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Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt Carter

The Prospero Chronicles #1

Fion Titchenell and Matt Carter co-author the Prospero Chronicles. In book one Ben goes to a funeral of an old friend where he becomes an by Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carterunintentional participant in an alien species’ quest to take over the world.

We follow the story from both Ben and Mina’s perspective in 1st person. Each chapter clearly delineates the perspective, so there is not confusion.

The story is often told with tongue-in-cheek humor. In many ways this horror story is wrapped in humor, the young fresh carefree humor of youth.

Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carter Collaboration

Spliters is one of a series of three in the collaboration of Fiona J. R. Titchenell and Matt Carter. An interview on Smashwords with Titchenell describes the process they use to work together.

“When Matt and I are working on a project together, we construct the outline together and then mostly alternate the chapters between us, so we’ll be writing a pair of chapters concurrently, then we’ll trade them, make notes to each other, adjust accordingly, and continue on to the next pair… It usually takes us about four drafts to get a manuscript ready for an outside editor. Draft two fixes major continuity errors and adds in any parts we wanted to include but forgot in draft one. Draft three cuts the fat and smooths emotional continuity, and Draft four is usually down to fine-tuning.”

Bravo for their process and the results of their co-creating.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Many first chapters set up the challenge of the protagonist and give a good sense of the setting.  Splinters provides a solid setting, while it oozes with clues. Some clues may mislead the reader until they dive further into the book. The first chapter end leaves readers with a pile of questions to peak their interest…

An abundant use of commas pepper a multitude of run-on sentences. The commas can be distracting. Short sentences periodically break the run-on sentences up and help create much needed white space, but a cleaner punctuation style might work better.

Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt CarterSplinters by Fiona J.R. Titchenell, Matt Carter
Series: The Prospero Chronicles #1
Published by Createspace on June 6th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Goodreads

Under normal circumstances, Ben and Mina would never have had reason to speak to each other. He’s an easy-going people person with a healthy skepticism about the paranormal; she’s a dangerously obsessive monster-hunter with a crippling fear of betrayal. But the small Northern California town of Prospero, with its rich history of cryptid sightings, miracles, and mysterious disappearances, has no normal circumstances to offer.

When Ben’s missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, stumbles out of Prospero’s surrounding woods and right into her own funeral, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Different as they are, their unlikely friendship may be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.

“A snapping, crackling, popping homage to classic horror.” —Kirkus Reviews.

“Whip-smart dialogue... genuinely terrifying Splinters, the descriptions of which will have fans of monster films utterly enthralled... A promising series opener, this will satisfy those readers who like their scary stories to be as clever as they are chilling." —KQG, the Bulletin of The Center for Children's Books.

“The stakes are high. The action is intense." —Washington Independent Review of Books.

Review League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

#9 in the Termeraire Series

Naomi Novik skillfully writes the tension of opposing forces. Termeraire #9 by Naomi Novik Whether dragon cooperating with humans or allegiances between world nations, she hits her target. League of Dragons explores the internal political struggles between rulers and military forces as allies fight for rule of the world.  When Napoleon promises dragons worldwide new rights previously deprived of them, the balance of power may be at en end. The allegiance of dragons with humans is key to political tranquility.

Novik creates an alternate history of Europe where dragons are common and Napoleon’s forces attempt to take over the world. As #9 in the series, this story begins with Laurence and his dragon companion, Termeraire, trying to locate Napoleon. Although they have successfully rid him of Russia they believe he’ll soon return.

Novik incorporates wonderful historical details that add authenticity to her world view. Her depiction of Russia’s climate captures the frigid chills of their northern land.

This novel rounds off the Termeraire series at nine. I have not read the previous, however I believe all novels should stand on their own, regardless of their part in a series.

Although character’s were well defined in this novel, they didn’t go through much transformation. Their reactions appeared immediate rather then transformative This may be attributed to it being the end of a long series in which Termeraire played a central role. My expectation, however, follows the assumption that going through an adventure with a character implies that I will learn while the character learns. This story did not provide that feeling.

Since the character’s arch was not emphasized, our understanding of war strategies becomes enhanced. Novik takes this to the ultimate conclusion with her ending in this novel.

