Thursday, September 27, 2012

How to Take a Shower

            The girls next door are at it again.

            As I mentioned a few weeks ago (here), I don’t know them very well. One of them has this annoying habit of leaving toilet paper on the bathroom counter. It’s disgusting and unhygienic and it makes me very glad I know a few things about bathroom etiquette.

            I should also mention I didn't learn these things until my senior year of high school.

            It all started one bright summer day as me and my friend Taylor were driving to see the latest Harry Potter movie. I mentioned to her that my parents, upon passing a burger joint, had remarked that the frying grease smelled remarkable like me.  “Do I . . . smell bad?” I asked. I was prepared for a loud, “Of course not!” or a quiet, “Well, maybe just a little.”
I don't see what's wrong with smelling like this. This is delicious.
            I got a resounding, “Of course you do! Yes! Yes, you stink! I am dreading the thought of having to sit next to you in a movie theater for the next three hours! Haven’t you ever heard of soap?”

            “Soap?” I said. “I use it to . . . wash my hands.”
            “And how often do you wash your body with it?” she said, eyes aglow with righteous flame.

            “I . . .” This was bad. I could see no other way around it. “You’re supposed to wash your body with it? Really?”

            Let me explain. I knew what soap was for. But ever since I’d been six years old and deemed old enough to shower on my own, my mother always told me, “Use shampoo and conditioner. Don’t forget shampoo and conditioner! Did you remember to shampoo and condition your hair?” So I just got into the habit of walking into the shower, pouring shampoo on my head, and topping it off with a little conditioner. I could get in and out of the shower in five minutes. It was great. My mother would sniff the top of my head, nod in approval, and permit me to go watch TV.
            But apparently, when you’re running five miles every day in the July heat, shampoo and conditioner just don’t cut it anymore. So for the next few weeks, Taylor reminded me constantly to use soap and treated me like a complete idiot.

            When the school year began, I innocently asked my friend Sarah what she did to keep her hair so soft. She laughed quietly and said, “Oh, Liz, you’re so sweet. I just use shampoo and conditioner.” Considering her hair was about ten times softer than mine, I had another sinking feeling that I was doing something terribly wrong.

            “How exactly do you use them?” I asked.

            Taylor, who was also there, helpfully added, “She didn’t know how to use soap until I told her about it.”

            Sarah looked confused. “Well, Liz, I just pour a little shampoo in the palm of my hand and work it into a lather—”
            “A lather? What’s that?”
            Well, now Taylor cracked up. “You don’t know what a lather is? Who taught you how to shower?”

            “My mother did!” I shouted. Note—if you ask my mother about this, she swears she taught me about lathering. I don’t argue with her on this, because the odds I forgot what she told me are much better than the odds she never taught me how to wash myself.

            So we had a running joke for a while about me needing shower lessons. Then, when we ended up in a hotel for a cross-country overnight meet, somehow I actually ended up getting shower lessons.

            Now, it’s a bit difficult for a girl as conservative as Sarah to actively demonstrate to another female how to take a proper shower, so she just stood outside the curtain and gave polite instructions.

            “Get your hair wet,” was the first one. I obeyed. Then I stuck my head out of the curtain and asked if I’d done it right. She touched my head and sighed. “Here. Stick it back under the water until all of it is wet.”

            When you can’t even wet your hair properly, you know you need shower lessons. So I held my head under the spout until water was running out of my hair. Once Sarah approved of my scalp wetness, she grabbed one of the little hotel shampoos and began rubbing it into my head.

            “Feel that,” she said.

            I reached up and ran my fingers through my hair. To my surprise, the crown of my head was coated in some kind of soft, puffy mass—bubbles! I had foamy bubbles in my hair! “This is so cool,” I said. She laughed quietly.

            “This is a lather. Rinse it out and try on your own.”

            It took me two tries, but I finally managed to do it. Sarah was very impressed. We quickly moved on to conditioner. Surprisingly, you’re only supposed to put it in the bottom of your hair. Did you know that? And you’re supposed to comb it through with your fingers.

            Now I knew we’d moved into the realms of advance skill, the likes of which mortals tremble to behold. After rinsing the conditioner from my hair, I felt a new exhilaration sweep over me. My hair fell down my shoulders like a curtain of liquid silk.

            Unfortunately, I ended up running a race in the noonday heat the next day, so it got all sweaty and stuff. But all’s well that ends well. Now, if only Taylor would stop telling me how to brush my teeth. I think I know that much.

