Friday, October 24, 2014

eBook: Farewell to the MBRC?


Morgan thought the most difficult decision of her life was deciding to become an official employee of the MBRC. But now, a senior in high school, she’s realizing it only gets worse.

With a certain Goblin mob boss urging her to stay within commuting distance of Chicago, and a flirtatious Pooka pushing her to study overseas, Morgan has a hard enough time trying to sort through her college choices the way it is. Planning out her future is made even more difficult when terrorist threats are issued by an anti-human, anti-rehabilitation, magic-based organization. Does Morgan want to continue working at the MBRC when it puts her life in danger?



Sooo...remember back in April when I read a book called MY LIFE AT THE MBRC?  And how it was literally the most entertaining book I had read in a while? Go read my review then come back here because otherwise this review, which is about the sequel to that book, will make no sense at all.

Welcome back to the Magical Being Rehabilitation Center where all your paranormal needs are met!  You have female vampires suffering from a fear of blood, teen techie centaurs rebelling against their parents' insistence on speaking in riddles, elves with a stick so far up their you know what they can't see straight, the goblin mafia offering the world's best cookies and of course poor human Morgan L. Fae being harassed by the kiddie Dark Lord.

This my friends is the life I want to live.  No joke.

I've been anticipating this book for a few months now and it did not let me down. Let me repeat that--no let downing of my expectations occurred.  Not a single one.  Well except Devin isn't real.  But that's hardly Shea's fault.

Its been 2 years since Morgan joined the MBRC as a human consultant for all things human related.  In those 2 years she's become a professor, aided the MBRC in negotiations with the Goblin Mafia (aka her friend Hunter's group), rebuffed Devin's continual flirtations and learned to love the dysfunctionality of the place.  But she's a senior in HS now and hard decisions must be made. Like what school to attend...and whether she really wanted to spend the rest of her life steeped in the magic world.

I appreciated that Shea presented Morgan's choice between being normal and staying in the magical one as something she was thinking hard about.  We saw her struggle through weighing the pros and the cons (lying for the rest of her life vs. helping an entire culture live more comfortably).  It wasn't just Krad (aka Kiddie Dark Lord)'s harassment of her and endangerment to her person she considered, she was honestly trying to figure out if what she was giving up was worth the price.

In the time she had joined the MBRC she did extraordinary things, not because she had special powers, but because she got to know these people.  She learned and listened and didn't discount anyone no matter their race, alignment or clothing preferences.  Could they have found someone to take up her post as consultant? Oh I'm sure.  But could they have found someone who devoted so much of herself to each person's overall happiness not just their species' happiness?  Probably not.

I don't want to ruin too much of this because honestly there's a lot to love and gush about.  This is a book that doesn't take itself, its concept, its characters or hell reader expectations too seriously.  Its cliche to say, but I found Morgan's reaction to Krad to be spot on with how I would have reacted.  The way she was constantly ruffling Aysel or his father's lives.  The way she wanted what was best for her friends even if that meant being ridiculously dressed and blazingly hot.

Shea captured a character I not only would like to know in real life, but who I completely emphasized with.  So no I don't want to say farewell to the MBRC...but I trust that they're having plenty of adventures I'd approve of.


Friday, October 17, 2014

eBook Review: Darksider


She has always been his dream…

Chef Serafina Rochan believes her recurring nightmares of pursuit are a symptom of her anxiety about opening her second restaurant. But when the stalker appears in the waking world, she swallows her pride and calls the one man she trusts to go into her dreams, even if it means risking her heart.

When Marshal Harlen Fawkes receives Sera’s call, nothing else matters. Time has not eroded the power of his feelings for her. After years apart, they go Darkside together and cannot resist the longing and desire their connection evokes. The past and present collide, and Sera abandons all reservations to embrace Harlen again, if even for one night.