Naomi Novik’s Gamer Perspective Comes through in her Termeraire Series

The focus on military strategies and alliances is only one aspect of how Novik integrates her gaming background into her storytelling. She professes a love for computer technologies and helped build the Archive of Our Own for fan-fiction.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Novik appears to have fun playing with language. Similes are sprinkled throughout the story and she uses lots of alliteration (words that begin with the same sound) throughout the first chapter. It quickens the pace of sentences and creates a fun read. One line in the first paragraph uses alliteration in three places to punch it up. “Laurence saw its small hard shining eyes peering patiently out from beneath the brambles.” What a fun line to read.

Novik likes color and she ensures we see what we imagine in color. This provides detail, but it also correlates to emotions we associate with those colors. We often associate red with blood and military uniforms, while gold imparts images of wealth and regal illusions.

I’ve learned a great deal from Novik’s first chapter, although her style is not my favorite. Using Nancy Pearl’s Four Doors to Book Reading, I believe League of Dragons’ primary focus is world building or setting, then plot, specifically military conflict. My favorite books develop character at the forefront, however, that is a matter of taste. For those who enjoy setting oriented novels with a penchant for military conflict, the Termeraire series should captivate you.

Power Words Power the Chapter

Naomi Novik’s extensive use of power words rings true in her tale of war, where militaries clash, Napoleon is king and dragons rule the sky. One can read only the power words to obtain a clear picture of events. In the leading paragraph: dead – scavengers – raucous – dragon’s – shadow – sunken – hollow – muzzle red, create a picture that draws us in. The second paragraph includes: dead – proud – red – gold – dragon – hunger – frozen – snow – corps – peasants – epaulets, all reinforce the action. The third paragraph goes on with: descending – corps – Napolean’s army – racing – escape – Napolean – dragon – reinforcements – safely – devouring – war – no end – slaughter. Wow.

Margie Lawson teaches a wonderful course on using power words and rhetorical devices in language. You are sure to learn a lot from her.

Review League of Dragons by Naomi NovikLeague of Dragons (Temeraire, #9) by Naomi Novik
Series: Termeraire #9
Published by Del Rey on June 14th 2016
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy
Pages: 380
Goodreads

The final adventure in the New York Times bestselling Temeraire series that started with the beloved His Majesty’s Dragon which has won fans of Napoleonic-era military history, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures.

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

Book Review of Songs of Willow Frost

by Jamie Ford

Historical fiction is a wonderful vehicle to learn about history. Jamie Ford sets Songs of Willow Frost in Seattle’s Chinatown during the by Jamie FordDepression of the 1930s. In this specialized locality, the story takes us through desperation into hope on a very personal level. It centers around William Eng on his quest to find his ah-ma, who he believes is Willow Frost. The reader walks with William at the orphanage and on the streets of Seattle. We also learn of Willow’s struggles as a beautiful Chinese American in the early 1900s.

Ford proves his skill at weaving-a-yarn in a traditional literary fashion, while providing a history lesson of a part of America we don’t often consider. The historical context of Seattle’s Chinatown infuses every aspect of the story, while Ford compassionately gives readers an understanding of the culture and limitations of the times.

Flashbacks and descriptions of feelings, places and people abound. None of it is dry or devoid of interest however. Ford’s vision becomes real as he mixes memories into action scenes making them ever more poignant.

We believe the story’s truth. We hurt for the characters, and we deplore our collective history. Regardless, we read on–eager to know what happens.

Ford doesn’t let the reader down. He leaves us with tears, understanding and a hope for redemption. Thank you Jamie Ford for telling us Willow’s and William’s stories.

Chapter 1 Analysis

First chapters provide readers a sense of an author’s writing style and a promise of what will come. I started the week thinking I’d study the first chapter of a half-dozen books, but stopped. My study was sidetracked with Songs of Willow Frost in which Jamie Ford captured my empathy and interest with his depiction of an orphanage child in 1934 Seattle.

From the first line, “snapping leather belt and the shrieking of rusty springs”, I questioned the circumstances to come. Although this orphanage wake-up scene compels the reader to continue, Williams’s thoughts peak interest even more.

Long paragraphs of backstory including the brutality of being beaten for peeing in bed and memories of pre-orphanage days push readers out of a scene in order to explore varied facets of William’s life. For example in the boys birthday sojourn to the movies cryptic memories of finding his ah-ma in a bath tub, as well as growing up in the orphanage, interrupt and extend the scene.

Chapters often end with cliff-hangers. The first chapter’s ending leaves us wondering if the actress in the movie really could be his mom. Regardless, William’s quest is defined at that moment, when he becomes driven to find the actress.