Yes, some negative reviews are necessary . . .

First of all, let me just say I felt very bad about posting a negative review of A Shattered Memory last weekend. I know first hand how disappointing it can be when someone slams my work. It sucks. The main reason I started this project is because I wanted to provide a service to those whose books are often overlooked; I wanted to find great self-published authors and break the stereotype self-published work is not that good. But if my good reviews are to have any weight at all, I have to be honest.

So the author has posted a commentary of his own up here. I'd like to take this opportunity to expound on why I made the choices I did about his book.

'The first thing she mentions is unoriginal protagonists.  Really?  A person who sorts memories inside of someone’s head and the extreme antagonist who has developed a split personality through years at Shadow Gate and ends up saving the day?  Okay…'

When I talk about unoriginal protagonists, I'm not talking about circumstances. You could write a novel about a character who dwells only on the roofs of museums and devours anyone who tries to break in and steal art. I'm talking about voice and personality. Thinking up unique circumstances is easy. Creating a character who the audience will love or fear or hate is a lot harder. And as I mentioned in my review, the 'person who sorts memories inside of someone's head' is actually the best developed character in the book--which is why I was so upset when his storyline ended up having so little impact.

'Ms. Ellor says that cutting the first chapter wouldn’t have any effect on the story.  She’s right, but you lose the hook.  Books rise and fall by their first chapter. . . It’s confusing, which also makes it intriguing.'

No, no, no. Check out this site here. It's a bunch of comments literary agents have made explaining what turns them off in a first chapter. This first chapter is all about explaining the details of Michael's world. It has a fuzzy point of view and contains none of the main characters. It does not advance the story. Maybe being confusing can be intriguing, but it's also confusing. 

'I think her biggest problem with Carolyn is her virginity.  Carolyn treasures her virginity as I would imagine anybody that has made it to 20 and maintained it would.  This is the only “subliminal” message she mentions in her review. I like books that make me read between the lines (probably why I’m such a big Dean Koontz fan) and this is one of the many aspects of A Shattered Memory that is meant to make the reader read between the lines.   ... Maybe young adults should take a moment and realize that virginity is the only thing they can never get back.'

My biggest problem with Carolyn isn't her virginity, it's the fact that her virginity is her only personality trait. The women I know who are saving themselves for marriage are strong Christian women, who are empowered by their love of their traditions and their faith. I have a great deal of respect for them. But Carolyn's abstinence doesn't feel motivated by her faith. When she's in danger, we don't see her praying. When a man is about to be tortured, she doesn't stand up and say, "God says this is wrong". And she falls in love with a man without even asking if he's a Christian! 

The phrase, 'reading between the lines' implies that one must draw out conclusions never stated from the book. There's a couple conclusions that present themselves: Carolyn is staying true to her Christian ideals (not supported by text), Carolyn has never had a serious boyfriend (none is mentioned), Carolyn just isn't into sex (in which case, why does she ascribe such importance to her virginity?). So the conclusion the reader draws from this isn't that Carolyn is sticking to her principles.

Also, 'virginity is the only thing they can never get back'? What about innocence, honor, old friends they've lost, the dog who died in eighth grade, their missing pencil case? I'm speaking figuratively  but virginity is a physical state. If the author wants to make an argument for abstinence, he should support it in the text by showing why it's a good thing, not just saying 'don't have premaritial sex'. 

'My next “pick on Liz Ellor” is Jeremy, Micheal’s friend.  She mentions that Jeremy is a weak character. ...  Jeremy plays the role of jester, and is futile to the story.' 

Exactly. Jeremy plays the role of the jester . . . and that's it. His main purpose in the plot is to help Michael out and exchange dialogue with him. That's why I said his character was a 'little weak'. He doesn't seem to have any goals of his own, although he does generally throw up some resistance to Michael's crazy ideas. It would have created a lot more tension if the duo had been a little more conflicted, or if Jeremy would act on his objections to Michael's actions. Also, the word 'futile' means useless, which I don't think the author wanted to say.

'Next up is “The General” as she calls him.  Actually, he is General Meyers and Lincoln, depending on what mood he’s in.  She says that General Meyers makes her feel icky, which is perfect.  That is exactly what she should feel.  General Meyers (even though he’s mine) disgusts me.  Somehow though, she found it to be a failed attempt at fear and power.  I never intended him to be scary, or overly powerful, just a creepy lunatic.'