In order to protect her, Harlen aligns himself with disavowed friends, and in so doing is drawn deeper into the secrets and perils of the dreamwaters. As the tide of darkness rises, Harlen faces his demons…but not without Sera, who fights just as fiercely for the dream of a life together.

Dream dangerously.


Oh man.  Okay so we got a little bit of Harlen previously and that does nothing to prepare you.  Here's a man that refuses to let his pride get in the way when it comes to the woman he loves.  She's in trouble and he can fix it and that's what matters.  In fact they can work out their problems later. 

I loved them together and that because of Sera, Harlen realizes some rather powerful truths. Unlike Rook or Coll, Harlen was a straight shooter.  He did his job because he wanted to protect idiots from those who would exploit them.  There was no other vested interest.  Sera showed him that what he saw as the truth and what WAS the truth were vastly different.

I can understand how others see this series as a "serial" novel.  You can't read this without the others and you can't get the whole picture by picking and choosing your couple.  The first pages are of Harlen being interrogated about what Rook and Coll are up to and their experience helps to drive how he saves Sera later.

Romance happens and is a strong undercurrent.  Their past association helps with this actually as the two pick up where they left off (arguments and everything) pretty quickly.  Yes Sera's safety is paramount, but for Harlen there's no other choice once he sees her again.  He'll convince her come hell or high water.  Not that Sera is against the idea, she's just against them breaking up again.  There's never a sense of confusion for the reader, Kellison lays out their relationship issues quite clearly without derailing the plot. 

So a wonderful third entry into the series and definitely keeps the reader wanting to know more.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: Stray


Princess Aislynn knows all about the curse. Its magic is a part of her, like her awkward nose and thin fingers. It’s also something she can’t control. And girls who can’t control their abilities have a tendency to disappear. So for her own protection, Aislynn is sworn into the Order of Fairy Godmothers where she must spend the rest of her life chaste and devoted to serving another royal family.

Tasked with tending to the sweet, but sheltered Princess Linnea, Aislynn also finds a reluctant friend in the palace gardener, Thackery, who makes no secret of his disdain for her former life. The more time they spend together, though, the more she begins to doubt the rules she has observed so obediently. As Aislynn’s feelings threaten to undo the sacred vows she has taken, she risks not only her own life but Linnea’s as well. With the princess engaged to a devoted follower of The Path, there are some who would do anything to keep Aislynn from straying.


First things first, the cover is really weird right?  Not in a bad way, in a 'what is going on here novel explain it to me' sort of way.  Since I read an e-ARC I'm interested to see how it looks in real life.  Secondly I freely admit that the first part of this book is of more interest to me then the second latter half.  Without spoilers I found Aislynn's life at the Academy and with Linnea to be fascinating and wanted to know more about it.

I felt bad for Aislynn; you could tell from the start that she was so desperate to fit into the life being laid out for her even as she had her doubts.  Seen through her eyes the entire system is horrific.  Truly, utterly horrific.  There's no room for another life--either you marry and uphold the "traditions" or you are regulated to a chaste, loveless life as a "Fairy Godmother".  Want something different?  So sad too bad you're earmarked as an enemy of the state (a "Stray") and condemned as "evil".

Sussman has used the bare bones of fairy tales and crafted an intriguing, disturbing world where who you shouldn't try to be more then you are (men or women).  Women using magic, even in defense of themselves or their loved ones is considered too dangerous to allow.  Men who didn't control their women were just as penalized quite frankly, though not as overtly.  Men who sympathized or aided the "Strays" were hunted and condemned as well.

Its not a great world for anyone with a thought in their head honestly.  This is a book filled with harsh class structures, oppressive societal pressure and worst of all, you can't trust anyone.  Aislynn tries, oh she tries so so hard, to be what everyone wants her to be.  She tries to live the "true path" she tries to fit in and be the perfect devout follower. 