Ford’s most popular novel is his first book published in 2009, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2010. He was also a runner-up for the 2009 Langum Prize for historical fiction and it was named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association. If you like Songs of Willow Frost, perhaps another of Ford’s books is in order.

Book Review of Songs of Willow FrostSongs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Published by Ballantine Books on September 10th 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 331
Goodreads

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s novella entertains while addressing racial prejudices. Okorafor, one of today’s science fiction rising stars, integrates what she ‘knows’ by drawing from her Nigerian family experience and trips to Africa. As with many great sci-fi writers she tackles social issues in other world sceneries with aplomb. Racism is forefront in Binti. Our empathy becomes so closely tied to  the protagonist, that we can’t help but question what we would do in Binti’s place.

by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor leads us to believe that we will learn about Binti’s trials as the only one like her at the most elite university of her species. Laced with racial innuendos, issues of perspective and misconceptions about those one judges predominates the first half of the story.

Okorafor then turns that theme upside down. When the transport ship falls to an alien species and everyone except Binti dies, she finds herself the linchpin between species. Her challenge becomes staying alive. At this point, her race is both her blessing and curse. She must confront her fear of loosing her complete identity, not just as a minority within her species, but as a species. The twists that transpire intrigue on both the storytelling level and the emotional level.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Okorafor’s Binti

For those interested in writing: I embarked on a study of opening chapters a few months ago in the hopes of learning from other writers. Every writer has strength which they have honed in their opening chapter. Their commitment to their strengths means a great deal in the success of their writing style, especially in Chapter One. Writing styles vary. Each narrative voice comes through with unique distinction. Undoubtedly, an author’s style will charm some readers while turning others off.  Regardless, a writer’s commitment to their strengths appear paramount.

I found writers who break all the rules that teachers impart to me and have come to believe that when an author’s writing style rings true, than that style should be used, regardless of a pundit’s advise.

As a novella, I wondered whether Binti‘s beginning would be different than longer novels. Okorafor does not use standard chapters, so I studies the first 2,739 words, an approximate chapter.

Written in first person we quickly become immersed into Binti’s world and feel a familiarity with her. No lengthy descriptions orient or bore the reader. Instead setting descriptions sprinkled throughout scenes and internal thoughts continually remind us where the story takes place.

Backstory accounts for over a third of opening scenes. Although many teachers baulk at pulling the reader out of a scene with backstory, in sci-fi world building the technique works well. Okorafor’s success including backstory largely works because of her choice of content. Well chosen details provide insight and intrigue. In many case the backstories also create the feeling that one is eavesdropping on Binti.

Okorafor uses simple language to create pictures. Although she uses some wonderful action verbs, power words don’t ever dominate  the scenes. Instead, repeating words such as “whisper” creates both a link throughout the text, as well as, creating mood. She keeps a nice flow with sentence cadences that read easily. Plenty of double alliterations accelerate the feel of read. (Such as “…promise to pay…”

Okorafor sprinkles similes liberally throughout. This enhances images and provides another window into the other worldliness of Binti’s environs.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi OkoraforBinti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Binti #1
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 96
Goodreads

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Book Review of The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin has established herself as a leading science fiction by N. K. Jemisinwriter of our times. The Shadowed Sun is another of her engrossing sci-fi epics.

The primary plot retells the ‘thwarted prince fighting for his rightful place on the throne”.  Nothing fresh there, but Jemisin doesn’t renege on her promise to captive readers. Her skill melding attributes derived from tribes of the African desert, the Mid-East and  central Asian cultures with her own imaginative twists, creates cultures ripe for conflict. Within that context she explores issues of religious belief, race, gender roles, cross-culture friendships, trust, sexuality and romance.

Hanani, as an apprentice in the dream healer’s religion, works as a foil to the masculine energies of prince, Wanahomen. When Hanani goes to live with the ‘barbarian’ tribes that Wana enlisted to retake his homeland, cultures and beliefs collide and entwine.

The winning battle, although well written, pales against the full story. And for me, the romantic resolution would have been more true to character if left open. Perhaps it’s a case of less-being-more, but those are personal tastes. It’s clear Jemisin is a wonderful epic science fiction novelist.

Jemisin’s Reputation

Jemisin is creating a reputation as a writer ‘upending the racist and sexist status quo’ as written about in the Guardian. Among a list of awards, she received the 2016 Hugo Award for The Fifth Season and the 2017 Hugo Award for The Obelisk Gate, of which she was also a finalist for the Nebula Awards.

