Guest Post: “But I Can’t Do That”: Re-Examining Our Rules for Reading by Karen A. Wyle

Today is another very special day! I am excited to host author Karen A. Wyle. I enjoyed her most recent release, Division, so much that I reached out to host her on Magic & Mayhem. She’s here today, sharing her thoughts on self-imposed reading customs.

One of my daughters had surgery not long ago. Knowing she would have weeks of limited activity, she decided to make the best of it and reread the Harry Potter series. It had been years since her last immersion in the books, and she found herself irritated or frustrated by passages that had not bothered her before (or not as much).

At one point, she was grumbling about having half of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to slog through before she could reach her favorite section (featuring “Dumbledore’s Army”). I timidly suggested: “How about skipping ahead? After all, you’ve read the book how many times before?”

My daughter’s spluttering outrage at my proposal came as no surprise. I used to have my own rules for reading — rules I never thought of doubting or reassessing until I was a good deal older than my daughter. I finished every book I started. I never peeked ahead. When I reread books (as I habitually did), I reread them entirely and in order.

I don’t know which book finally triggered the first rebellious impulse. I do remember feeling a combination of lightness and disorientation, like a boat loose from its moorings, when I actually decided to close the book I was no longer enjoying.

It’s easy enough to justify putting these rules aside. Life is short (and getting shorter, from my perspective). There are so many books out there. (And it’s so easy to get them, in this era of free and inexpensive ebooks!) I read for pleasure, or for knowledge, or for self-knowledge. If a book is no longer providing me with any of these benefits, why not go in search of one that will?

But why did I follow these rules in the first place, and why do so many others still treat them as unbreakable?

There’s respect for the author, and for all the work and talent the author invested in the book. In light of that impressive and intimidating commitment, how can we begrudge a few hours or days of our time? I expect we also tend to harbor an irrational fear that the author will Know — will somehow sniff out our cavalier rejection of what the author worked so hard to lay before us. That’s hardly likely, unless we take the trouble to publish a DNF (did not finish) review.

There’s the fear that we’re bailing too soon: that if we only kept reading for another few pages, the book would reel us in, and provide us with a moving or thought-provoking or entertaining experience that we’d have been sorry to miss.

For some of us, lack of commitment, the failure to finish what we’ve started, is a pattern that goes well beyond our reading habits. Discarding a book unfinished reminds us of skills never mastered, courses never completed, careers never actually begun.

Hmmmm. Leaving aside the superstitious fear of omniscient authors, these are good reasons to keep reading! Should I reconsider, repent, and resolve never again to discard a book after ten, twenty or fifty pages?

Well, no. I may, after all this analysis, try to give each book a bit more of a chance. But in the end, I’m going to trust myself. Most of the time, if a book and I are meant for each other, I think I’ll know. And if it isn’t meant to be, I’m going to let go, gracefully and without remorse. We’ll agree, the book and I, to see other people. We’ll both be happier that way.

P.S. I showed this column to my other daughter, who told me that she has quite a different reason for reading all books in order. When she reads fiction, she becomes thoroughly immersed in the story. If she were to skip about, the experience would lose some of the reality she cherishes — and she would feel strange exercising an ability denied to the characters.

Thanks for your thoughts, Karen. It’s only been within the last year that I have been able to abandon books. I even created a Goodreads shelf to give myself “permission” not to finish them. But it’s still tough to put one down.

What do you guys think? What kind of self-imposed customs do you have? When did you first allow yourself to stop reading a book–or do you slog through the entire thing cover-to-cover no matter what?

Come back on Monday for my review of Karen’s Division!

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Review: Transcendent Tales, Volume I, by Adam Train

transcendant talesTitle: Transcendent Tales: Volume I
Author: Adam Train
How To Purchase: Kindle | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The complete first release collection from Transcendent Tales. All ten short stories and multi-part novellas come complete with vibrant covers and cinematic illustrations in a single purchase and download.

Transcendent Tales: Volume I by Adam Train is a deviation from a typical book of short stories in a couple ways. First, it’s illustrated, which I enjoyed: Illustrations are uncommon right now in books, and these enhanced the stories beautifully, catching the mood of the scene into which they were inserted. The second deviation I did not enjoy, which was that some of the longer stories had been chopped into parts, and not all the parts were included in this volume.

