Posts Tagged ‘books’

Reading Star Wars novels has long been a guilty pleasure of mine; they are fun, and they feed the Geek. And Lost Stars was delicious!  Sure it’s marketed as a YA novel, but there is a lot of great Star Wars goodness throughout.

For fans that know Episodes 4, 5 and 6 well, you will enjoy the weaving this story does between established events in the movies. The characters are placed in pivotal roles on the Death Star, Hoth, and Darth Vader’s lead Star Destroyer, the Executor.

Two young folks, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, from an Outer Rim world meet Moff Tarkin when he visits their planet. Coming from different social classes, their friendship is frowned upon. As the years pass, their bond deepens and they develop a mutual love of flying. Knowing nothing but loyalty to the Empire they both strive to enter the Imperial Academy, and are accepted.

Over the years, Thane and Ciena realize the Empire had become twisted and corrupt. Where Thane expresses his willingness to leave the Empire, Ciena holds tightly to her oath.

“…this isn’t about whether we’ve kept faith with the Empire. It’s about whether the Empire has kept faith with us.” – Thane to Ciena

After witnessing the destruction of an entire planet from an open hanger bay on the Death Star, and the enslavement of entire species, Thane’s disillusionment with the Empire evolves into disdain. Some may call it the Force, others pure chance, but Thane and Captain Wedge Antilles cross paths. And just like that Thane finds himself flying for the Rebellion.

Even on opposing sides, Thane and Ciena can’t seem to sever their bond. What will happen when they find themselves in direct combat?

A great read for a Star Wars fan!

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I read Cassandra Duffy’s novel The Gunfighter & The Gear-Head back in 2013 and found it to be a refreshingly unique and fun science fiction story, with a great cast of characters. I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies like Mad Max, The Postman, and Waterworld. I find the genre fascinating and exciting; survival tactics, ingenuity, and determination. In these settings, there is no place for the weak or timid, but being strong doesn’t have to mean total domination; enter the “reluctant hero”.

In The Gunfighter & The Gear-Head, Cassandra Duffy has skillfully blended lizard aliens, wild-west gun fights, steam-punk blimps, cults, and lesbian romance drama into an exciting adventure using wit and well developed persons and places. Provided glimpses into their lives pre-invasion, the reader is able to connect with the characters as real people and become invested in their survival post-invasion.

Cassandra has a sarcastic sense of humor that translates well to her characters. “If I get lynched for being a scientist, Buddhist, lesbian, witch, don’t blame me.” Being able to successfully capture so many aspects of humanity is a rare talent, especially in the lesbian genre.

I asked Cassandra a few questions about her writing career.

RS: Your early work came out–on Amazon–in 2011, but you must have been writing before then. How did you first get into writing? Did your stories center around lesbian characters from the get-go?

CD: All through high school I wanted to be a game designer or do something in the video game industry. I loved games with strong plots like Knights of the Old Republic and thought it was a really cool medium for telling a story. In college it became clear I didn’t have the computer aptitude or attention span for the tech side of game design. I still wanted to tell stories, so I tried creative writing classes and it stuck. Starting out I still mostly wrote fan fiction about video games until several of my professors told me to knock it off and come up with something of my own.

My stories have always focused on lesbian characters. I’m a gold star lesbian so my knowledge of boy/girl romance and sex is entirely theoretical. I was so unsure of my skill, especially early on, that I had to stick to things I thought I knew or could at least learn quickly and that meant writing lesbians and in my very first book, the Gunfighter and the Gear-head, lesbians from California.

RS: I read…a lot. But I admittedly don’t read a lot of lesfic because the genre is so saturated with plotless smut. When I discovered your series “The Raven Ladies,” however, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. I was pleasantly surprised when I found a great story, with strong female characters. What would you say to other readers that tend to avoid lesfic?

