Sunday, January 10, 2016

It's a Keeper: London Steampunk series by Bec McMaster

London Steampunk series by Bec McMaster

Even though I have always enjoyed a good love story, I used to avoid romance novels like the plague because I (like much of the non-romance-reading public) was under the misconception that they were little more than porn for middle-aged women. I imagined they were all about helpless ladies in fluttering nightgowns, swooning in the arms of some Fabio-like rogue. Then someone encouraged me to actually read one, and I will now shamelessly admit that I love romance novels, the sexier the better. It's bordering on addiction, really. 

Bec McMaster's London Steampunk series had it all for me: it was sexy, action-packed, and had a take on the paranormal which I had not seen before (granted, I wouldn't consider myself widely-read in that genre). No helpless ladies here--these heroines kicked ass.

The Echelon--the men of England's aristocracy--have all willingly infected themselves with a 'craving virus', which gives them longer lives and enhanced physical capabilities, yet means they now require human blood to survive. Instead of marriage, most upper-class women come out with the hopes of becoming a 'thrall', entering a contract with one of these elite men to provide blood in exchange for protection and wealth. The fact that the ruling class is made up almost entirely of centuries-old, super-human killing machines is of course cause for concern to the everyday people of London. Not all members of the Echelon are behaving themselves, and revolution is brewing in the poorer parts of town. This series follows characters from every class, converging into one action-packed finale in Of Silk and Steam.

As is the nature of a romance series, the setting remains the same and you will probably see the same general cast of characters from book to book, yet the main hero and heroine are different every time. This series follows that pattern, yet there is an overarching plot pertaining to the revolution that you have to read the whole series to truly appreciate. These were the first romance books I'd read where I felt the side plots were just as substantial as the romance between the two leads-- take out a few of the sex scenes and you could shelve these in the fantasy section without anyone the wiser.         

The world-building was excellent, and it was definitely steampunk, yet didn't shove the fact in your face. I keep picking up new steampunk stories thinking that it's a genre I really should like, yet to date I've only found two or three that I actually enjoyed. With many of the steampunk stories I've read, I felt that the characters and their relationships sometimes took a backseat to the world-building and technology. I'm sure that's somebody's cup of tea, but it's not mine. Even Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorateone of my all-time favorite series (as in ever, not just steampunk), has some paragraphs that I find myself skimming because it goes into too much detail over how some invention works. I don't need convincing that a steampunk machine is plausible, I really don't care how it works, just tell me what it does and get back to the good stuff. Bec McMaster is great about giving you just enough detail to paint the picture before diving back into the story.  

This was a series I had trouble putting down from the start, therefore it's earned its place on the Keeper Shelf.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's a Keeper: Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

As any good author should, when I'm not working on my own projects I'm probably curled up on the couch with a cup of tea and someone else's book. In high school I was never, ever without a novel in my bag, and nothing has changed in adulthood - my only concerns when buying a new purse are "Can I fit a book in this?" and "Will these straps break if I try to stuff a hardcover in here?" 

I should probably make the jump to eBooks, for the sake of my purses if nothing else, but I'm of the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' school of thought and continue to buy physical copies. I like the fact that you don't have to charge them, I like turning pages, I like how they smell, and I like showing them off in my living room. I also like wandering the bookstore and finding an eye-catching cover which entices me to read something that I never would have thought to look for in an Amazon search. 

As you might imagine, I have amassed quite the collection of books, and there is only so much shelf space to go around. In order to make room for new books I have to cull my collection from time to time, so my system is as follows: after I finish a book, I ask myself if I would read it again. If the answer is no, I'll give it away to a thrift store or sell it at a used book store. If the answer is yes, I keep it forever and ever, whether or not I actually get around to reading it again.    

I always like talking books and getting recommendations from friends whose tastes run in a similar vein, so in between writing updates I'm going to start my It's a Keeper series, which will highlight books or series that have survived my purging of the bookshelf. Since these are all 'keepers' I will of course only be reviewing books that I enjoyed. Reading is a very subjective activity; a book I dislike might be someone else's favorite story. My goal is not to warn anyone away from books, but instead showcase books that I liked and want to share with my readers. So, without further ado:

Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal

This series hits the trifecta for me: Historical setting? Check. Romance? Check. A touch of fantasy? Check. A clerk at my local bookstore recommended them to me after looking at some of my purchases, and if I ever see her again it will be hard not to kiss her with gratitude because I love this series.

The first book was very clearly inspired by Jane Austen - not only is it set in Regency England, but plot-wise it shares a lot with Pride and Prejudice  and Sense and Sensibility. The prose is also very Austen-esque, but still makes for an easy read. The subsequent books follow the same characters, and while the author's voice remains the same they have much more of an action-adventure vibe than the first installment. I tend to like books with a bit of danger and action in them, and while the first book has a brief instance of that it is overall a fairly typical Regency romance, and therefore my least favorite of the series. After I read Shades of Milk and Honey I thought "That was decent, maybe I'll pick up the next one when I go to the store again." When I finished Glamour in Glass, however, I hightailed it to the bookstore ten minutes before they closed because I was going to die if I didn't get the third book right that very moment. This series is definitely one that gets better as it goes. 

The magic part was very well done, it was presented in a believable way with its own limits and drawbacks, which the author keeps consistent throughout the series. In this world, certain people can work glamour, which is the ability to create illusions out of thin air. It's a normal part of their world, and when we are first introduced to it it's presented as an art form mostly practiced by genteel women to list among their 'accomplishments,' with the exception of a few professional glamourists, who are all men. Part of the fun is seeing the main characters struggle with the gender roles associated with this art form, while also exploring their own abilities and pushing the limits of their craft to discover new uses for it. My significant other is a professional artist and I have many artist friends, and I would often be reminded of them while reading these books. Even though the characters practice a type of art that's not real in our world, their passion and struggles with it are very much grounded in reality.

The most important factor in whether or not I like a book is always the characters, and boy do I love these characters. I don't want to name names, as that would spoil the first book, but the relationship between the protagonists is very sweet, and when it gets rocky it does so for believable reasons - no creating an argument out of the blue just because the author needed some conflict in this scene, which I see in romance novels from time to time. Don't get me wrong, I love me a good romance (in fact a romance series is going to be my next review), but sometimes there is a lot of eye-rolling on my part when reading them. Instances of eye-rolling while reading the Glamourist Histories: 0  

The characters are also not afraid to be imperfect. I think the author did a good job of writing characters who are products of their time, yet still palatable to modern readers. Jane, our main protagonist, has some prejudices that might seem silly to a reader in 2015, yet the author makes her likeable by having Jane admit her mistakes and re-examine those prejudices when they are challenged by circumstance or another character.   

I've found a lot of books recently that I liked, but this series is the first in a while that I just could not put down. As in, I should be writing right now, but I won't be able to sleep if I don't find out what happens next. It's definitely a keeper. :)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Still Kicking

Oh my, it's been almost a year since my last post. Rest assured that it is not from lack of interest or things to talk about, I've been plenty busy!

Since this is a writing blog I'll start with the most important bit of information: I've started querying for my first novel! After months of fine-tuning my pitch I've finally taken the plunge and started emailing agents with the intent of getting this sucker published. I'm aware that this can be a long and often disheartening process, but the more I write and the more I read others' books the more I confirm for myself that this is truly what I want to do, so I'm settling in for the long-haul. :)

Other exciting news, in no particular order:

1) I've moved! In June, the boyfriend and I packed up and hauled all our things from Denver, CO to Seattle, WA. We're enjoying our new home so far, though I do miss being near the Rockies.

2) My first book finally has a title, after much hair-pulling and agonizing I've settled on The Baron's Demons (many thanks to my boyfriend for his help with this). I'm still not sure if it's perfect, and if/when it gets published it may likely change, but at least I can call it something now aside from "my novel".

3) Other projects are coming along slowly but steadily. Actual writing had to be put on pause for a while to get things ready for querying (fyi--synopses suck), but now that that's underway I'm anxious to dive back in. Book 2 of Lords of Deringham is undergoing its first round of edits, and my next project, which I'm calling The Sky Revolution, is fully outlined and ready for a first draft. 

I know it's early for New Year's resolutions, but mine will be to update this blog regularly.

Current Project: Lords of Deringham Book 2 - Draft 2 - 20%
Currently Reading: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
Currently Watching: "American Horror Story" - Season 2 (I know, I'm very late to this bandwagon)
Currently Listening To: "Jerome" by Zella Day

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I have the best friends...

The amazing Beki has done it again, she made me this lovely puppet of Julia as a Christmas/Birthday gift and I LOVE it!! :)

She did all the sewing, sculpting, etc. because she is awesome. She's given her own characters the 3D treatment as well, so you should wander on over to her blog and check them out.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

More Art

No writing news today, but here's what I've been working on when I'm not writing.  I made some adjustments to Julia and finished Arthur and Gabriel to go along with her. :)

Current Project: Lords of Deringham Book 2 - 60% complete
Currently Reading: An Infamous Army by Georgette Hyer
Currently Listening To: "The Hanging Tree" - Mockingjay soundtrack

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Some Art & Musings

I've been in a drawing mood quite a bit lately, so I thought I'd share my latest piece: a painting of Julia. I have plans to paint Gabriel and Arthur in the same style. I've found that bustles are difficult draw in 3/4 view, as most of the references I could find were head-on or profile, and fashion plates are great for inspiration but I think they maybe took some liberties in depicting how these dresses were actually constructed....

Work on book 2 is moving ahead slowly but surely. I'm coming to find that writing a first draft is very much like hiking up a mountain.  At first I'm all eager and gung-ho, ready for a new adventure. But the higher I climb the slower my pace becomes- it's getting difficult, I'm worn out and I start to feel like I'll never make it to the top. Then I reach it, and the way back down takes half the time because I have momentum on my side and I'm back at the bottom before I know it. I think I'm finally starting the descent on this draft. :)

Current Project:  Lords of Deringham Book 2 Draft 1- 50% complete
Currently Reading: The Barrow by Mark Smylie
Currently Listening to: "Don't"- Ed Sheeran

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'm Not Dead

I promised myself I would update regularly, and look how much good that did.... Just because the blog's been slow doesn't mean my work has, however! After an extremely stressful move into a new apartment, I've finally settled in and gotten back in the swing of things. Draft 3 of Lords of Deringham went out to beta readers and I have received feedback from most of them, and in the meantime I've been forging ahead on an initial draft for book 2. I wasn't sure in the beginning if it would be a good idea to work on book 2 while the first one was still in progress, but I am glad I did. The events from book 1 will directly affect the sequel, so it helps for continuity, and as I'm exploring my characters a little more I'm getting ideas that I think will improve the first book.

I'm only a few chapters in to the 2nd book, and I've already gotten lost down the research rabbit hole several times.  I try to do as much as I can in advance when it comes to researching, but it is inevitable that I will be in the middle of a paragraph when I suddenly need something that my notes did not cover. In this case I will turn to a book, if I have one, and if not- Google. One such detour I took recently involved the origins of Norman surnames.

When William the Conqueror became King of England in the 11th century, he gave lands and titles to men who fought for him during the invasion.  Many of these men came from families that already had holdings in Normandy, and so their surnames often reflected where they were from. My character Gabriel's original name would have been Gabriel de Arevale (Gabriel of Arevale), with Arevale being the name of the family seat in Normandy.

If a surname did not originate from a location, it would often come from the bearer's father. Many Scandinavian surnames end in "-son", which has the same meaning as the English "son". My character Arthur Donarson is of Scandinavian origin, and his name literally means 'Arthur, son of Donar'. The Norman version of this would be to add the prefix "Fitz" to the father's name, so a name like FitzWilliam means 'son of William.'

I've always been into genealogy and the origins of names, so I thought this was an interesting historical tidbit. :)

Current Project: Lords of Deringham #2- First Draft: 20%
Currently Reading: The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
Currently Watching: "Parks & Recreation"