethnicity without resorting to a gross amount of stereotypes. Allison is just like anybody else, and her use of a katana as a weapon is more an acknowledgment of her heritage than an attempt by Kagawa to exploit the character’s “Asian-ness”.

This book is a great read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, or even fans of The Walking Dead franchise (same bleak dystopian setting with dangerous monsters that want to eat you–good fit, right?)

 

If you like my reviews, please consider visiting my Goodreads profile and adding one of my books to your to-read list!

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Writers and the Long Tail: Hope for the little guy

The following was written in 2013 and was an examination of the book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson, for my Creative Writing degree program at Full Sail University. It explores ways of reaching niche audiences and the benefits of reputation economy. If you don’t know what “the long tail” is, click here to see my Youtube post for an explanation! The questions in bold were questions provided by my instructor at the time. The assignment was to provide answers from the book and industry examples supporting the excerpts I chose. I’m posting this here now, hoping that my work might help others. Chris Anderson’s book really changed the way I look at my own work and the industry and I think everyone should read his work!

If you like this essay, please consider checking out my e-book, Tributaries, and help me realize my dream!


  1. The Internet and digital storage has created a nearly infinite shelf space for all media types, but it has also given the tools of production to anyone with a laptop computer. In this new world of super-abundance how will writers distinguish themselves and their work?

Writers can distinguish themselves by targeting their writing, publishing, and distribution efforts to niche audiences. Understanding how to effectively sell and/or advertise one’s work is understanding the vast diversity that is the Internet. Many people surf the Internet, but not everyone goes to the same places online. Those primarily interested in science and history for instance, are very likely to frequent accurate scientific and historical wikis, forums, and blogs. Conversely, they are less likely to visit sites about video games, childcare, or car customization. That isn’t to say that these Internet users won’t web surf based on their other interests, but the point is to target your audience, and if you were writing a science or historical based work, you would seek to distribute and promote your writing at the places these Internet users frequent for such things.

The pitfall of many writers is failing to capitalize on new and effective Internet tools to distinguish themselves. It is true that there are many easy methods to publish and distribute, but there are other frontiers that can help increase your visibility with potential readers. Video can be a quick and dirty way to get readers to visualize the basic premise, setting, and genre of your story. Music is prolific on the internet, and offering a free download of a song you commissioned from a musician with information about your book or author website can spread very quickly. Social networks have also provided a way to connect with people outside of your personal circle with the use of hash tags, categories, and other special filters. Writers need never restrict themselves in how they wish to promote and distribute their work. For new authors especially, Chris Anderson (2008) writes:

From filmmakers to bloggers, producers of all sorts that start in the Tail with few expectations of commercial success can afford to take chances. They’re willing to take more risks, because they have less to lose. There’s no need for permission, a business plan, or even capital. The tools of creativity are now cheap, and talent is more widely distributed than we know. Seen this way, the Long Tail promises to become the crucible of creativity, a place where ideas form and grow before evolving into commercial form. (p. 78)

Given this awareness, writers looking to be seen and heard in the super-abundance should not be afraid to try out new and experimental methods.

  1. Discuss the importance of Exposure Culture, the Wisdom of Crowds and how they relate to the use Filters in creating successful media ventures.

The Wisdom of Crowds was actually a book written some two hundred years ago by James Surowiecki about how the many can be smarter than the few. Anderson discusses this idea, using examples such as Wikipedia, and how the online encyclopedia’s constant growth and adaptation has both its upside—and its downside. On the macroscale, the results of instant updates to a staggering number of articles in real time shows how Wikipedia leaves such works as the Encyclopedia Britannica in the dust. But on the microscale, the accuracy of such articles and the risk of vandalism is the tradeoff for such emergent information.

The wisdom of crowds thrives on probabilistic systems as they “can scale nicely both in breadth and depth.” (Anderson, 2008, p. 69) The important thing to remember is that anything taken from these systems (be this a Google search or a book review) should be taken with a grain of salt. Such results, like Wikipedia, should be the first source of information, not the last. But there is a need for such trailheads in the infinite shelf abundance of the Internet, and this is why filters use such emergent information to help guide users and/or customers to products further down the tail.