Aislynn's life, both before and after she is condemned to be a Fairy Godmother, at the Academy was of the most interest to me.  Even after she is sent to be a Fairy Godmother Aislynn believes in the Path, which I think illustrated something I think a lot of fantasy books in YA land tend to overlook.  Aislynn didn't get betrayed and suddenly find the light about how wrong her world was, she accepted (if not happily) that what happened to her was part of the culture.  Did she want more?  Sure.  But she thought the "more" could be attained by proving herself ever more devout.  She was a believer and believers need more then a socially approved sanction for misbehavior to break that faith.

Outside of the Academy things get a bit more twisty and I admit I lost some interest.  Josetta and the "Strays" are (of course) not what they appear to be because (of course) propaganda being what it is those in charge didn't want folk thinking there was any alternative to their abusive system.  Not to say either side is completely on the side of Angels, but well one is more right then the other. 

As a subverted fairy tale fantasy this works really well.  Sussman does a good job of taking those pieces and hijacking our expectations.  Often for darker purposes (looking at you Fairy Godmothers...though in truth they always kind of creeped me out), but sometimes to illustrate how our expectations are what really deluded us (a Prince will not always save you for the right reasons...).

Definitely a recommended read and I look forward to seeing what happens next!




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

eBook: Star Trek TNG: Q are Cordially Uninvited...

The wedding of Captain Jean-Luc Picard to Doctor Beverly Crusher was a small, private affair overseen by the mayor of La Barre, France, and witnessed by the groom’s sister-in-law and the mayor’s wife. At least that’s what the happy couple always told their friends. On the anniversary of that blessed day, however, Worf and Geordi La Forge manage to coax the real story out of the pair, to discover a tale of mythical treasure and a lost civilization in the Delta Quadrant. It all begins when the omnipotent being Q crashes the festivities, declaring himself best man and bringing along an unwilling guest as a surprise for the groom…

All right so previously I've only really read Deep Space Nine fiction. That's the series I love, has the characters I love and by in large the conflicts I care more about. I cut my teeth on The Next Generation crew however--I was a diehard Troi/Riker fan, I wanted Data to be my tutor, Geordi to be my teacher and Jean-Luc to teach me to read (and drink tea - actually his being French and being so British was really confusing to me as a kid).

That said Q, and to a degree Vash, were part of why I watched TNG. And I'll admit they did not work on DS9 - John de Lancie and Patrick Stewart had such a wonderful bantering bromance that it was almost painful to see Q try that with Sisko (Avery Brooks).

So this, which is a culmination of so many decades and movies and books worth of relationship building (world's longest courtship ever), was practically perfect. Full of Q's antics, backhanded compliments, ridiculous displays of narcissistic affection and as always he knew just how to rile Picard up. 'Cause let's face it, who would be a better Best Man then Q?

I will say that in some ways Picard and Crusher came off much more youthful seeming then I remember them being exactly (especially given the last TNG movie). Having not read the canonical book continuations, and only barely keeping abreast of their lives as part of the various serials I do follow (DS9, Titan, Corps of Engineers, Voyager...) I'm not entirely sure how much older they are vs. their last "on screen" appearance.

But oh the fun! Crusher got to show off her smarts sans all that flashy equipment the future has, Picard got to be Archeological Man, Vash got to be quipy, Q got to be (badly) flirtatious and hey no one dies in the end! What more could a person want in a bachelor's party? (Don't ask Worf, he was rather disgruntled by Picard's "passionless" ceremony to Crusher).

Though now *I* want to know more about the Treasure of the Ancients. And maybe follow Vash on her adventures. Since she seems to have so many of them (wonder what she was doing during all the recent wars/invasions/serious crises?)



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Party Games


Her friends warn her not to go to Brendan Fear's birthday party at his family's estate on mysterious Fear Island. But Rachel Martin has a crush on Brendan and is excited to be invited. Brendan has a lot of party games planned. But one game no one planned intrudes on his party—the game of murder. As the guests start dying one by one, Rachel realizes to her horror that she and the other teenagers are trapped on the tiny island with someone who may want to kill them all. How to escape this deadly game? Rachel doesn't know whom she can trust. She should have realized that nothing is as it seems… on Fear Island.


