Review of Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden’s The Hive

Review of Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden’s The Hive

The Hive by Barry Lyga

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have to applaud Mr. Lyga and Ms. Baden. They tackled the concepts of cyber-bullying, social media distraction, and the involvement of politics in both in a thoroughly plausible manner. At no point do you find yourself uttering the thought, “Impossible.” Instead, you feel chills of reality creeping down your spine, and your fingers curl away any time you need to pick up your phone. It’s brilliant and eye-opening and should be considered mandatory reading for anyone, especially the younger generation who can’t go five minutes without consulting their various social feeds. A quick scan of any controversial post or tweet verges on the tipping point of a Hive Mob.
And Cassie is nothing more than a realistic teenager. She doesn’t possess special, superhuman powers. Nor does she think any differently than you’d expect her to. Her responses are those of almost anyone thrust into that kind of situation. It brings the horror to life, and I thank the authors for their consideration in making Cassie nothing more than REAL. (I also tip my hat to them on their casting of the president. It provided humor where it was needed, and there’s no question where they drew their inspiration. I give you a standing ovation for that – though you scared me to death when you granted him two terms. No one wanted that contemplation, okay?)
Had the authors NOT ended the book as they did, I’d have delivered a full five stars. Turning that final page? I wanted to scream and throw the book across the room. And while I can understand the logic of their decision – to drive the conversation – it only prompted exasperation and anger in my reader/writer brain. You CAN’T handle something so brilliant in this manner. The abrupt crash unforgivably undid all of their work. Seriously, guys, you needed to rethink it.



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Review of Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities: Nightfall

Review of Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities: Nightfall

Nightfall by Shannon Messenger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m of two minds about this installment in the Keeper series. On the one hand, I applaud Ms. Messenger for tearing down more of the Elvin world’s utopian image. The cracks that made their appearances in the previous five volumes have continued to widen, making the “superior” race more approachable and understandable. At the same time, she decreased the original polarization created with King Dimitar and his population. (On a personal note, Ro needed to be in every other book – she’s one of the best characters to emerge yet; mostly because she calls out the unnecessary need for all of the “glitter and sparkles”) And the unraveling mystery of Nightfall? That kept the pace moving at a clipper pace – even with a paperback that weighed close to 1.5 pounds. (Yes, I weighed it – mostly due to a sprained shoulder and the need to find ways to prop up the book and ease the pressure on the joint)
But on the other hand? I have to wonder whether Ms. Messenger regretted her decision to off Mr. Forkle in the previous book or intended her “take-back” the entire time. That part of this volume fell flat. It’s possible to see where she intended the issue to feed into the plotline, but it felt flimsy, at best. Instead, it seemed like regret. (“Oops! I’m so sorry I killed a primary character! I’ll fix it!”) I don’t have anything against Mr. Forkle, but the handling of the situation didn’t work for me. It’s too seamless of a reintroduction. For the life she described? There needs to be a gap or a lack, and that’s missing (no pun intended). It just seemed like Ms. Messenger could have done a bit more to pull off the same trick.



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Hear it “Write”

Hear it “Write”

Cypress in a pond

When you hear a common sound, or something buried in the everyday bustle, you dismiss it without a second thought. Think about it: how often do you stop and listen to the cawing of a raven or crow? And when was the last time you paid attention to the clicking of a stoplight? They fade into the general background of our lives – present but not particularly of interest. If you take a “common” sound and transplant it into a different situation, though, we start to take notice and pay attention. And for anyone with even a spark of imagination?

Yeah, writing catalyst!

Let me give you the perfect example. This weekend, my husband I went kayaking at a pond. Not a well-known state park, and we only saw a couple of other people the entire time. That meant the only sounds we heard (save when we got closer to the road) involved nature. And while I DID major in marine biology, we were miles from the coast. So I didn’t recognize the birds and frogs well enough other than to place the calls into a general, “Birds and Frogs” category. But most people who’ve spent any time in the natural world could do that. What caught my attention, though, was the creaking of the cypress trees.