Here is where exposure culture relates to the wisdom of crowds and search filters. Tim Wu of Columbia University is quoted by Anderson (2008) in The Longer Long Tail:

The exposure culture reflects a philosophy on the web, in which getting noticed is everything […] and at the center of this exposure culture is the almighty search engine. If your site is easy to find on Google, you don’t sue—you celebrate. (p. 74)

Exposure culture relies on the wisdom of crowds to influence the emergent information used by filters to get noticed. Without the wisdom of crowds, filters would be consulting old data and attempting to apply it to an unreceptive audience. Search engines, recommendation systems, and customer data must have constant feedback on Internet trends in order to best serve their users.

With proper attention and research, a person can observe these trends and take advantage of them to better promote their work, therefor ensuring that they take a more active role in exposure culture rather than a reactive role. A person can achieve maximum effectiveness for their media venture if they research top searches, hash tags, categories, and popular purchases within a certain frame of time. Sometimes, capitalizing on such information must be done within a certain period, especially for volatile trends, lest the window of opportunity closes.

  1. Cite an example from the text or other reading that exemplifies what you feel is the most important trend identified or illuminated in The Longer Long Tail.

In The Longer Long Tail Chris Anderson (2008) writes:

Why do they do it? Why does anyone create something of value (from an encyclopedia entry to an astronomical observation) without a business plan or even the prospect of a paycheck? The question is a key one to understanding the Long Tail, partly because so much of what populates the curve does not start with commercial aim […] One economic model doesn’t fit all. You can think of the Long Tail starting as a traditional monetary economy at the head and ending in a non-monetary economy in the tail. In between the two, it’s a mixture of both. (p. 73)

Anderson (2008) also writes:

[…] there is a coin of the realm that can be every bit as motivating as money: reputation. Measured by the amount of attention a product attracts, reputation can be converted into other things of value: jobs, tenure, audiences, and lucrative efforts of all sorts. (p. 74)

Given my personal experiences, these passages highlight the most important trends illuminated in The Longer Long Tail for me. Before joining Full Sail University, I had already begun my own journey as an amateur author publishing my original work for free online. I was attempting to build a reputation for myself, to gain recognition among the audiences I was targeting, because I knew there were others like me who wanted the sort of stories I wrote. When I explained to family, friends, or fellow writers what it was I was doing, the question always came—“Why are you giving your work away for free? Why are you throwing out all that hard work?” To them, my efforts seemed wasteful and shortsighted. Since I wasn’t making any money off of it, I had to struggle for a long time to convince those close to me that what I was doing was worthwhile.

Reading those words from Chris Anderson felt like having everything I worked for validated by someone who knew about economics, and not just knew it about it, but made it their life. I’d never been able to put in a satisfactory way why it was I was doing free online writing, because every explanation I tried seemed to make others doubtful or uncertain as to what it really meant. Anderson sums it up very nicely, and even comes up with a phrase to adequately describe the trend: reputation economy. The idea that a person could build their reputation to the point that it creates opportunities was something I’d always hoped for. Now I don’t hope for it, I work toward it.

But Anderson acknowledges that this isn’t a perfect fit for every product, a fact I agree with wholeheartedly. Not all of my works are a good fit for free publication and distribution, and I mean to submit these stories through more conventional channels. Yet I have no regrets for the decisions I have made regarding my writing so far. I now have an established audience and I have fellow writers that I have networked with. I have learned many of the tools and methods necessary to build a proper Internet presence given the paths I have taken. Many writers lack these skills, and I have the reputation economy to thank for teaching them to me. Now if anyone asks, I can tell them so, in no uncertain terms!

  1. How do you see immersion and interactivity changing the role of writers in the entertainment marketplace and how will you adapt to this phenomenon?

In the past, a writer’s work was very much like a brick-and-mortar store. The product, in this case the writing, was put out to market. Customers, in this case the readers, would acquire the work and read it. After reading it, their opinions were published in newspapers, and in the early days of the Internet, personal websites like Geocites (before the arrival of blogs). Any feedback a writer would get about a work would be after the act of publishing it. Even if new editions were released, the work largely remained the same—meaning major plot points and characters did not deviate too far from the original publication. Writers also chose their writing projects alone, based on their observations of the market (which before Web 2.0 was slow to adapt to immediate reader demand.)

