Review for: Stray (Touchstone #1), by Andrea K. Höst

Image- StrayWhile walking home from school in Australia, 17-year-old Cassandra Devlin mysteriously ends up in another world that looks similar to Earth, but isn’t.  She’s not sure how she got into this new world and can’t seem to get back to Earth, so she focuses on surviving alone in the wilderness of her new strange world.

This is an indie published novel and currently available for free on Kindle or Nook.  It’s the first of three books in the series.  I really liked Cassie’s basic common sense at the beginning of the story.  She’s clearly terrified by her situation, but manages to trundle on—as most people would—and figure out how to survive in her weird new world.

The story is told in journal form, so there’s an awful lot of telling at first, but that changes in the second half of the book.  The story was oddly hypnotic for me.  I kept wanting to read more and more.  The new world Höst creates is pretty cool.  As someone who enjoys learning languages, I could relate to Cassie’s struggles with becoming fluent in an alien language with no one who knows English around to help. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction /Fantasy

Book Review for: Paris in Love, by Eloisa James

Paris in Love

After surviving breast cancer, Shakespeare professor and romance novelist, Eloisa James, takes a year long sabbatical in Paris with her husband and their children. James’s memoir is made up of expanded vignettes from her Facebook and Twitter posts. Her thoughts on Paris are literary, witty, insightful, and a tad pretentious— in the fun way one would imagine a romance novelist to write about Paris.  James really gets into the fantasy of “living in Paris” with detailed descriptions of museums, fashion, cooking, eating, and shopping.  The fantasy is balanced out though with the realities of life, such as her children struggling with their new school and her struggles with gaining—and then trying to lose— weight, due to all her enjoyment of French food.  I listened to this audiobook over the course of a week and felt like I was visiting with an entertaining adventurous friend each day.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Adult

Genre: Memoir

Audiobook Version:  Yes. Enjoyable and read by the author— though her voice takes a little getting used to at first.

Favorite Short Story Collections Read From 2013-2014

Science Fiction / Fantasy Short Story Collections 

Image of Blood ChildBlood Child and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler (July 2003) – This is an excellent collection of five short stories and two essays from Ocativa Butler—including her “male pregnancy” story. Her writing is deceptively simple, and her stories contain clever ideas in worlds that are so well-developed, in just a few pages, that I wished most of them had been developed into novels. I also liked her reassuring essays about writing.  Reading this collection makes me even sadder that Butler died in 2006, when she was only 58 from a fall/stroke.

Image- Near and FarNear + Far, by Cat Rambo (September 2012) – The paper version of this short story collection is two books in one.  On one side is a collection of “near” future short stories, flip the book over and it’s a collection of “far” future stories. Cat Rambo is probably one of my favorite current speculative fiction short story writers.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and often feminist, with literary touches.

 

Young Adult Short Story Collections 

Image- KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope Story Collection: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (August 2014) –  A good collection of YA science fiction and fantasy stories with an emphasis on diversity.   The first story about a disabled super hero is probably my favorite. It’s just so cheerful and charming. There are a number of other good stories though, including one about an Olympic ice skater using future technology, and a story about a young woman befriending alien students at her school.  There is a heavy emphasis on young women as protagonists, which I liked, but I thought the collection might have been more well-rounded if there were also one or two more stories featuring diverse young men as protagonists as well.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (October 2014) – I read this YA holiday romance short story collection over winter break. It features stories from Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and a host of other bestselling YA authors. There’s really not a bad story in the bunch—though I certainly liked some of the stories more than others. Overall, it’s a charming collection of holiday cheer and romance that I highly recommend.

Favorite Short Stories Read in 2013 – 2014

In the summer of 2013 I was too sick to focus on writing a novel and decided writing short stories might be more manageable.  I started reading online science-fiction/fantasy magazines, took several classes on short story writing, and read several short story collections.  Like most of my reading, I tend to like science-fiction/fantasy or chick-lit romance stories best.