Have you ever heard one? I could offer a dozen different descriptions. And that’s where my point comes in. At one point, in the middle of pure quiet, the groan circled around us. I glanced over my shoulder, and my first thought was, Where is there a house out here? It put me in mind of a squeaky door, and I had an immediate flash of a dilapidated shack, perched up on the roots of the trees. My rational brain reminded me there was no way a house existed out there, but the sound conjured the immediate image.

Laughing, I mentioned the thought to my husband. And then I really started ruminating on the sound, turning it over and over in my head. Was it a creaky door? Or did it have overtones of a voice? Maybe a moan? Could I layer something more into it, if I really thought about it? As we continued paddling, I tossed out the casual observance that, if you heard something like a cypress out at night, it wouldn’t take much to convince yourself you’d heard something otherworldly or supernatural. And while we started laughing about some of the paranormal shows we’ve watched, the thought stuck.

What other sounds could I warp?

Even knowing the cypress forest around us held responsibility for the snaps and creaks, my imagination took off running. The shapes of the trees were already strange. And with duckweed covering so much of the water – not to mention the tannin load obscuring the rest of your view to the bottom – the quiet pond made for the perfect setting for ANYTHING. And the more I continued to pay attention to those sounds and think of the potential possibilities they represented? I found myself with plenty of stories bubbling away – horror, dark fantasy, fantasy. Play the sound for a generic audience of characters and ask them for their opinion, and the plots wrote themselves.

And you can do the same thing! Whether you decide to venture out into nature to find a sound of your own or simply pay attention to something “germane” in your daily life. ANYTHING has the potential to catch your ear if you keep your mind open. Because no two people catch the same thing. Going back to those paranormal shows (which, I admit, I don’t take seriously – other than the fact they’re the best cure for insomnia I’ve yet found), I never hear anything they claim. And if you ask someone who isn’t reading a script for the show, they probably don’t, either. Everyone’s wired a little differently. So work with that! Cast your characters into various backgrounds, lock them in a room, and hit play on a tape recorder (or, you know, MP3 player – whatever). Then “record” their reactions.

You won’t regret the exercise. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself with at least ONE new story to play with.

“No Capes!”

“No Capes!”

Interview Outfit
Photo by Adrienne Andersen from Pexels

For most of my working career, I’ve worn uniforms of one form or another. From lifeguarding at the local pool to my years as a vet tech, each position came with an expected appearance. And, in a lot of ways, that made my life easy. Even when barely coherent, it didn’t take much effort to get ready in the morning. So long as I kept the scrub tops and bottoms on separate shelves, I could manage to clothe myself. (And, yes, that was an early “lesson learned”) Throwing on that red bathing suit and a pair of shorts? It was even easier! While not allowing room for creativity or imagination, it provided structure and simplicity to my morning routine.

But it made interviews weird.

Everyone’s heard the phrase “dress for the job you want.” Frankly, I think it’s a stupid adage. No one walks to the pool in a bathing suit with a whistle around their neck. Mostly because the managers figure that you showed up because you were interested in a lifeguarding position. (Either that, or you were an idiot incapable of realizing the pool was still closed for the winter) You dressed like a responsible individual, exuding confidence that you could – if needed – rescue a drowning individual. No matter how attractive you look in swim wear, that isn’t the image projected.

The same thing goes for the medical field. While they KNOW you’re there for the technician position they’re so desperate to fill (newsflash: the veterinary field is always short-staffed), no one’s impressed by someone walking in the door in scrubs. I don’t care what Hollywood shows you: NO ONE looks good in scrubs. They’re a functional garment, and there’s nothing fashionable about them. The interview is meant to demonstrate (again) responsibility, maturity, and intelligence. And if you want the job, you’re going to dress appropriately.

Or you’re going to end up looking for work elsewhere.