However with the Internet now allowing for individuals to not just passively consume content, but instantly interact with it, this is no longer the case. Even reader reviews are subject to feedback. Blogs allow for readers to directly comment on content and have others view their comments and respond to those. Google Drive has the capability of allowing anyone with access to view a document being typed live, comment on it, highlight passages, and in some cases (if authorized) to edit the document directly. Silvia Hartmann wrote the first complete draft of her novel, The Dragon Lords, live on Google Drive. (“Author Writes A,” 2012) The manuscript is no longer available, but for a limited time, Hartmann’s fans could watch the story unfold live before them, and interact directly with the author as she worked. (Hartmann, 2012)

Another example of interactivity and immersion comes from an indie author and television writer, known online as MCM, who in 2009 wrote a novel in three days with a document fans could see updated live. (MCM, 2009) He barely slept, and even made it a highlight of his event to take pictures of himself at regular intervals to show how he was being physically affected. There was an ongoing chat as well as polls where people could participate in such things as choosing character names. 2009 was the first year I joined the weblit community, and so I was able to witness this event happen live. MCM described this form of writing as a sort of “performance writing” and given what I saw, I agree with him. (MCM, “3D1D Wrap” 2009) The focus of the project was still the writing, but MCM found a way to layer a new form of entertainment over it that got audiences involved. His novel, Typhoon, was completed, and is now edited and available on the market. Since I’ve seen this done, I’ve always wanted to try it myself.

Another author, known as T Campbell online, has worked on at least twelve web comics in his career as a comic writer. Penny & Aggie, a high school epic that spanned seven years until its completion in August 2011 (Campbell), was very popular with web comic fans. Campbell, who had dabbled in writing prose shorts featuring the comic’s characters, decided to explore storytelling on Twitter using one of the comic’s more popular characters, Sara. To do this, Campbell created a dummy account where he tweeted as Sara, creating a first person short story. Other characters, whom he also made Twitter accounts for, responded to these tweets, and readers could view the story unfold in real time and respond. The original tweets have been lost as the accounts Campbell created for the purpose of the story were deleted, but other writers, like those for the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, have also used the power of social media in this way for storytelling. (“The Lizzie Bennet Character”; Green & Su, 2012) This method is usually in combination with other media and websites, such as YouTube or Pinterest, and has come to be known as transmedia.

Silvia Hartmann, MCM, T Campbell, Hank Green, and Bernie Su (the latter two being the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) provide great examples of how creators can use different tools on the Internet to create, publish, and distribute their work. I’ve long since wished to launch an interactive project in which readers could directly engage with me and the story. I may do a live writing event, such as MCM, or perhaps a transmedia project, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, or perhaps a new tool will be made available and allow me to do something completely new. Until then, I like writing and sharing my work online. I even make my incomplete drafts available for viewing and feedback on Google Drive. I believe I will have the time for something larger and more intensive after I graduate from Full Sail University, and I look forward to the experience.

Citations

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Tributaries – Fantasy E-Book Trailer

 

Purchase the book now at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479795

Full Synopsis: Nyx is a feline shape shifter, lost and alone, host to a fierce and ferocious being that lies deep inside her. She harbors a deadly secret and is running for her life when she is saved by Elmiryn, a cursed warrior on a quest for revenge. The pair quickly become unlikely allies and embark upon a perilous physical and mental journey that will put both their skills and sanity to the test. Ultimately, they form a unique and powerful bond through their shared trials and tribulations. Together they continue onward and follow a path that leads to new and remarkable discoveries of both the worlds around, and within them.

Connect with Illise:
Twitter: @cajeck
Tumblr: http://www.illisemontoya.tumblr.com
Blog: http://www.illisemontoya.wordpress.com
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All music and images used under various Creative Commons licenses.

Music: “She Moved Through the Fair” by Sláinte – http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Slinte/

Images:

“Enchantment” by Marina del Castell – https://www.flickr.com/photos/95011179@N08/14032345481/
“Lungerersee in Alps” by Artur Staszewski – https://www.flickr.com/photos/34920308@N07/8442008652/
“SummerHalloween Self-portrait” by Dr.Cialtron – https://www.flickr.com/photos/50850668@N04/9321302286/
“Glory” by Snake3yes – https://www.flickr.com/photos/15509125@N00/200624031/
“Beautiful Natural Scenery” by Kashmir Pictures – https://www.flickr.com/photos/95491601@N04/8717824074/
“Flaming Torches” by Dan Taylor – https://www.flickr.com/photos/56783767@N00/60363010/
“Xcaret Panther” by Robert McGoldrick – https://www.flickr.com/photos/40045573@N03/10074571886/

“Tributaries” Cover Art by Kayla Mayer – http://krmayerillustration.tumblr.com/

Video created by Illise Montoya.

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