But he should be scary. At least a little. At the point in the book where we meet him, all we know is that this villain has been abducting and torturing people. He poses a threat to the main characters. Part of creating narrative tension is making readers fear for the characters' safety. It's fine to have characters who are perverse as villains, but the overall effect of the chapter where you  introduce a major antagonist shouldn't make a reader want to go wash their hands. It should make them wonder, gee, how are the characters going to escape this guy?

'I don’t even know what to say about the rest.  I’m at a loss for words.  She says that one of the mercenaries is employed by Shadow Gate, when in reality they all (Ley included) are employed by something much larger than Shadow Gate.  She also mentions that none of the twists were foreshadowed.  They are, but you have to pay attention to catch them.  I’ll be very careful here as I’m sure that some of you reading this post haven’t read the book.  I’ll pick a mild one.  Early in the story you learn that Samantha’s father was discharged from the military.  I’m talking way early here, like within twenty pages.  You also learn that Samantha’s mother died during child birth.  Halfway through the book General Meyers talks about how he always ends up with the washouts from the military.  At the end of the book you learn that Samantha was actually born at Shadow Gate and that is why she never knew her mother.  If you’ll allow yourself more than two seconds to think about it, it fits very nicely and is foreshadowed from the word go.  She doesn’t even mention that the person Ley finds at the top of Shadow Gate is an immaculate German woman… that escapes.  Ms. Ellor talks about villains delivering one evil monologue before the hero kills them.  The hero doesn’t kill any real villains.  The major antagonists would be the German woman and General Meyers.  The German woman disappears and General Meyers (Lincoln at this juncture) kills himself.'

Starting with the top one--it is mentioned in the text that one of the mercenaries has been employed by Shadow Gate all along. Yes, it also mentions that they are all employed by something larger, but since we don't see that larger thing in the book, I didn't mention it.

Secondly, foreshadowing needs to be a little stronger than his example. Her father was discharged from the military. Her mother died in childbirth. Those are normal situations. General Meyers says he always winds up with military dropouts. Okay, so maybe from this we could determine that Sam's father was involved. But we couldn't determine SPOILER that Sam was born at Shadow Gate or that her boyfriend is her half brother. So it doesn't fit very nicely. The explanation that fits very nicely is 'Sam's dad might have been involved with this, maybe, once, or maybe he's just a raging alcoholic'. But my main problem with this wasn't the lack of foreshadowing--it was the way these major revelations had no major impact on the story. It'd be like if Harry Potter learned he was a wizard at the end of seven books, said "Cool", and proceeded on with his life like nothing ever happened.

'In summary, I think Liz Ellor decided early on that she didn’t like Carolyn, which is okay, and then proceeded to power through the novel without stopping to give anything a second’s thought.  That would be fine if you were reading strictly for your own enjoyment.  If you’re reading to give an accurate review, it may not be the best policy.  There are sections of A Shattered Memory that are crucial to the story that I’m certain she missed entirely. ... She says that Micheal’s climax undermines all the investment that readers had placed with him, but i think that’s only true if the reader didn’t really invest much.''
I very much wanted to give this book a good review. I hate giving bad reviews. But here's some of my (extensive) notes on this book:
  • I like this mind-in-a-mind idea
  • "Carolyn had bled her innocence and youth onto his clothes"--heavy handed metaphor much?
  • She's hoping for a future with a guy she's known for two days?
  • Oh, they were under mind control.
So yes, I didn't like Carolyn's character. Not because of her decisions or her morals, but because she simply wasn't sympathetic. She's a pampered Daddy's girl, yes, but there's plenty of characters like that in literature who are interesting to read about. I think of Daisy from The Great Gatsby, who was also rich and pampered, but managed to be a compelling character because her goals didn't align with society's goals. 

