M Reads High Fantasy pt. 2

Okay, okay, okay . . . More about this book I'm reading:

So that guy who went to kill that king? He did. But only after jumping on walls and ceilings and stuff. Sort of like Spider-Man?

And that was just the prologue! The book finally started some five years later, and there's a war. The general or whatever, he's really popular with his men because they never lose. Except this time, of course, they do. And the general becomes a slave.

Oh, but then there's this Tinkerbell kind of fairy thing that is annoying the general/slave guy. That's where I'm at now. He thinks he's going crazy because the fairy creatures in this world aren't supposed to be intelligent, but this one is talking to him. So that's fun.

I don't know if I'm supposed to like any of these people. So far, I don't really. I'm waiting for personalities to happen. But I'm only 40 or so pages in, and there are 1200+ pages, so . . . Yow. Hope it doesn't take that long for characters to get interesting.

Anyone want to take a guess as to what book I'm reading? 😉

Meanwhile, I'm seeking beta readers for my latest book. It's YA contemporary, an update of Shakespeare's Hamlet with a full-on snarky [female] MC. Let me know if you're interested!


M Reads High Fantasy

My friends insisted I need to read this book. I'm not going to name the book, but points to you if you can figure it out from the following description. I'm, like, not even 20 pages in, I don't think. And I haven't gotten to, you know, the story yet because there is a Prelude and a Prologue. WTF kind of book needs two head starts?

You have to understand, I like fantasy in concept but tend not to read epic or high fantasy novels because they require so much damn work and all feel more or less the same to me. There are a bunch of names and different races or kinds of creatures. Something or someone is evil and a band of oddballs usually have to go on a quest to stop the evil. This is my entire understanding of fantasy, even though I did enjoy Greg Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series and got partway through Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. I think maybe I prefer fantasy rooted in more contemporary things, like Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books.

Okay, so this book. It starts with . . . a guy? He's not human, though, I don't think. Apparently he has to keep fighting a battle over and over again for eternity, and sometimes he wins and sometimes not? Not just him but, like, nine others like him. Between the battles he goes to be tortured in a hell-like place. But then after this one battle, he and some king guy decide they're not going to do this any more. And the guy feels kind of guilty about that, but he really doesn't want to go back to being tortured, so they all just leave.

Oh, and there are swords. But they leave the swords, too.

THEN. Fast forward some 4500 years, and there's an assassin at a feast. He's going to kill a king. He has to wear all white because the people who hired him say it's only fair that the victim see him coming.

That's as far as I've gotten. I'm in the Prologue, waiting for the murder part. BUT. The assassin did pass through some hall or something that had statues of the guys from the Prelude? He called them Heralds, but for some reason one of the Heralds doesn't have a statue. I'm guessing this is a cultural thing since they've already made a big deal about the differences in the cultures here. That's another thing about high fantasy—the world building is incredible (when done well), but it's quite a burden on the reader when the info is being shoveled at you. These people have black skin and dark eyes, these ones are white with light eyes . . . I'm never going to keep all the names straight either. It's really overwhelming.

That said, I'll keep reading. My friends are so into this, I just have to see what it's about. Perhaps I'll update you as I go along.


Books: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This is a cute book. The narrator has a strong and engaging voice and is charming if not always likable.

The story in a nutshell: It is the 1700s. Henry "Monty" Montague—known rake and heir to an earldom—and his best friend Percy Newton are off on their Grand Tour. Monty's younger sister Felicity is along for the ride as they're meant to drop her at finishing school in Marseilles. Of course, everything goes awry when Monty steals a little something from the Duke of Bourbon during a visit to Versailles.

The novel attacks a number of issues, including race relations (Percy is part black), and health (Percy also has epilepsy), and abuse (Monty's father beats him), as well as homosexuality (Monty has a huge crush on Percy). It also glances over gender issues as Felicity protests having to go to finishing school because she'd rather become a surgeon.

Overall, it was a swift read up until the last 20-25% of the book. At that point, I felt the book had begun to suffer from a surfeit of plot. Things just kept happening, and I was beginning to be exhausted, not in a good way. But I plowed through (sometimes tempted to skim) to see how it would end.

Still, the book is largely a fine marriage of character and plot. If you like Lestat, you'll probably like Monty's narration. Many nice descriptions, though they sometimes get rather thick.

The main characters being teenagers, it's listed as YA, but if you're thinking of this for your teen, be sure they're ready for some of the heftier issues.


Movies: Peter Rabbit

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Voices by: James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Rob Lieber & Will Gluck, based on characters created by Beatrix Potter
Columbia/Sony, 2018
PG; 95 minutes
4.0 stars (out of 5)


Yes, yes, I know: This is a travesty of a movie for so many reasons. Beatrix Potter would have hated this version of her characters. There's the fact that someone's food allergy is used against them. I should have boycotted it.


In truth, despite the flaws, I was entertained. More than I expected to be. So in my book that translates to four stars.

This movie is mostly sight gags and pranks punctuated by pop music. As long as you know that going in, you're golden.

Thomas MacGregor (Gleeson) is a manager at Harrods in London. He's just been passed up for a promotion when he learns his great-uncle (that he didn't even know existed) has died, leaving him the owner of a little country house and, yes, an extensive vegetable garden.

Bea [subtle choice there, guys] (Byrne) is a would-be artist living the in cottage next to the MacGregor house. Her paintings are terrible, but her drawings of the local rabbits are really very good.

Bea and Thomas hit it off, but the one thing they don't agree on is the wildlife. Bea loves the bunnies, and Thomas . . . doesn't.

From there things take a fairly predictable path. Think Home Alone but with wildlife instead of robbers, kind of? (I don't really know because I've never actually seen Home Alone, but the physical comedy aspect is similar.)

While I think we're certainly meant to cheer for Peter and the rabbits and laugh at Thomas, I think there's a fair amount of understanding that neither side is entirely right in this fight. Gleeson's ability to pull faces, and his apparent aptitude for physicality, serves well here. [I so want him to play Dixon in 20 August.]

Anyway, it was a fun movie. My kids really enjoyed it, too, though my 12-year-old son cringed at the cutesy, lovey bits. Which is as it should be.

Peter Rabbit is a movie that knows it's nothing but fluff and doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is. Maybe it isn't true to Potter's original character, and yeah the allergy thing is questionable, but overall I enjoyed it. More than I thought I would. That's the key, you know: keep your expectations low and you'll never be disappointed.

SFWC 2018

If you're wondering why I disappeared so abruptly, I just spent the weekend at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and now I am brain dead. Luckily I took notes so I don't have to remember every little piece of information I learned. And lucky for you, I'm sharing those notes over on PepperWords. A little at a time because, as I said, brain dead. But head over there and keep checking for the latest.


Books: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

As much as I adored A Darker Shade of Magic . . . This book didn't do it for me.

This is, of course, subjective. But here are the things I didn't like:

  • So much focus on Lila. I know lots of people love her, but she's a bit Mary Sue for me.
  • Repetitive words and phrases. If Lila has a smile "like a knife" or "sharp smile" one more time . . . Seriously, stop. Find other words and ways to describe things.
  • Kell wasn't the character I fell in love with in the first book. I understand that characters change and grow, but he wasn't very likable in this. He's moving in the wrong direction.
  • The "Magic Olympics" (or whatever they called it, but that's pretty much what it was). I don't like stories about contests, so this did not interest me at all. Long passages describing battles? I skimmed. Actually, I didn't even skim, I just skipped to the end to see who'd won.

As I mentioned, all subjective. I know many people love this book. But it took me forever to finish because I just couldn't get into it.


Books: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Uhm . . . No.

I love me some historical fiction, and I love queens and such, but there are some expectations that come with those elements. For one, historical fiction usually has a sort of elevated writing style. This . . . did not. In fact, this was written like bad young adult fiction. The sentences are simple, the POVs hop around, and we're told instead of shown. In particular, the characters are flat. Bad guys are bad, and no one is well rounded, not even Victoria or Albert or Lord Melbourne, the three sides of the poorly constructed love triangle this book puts forth as the central "conflict," such as it is.

That's another problem with this book. There is no tension and no real conflict. I think we're supposed to feel worried that Conroy and the Duke of Cumberland will succeed in ruling over Victoria or setting her aside in some way, but that plot line comes and goes with nary a ruffle. And then maybe we're supposed to feel tension over Victoria + Melbourne versus Victoria + Albert, but since we all know how that ends, how can we really worry over it?

The "romance" between Victoria and Albert, too, is tiresome. They seemingly can't stand each other, yet we're told over and over again that they've fallen in love. What? It makes no sense, and there is zero chemistry on the page. The whole thing seems far more forcibly arranged by Leopold than a true romance between two people who, history shows, really did love one another.

Are we supposed to like Albert? It's impossible to in this incarnation. He's serious and borderline cruel at points. We're given the sad story of his mother leaving when he was young as though that might soften him, but again, we just don't feel it. This book is so much tell and so little actual feeling.

Overall, this book suffers from a lack of backbone. There is no strong through line, no development arc, and the characters are static rather than dynamic. I was disappointed.