I'll be honest...while I devoured Fear Street novels as a kid (12/13 or so) they are not what you'd call tightly written grand works.  They are enjoyable cotton candy that while didn't often frighten me (by the time I was reading Fear Street I had been watching Slasher/Horror films for nearly a decade, Fear Street paled in comparison to some of them) they did leave me guessing as to whether it would be a mundane reason or a supernatural one. And just how ridiculous the wrap up could get.

So to that PARTY GAMES perfectly excels.  I wasn't sure, even as the book wrapped up, whether this was a supernatural story or a whacked out mundane one and while it had shades of  my favorite show Harper's Island it wasn't an out and out similar situation. 

Where Stine excels, where he has always excelled in my opinion, is his ability to  draw a reader in.  Sometimes it takes a little while, but by the time he starts the ball rolling towards the ridiculous conclusion you'll be eagerly turning the pages like I do.

Here's the thing - Rachel is not likable.  Brendan, his friends, his cousins...they're not really likable.  They're not well developed beyond some traits to hang off them.  His best friend for instance was basically a class clown sort, who hit on everything and made off color jokes.  Rachel endlessly calls him "cute" and "adorable in his own way".  And despite what the summary may lead you to believe Brendan Fear is not apparently the most popular kid ever.  He's gamer chic - that is he's a hardcore gamer (in every sense of the word), but he's not your typical gamer.  He's more hipster really.

Rachel is also firmly of the "too stupid to live" category of heroines--but that's par for the course in Fear Street novels so I would have been surprised if she had any sort of survival instinct.  Throughout the novel she makes countless newbie Scream Queen errors that if not for the grace of God (Stine that is) things would have gone much differently.

Which leads me to a weird sort of complaint but...[spoiler]no one dies.  I mean literally, no one dies.  Those who do "die" aren't dead, they're part of an elaborate prank and when the real bad guys pop around they're basically all talk[/spoiler] I'll give Stine credit, he managed to one up himself with the story of Brendan's great aunt the Taxidermist who well taxidermied (is that the word?) herself alive.  That story was all kinds of creepy.  As was the pit of human bones (yeah I can see the Fears playing "The Most Dangerous Game" with their servants...creeps).  Plus he tossed in a few red herrings that weren't very obvious as being decoys.

Still the ending is kind of bland and just like every other Fear Street book I'm left wondering about the parents of this town.  Seriously--even if this one had a low body count (compared to older books) I'm still surprised any of them choose to remain in a town with such a dark, gory and murderous past.  And Rachel's parents!  Oh my shiny stars - she never makes mention of them being concerned about her wellfare.  She just decides to run off to a remote nie on unreachable island owned by a family who's last name is basically a by word for "creepy", overnight with a group of friends she maybe mentioned in passing.  This doesn't ring any bells at all?

I'm happy to return to Shadyside, and while it wasn't quite what I was expecting given some of the lead up and events that occurred, I did enjoy the absurdity of it all.  Here's hoping there's more planned that bring back the creep factor!



Monday, September 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Milayna by Michelle K. Pickett



In the battle for her soul, which side will she choose?

Series Name: The Milayna Series
Genre: Young Adult (Paranormal Romance)
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
CTP Content Rating: YAm
Release Date: March 17, 2015

From the bestselling author of PODs comes an unforgettable tale of action, intrigue, and following your heart in the midst of betrayal.

It’s hard being good all the time. Everyone needs to be bad once in a while. But for seventeen-year-old Milayna, being good isn’t a choice. It’s a job requirement. And it’s a job she can’t quit. Born a demi-angel, Milayna steps in when danger and demons threaten the people around her, but being half angel isn’t all halos and happiness. Azazel, Hell’s demon, wants Milayna’s power and he’ll do anything to get it. But he only has until her eighteenth birthday, after which she becomes untouchable.