So, yeah, stupid rule. And I’ve always laughed at it. (If I dressed for the job I WANTED, I’d bust out some dramatic successful supervillain creation – whatever that looks like. I’m also not sure it would work well at any of the places I’d apply…) But, for some strange reason, it hit between the eyes when I was staring down the barrel of an interview for a writing job. I panicked. What in the world are you supposed to wear to convey the image of intelligence, creativity, dependability, competence, and everything else someone could want out of a writer? How to portray the essence of WRITER?

I stood in front of my dresser, walked back to my closet, and I fretted. What have I seen successful, professional writers wear? That, it turned out, was a stupid question to ask. My only exposure to those people has been Cons. And what did they wear? Well, some wore costumes. (An interesting idea, but probably not the best) A few DID dress in business attire. But the majority? They looked like average, ordinary, COMFORTABLE individuals. Probably because that’s what writers ARE, when you think about it.

Breakthrough!

Freelance writers? We don’t sit in front of our computers and laptops in business suits. (If some of you do, fantastic. I hope you have a comfy chair) We’re not the corporate type. Everyone has an individual voice they lend to their work. And that’s reflected in what we throw on each day. Our appearance is as unique as the tone of voice we capture in sentences. And our publications? Those are what speak for us LOUDEST. So why was I fretting over something like what to wear – in a Zoom interview, of all things?

It made me stop and reassess. Instead of trying to go out of my way and figure out what a “professional freelance writer” (such an absurd concept) might look like, why didn’t I look like ME? They had my portfolio with my work. They weren’t trying to figure out if I could walk into an office every day with heels and a dress (been there, done that). No, they wanted a writer who could meet deadlines, prepare content, and provide creativity. (The fact my hair’s currently bright pink was probably already a strike against me for the whole corporate thing, anyway) So why not dress like ME? Isn’t that who they were interviewing in the first place? A quirky, creative writer a little outside of the box?

Oh, wait – that WAS the job I wanted!

In the end, I didn’t throw on anything other than my usual clothing. I even forgot to put my contacts in and had my glasses on (not that they’re bad or anything – I quite like them). No makeup, no jewelry, and nothing special beyond my Hocus, Pocus “My Lucky Rat Tail” socks (for luck, of course) – and the interviewer couldn’t see those, anyway. Oh, and Tonks, of course. She participates in EVERY work call I attempt. (How she knows the sound of that camera coming on is beyond me)

Maybe my different, casual look dinged me. Or maybe it didn’t, because the focus was on, oh, I don’t know – the strength of my answers to the questions? I guess I’ll have to wait and see. But I’M in a better place in regards to the whole interview outfit question. I’m a weird, creative person! And that’s the image I want to project. I’m submitting proposals to jobs that look for energy and entertainment and the ability to engage people. I can do that, without scrambling to overhaul my wardrobe. If nothing else, I’ll stand out from the crowd. And THAT’S something you want in the freelance world.

Maybe there’s a little something to dressing for the job you want – provided it’s the right job. And if anyone sees a posting out there for supervillain, let me know! I have the PERFECT outfit!

Review of Mercedes Lackey’s The Spellbound Child

Review of Mercedes Lackey’s The Spellbound Child

The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


I’ve loved Ms. Lackey’s Elemental Masters series from The Fire Rose – which is probably why I continue to pick up every new addition, despite the fact I drag through all of the “Sherlock” volumes, hoping for a return to the delight I found with the first handful of books. Maybe they’re a treat for devotees of the master sleuth, but I’ve yet to find a single one I didn’t want to beat my head with. The presence of Sherlock provides an unwanted deus ex machina that turns the story from a rewritten fairy tale to a bumbling farce. Except, this time, you got the addition of the struggle to even READ a good portion! I appreciate wanting to remain true to a regional dialect. Still, so much of the Dartmoor dialogue left me reading, re-reading, and RE-READING, struggling to parse the meaning. Nothing throws you out of a story faster than a lack of comprehension! You need to find a middle ground between respecting an area’s manner of speaking and allowing a reader to immerse themselves in the story – AND understand what’s happening.
Even worse, the editing was deplorable. While I understand you pay slightly less for a Kindle version of a book, that shouldn’t translate to less care with the final product. Section breaks disappeared in a couple places, leading to sudden shifts in POV. Spelling and grammar errors show up EVERYWHERE, and you even have simple indents missing. It created a sloppy document any writer would cringe to submit for publication. That you expect a reader to accept such a thing? That’s unacceptable.