Favorite Stories Read Online

There are lots of stories to read online for free—including many science-fiction/fantasy stories.  I try to read a new story every day. Most of the stories I read are just okay, but about once a week, I read a story I really like —a ratio of 80% decent stories to 20% wonderful stories.  Considering I choose my stories pretty randomly that seems like a good ratio, about the same ratio I have with books.   Here’s a sampling of my favorite stories:

On the Big-Fisted Circuit, by Cat Rambo ( Daily Science Fiction.com, July 12, 2013) – I enjoyed this flash fiction piece about futuristic robotic cage fighting. This was my first Cat Rambo story, and since reading it, I’ve read dozens more by her.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and feminist, often with literary touches.  She also teaches awesome online short story classes, and writes an interesting blog and twitter feed.

One, by Sinead O’Hart (Daily Science Fiction.com, October 21, 2013) – In just 1,000 words this flashfic piece tells an entire sci-fi story with a twist.  This is the kind of story I aspire to write one day.

The Wrong Foot, by Stephanie Burgis (Daily Science Fiction.com, November 1, 2013) – A charmingly cheeky spin on Cinderella.

Stitched Wings, by Beth Cato (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, December 26, 2013) – A lovely heart-wrenching story about a child who catches fairies.

Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable, by Cat Rambo (Clarkeworld Magazine, February 2014)- What if you could clone your beloved dead pet or even your dead spouse?

Cattail Heart, by Kate Heartfield  (Daily Science Fiction. com, August 29, 2014) – A thoughtful story that starts off with a Native American woman being forced into a colonial boarding school and ends with a science fiction twist.

Whose Face This Is I Do Not Know, by Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld Magazine, May 2011) – Another good Cat Rambo story about a unique young woman whose looks can change.

Favorite Online Magazines and Podcasts

Daily Science Fiction.com– This is my favorite short story site.  The stories are mostly flash fiction—so they’re quite short, which I like—but they also tend to be interesting and entertaining as well. There’s a nice range from the very light to the more thoughtful, and a good mix of science fiction and fantasy. The site will deliver a daily story (Monday-Friday) to your email box. You can also read the stories on the website—though each story is posted to the site a week after its email delivery.

Clarkesworld– This is a literary magazine for science fiction and fantasy stories, that also has a podcast—available on the site and on iTunes. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Kindle or Nook, or can purchase a paper copy, too.  I find I either really like the stories in this magazine or totally don’t get them, with little in-between.  There are enough I like that I keep coming back to read though.

Lightspeed Magazine– This magazine has a wide range of science fiction/fantasy stories and I usually end up liking most of what I read here.  They recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce a special issue called, “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, full of stories by and about women.  The campaign was so successful they were able to make fantasy and horror issues as well. Lightspeed also has a podcast with one new story  a week on the site and on iTunes. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Kindle or Nook or can purchase a paper copy, too.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies– I’ve only read a few stories in this fantasy magazine but liked what I read.  They also have a podcast on the site and on iTunes, and you can also subscribe to an ebook form of the magazine or get it on Kindle.  I didn’t see a Nook subscription, though you can buy individual copies of the magazine for Nook.

Escape Pod,  Podcastle, and Pseudopod– 3 podcasts available on iTunes with weekly short stories.  Escape Pod is for science fiction stories, Podcastle has fantasy stories, and Pseudopod is the horror story podcast.

Favorite Middle Read Reads of 2013 – 2014

Over the two years when I was too sick to blog I read 15 middle grade books. I tend to like escapist action-packed stories best, though, I did read one excellent novel in verse. Here are my favorites:

Middle Grade Novels & Memoirs

Image- Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (August 2014)- Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse is about her first 10 years growing up as an African-American girl in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn during the 60’s and 70’s. Technically it’s written for elementary school aged kids but it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed equally by adults. Lovely, interesting, quick read.

 

Image- BeswitchedBeswitched, by Kate Saunders (December 2011) An old-fashioned boarding school tale about a spoiled twelve-year-old girl, Flora, who is sent off to a posh boarding school in present day England, while her family takes care of her recently injured grandmother.  Something weird happens on the train, though, and Flora finds herself at a boarding school in 1935 instead!  I love boarding school books and the period details in Beswitched added to the fun.  The “twist” at the end is pretty obvious, but still satisfying.

 

Image- Capture the FlagCapture the Flag, by Kate Messer (July 2012) – This action-adventure story reads like an Disney movie with more diverse casting.  Three kids search for a missing famous American flag while stranded at the airport.  Messer taught for years before writing and it’s pretty clear she knows how to capture the attention of third-seventh graders.

 

Image- Deadweather and SunriseDeadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg 1, by  Geoff Rodkey (May 2012)-  Egg, the youngest son of a fruit farmer, eeks out a dreary life on Deadweather Island, bullied by his older brother and sister while he tries to educate himself with the terrified tutors his father hires.  The day his father takes him for a visit to Sunrise Island is the day his life changes.  This fun action-adventure story— with an especially enjoyable narrator—would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Image- The Great Greene Heist

 

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson (May 2014) – An Ocean’s Eleven caper for the middle school set.  Like Capture the Flag, the story hosts a fun, diverse cast and lots of twists and turns.

 

Image- League of SevenLeague of Seven, by Alan Gratz (August 2014) – This steampunk fantasy is set in an alternate- America where Native Americans and Yankees run the country together and electricity is illegal.  Archie—the son of two members of the secret Septemberist Society—must save his kidnapped parents from the Mangleborn monsters who are supposed to be trapped in underground prisons. A Native American girl and a boy apprentice to Edison join forces with Archie in this action-packed story, full of cool gadgets and inventions.

 

Favorite Grown Up Fiction, Memoir, and Non-Fiction Books Read in 2013-2014

While I was too sick to blog I read light, escapist adult novels—lots of chick-lit and action-adventure. Here are my favorite realistic and historical fiction reads over the past two years.

Realistic Fiction/ Historical Fiction for Grown Ups

16071745  Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham (April 2013) – It turns out Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) isn’t just an entertaining actor, she can write too.   Frankie Banks is on the last six months of the three years she gave herself to break into the acting business in New York and is beginning to wonder if she should just pack up and go home to her sweet boyfriend.  I enjoyed this fun, light chick-lit type story.  I could relate to Frankie’s doubts and insecurities about making it in a competitive artistic business and especially liked the behind-the-scene look into acting class, auditions, agents, and commercials.

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Longbourn, by Jo Baker (October 2013) – I enjoyed this spin-off book of Pride and Prejudice that imagines what the lives of the Bennett household servants were like while Lizzy was getting to know Mr. Darcy.  It’s kind of like a novel-version of Downton Abbey but set in the  early 1800’s.  It also has a good audiobook version.

 

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Landline, by Rainbow Rowell (July 2014)- Technically Rainbow Rowell’s third novel has a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy device where a landline phone connects the main character to her husband—but in the past when he was still her boyfriend. The  core of the story, though, is a realistic tale of a young woman trying to figure out what went wrong in her marriage while she and her writing partner finish up scripts for a TV series they’re trying to sell to a network.  I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at writing for a TV series.

 

Memoirs

image- Yes, PleaseYes, Please! by Amy Poehler –  I love Parks and Recreation so it’s not a surprise that I enjoyed Amy Poehler’s memoir/self-help book. The book is a mixture of stories about her childhood, stories about improv, life advice, fun lists, and comedy riffs. She’s open and funny but manages to keep her private life private—for instance the only real details she’ll say about her divorce to Will Arnett is that it’s “too personal and too sad” to talk about.

At the same time she’s pretty blunt—in an amusing way—about how hard divorce can be.  I loved her summary of books she could now write about divorce, with such titles as, “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” (a book about divorcing while raising small children together) and “Get Over It! (But Not Too Fast!)”.

I think her discussion at the beginning of the book about how hard writing is, was my favorite part though.  To quote Amy, “The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit.  It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”  Hee!  So true.

Image- Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson ( 2014)- Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse is about her first 10 years growing up as an African-American girl in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn during the 60’s and 70’s. Technically it’s written for elementary school aged kids but it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed equally by adults. Lovely, interesting, quick read.

 

Non-Fiction

Image- 7 Secrets of the ProlificThe 7 Secrets of the Prolific, by Hillary Rettig – I read this book for a class taught by the teacher.  It’s a good resource for dealing with writer’s block or just a general lack of confidence about your writing.  Rettig’s emphasis is on perfectionism and how it hurts writing output.  She explains exactly what perfectionism is and how to combat it.  I found her methods and thoughts quite helpful when I was trying to get back into writing after being sick for months with my thyroid issues.

Favorite Grown Up Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books Read in 2013 – 2014 (Catch Up Post 2)

While I was too sick to blog I read light, escapist adult novels—lots of chick-lit and action-adventure. Here are my favorite grown up sci-fi/fantasy reads over the past two years.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction for Grown Ups

Image- Ready Player OneReady Player One, by Ernest Cline (August 2011) – is a computer-aged version of Charlie searching for the golden ticket to the chocolate factory.  Like Charlie, Wade Watts lives in a grim world where most people are poor.  The only good thing about his life is The Oasis —a free virtual world with decent online schools, games, ways to earn a living, and more.  Wade attends school and spends all of his free time searching the Oasis for the three keys its creator, James Halliday, hid before he died.  Whoever finds the keys first becomes the new owner of the Oasis. A competing corporation has sent out hundreds of its own employees to find the keys so they can turn the Oasis into a money maker. Hundreds of independent “gunters”, like Wade, are trying to find the keys first, to preserve the one good thing about their world. Halliday came of age in the 1980’s and so the hunt is full of 80’s games, movies, and TV references— an era Wade has become an expert in.  It’s a tightly structured, engaging adventure, chock-full of fun 80’s details.  The enjoyable audiobook version is read by Wil Wheaton, which is amusing since Wheaton is one of the cultural references mentioned in the story.

Image- FledglingFledging, by Octavia Butler (January 2007) – I’ve read a number of Octavia Butler’s short stories but Fledging is the first novel of hers I’ve read.  She puts a neat twist on the whole vampire concept in this Jane Doe-type courtroom drama.

 

 

 

Image- Agent of HelAgent of Hel: Dark Currents (October 2012) and  Agent of Hel: Autumn Bones (October 2013) by Jacqueline Carey- I ended up reading the first two novels in this paranormal detective series because they were the picks for Felicia Day’s Goodreads book club (see more information below).  The series reminded me a lot of urban fantasy version of Janet Evanovich’s chick-lit-esque Stephanie Plum series, except instead of having a young woman investigating crimes in Trenton, New Jersey, Daisy Johanssen investigates crimes in Pemkowet, Michigan—a town with a open-secret connection to the supernatural and underworld. They’re fun, light novels—with a touch of emotional darkness—and a good dash of sex and romance.

Image- Wicked as They ComeWicked As They Come, by Delilah Dawson (March 2012) is another fun read from the Vangial Fantasy Book Club list.  Tish Everett— a home healthcare nurse getting over a difficult breakup—is strangely attracted to a necklace she finds at an estate sale.  When she wears the necklace to bed she’s transported into the world of Sang.  In Sang vampire-type people called Bluds are a marginalized minority and most of the worlds animals are bloodsuckers.  Tish meets handsome blud carnival owner,Criminy Stain, who insists the necklace she’s wearing was like an otherworld classified ad for his truelove, and the fact that she’s attracted to the necklace means she’s meant to be with him.  This is a enjoyable escapist fantasy romance set in a fun over-the-top world.

You Tube Book Clubs

Image- Vaginal FantasyVaginal Fantasy Book Club (on Goodreads and YouTube) – For a long while I’d been looking for a source for romance novels that were more feminist, preferably with sci-fi/ fantasy or historical elements.  I finally found the perfect source in Vaginal Fantasy Book Club.  The book club is run by actor/producer Felicia Day ( Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along BlogThe Guild, Supernatural). Every month she and her three friends pick two novels to read—one main pick and one alternative read.  

On the last Tuesday of the month the group gets together on Goggle Hang Outs/ You Tube to discuss the main book. The video discussions are available on You Tube, go on for about an hour, and are like eavesdropping on an especially fun, cool book club.   One member of the group also makes a short video to discuss the alternative book. There is also a forum on Goodreads and a Twitter feed that the group uses for discussing the book.