The storytelling itself is old school. The language and sentence construction is reminiscent of fantasies from years ago. One story, “The Voyage to Windward Atoll,” even reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe at the beginning and H.P. Lovecraft toward the end. Since I’m a sucker for both those authors, that story was one of my favorites.

Although not particularly heavy, the stories are nonetheless engaging. Whether fantasy, alternate history, or science fiction, they draw the reader into the world. I could feel the resolution of the Japanese samurai when faced with the Mongolian horde in “Saisho No Kamikaze.” I was drawn into the world of bureaucracy tainting the contact humanity made with a new species in “The Third Realm.”

Some of the extraneous words and grammar could be tightened up. I’m a stickler for dangling participles, one of the most frequent offenders in this collection. Possibly no one but professional editors and I would have noticed the problems.

My biggest frustration with this story collection is that at least one story, possibly two, were not wholly contained within. I was really into “The Treaty of Nine,” only to be told that the story continues in Part III, which is not included in the book. The last story, “The Third Realm,” was split into two parts, and I thought the end of the second part didn’t wrap the story up sufficiently. Is there more or not? I guess when Volume II comes out, we’ll find out.

Overall, the stories were engaging and enjoyable, but I’m disappointed in cliffhangers. If this were a regular periodical that came out perhaps quarterly, I would be less unhappy. I would have suspected and been prepared for missing story parts.

I gave this a 3.5 of 5 stars because of the somewhat meandering language and grammar, which could easily be fixed by an editor with a keen eye for detail. I also think this book should come with a disclaimer that the reader will be expected to pick up the next anthology to finish some of the stories. If like you science fiction, fantasy, and thorough world-building, you’ll enjoy this collection.

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Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaTitle: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Genre(s): YA Paranormal Romantic Fantasy
How to Purchase: Amazon | Kobo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was not a bad book, but it didn’t live up to its hype. Some of the writing was atmospheric, but not enough to move me. The characters were memorable, but I neither loved nor hated them.

The story gets underway when our main character Violet meets River, a boy her age who wants to room in the guest house in her old, rundown mansion. River is mysterious and attractive, and she goes about falling in love with him as quickly as any teenaged girl can fall in love with a mysterious and attractive teenaged boy.

Soon it’s revealed that River has a mysterious power that he uses to manipulate those around him. Is her attraction to him real? Is he manipulating her own emotions for his gain? Does she actually care if it’s not genuine? Those are the questions that made me keep reading, that make me want to read the second book, though the questions aren’t posed in a particularly compelling manner.

The weather–sunbeams, thunderstorms, salty ocean air–is over-used to create atmosphere. Although the usage wasn’t terrible, I feel like it could have been more deftly woven to the story. Each mention seemed a jarring contrast to whatever was going on, an add-on that seemed like Ms. Tucholke chose “because it needs to be there,” rather than to enhance a scene.

The climax was a bit anti-climactic, even though it was well-written. Series(es) have a tendency to do that, I think; I felt the same disappointment at reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It’s as though the author says, “I have some choice morsels that I will save for the next book,” without thinking that perhaps I will not read the next book because this one doesn’t live up to its potential. Without giving anything away, a near deus ex machina forms the climax, which I think leads to the feeling of being cheated. The climax is not brought about my our main characters, but something that was lurking outside The Machine, something discovered too late in the story to be emotionally satisfying. Nothing is resolved between Violet and River, and we must read into the second book to find out what comes about.

In the description, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is described as “blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror.” Yes, maybe, OK, I see it if I squint. If you’re looking forward to reading this, I say go ahead and pick it up. I will likely buy the sequel, too… But I’m prepared to be disappointed a second time.