CD: I’d say the landscape of fiction as a whole is changing, and lesfic is one of the primary genres benefiting from the changes. It used to be that any fiction for the LGBT community had to fit a very small, very narrow scope to remain profitable enough for large publishers to even consider. For lesfic, that meant smut that would also appeal to straight male readers, and mysteries, lots and lots of mysteries for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I like smut as much as the next girl, but I like smut for women by women, which is kinda rare. When the ereader market pretty much blew open the flood gates to allow a much wider range of options through to readers, a lot of really good fiction for traditionally under-served, under-represented groups hit the market. Before, you had to hope someone at Penguin or Harper thought it was a good idea to have a tiny run of books with a lesbian protagonist of color, and it was probably going to be a very safe offering. Now, if you want a lesbian protagonist, you can find them in almost any flavor you like doing things in stories that were formally deemed too risky for the big publishing houses to touch.

For readers, especially lesfic readers, this is a golden age of options that has never existed before. If you want lesbian pirates, knights, astronauts, cowgirls, space explorers, lawyers, doctors, artists, whatever, there is a book available somewhere. And, if you like some smut, but want it to be for lesbians by lesbians, there’s plenty of that now too.

RS: Most authors tend to stick to a certain sub-genre, typically what they themselves would want to read. But while your novels all contain lesbian themes, they vary greatly in genre: from wild west – steampunk – alien apocalypse,  to paranormal, to knights of old. When beginning a new story, do you already have a character fleshed out that determines the setting you place her in? Or does a setting develop first and the characters later?

CD: I was practically a kid in a candy store when I started getting my stories and books picked up. I felt the options in lesfic were so restricted and so narrow that I immediately wanted to expand the genre with every kind of book I enjoyed reading because I felt that a lot of people were like me–one genre might be a favorite, but it’s more fun to read all sorts of books. I kind of get narrowed down to steampunk, I think mostly because it’s popular now and there aren’t many authors in that genre yet, even fewer who are lesbians, but it’s just one of the many story types I enjoy writing. Aside from a few short stories, all my writing is character driven. Even if I start with a concept like I did with Divine Touched, I ultimately approach the story via the characters I want to tell the story through. Often the setting evolves to match what I want the character to be challenged by.

RS: When stepping into a new genre, the must be alot to understand before making a story work, like developing a sense of mechanics to speak intelligently about steampunk gadgets. What kind of research do you do before diving into a new story?

CD: I come from a scientifically minded family. My dad is an aerospace engineer and my sister is a chemist. For the most part, they tolerate a lot of my silly questions when I’m trying to get a better concept of what would and wouldn’t work for airships and fuels and what not. I’m pretty sure my dad has only a rudimentary concept of what I do for a living since it’s not a traditional job and it involves really strange research. My sister actually came up with the idea for the origin of Slark fuel for the Raven Ladies series, so she’s a far more willing participant in the process.

Aside from consulting with experts, inside and outside my family, I read up a lot on the areas I need to read up on and go out and try new things as needed. I’m not a huge fan of guns, but a lot of my characters are, so I’ve had to go to shooting ranges and gun stores and talk to military folks to make sure I was at least in the ballpark when it comes to weapons.

RS: Who are your favorite authors right now?

CD: I’m not sure if I can call Frank McCourt a favorite author right now, although that’s who I’m reading. I thought it was high time I read Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis even though bleak isn’t really my thing. Angela’s Ashes especially was a remarkable, powerful book that I felt I suffered through rather than enjoyed. It’s one of those books that I don’t think you’re supposed to enjoy it so much as you are supposed to be impacted by it. Impacted like a punch to the stomach in many instances. I love Frank McCourt’s writing but I’m pretty sure I won’t be re-reading either of his books.

To refresh and cleanse myself after the crushing emotional impact of McCourt’s autobiographies, I’ll be reading so many Batwoman comics this summer.

I conducted this interview with Drew Karpyshyn over on Bookkaholic.com but that site has gone on hiatus so I wanted to bring the chat over here for you all to see.

Drew Karpyshyn

Author Drew Karpyshyn has had an incredible career in the sci-fi/fantasy world. Working for the video game company BioWare as a writer on Star Wars: The Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, as well as several others, gave him experience to write novels set in the Star Wars and Mass Effect universes. Not being into video games myself, his Star Wars: Darth Bane books were my first exposure to his writing. After multiple Star Wars and Mass Effect novels, he has published Children Of Fire, the first in the Chaos Born Trilogy, set in a world of his very own making. The Scorched Earth, the second in the trilogy, released this month. I had the great fortune to ask Drew a few questions.