With the help of other demi-angels, Milayna thwarts the trouble Azazel sends her way. Fighting by her side is Chay. He’s a demi-angel who's sinfully gorgeous, and Milayna falls hard. But is Chay her true love… or her nemesis in disguise?

When she learns of a traitor in her group, there’s no one she can trust… not even the one she loves.



 

ABOUT MICHELLE K. PICKETT:
Michelle is the bestselling author of the young adult novel “PODs.” She was born and raised in Flint, Michigan, but now lives in a sleepy suburb outside Houston with her extremely supportive husband, three school-aged children, a 125 pound “lap dog,” and a very snooty cat.

Red Bull or Monster Khaos are her coffee of choice, and she can’t write without peanut butter M&Ms and a hoodie. A hopeful romantic; she loves a swoon-worthy ending that will give her butterflies for days. She writes across genres in the young adult and new adult age groups. She loves to hear from her readers.​

Michelle signed her new young adult contemporary novel— Unspeakable, with Clean Teen Publishing in 2014. 


Keep up-to-date on her current and future projects at www.michelle-pickett.com.


 

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Friday, September 12, 2014

PR Special Edition: Kameron Hurley

Poisoned Rationality Special  Edition

Welcome to another Poisoned Rationality Special Edition!  Today we welcome Kameron Hurley, author of the recently released The Mirror Empire and one of my favorite trilogies the Bel Dame Apocrypha.  She's going to discuss magic systems - so pay attention, you'll learn a lot I say completely unbiasedly.

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Summary:
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

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"Bug Magic and Satellite Mages: 
Writing Magic Systems that Stand Out"

There are, I’m told, two schools of building magic systems. The first are the rule-builders. The careful architects of rule-based magic that have detailed costs and benefits, restrictions and power-ups. Many refer to this as the Brandon Sanderson school of magic; it’s so codified it’s almost like a science. It’s “hard” fantasy, for lack of a better term. The second school is, I admit, the one I get far more excited about, and that’s sometimes referred to as the Tolkien school, or simply the WTF school. It’s the HEY! We are writing fricking FANTASY school. And in that school of thought lies this: we are dealing with strange and unknowable powers. We aren’t always going to have all the answers. We’ll muck about. We’ll make a mess. At the end of the day, magic is about miracles, and miracles don’t have rules, only guidelines.
Both of these approaches can be super successful, it simply depends on which one you’re partial to. I grew up reading 90’s fantasy, which was generally a pretty rule-bound system. I’m uncertain if it was the influence of science fiction that compelled this rule-based magic logic to take over from the more free-wheeling mythological divinity type. Most likely it was simply the influence of tabletop gaming. Dungeons and Dragons inspired a massive swath of writers, and they often brought their love of rulebooks and stats and hit points with them.

I don’t tend to start by building a rule-bound magic system, but make the rules up as I go along. Instead of seeing it as “cheating” I actually find that it’s a more imaginative way for me to build the system. If you sit down and set out all the rules before you actually start moving your people around in the world, you limit your choices right out of the gate. It’s like putting on a blindfold and diving into the water and saying the rules say you can only turn to the right. What kind of sense does that make?

I worked toward building a more organic system in my God’s War novels, a science-fantasy noir that uses bugs and the ability to control them as a sort of techno-magic wielded by magicians. I went in knowing that certain kinds of bugs could be directed to perform certain tasks, but only by those imbued with the gift to do so. I had several scenarios in mind about how they’d come by this power, but didn’t want any of them to be explicit in the text. The fact was that it had happened so long ago that it was now just considered magic. I wrote down what certain types of bugs were known to do as I came up with them – I didn’t work it all out beforehand. I didn’t draw up big schematics of how they powered the vehicles or what combinations of which bugs did what. Those weren’t things my primary protagonist was interested in anyway, and were very unlikely to come up.