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Review: A Flight of Marewings by Kristen S. Walker

A Flight of MarewingsTitle: A Flight of Marewings (Wyld Magic, #1)
Author: Kristen S. Walker
Genre(s): Adult Fantasy
How to purchase: Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Korinna’s life gets turned upside when the ghost of her father suddenly appears. Her father was duke of Kyratia City and he wanted Korinna to marry his warlord, the foreign mercenary Galenos, and inherit his title–but the city’s Council has other plans. When the Council denies Korinna’s right to rule, she decides to join Galenos’s mercenary company and tame a wild marewing in order to take the city by force. But people whisper that the late duke’s untimely death was murder, an induced madness that forced him to dance himself to death–and now that madness is spreading. Can Korinna become a marewing rider and conquer Kyratia in time to save everyone?

A Flight of Marewings is a solid fantasy with interesting ideas and a fleshed-out world. Its namesake, the marewing, is a flying demon horse, created by a mysterious magical force called “the Wyld.”

The book follows several people’s points of view, but the story centers on Korinna, the illegitimate daughter of the newly deceased duke of Kyratia. In this world, mercenaries are used instead of a city’s own military force because being a soldier carries a stigma to these religious people. Korinna has been targeted for marriage by the leader of one of these mercenary forces, Galenos, who was never able to convince her father to solidify a marriage contract before he died.

I was a little bit nervous upon seeing the table of contents and how many points of view are actually used, but it worked well. Ms. Walker introduces the characters logically, and we got to know them and their quirks gradually.

Because the story is told from both Korinna’s and Galenos’ points of view, I was sympathetic toward them both. First toward Korinna, the poor peasant woman who is simply trying to hold together the farm for the small village she oversees; next toward Galenos, who simply wants to wrest control of Kyratia from an evil, scheming Council so that it may thrive.

The romance between Korinna and Galenos seemed a bit forced. Of course they’re going to end up together, but I would have liked to see some sparks fly.

I loved the magic in the book: A parasitic bug that burrows into humans to cause them to dance to death, a killer vine that strangles anyone who struggles against it too much, and the magestone underlying the city that should protect the citizen from Wyld magic… until one of the evil Councilors brings the Wyld into the city on purpose.

A few typos exist, but because it’s an ARC, those will likely be gone in the final copy. Even if they’re not, there weren’t a lot: The grammar itself was clean and any “oopsies” were definitely typos.

While I liked the marewings, their relationship with the rider-that-tamed-them reminded me of Anne McCaffrey’s dragon/rider relationship. The dragonlings introduced briefly follow all of her rules and are described identically. Whirling eyes, starving when they’re born, imprinting on the first person who throws meat down their gullets. However, enough new and interesting concepts exist that it only perturbed grumpy old me slightly.

If you enjoy fantasy and are looking for a new world to sink your teeth into, I would recommend A Flight of Marewings. Ms. Walker also has several other books out, so if you find her storytelling engaging, you can dig into more. This book is the first in a series, and I eagerly anticipate more of the Wyld magic that winds through her world.

If you’d like to enter to win one of five eBook copies or a signed paperback of A Flight of Marewings, click here to enter the Rafflecopter drawing. Also, if you missed Friday’s guest post by author Kristen S. Walker, go check it out.

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Guest Review: Kristen S. Walker on The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

A Flight of Marewings Tour Banner

I’m excited to participate in Kristen S. Walker’s book tour celebrating the release of A Flight of Marewings (Wyld Magic #1). Hello, Kristen!

kristen-walker-photoToday Kristen shares with us thoughts on one of her favorite books:

The Hero and the CrownTitle: The Hero and the Crown
Author: Robin McKinley
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
How to Purchase: Amazon

Kristen’s Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Although she is the daughter of Damar’s king, Aerin has never been accepted as full royalty. Both in and out of the royal court, people whisper the story of her mother, the witchwoman, who was said to have enspelled the king into marrying her to get an heir to rule Damar–then died of despair when she found she had borne a daughter instead of a son. But none of them, not even Aerin herself, can predict her future–for she is to be the true hero who will wield the power of the Blue Sword…

My Thoughts on the Story

Aerin of Damar has been my inspiration since I was about twelve years old. She starts as an outcast from her own people, but through her stubborn efforts, she manages to become a dragon slayer and even rescues her kingdom from their most dangerous enemy. And through it all, she keeps her head up with surprising humor and insight.