Book Review of The Shadowed Sun by N. K. JemisinThe Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood, #2) by N.K. Jemisin
Series: Dreamblood #2
Published by Orbit on June 7th 2012
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 492
Goodreads

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. A mysterious and deadly plague now haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Someone must show them the way.

Book Review of The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

Thank you Jennifer Ackerman for writing The Genius of Birds. Each

by Jennifer Ackerman

day birds come to my balcony to say hello (or whatever they say). Some appear to develop relationships with me over the seasons.  I’ve had birds follow me from room to room by flying to the various windows. Other times birds, particularly jays, caw on our deck until I open the door and talk to them. Although I’m not a proclaimed bird watcher, their antics never seize to amaze me.  I certainly haven’t observed what Ackerman writes about to such a detailed degree.

While The Genius of Birds is an academic read, it wasn’t difficult to understand. She covers matter I’ve seen on documentaries and observed, but goes into greater depth and draws from a much broader range of studies from all over the world.

Jennifer Ackerman

If birds intrigue you, Jennifer Ackerman’s book The Genius of Birds is well worth the time to read.

Book Review of The Genius of Birds by Jennifer AckermanThe Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
Published by Penguin Press on April 12th 2016
Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 352
Goodreads

Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. According to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores their newly discovered brilliance and how it came about.

As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research, Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are shifting our view of what it means to be intelligent. At once personal yet scientific, richly informative and beautifully written, The Genius of Birds celebrates the triumphs of these surprising and fiercely intelligent creatures.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson

Jaleigh Johnson  gives us an adventurous heroine and a by Jaleigh Johnsonprince who befriends her in this steampunk adventure. Lina, an archivist’s apprentice has a penchant for getting into trouble. Small, agile and inquisitive she wanders the archivist’s underground city where she stumbles upon lost treasures, information and a prince-in-hiding.

Johnson provides a wonderful setting amidst a culture of archivists who study artifacts of unknown origin and puts them in museums. I particularly like the prince’s tour of the archivist’s museum. A magical cat who causes a conveniently-timed fire and a sentient ship named Merlin also provide intriguing twists.

The plot, although thinly veiled beneath Lina’s antics, revolves around a prince deprived of his rightful place in the palace. Simon, a a fellow apprentice, provides Lina clues to the prince’s predicament. Simon’s grudge against her gives him plenty of motive, while his role as lead apprentice gives him the opportunity to spy–or worse. Who is behind the attempted assassinations of the prince remains a mystery until the end.

Jaleigh Johnson writes for Young Teens

Straight-forward language, appropriate for young teens walks readers through each step of action. Johnson covers some details in action sequences too much for my taste. The descriptions can drag scenes, but for those who need or like them they are there.

Point-of-view (POV) plays back and forth between Lina and the prince’s perspectives, sometimes with no chapter delineation. Johnson foregoes the customary chapter change for POV when action within a scene dictates. Sometimes the very next paragraph is from a different point of view. The first time stopped me reader, but I didn’t lose track of the characters and was good-to-go onward.

The power of love appears a prime motivator for Johnson’s characters, including Merlin, the  sentient ship, who remained parted from those of his kind for centuries within the archivists’ mountain.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh JohnsonThe Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson
Series: World of Solace
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreads

From Jaleigh Johnson, the acclaimed author of The Mark of the Dragonfly, comes another thrilling adventure in the magical world of Solace.    Lina Winterbock lives in the mountain strongholds of Solace. She’s an apprentice to the archivists, the wise men and women whose lives are dedicated to cataloging, studying, and preserving the objects that mysteriously fall from the sky in the scrap towns.    Lina should be spending her days with books, but the Iron War has changed everything. The strongholds are now a refuge, and the people Lina once counted on no longer have time for her, so she spends her days exploring the hidden tunnels and passages of her home. The strongholds are vast and old, with twisting paths, forgotten rooms, and collapsed chambers, some of them containing objects that have been lost and forgotten even by the archivists.    And in one of the forgotten chambers, Lina discovers a secret.    Hidden deep in a cavern is a half-buried airship like nothing she has ever seen before. She’s determined to dig it out and restore it. But Lina needs help, and she doesn’t know anyone she can trust with her secret.    Then she meets Ozben, a mysterious boy who has a secret of his own—a secret that’s so dangerous it could change the course of the Iron War and the world of Solace forever.