But where’s the tension? you might ask. Because the best part of a magic system is its restrictions. Those, too, I manufactured as I went. I didn’t decide magic users could be drugged until I did it to someone else during an interrogation. And I decided that the more wild the bug, as in, it not being tailored to a certain function in the cities, the harder it was to control. But I basically came up with that idea as a character said it out loud during my second book. Luckily no retconning was required – it hadn’t come up before.

My magic system in my new epic fantasy, The Mirror Empire , was a little different. Instead of bugs, this magic system revolved around the heavens. Three heavenly bodies rose irregularly in the sky, their orbits (for lack of a better word) erratic. Sometimes they just… appeared and disappeared a year or two earlier than expected. The heavens above them were not set. These heavenly bodies had a guide, not a rulebook. And as they rose and fell so too did the powers of those who drew on the particular bodies’ energy to create unique feats. Those who drew on Tira were great healers, and could manipulate living organic, non-sentient plants to their will. Those who drew on Sina had power over fire, and some could even bring back the dead. Para users could manipulate the air to do whatever they liked, and some could even change the weather. And the fourth body, Oma, the dark star, the star that only came around once every two thousand years or so, that one gave people a variety of powers, one of them being very unique: the power to open doors between worlds.

This magic system needed to be a little more codified than the one in the God’s War books because I knew I was going to be writing from the point of view of several characters who were actually living within strict systems that taught them how to use their powers, and put strict limits on them. That was done on purpose: this magic system brought with it so many great upsets in power that it made sense for many societies to attempt to manage and control those with the potential to use it as soon as possible. I also had to come up with rules for its use within specific societies.

I spent a little more time codifying this than I did with my bug magic, but funny enough, the magic system in this book is actually one I consider far more on the miraculous/divine spectrum that the bug magic. Sometimes you draw on the magic of your star and it works. Sometimes you draw on it, and it doesn’t. Sometimes you try and build one thing, and it becomes another. I wanted a much more fickle system. And in this system, though one is also able to drug a person to cut them off from the power of the stars, the most effective means of breaking a “spell” is simply to break the person’s concentration, whether through surprise or, most often, pain. I also wanted a fairly strict line-of-sight restriction where it was difficult to let loose a targeted attack unless you could actually see the thing you wanted to attack. That gave me a lot of restrictions and moments for tension, as well as one very memorable scene where I have a non-magical general working to outsmart a gifted assassin. Knowing what his restrictions were as she fought him was paramount to making a good scene.

But let’s be real: I didn’t spend days and days working this out. I spent a couple hours on it. The rest I figured out as I went, just like with the bug magic, and edited everything else to fit in revision.
Making magic systems that bust down the same old same old has been, for me, about not codifying too much of the system too soon. Yes, figure out your restrictions, some places for tension (reading about an all-powerful deity can be fun for awhile, but gets boring fast), but leaving some things unsaid was vital to my own creative process. To build really wondrous magic, leave room for the magic itself to tell you what direction it’s going and what it’s capable of. Restricting it too soon can strangle the capacity of your own creativity and imagination right out the gate.

And what is magic, after all, if it doesn’t bring with it some sense of wonder – not only to readers, but to you as a creator?

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For me the magic system is always the primary attraction in a fantasy series.  Also despite my complete and utter dislike of people telling me what to do, I'm a fairly structured sort of person.   There is, as the Director always says, an order to things Counselor.  Looking at my favorite books though, most of them are, as Hurley says, "Hard fantasy".  Perversely I hate hard science fiction.  I like my science to be fictional and not bogged down by realistic mumbo jumbo.  Thank you Star Trek.

How about everyone else?  What kind of magic system do you favor--in your reading or your own writing?

Thank you Kameron for taking the time to come by and share with us your insights!

About the Author
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God's WarInfidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed MagazineYear's Best SFEscapePodThe Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.


Author Links: