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Book tour and giveaway: THE BLACK TRILLIUM November 16, 2018

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The Black Trillium
by Simon McNeil
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
 
Confederation rules in Trana—so says the king.
But Fredericton is a long way from the shores of Lake Ontario, and
schemes for power will bring together three extraordinary young
warriors.
Savannah
A desert girl who came to Trana looking for refuge but has never found
a home
Kieran
A privileged city boy dreaming of rebellion and hardened by cruelty
Kyle
The disgraced heir to the throne desperate to win back his place in his
father’s heart
Sworn enemies or reluctant allies, they all have one thing in common: an
incomplete half of the legendary fighting skill known as the
Triumvirate sword art. They fight for glory, for power, for the
monsters lurking beneath the streets, and for the mysterious society
moving in the shadows of Trana—the Black Trillium.
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Read on for my review, a guest post, and giveaway!

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PSA October 19, 2018

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

A new beginning, a few weeks late February 19, 2016

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I’ve just made a small change to the design of this blog that may mean bigger things for it: the tagline, which now mentions my art, writing, and interests.

I started this blog with the intention of focusing only or at least primarily on the things I produce. But, inspired a bit by a number of book review blogs I checked out recently, I’ve decided that I will start talking here about the things I enjoy, even if they aren’t directly related to my art. Maybe nobody will care about it, but trying to write posts just for other people has resulted in skeletal updates here for the past… years.

Besides, if you’re here visiting my personal blog, you must be looking for more information about me, right?

In the spirit of book blogs, I’m going to start by sharing my reading progress so far this year. I kind of devoured books in January, surprising even myself with how many I finished – I read more published books in the first six weeks of this year than in all of 2014.

I’ve also started reviewing books again. When I started this blog, I posted reviews of the books I’d read, though when I discovered Goodreads, I moved all my reviews there. In the past couple years, my reviews were feeling too formalized and time-consuming and I pretty much stopped making written reviews and simply left star ratings. But even if just for my own reference, it’s nice to go into greater detail about what I liked and what I didn’t, and I’m taking the reviews a little less seriously this time.

So, here is my reading progress in 2016, with links to my reviews of each: (more…)

On my journey to the Dark Side* January 13, 2016

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* Or the Light Side. They’re both fine choices.

I often find that when someone is a fan of scifi/fantasy books, there was someone in their life who led them to it. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, or a friend. Someone wanted to share the stories that they loved and opened up a new world to a budding fan.

I didn’t have anyone like that. No one in my family was really into speculative literature, my friends didn’t quite hold my same interests in fiction, and I was far too shy to attempt speaking to a school librarian about it.

I wanted to read fantasy books. But back in the days (you kids get off my lawn) before Goodreads, book blogs, or even social media, and in a genre rife with huge, epic stories that are often poorly marked as such, I had no idea where to start. My nearest library was a half-hour hike over lots of steep hills, and the small fantasy selection just didn’t seem to have any titles that caught my eye.

I read a lot of original stories posted online by authors back in those days, but when it came to actual published books, my list was quite short. I did read some great books back then, like one by an author recommended by a friend I chatted with over IM (Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint), a random purchase from a bookstore with a cover and premise that intrigued me (Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee), and a gift from my future husband the first time we met (Green Rider by Kristen Britain).

I credit a lot of my truly discovering fantasy books with a mailing list I joined nine years ago that provided me with free e-copies of selections from many currently popular authors. I still feel like I’m not necessarily well-read, but I have certainly read enough that I could introduce someone else to the genre.

That seems to be how I have come into a number of my interests – by discovering it for myself, and even resisting when trying to be shown it (maybe that’s why I had troubles in school). I had friends who listened to Jpop but it wasn’t until I heard Japanese arrangements of a soundtrack I loved that I began to accept listening to music in foreign languages (which I have loved for many years now). I had friends who read a lot of comic books, but I never even really read any until last year, when I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and discovered favourite series on my own – and now we have a pull list at our local comic store.

And now, it’s happened with Star Wars.

I’m not the Star Wars fan in my family. Let me rephrase – I’m not the Star Wars fan in the family. I enjoyed the movies, of course – well, the original trilogy – but I’m not the one with giant tubs full of Star Wars novels, action figures, and art prints. I tried to read a particularly well-loved Star Wars novel once years ago, but I couldn’t get into it. (I couldn’t get into tie-in fiction for a long time, whether fanfiction or officially licensed novels.)