But I did not skim through this book. I read it thoroughly, taking time to go back over and re-read parts I didn't understand. And I invested a great deal in Michael's story arc, which is one of the reasons I was so disappointing at the end when I felt like it didn't have much of an impact. I would like to apologize to Mr. Halsey if I offended him and ask him to keep in mind that the first Harry Potter book has over a hundred one and two star reviews. No book is liked by everyone. If he decides to revise his book, or publishes another, I'd be more than happy to re-read his work. And if he wants to talk and explain why he made the choices he made in his story, I'd be happy to hear him out at

And I do apologize for not marking spoilers in my original review. I went back in and added a spoiler warning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: A Shattered Memory, by Alan Halsey

            So over the past few weeks, I’ve given out quite a few stars to quite a few deserving authors. Urban fantasy, pulp sci-fi, romance . . . I think I’ve discovered quite a few good new voices. So this week I turned to a thriller, a genre which I love (see here). A Shattered Memory, by Alan Halsey, continues one recent trend: it was written by a man. Unfortunately, it hasn’t continued the recent trend in star count. I’ve got to be honest here. A Shattered Memory contains a few good ideas, but is riddled with unoriginal protagonists, confusing plot twists, and the most original story arc has very little effect on the story at all.

It has a very nice cover, though the styling makes it look like YA realistic fiction.
            After a confusing first chapter that could have been cut without having any impact on the overall story, we meet our ‘heroine’, Carolyn Crest. Right off the bat we learn two important things about her—she’s a virgin, and she’s a college student. The daughter of a fairly well-off Kentucky family, Carolyn’s never faced any threat to her privileged life—and when she does encounter said threat, she reacts by crying and cuddling with her father. She’s the typical damsel in distress who falls in love with the first single man she runs into in the narrative. As covert operation teams plan secret attacks, she offers to make coffee. Her closest stab at heroism is when she offers her precious virginity to an insane rapist so he won’t rape her friend—but I found it hard to sympathize with a woman who’s virginity is her most precious possession.

            The other main character in this story, Michael, wakes up one day with no memory of his past. He lives in a mysterious world where his surroundings constantly shift and his job is sorting and retrieving memories. But when a mysterious package falls into his hands containing memories of the future, Michael embarks on a journey to discover the secrets behind his strange world. This part of the story brims with creativity, even if the characterization of Michael’s sidekick Jeremy is a little weak. The dream realm Michael inhabits is vivid and cool. Unfortunately, Michael’s quest cumulates in a single anti-climatic moment in the book’s ending, undermining all the investment readers had made in the characters there.

            Warning: the rest of this post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
            The plot of this book revolves around a mysterious fortress in the Kentucky hills known as Shadow Gate, a military testing facility. Innocent people, including Carolyn’s best friend Sam and mother Rebecca, have been kidnapped and tortured for weeks in this really bad place. Why the military does this is never actually explained. Shadow Gate is controlled by a man known as the General, who becomes sexually aroused by watching people get tortured—an effect I think was designed to make the readers hate and fear him, but which just made me feel kind of icky.   

            A crack team of commandos assembles to rescue the hostages. Carolyn dutifully falls in love with the squad’s leader and is then quickly abducted. She is nearly raped a few times. Her friend Sam has already been raped for weeks, but as she’s not a virgin, she’s not nearly as broken down about it as she would have otherwise been. They’re taken back to Shadow Gate. The commandos break in to rescue them, but, surprise, one of the commandos actually works for the bad guys.

            All the main characters are dragged into one big room, where the mysterious villains give a monologue revealing three of the main characters are secretly related to each other and that another one of the good guys has been working on their side. These major revelations have no lasting effect on the characters at all, because incest is okay and, hey, betraying your family to the bad guys is fine if you feel really bad about it. There’s also a bit about chemical mind control weapons.

            It’s then that Michael—who has learned by now he’s a figment in the imagination of a minor character’s mind—has his moment of glory. He inspires said minor character to get to his feet and tackle a bad guy, leaving room for the heroic commando leader to grab a gun and shoot all the bad guys dead. He then rescues Carolyn, who decides to drop out of college and marry him. Judging by what we’ve seen of her life skills by now, this is probably for the best.

             The climax feels like hundreds of pages worth of plot developments have been crammed into a few short paragraphs and delivered as dialogue. None of this stuff has been foreshadowed at all. As a reader, I can’t think back and realize, ‘oh, that makes perfect sense because of X, Y, and Z’.

            Big revelations should have big consequences. Two people in a romantic relationship discovering they are relatives shouldn’t happen at the very end of the book, but in the middle, where they can struggle with the choice between their love and society’s standards. And someone who betrays his family just getting forgiven without consequences doesn’t feel real. These are two examples of things that could have given the characters more depth had they been revealed earlier in the book—not to mention, it would have left room for a climax that did more than reveal pointless secrets.