There are almost too many reasons for me to list about why I love this book. I love the other characters like Tor, Aerin’s cousin, who has a close friendship with her that reminds me of me and my closest cousin when we grew up together; Luthe, the mysterious and reclusive mage, who does what he can to prepare Aerin for her quest; and Talat, her beloved and mischievous horse. I love the other animals that show up in the story, the wild cats and dogs that help Aerin, and Aerin’s relationships with her nursemaid Teka and her father, King Arlbeth. I even like her rivalry with her cousins, which adds more humor to the story. And even Aerin’s magical sword, Gonturan, has her own personality.

I love how Aerin is very scientific about her experiments with creating kenet, the ointment that’s proof against dragon fire. She works from an old recipe found in the back of a history book, which is vague at best, so she has to figure out what some of the more obscure herbs are and what ratios the ointment requires. For her experiments, she sets up in a wood shed and meticulously makes very small batches at a time, noting down her formulae for each one, and tests its fire-protecting properties. The effort takes her years—showing that Aerin has a lot of dedication and she has book smarts as well as fighting skills.

And in this and other stories by Robin McKinley, I love Damarian culture. Although there are castles and soldiers who fight on horseback, it’s far from the generic pseudo-medieval European culture found in many fantasy stories. There are unique customs, like archers who can sing to their arrows and tell them where to go in an ancient folk magic, and the numerous strange deities in their religion, like the God Who Isn’t There and the God Who Climbs. McKinley also describes how their culture changes over time to adapt to new circumstances when the plains of the kingdom become a desert. In later history, Aerin becomes a legend. In The Blue Sword, the main character Harry sees Aerin in visions like a goddess, partly because she now wields the blue sword Gonturan that Aerin once carried.

My Favorite Meal of the Book

I love reading about food and trying to imagine what it tastes like. (I put a good amount of food into my own stories!) So I often remember stories by what kind of food the characters ate. In The Hero and the Crown, I wanted to try the hot drink called malak and the treats called mik bars. Malak sounds like a cross between a hot broth and a spiced tea (Aerin comments on how she has to cool it down with milk after her injuries, and then the drink loses its bite), and mik bars sound like they could be some kind of cookie or biscuit. Both sound like tasty comfort food, but sadly, I can only imagine what they might taste like.

Funniest Moment of the Book

There’s a lot of funny moments in the story, particularly because Aerin seems to get into trouble a lot. One of my favorite scenes is when Aerin is facing off against her cousin, Galanna, who is jealous of Aerin for being the “baby” of the family. They have a long-standing rivalry against each other, played out over their childhood as a series of insults and escalating pranks.

The part that always makes me laugh out loud is when teen Aerin drugged Galanna’s wine at dinner, and then snuck into her bedroom while she was asleep and cut off her prized long eyelashes. Galanna is extremely vain, so she takes the “disfigurement” very harshly, and dramatically insists on wearing a veil until her eyelashes grow back. When she accuses Aerin of the prank, Aerin doesn’t deny her guilt—instead she retorts that she could have shaved Galanna’s whole head because she was so heavily asleep. Galanna slaps Aerin, which gives her the excuse to jump her and rip most of the lace off of her fancy dress. The images of the two teen cousins rolling around on the floor cracks me up every time—especially when Aerin notices that the castle servants, who are mistreated by Galanna, are a little slow to break up the fight. Their fights sound more like sisters since Aerin is an only child and they grow up in the same castle together.

My Recommendation

This is one of my favorite books, and I re-read it every couple of years. There are some passages that I know almost word-for-word because I love them so much. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes heroic fantasy with a female lead and enjoys a little smart humor with their magic. Also, if you like classic dragons that are more terrifying than friendly, Maur belongs in a category with legends like Smaug. I hope that I can one day write a story as moving and funny as The Hero and the Crown.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today, Kristen!

Kristen’s book A Flight of Marewings is available now. Click to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and win a free hard or eBook copy, and come back on Monday to see my review.

About the Author:

Fantasy author Kristen S. Walker dreams of being a princess with a flying horse, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new epic fantasy novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke’s illegitimate daughter who must stop her father’s murderers–by taming a dangerous monster. A Flight of Marewings is now available in print from Amazon and digitally from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. To read a sample chapter or check out Kristen’s world-building references, please visit kristenwalker.net. You can talk Sherlock, horses, and crochet with Kristen any time on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.

Review: I, Walter by Mike Hartner

Title: I, Walter
Author: Mike Hartner
Genre: Adult Historical
How To Purchase:

My Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I, Walter is an excellent example of a book that has been well-researched, thoroughly plotted, and has voice yet doesn’t strike my fancy. To use a refrain I’ve used before, it was not written for me.

The book chronicles the life of a young boy who comes from a poverty-striken background, but through hard work and a humble demeanor, rises through the ranks of 1500’s England to nobility. Walter is writing his story at the end of his life, while his wife supportively looks over his shoulder and tempers his sometimes-too-hard-on-himself ruminations with her own perspective.

One of the reasons that this book caught my eyes was its strong voice in the opening chapter. I liked Walter and wanted to hear about his life. The voice continues throughout, as Walter examines his life. Both the good and bad aspects are examined, the things he worked hard for, and the mistakes that he made.

My biggest frustration with this book is its format is what I call “the Forrest Gump phenomenon,” a term I just coined but something I’ve seen in other books. For those who aren’t familiar with Forrest Gump (Lord, help me, I’m not that old, am I?), it was a 90’s movie that followed the life of a mentally handicapped man in the 60’s and 70’s as he overcomes obstacles and makes an impression on important historical events. Perpetually optimistic (blech), Forrest Gump nestled himself into the hearts of many movie-goers and won all kinds of awards.

Walter, while not mentally handicapped, is perpetually optimistic and leads a charmed life. The deviation from Forrest Gump is that everything turns up roses for Walter. He meets and falls in love with his future wife in only a few days, and nothing stands in the way of their marriage. Money seems to flow from everywhere into his pockets. His rise through the ranks of sailors in the British navy is quick and painless. Everybody loves him; he’s humble and kind.

Like I said, this isn’t for me. I like flawed protagonists, people making lesser-of-two-evils choices. I’d also call Walter “lawful good,” although that’s not precisely right. But he reminds me too much of Superman and his attitude, which has always grated on me.

If you’re tired of dark books and want something light with a fairy tale ending, this is the book for you. I enjoy dark books more often than not, so I found myself skimming, wishing more would happen to Walter, that his struggles would be deeper, harsher, grittier. I caught a few typos and copy editing issues, but overall, it didn’t detract from the book. A lot of good reviews have been posted on Goodreads and Amazon, so I realize I’m just an old grump. Check it out if this is the kind of thing you like.

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Guest Post: Mike Hartner on Speculative Writing

Today is another very special day!

I am honored to host Mike Hartner on my blog. On Monday, I will post my impressions of his latest release, I, Walter. Meet Mike:

Mike HartnerAnd now, Mike’s thoughts on why he loves speculative fiction:

One day, oh so many years ago… when I was young and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, I read this story.

It could have been Heinlein or Bradbury. The more I think about it, even with the many years of fog that has clouded the story and the author, I’m more certain it was Bradbury than Heinlein. But, I could be wrong. After all, I was a semi-typical kid, and I went through my sci-fi/speculative period in my late pre-teens/early teen life.

In this story, the main character is a child. On a distant planet. In our solar system. He lives in metal tubes. Imaginary homes, that I used to liken to very large sewer pipes, or space-station modules. And one or two of them would resemble telescopes. They were windows, trying to find the sun. And they would eventually find the sun, maybe one or two days a year.

This story was depressing as all H!. But it left an impression on a child growing up in the Prairies, a place where sundogs were regular sightings in the winter time, and clear skies weren’t. Even today, as I live through the wet and cloudy winters of the Pacific Northwest, there are days when I can relate to that character.

Whether I’ll ever find that story or its book again is immaterial. What will always be important is the impression.

About Mike

Mike Hartner was born in Miami in 1965. He’s traveled much of the continental United States. He has several years post secondary education, and experience teaching and tutoring young adults. Hartner has owned and run a computer firm for more than twenty-five years. He now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife and child. They share the neighborhood and their son with his maternal grandparents.

If you’d like a sneak peak at his book before my review goes up on Monday, you can find I, Walter on Amazon. You can also check out more of his writing on his website.