Last year, however, fostered a decidedly increased interest in the Star Wars universe. It started with X-Wing Miniatures – because hey, I’m always up for a good table top game. Then, I started watching Star Wars Rebels, because it’s now canon (whereas those tubs of novels in the basement no longer are).

It escalated from there. Curiosity drew me to Kanan: The Last Padawan, a comic book series about one of the characters from Rebels, which I immediately loved. I saw the trailers for The Force Awakens and grew truly excited about it.

And when it released… well, it wouldn’t have become the top-grossing film of all time if it had been another Phantom Menace.

This week, I have taken the step I never could before – the novels. And not only have I read two Star Wars novels this week, but I didn’t even like one of them very much (but I still got through it).

Now, I’m hooked. I want to read different eras, different characters, I want to know more of the lore and the history and politics that don’t get revealed in the movies, and I’m fascinated by the rich tapestry of comics, shows, movies, and books that are making up the new Expanded Universe. And it’s even kindling a new interest in Star Wars Legends, the old canon.

Maybe I resisted for a surprisingly long time, but now, I have truly discovered the Expanded Universe. It’s always fun discovering new things.

2015 art update September 3, 2015

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In short, I still haven’t done much of it. However, in my typical way, I have done a bit of dabbling, and at times perhaps I have been doing more drawing than much of the time over the past few years, even if it is just sketches. The beginning of the year, in particular, saw me picking up the sketchbook a little more frequently:

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 I have also done some character designs on my tablet:

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More recently, after having the materials for upwards of a couple years, I finally tried my hand at some proper wire wrapping:

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And finally, earlier this year I upgraded to a proper DSLR camera, with which I am very pleased:

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Daring to Speak Out June 6, 2011

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I didn’t used to read a lot.  Far from it to say I didn’t enjoy reading or was interested in it, it’s just that scifi and fantasy are chock full of huge, epic series, often not well marked, and knowing where to start can be a daunting task for someone just trying to get into those genres.  Add in a decidedly limited budget, few friends who shared such interest who could offer suggestions, and libraries with very poor selections of fantasy/scifi, and it took a long time for me to delve into mainstream genre novels.  For a while, I mostly read amateur fiction online, some of which I still count as some of the best works I’ve ever read, or classic literature that one can download for free.

Finally, due in large part to a promotion by fantasy/scifi publisher Tor which allowed me to download many free ebooks, I began to get into the genre.  I still wouldn’t consider myself well-read – I’ve read an average of about 21 books per year since I first got into said promotion – but now I recognize many or most of the names on bookstore shelves, and I feel like my reading experience is more or less representative of the genre, rather than a few random selections encountered by chance.

After reading this many books, I have become a somewhat more discerning reader.  I still struggle with abandoning a book which I have already invested time in, but I will give up on a book I am thoroughly not enjoying.  I have read enough very good fantasy/scifi that I am a little pickier about things I didn’t enjoy in a book than I used to be.

I first started posting reviews of books I read online just to share and spread the word about books I enjoyed, though I continued with my reviews because it seemed a convenient way to keep track of what books I’d read for my own benefit.  This has resulted, of course, in some less than favourable reviews.  I don’t really like to post unkind reviews, and I try not to fault the author and be specific about what it was I didn’t like – as, being an author myself, I know how an unsavoury review can hurt – but I am simply being honest in what I thought about the book.

This is an even more bitter pill to swallow with independent authors.  I am honest to a fault; I cannot say I enjoyed something if I didn’t.  And I don’t want to skip reviewing a book just because I don’t want to give it a bad review.  Yet, because I support independent authors – and, again, am one myself – a part of me feels uncomfortable with publicly posting an unfavourable review for an independent novel.

Another dilemma comes from the fact that my tastes seem to differ from many others.  I’ve looked up a number of books I’ve read on Amazon.com to find nothing but glowing reviews when I personally didn’t enjoy the book very much. (This isn’t exclusive to books, and it’s not a recent phenomenon; I’ve had to develop a thicker skin for the things I enjoy, and don’t, or otherwise not mention it at all.)