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The eBook Dilemma

The eBook Dilemma

Every reader has their quirks. Some people collect hardbound books like library treasures. They’re aiming for a leather and gilt trove you usually only see in the movies. (Of course, they usually never READ those books; they’re strictly for show) Other readers stick to paperbacks. And they have different reasons. The softcovers take up less room on a shelf, allowing you to stack more in a smaller space. They weigh less, meaning less risk of a buckling shelf. And, of course, the cost comes in lower, so you can purchase twice as many. (Or is that my logic coming through?)

Then you have the genuine book snobs.

They want every volume to match. So they’ll hunt down covers by the same artist – regardless of cost. If a publisher decides to change printing format mid-way through a series, they have a meltdown. When new volumes get released years down the road that feature a design on the spine, they splurge and re-buy the entire series. Every book on their shelves is the same height. They sort by color (or some other insane logic). When you come over, they proudly show you their card catalogue – and ask you to fill out a card when you borrow one of their books.

Books are precious to readers. You can’t break spines, crease pages, or spill anything on them. If one of us see you abusing a piece of literary treasure, we’ll hastily provide you with one of the thousands of bookmarks we’ve accumulated over the years. And while we don’t hesitate to share our favorite stories with you, letting a book out of our hands is beyond difficult.

And I’m not different.

If you’re a favorite author of mine? I buy your work in hardback. New authors I haven’t taken a risk on yet? You’re in paperback. Everything’s organized in alphabetical order. So you’ll see varying heights and sizes along the shelves. Depending on when I fell in love with an author, the covers may or may not “match.” (And, no, I’m not wasting time and money chasing down the matching spines) Manga’s organized alphabetically by title, rather than author. And the same goes for my comics and light novels. Quirky? Yes. But not THAT out there. Where I drew the line was when eBooks hit.

I HATED the idea. How could anyone NOT want to hold a book and cover their walls in shelves? Who wanted to throw out the smell of printed paper? Not to mention the nonsense of tapping a screen in favor of turning a page, feeling parchment between your fingers. I rebelled and sneered. There was no way I was EVER going to bend and get one of those ridiculous things. Instead, I proudly proclaimed that I’d be the woman in Fahrenheit 451, burning alive in a house stuffed to the rafters with books.

Until some of my favorite writers sucker-punched me.

They wrote novellas ONLY available in eBook format. I understood the logic, too: publishers don’t want to spend money on novellas. They’re not worth the cost. But eBooks? They don’t require paper or ink. For months, I agonized and stared at the little note next to the cover on the Amazon listing. And, finally, with gritted teeth, I brought home a Nook. Of course, I assured anyone who’d listen (and even some who didn’t), the tablet was strictly for those books I couldn’t reach any other way.

And, for the most part, that’s what the poor device has served for. Any time I stumbled upon something I couldn’t find in any other format, it went onto my Kindle app. Where other people I know turned to their eBooks to save on weight and space in their luggage when traveling, I continue to have no qualms with hauling half a library around with me. I refused to compromise on my book standards. No way was I buying an electronic version of a book I wanted for “convenience.”

Funny how the Universe gets to you sometimes.

By accident, I didn’t pay attention to the book type on my Wish List a few months ago. So when I went to purchase it, I was confused when it said I could read it immediately (rather than offering a shipping option). Turns out, I’d picked the Kindle version. Annoyed, I rolled my eyes and grumbled that I’d get around to reading it eventually. And then I forgot about it. Well, until I could only find the Kindle version of one of the comic volumes I wanted to read, and I noticed a “New” tag on two covers in the Kindle library. But, again, I wasn’t interested in reading it at that moment.

Fast forward to this weekend when I discovered that roller skating is not like riding a bike. I sprained my left shoulder. And while I’d started Keeper of the Lost Cities: Nightfall over the weekend, attempting to lift the book wasn’t possible. All I got was pain. Probably because the volume weighs almost 1.5 POUNDS! My love for a physical book suddenly presented a real problem. I couldn’t NOT read before bed, though.

Which was when I remembered the Nook. And the case with a stand. Grudgingly, I admitted the eBook was useful in that situation. And while it took a little bit of resettling to find a way to tap the side of the screen to “turn the pages,” I finally ended up comfortable – and able to read.

I’m not ready to abandon my shelves and shelves (and shelves) of books by any means. But I CAN see a reason to allow the occasion electronic volume to slip through my fingers. Just in case.

Review of Black Cat: On the Run

Review of Black Cat: On the Run

Black Cat, Vol. 2: On The Run by Jed Mackay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ll give Mr. MacKay some credit – this volume read better than the first (an important lesson on continuing when you have the slightest pique of interest when reading). Toning back some of the absurd humor made the biggest difference and tying in a coherent plot. Felicia feels more like a coherent character rather than a random person in a series of vignettes. Black Fox has yet to step out of his cardboard shell, but he’s getting there. And the weaving together of so many other Marvel worlds feels strange but believable at the same time. (I suppose DC does the same thing, but it feels more evident in Black Cat). It’s enough of an improvement – and a greater enjoyment – to encourage me to stick with the series.



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Review of Harley Quinn and Power Girl

Review of Harley Quinn and Power Girl

Harley Quinn and Power Girl by Amanda Conner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Ms. Conner and Mr. Palmiotti remain in rare form. And who didn’t have a burning desire to know what happened in those few panels back in volume 2 (Power Outage)? It’s the perfect tongue-in-cheek humor you’d expect from Harley in space. And while it probably helps to have some knowledge of Power Girl (something I lack completely), you can get through the plot without a problem if you’re clueless. The team provides enough background and clues to help you limp along through her backstory – something they’ve always managed to do with all of their volumes. Any true fan will appreciate the diversion.



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Review of Harley Quinn: The Final Trial

Review of Harley Quinn: The Final Trial

Harley Quinn, Vol. 4: The Final Trial by Sam Humphries

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


How do you cope with heavy emotional states in a character like Harley Quinn? It’s a complicated question – one that plenty of writers have explored (at least, as far as I’ve read). And Mr. Humphries and Mr. Russell tackled it in one of the best ways I’ve encountered to date. While I wanted to throttle them for the opening of the volume (they went there; they actually went there), the handling of the final trial proceeded better than I imagined. And instead of cycling down a whirlpool of half-choked laughter the way other writers have, they launched into Meredith’s comic on comic book events. Which was so perfect and accurate, you can’t help but laugh and feel at ease. They nailed the average reader’s perception so perfectly, too. Because I HATE those stupid notes encouraging you to buy fifty different comics to comprehend a single plotline (and I don’t do it – often leaving me with a vague idea of what’s going on). Everything tied together perfectly. Well done, fellas.



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Review of Harley Quinn: The Trials of Harley Quinn

Review of Harley Quinn: The Trials of Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn, Vol. 3: The Trials of Harley Quinn by Sam Humphries

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Who says comics don’t kick you in the teeth with serious issues? (And, no, I’m not referring to the destruction of worlds) I mean, how brutal can you get, Mr. Humphries? You didn’t feel Harley had enough to deal with in her life? You had to up and give her mom cancer? It undercuts the best of the humor within the Trials of Harley Quinn – though Mirand’r is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. And putting Batman in a judgmental light of leaping to conclusions was nice to see – though that might be my personal bias coming out. You also can’t deny the hilarity of Meredith’s inserts of the Villain of the Year excerpts. They’re a pure joy to read and (for anyone familiar with Apex Lex) likely a fresh change to see a supervillain scrambling to recruit someone else to their cause.



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