 

RS: Drew, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I know you are very busy with the second book in your Chaos Born trilogy releasing this month. This must be quite an exciting time. You have definitely put in a lot of effort to get to this place. Congratulations on your hard-earned success.

DK: Thanks, Rachel. As much as I’ve loved working on great franchises like Mass Effect and Star Wars, there’s something extra gratifying about being able to share something with the fans that I created completely on my own. The Chaos Born trilogy is my take on the fantasy I read growing up: The Sword of ShanarraThe BelgariadDragonlance and of course Lord of the RingsThe Scorched Earth continues the story that began in Children of Fire, and I’m very excited for readers to see what happens next!

 

RS: With all you have going on, you are still quite active on your blog. In one series of entries you discuss your process for writing a novel. From idea conception and detailed outlines through release date, you know where your story is going. How does this process stretch to covering a whole series like the Chaos Born trilogy or the Star Wars: Darth Bane series? Do you already know the entire story arc of the series, or does one novel impact the story for the next?

DK: It’s confession time: the Darth Bane books weren’t originally planned as a trilogy! When I wrote Path of Destruction, I was focused only on the first book; it was my debut Star Wars novel, and I honestly didn’t know if it would be popular enough for them to want me to come back again. Obviously, I left some open-ended threads in the book in case I wanted to continue the story, but I hadn’t given any thought to what would happen in Book 2 or 3. With the Chaos Born trilogy it was different: I planned this to be an epic story spanning three books right from the very beginning. The ending of Book 1 has a bit of a cliffhanger, and Book 2 continues right where it left off. It’s one single story that I’ve planned out start to finish, whereas the Bane novels were individual stories that were linked through the main character.

 

RS: Do you have any “I’m going to sit down and write today” rituals? (Favorite sweat pants, cuppa joe, isolation…what-have-you.)

DK: For me, it’s really just about finding time to sit down in front of my keyboard and not get distracted with Facebook, Twitter or general Internet time-sinks. I often write late at night, in a room with a single light, because I like the feel of a dark, empty world all around me: it’s like it inspires me to fill in the void with my ideas. But I sometimes write in the morning or in the middle of the day, too, and to be honest I think the quality is just as good.

 

RS: At this point in your career you are quite established in the sci-fi/fantasy publishing world, but do you ever go back and check out open call sites where you got your foot in the door, just for fun?

DK: That’s something I haven’t done. I actually got my start with an open call from Wizards of the Coast looking for new authors in their Forgotten Realms series, so I think there is value in them. But at this stage of my career I’m lucky enough that I don’t need to look for an “in” with the industry. I can focus my time and energy on whatever project I’m working on.

 

RS: Do you feel more pressure writing for established universes like Star Wars and Mass Effect or for works of your very own?

DREW: It’s a different kind of pressure for each one. With an existing franchise like Star Wars, the pressure is to make sure you stay true to the existing universe and deliver something fans of that franchise will want. I spend more time researching existing stories and canon, because I don’t want to be the guy who undercuts something that’s already beloved. With my Chaos Born trilogy, I have free reign to do whatever I want, but there’s the uncertainty of wondering if fans will actually like what I’m doing; you don’t have a built-in audience like with Star Wars, so you need to draw readers in and keep them hooked. And you don’t know exactly what the fans are looking for, because there aren’t previous examples of stories people connected with. As for Mass Effect, it falls somewhere in the middle: it is an existing franchise, but it’s one I had a hand in helping to create from scratch, so I kind of feel both kinds of pressure at the same time.

 

RS: George R.R. Martin is the king of killing off characters. Do you feel any kind of loss when it comes time to kill off a character that you have spent months, even years, with?