Part of me thinks that if I’m going to post these reviews publicly to my journal, that I should share them elsewhere, such as on Amazon.com.  Perhaps other people feel the same way that I do, different from the norm, and the added exposure might help garner more interest in my own works.  And besides, I never claimed to be an expert.  I have always stated that this is just my opinion of the books I read, and I fully allow others to disagree with me.

Another part of me, however, is worried about what negative comments might come of me posting, honestly, a number of unfavourable reviews, even to books that have received nothing but five-star ratings otherwise.  Will I come off as mean, elitist, or know-it-all?  Or, worse, will this open me up to harsh reviews of my own work, those reading my honest reviews feeling that I can withstand or even deserve such critical words on my writing?  I want honest opinions of my own work, true, but I have in the past received some nasty retribution for leaving critical comments on others’ work, even though I always try to put a positive spin on it, knowing what I appreciate in critique.

I hesitated to post my latest book review publicly on my personal journal, simply because it was less favourable, and particularly to an independent author.  Is this just the price of making my opinions known and must I accept possible repercussions or hurt feelings as a result of sharing them?  Or should I just quietly keep my thoughts to myself and only publicly laud those books I thoroughly enjoyed?

I am not an outgoing person, I don’t like to make people uncomfortable, and I really don’t have a thick skin.  Sharing unfavourable reviews may involve a bit of a personality shift.

It’s not an easy decision to make.

June books: Pirates, assassins, and aliens June 9, 2010

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Dragonfrigate Wizard Halcyon Blithe, James Ward – The second in a series, this book continues the adventures of the title character, a mage and naval officer in an island military aboard a dragonfrigate – a ship built on top of and powered by a sea dragon.

This book was a $2 clearance pick, and honestly, I wouldn’t spend much more than that on it.  The character development, where present at all, was weak, and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable.  There was some interest in the unique setting, but it was hampered by lackluster writing and a meandering plot that only barely kept my interest.  Also, I understand that the book is about the star and title character, but I still found Halcyon rather inflated as a hero.  It’s been a few months since I read this book and it has already made its way to a used bookstore.

Dzur, Steven Brust – Vlad Taltos, one-time assassin now returned to his homeland for the first time in years, hardly gets a chance to sit down before trouble comes knocking in the form of a call for help from one person he didn’t expect – his ex-wife.

I’m probably not the right person to be reviewing this book.  It was another clearance rack find which sounded interesting, but it’s the tenth book in a series, and it shows.  The setting seemed intriguing, though I didn’t understand what most of it was.  The narrator even teases in the beginning that he should catch the reader up on all of his history, but he never does.

Despite not understanding a lot of the background of this book, I found it an enjoyable read.  I liked the writing style and the narrator was an interesting character.  The story was slow to build and didn’t really go very far, but there was potential.  This might be a series worth looking up, but don’t start with this book.

The Host, Stephenie Meyer – In a post-apocalyptic future in which the world is populated by peace-loving parasitic aliens inside human hosts, one alien finds her host stronger than most others – and has an agenda of her own.

The setting of this book immediately drew me in, especially as one told by the alien invader.  But, the scifi/post-apocalyptic element is mostly setup; this is, in fact, a love story.  The story slowed down quite a bit when it took that turn, though the character development was still interesting enough to keep me reading.  I think this story could have been a lot more than it was, but that’s merely my preference of reading material, and I don’t begrudge this book for what it was.  It was fun, in that tweenage Twilight manner that provides a brief escape from reality.

February books February 27, 2010

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Dogland, Will Shetterly – Once again, despite this book being published by Tor, there is nothing fantasy or scifi about it.  It’s the story of  a northern U.S. family moving to rural Florida in the 1960s to open a tourist attraction, and the trials of religion and racism that come with their anti-segregation attitudes.

This was more of a story than a novel; cohesive enough to build up to a singular climax and finale, yet for the most part, just a series of primarily unconnected events comprising the narrator’s life at this time of his youth.  The narration by a 5-6-year-old child was a little unusual, and in ways didn’t necessarily seem the best way to tell the story.  Some events he seemed to witness or experience simply so it could be a part of the book, not because it made sense for him to be there in the context of the story.  Also, a lot of very dramatic events were given as straight visual experiences, without any emotional attachment on the part of the narrator.

There are other things I could nitpick about, but it would negate my assertion that I read a book looking first and foremost for a good story.  As it goes, this wasn’t a bad one.  It was entertaining enough to keep me reading through to the end, even though I wasn’t crazy about any of the characters.  It’s not one I would likely read again, though it’s not one I regret reading.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins – My brother-in-law was reading this when we were visiting family, and after reading about 80 pages of it at the time, I liked it enough to check it out from my local library.  It’s a young adult novel about a post-apocalyptic world in which a young woman from a poor area must go to the capitol at the whim of the dictatorial government to compete in a battle royale against representatives of every other district of the former North America.

Generally, I’m not a fan of the “supreme overlords have such power that they can send innocent people to their death without fear of reprisal” situation, but in this book, it was handled so believably that I never even questioned it.  It’s a short book, which meant it was fast-paced, but the character development was fantastic in that short span.  The narrator is a tough young woman who quietly despises the tyrannical government but nevertheless is willing to fight for her life, someone who suspects everyone yet lets people into her heart, sometimes against her own desires.  Her reactions are incredibly telling and her abilities are excellently portrayed in the book; clearly less powerful than some of the other contenders, yet she’s cunning enough to survive.

This book was, put simply, riveting.  I couldn’t stop reading and blew through most of it in about five hours, and I am – if you’ll excuse the pun – hungry for the next book in the series.

Photos, cont. February 7, 2010

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Also, my latest literary accomplishment.

War for the Oaks, Emma Bull – Eddi McCandry is a struggling musician in Minneapolis who gets approached by two fey creatures, who have chosen her to appear on the battlefield between the two factions of Faerie, thus imparting her mortality to those present.  Despite her objections and the danger into which she is immediately thrust, they persist, a mischievous phouka accompanying her as both bodyguard and escort as war brews.

It’s a story that’s been done, but it’s important to note that in this case, it has been done since, rather than before.  Further, this is a story that’s done very well, with good depth and concepts that are clearly steeped in actual mythology.  The characters are refreshingly real and believable, the story is gripping, and the narration has a grungy flavour that’s really catching, especially in the opening of the novel.  It’s difficult to gracefully pull off an ordinary character suddenly discovering/approached by magic that has been always present and hidden in the real world, and while this book didn’t do it perfectly, it was still very acceptable.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it.

More books February 2, 2010

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Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder – Another Tor.com promotional ebook, this tells a story of politics, intrigue, and treasure hunting on a sealed-in gaseous planet with almost no gravity, where man-made suns equal freedom and power.

While this book boasted a refreshingly unique backdrop, the setting was really all this story had going for it.  The rest of it wasn’t bad, but none of the characters was really gripping and the character-related surprises/plot points – e.g. revelations, deaths – seemed for the most part haphazardly thrown in.  I found the tension wanting and the story only just enough to carry it along.  None of it was weak enough to lose me, as I did read it through, but looking for at very least a compelling story, it didn’t shine.

That said, the original setting was well depicted; the way gravity is a precious commodity reserved for rotating ships or stations and its effect on the various parts of what make up the planet were explored satisfactorily, and the use of all three dimensions in action scenes well thought out.  It’s not enough to sell the novel on its own, but it was an interesting read.

The Mirror Prince, Violette Malan – I found this on the clearance rack at my local big-box bookstore and I cannot walk away from a $2 book.  This tells the story of a college professor in Toronto whose life is turned upside down when he learns he is an exiled prince from the land of the Sidhe – faeries – and who is being hunted for the talismans he protected in his past life.

Had I read this as an ebook with no inside cover blurb, I might have looked at this book differently.  As it were, the blurb didn’t really sell the book properly, as what it described was not what it was really about, which was the impending war between two factions of the Sidhe – a term which wasn’t even mentioned in at least the last 2/3 of the book.  It starts off as regular-joe-goes-into-a-fantasy-world, but quickly transitions into standard fantasy, and for reasons I can’t quite define, I couldn’t really get into the fantasy part of this book.  It was as though someone who doesn’t normally write fantasy was giving it a shot.  The setting didn’t really draw me in and I wasn’t overly interested in the characters.  Also, while its presence in the setting seemed natural enough, the use of Capitalized Words for titles/terms/emphasis was a bit overdone.  It didn’t have quite enough of a fairy tale quality to it to count as that, but it wasn’t fleshed out enough to make good standard fantasy.  Again, it wasn’t a bad book, and I certainly don’t begrudge the price tag.  But, it’s not an immediate recommend.