DREW: I do feel a bit of loss when a character who has become important to the story goes down. Some readers may disagree, but I generally try to make sure these deaths have meaning and purpose; I don’t want them to be pointless or simply done for shock value. I plan out my stories in detailed outlines, so I know who is going to die before I start writing, and I know why and what purpose I want that death to serve. So the whole time I’m writing that character, I’m aware of their impending doom. The trick is not to accidentally telegraph it too early, but still give enough hints that readers don’t feel like you’re cheating when it happens.

You can find Drew’s many great novels on Amazon.

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I surely do love to read, and I don’t like to set limits on what I read. But I do like the idea of joining a reading challenge, especially one which encourages variety. I look forward to seeing how much of this list I can cross off my list this year. I will be sure to reflect challenge items in my reviews throughout the year.

The husband-wife historical fiction writing duo Kathleen O’Neal and Michael Gear are best known for their First North Americans series. Each of these novels tells the tale of prehistoric people and their beliefs based on modern archeological finds. The Gears have given life and emotions to people we knew existed, but know next to nothing about; created deep beliefs out of artifacts long forgotten; and developed Technicolor pictures of a world before civilization.

Coming of the Storm: Book One of Contact: The Battle for America is remarkably different. The events and many of the characters in Coming of the Storm are part of our recorded history; we know the outcome of the European explorers’ visit to North America. Far from Disney’s version of John Smith’s encounter with Pocahontas, this story does follow Black Shell and his strong willed mate Pearl Hand as they learn about the strange Kristianos people and realize that they bring only death to the tribes and must be stopped.

I am a huge fan of the First North Americans series, but I didn’t love Coming of the Storm as much. The story was interesting, but the supporting characters were underdeveloped and the dialog was so modern that it kept pulling me out of the settings. I am not certain that I will continue to read this series.

Sleezy petshops. Online college. Little people. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Celebrity gossip column. Kay Scarpetta impersonator. Dermatologist. Paranoia. Only Patricia Cornwell can tie these seemingly unrelated topics into one of the best Kay Scarpetta novels yet.

After disliking Trace, the last Kay Scarpetta novel I read, Cornwell won back my belief in this series with this book. Everything that Trace was lacking was perfectly executed in Scarpetta. The trail of clues were confusing but relevant.  All of the characters (both the main cast and supporting) were completely developed and their histories well defined.

Since 1990 Patricia Cornwell has come out with 18 mystery novels staring Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta is the 16th installment in this series.  From first book to the most recent, we follow Kay Scarpetta through her life, and that of her on-again off-again boyfriend, then husband, Benton Wesley; homicide detective turned death investigator for Kay’s team, Pete Marino; and tomboy niece, Lucy Farinelli. Of the main cast, Lucy is my favorite character, at least in the later additions to the series.  When we were first introduced to her she was just a 10 year old girl, but she grows to be a strong, intelligent computer genius that worked for most of the major government organizations at one time or another before creating a search engine that she sells to those government organizations to monitor criminals.

I look forward to my next adventure in Patricia Cornwell’s world of murder and mystery.

Sacrifice is book 5 in the Star Wars Legacy of the Force series. It’s official.  Jacen has picked his sacrifice and assumes his Sith name: Darth Caedus. His decent from Jedi Knight to Sith Lord has been eerily reminiscent of his grandfather’s.  Both of them were incredibly strong in the Force, but weak in will.  They were both open to Sith instruction because the Light Side was not enough to accomplish their goals.  And they both felt justified in their actions were for the good. There is also quite a bit of a feeling of Emperor Palpetine (aka Darth Sidious) about his actions.  One side of him, the political side, knows the right things to say to the right people; the right babies to kiss to make the news holos.  But then there’s the side of him that makes decisions behind closed doors: sending Ben to assassinate Dur Gejjen. When Ben overhears a conversation Jacen is having with Lumia, he realizes that Jacen has really lost his way and confesses everything to his mom, Mara Jade. With this knowledge Mara Jade decides that Jacen must be stopped.

This book is pivotal to the Star Wars universe: huge changes take place, Jacen passes the point of no return, and a beloved character’s life is lost. Karen Traviss has handled this heavy episode tremendously.  The moment it ended I was left gasping, crashing back into reality and mourning the loss.