            I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here, and I’d be devastated if someone said this about my work—but this isn’t a soft business. Truth is, A Shattered Memory has potential to be a decent story, but right now I feel like I’m reading someone’s first novel. The author needs to learn a few lessons about characterization and plot development. I’d recommend he read The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, and re-write this one from scratch. Writing a novel is hard enough without pressuring yourself to write a good one, but it’s worth the effort.

            High Points: Michael’s world. Original, and the use of ‘primary documents’ from his world really was a nice creative touch.

Low Points: The characterization of women. I’m not the kind of militant feminist who demands every female character should be capable of kicking ass, but Carolyn feels like a ridiculous caricature of a ‘good Christian girl’—demure, passive, and seeking only a husband so she can settle down and pop out babies. Sure, I know girls like that, but they draw a great deal of personal strength from their convictions, whereas Carolyn has the personal strength of a ragdoll. The climax. Villains appear without foreshadowing, introduce a never-before heard of plot point about chemical weapons, and deliver exactly one evil monologue before being killed by the hero. One villain actually says, “Let’s do a quick wrap up,” before proceeding to string a bunch of plot points together.    

Did I like this book? No. Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it to people who like thrillers? No. My rating? As a thriller, I’ll give it two and a half stars out of five. As a novel? Two.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can download A Shattered Memory here

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: The Five Moons of Tiiana: The Chronicles of Rez Cantor

            Pop quiz: who here saw this movie?

If this was a cover contest, I'd give this poster a four out of ten 

            Odds are, none of you did. This movie, despite being actually kind of decent, cost Disney $200,000,000 dollars. That’s a lot of zeros, folks. Personally, I blame marketing. 

           But if you’re a fan of pulp-fiction drama—of aliens and other planets, of empires falling and damsels in distress, of epic heroics and pure evil villains—then you can’t do much better than The Five Moons of Tiiana: The Chronicles of Rez Cantor, by Paul T. Harry. It may not uplift your spirit or provide you with keen insights on the human condition, but the fantastic world-building and thrilling adventure will keep hardcore sci-fi fans reading until the very last page.
Note that this would be a better John Carter poster than the one above, since it actually implies that this is a story about traveling to other planets.

            As The Five Moons of Tiiana begins, we meet our hero, Rez Cantor, bodyguard to the Imperial Princess of the planet Melela. Despite the author giving his age as thirty-six, he reads a lot younger—a brash, impetuous man who never had enough discipline to rise up the ranks of the army. His planet has just been conquered by the evil alien Relcor, and his charge, the young Princess Leanna, is in mortal danger. Rez sets out to smuggle his princess to safety—but his spaceship is attacked, and he and the princess are thrown across space and separated.

            Marooned on the moons of Tiiana, Rez must do his best to stay alive in hopes of finding the princess he swore to protect. In the meantime, he is forced to slave in an underwater silver mine, befriends enormous furry aliens, and saves a city from destruction. When he finally reunites with Leanna, he realizes he’s fallen in love with her . . . and naturally, she’s snatched away again, by a group of evil spider aliens. Rez joins up with a bunch of robots to rescue her this time. However, he soon learns the evil spider aliens have a plan to take over all five moons. To save his adopted homeworld, Rez sets out to unite the people of the five moons for one final epic battle . . .

            For a story almost five hundred pages in length, it flew by pretty quickly. The author’s skilled visual descriptions were a real high point—it was easy for me to visualize the scenes I was reading. From dismal undersea caves to lush jungles to technological wastelands, you really get to know the personality of each moon. I wished I could have gotten to know the personalities of the main characters that well. Rez’s voice is pretty solid and develops fairly well, but romantic foil Leanna’s main traits are loving the hero and needing to be rescued.

            The first half of the story brims with action and adventure as Rez struggles to survive in the strange world where he’s found himself—and that vibe keeps on coming, with new threats and monsters around each corner. The bad guys are completely evil, the good guys are completely good. Even when Rez angrily orders a bunch of nukes to be dropped and ends up causing a tidal wave eliminating a whole city, it turns out the city had been completely evacuated the day before and dropping the nukes turned out to be completely necessary for the greater good. But The Five Moons of Tiiana isn’t great literature—it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s pulp fiction at its pulpiest. It’s worth the ride.

            High Points: World building. The scenery is so vivid, it feels like a movie in your mind. Pacing. The story moves along at a good tempo, lingering just long enough to build suspense while not boring the readers. Use of technology. It’s not every book that can deal with swordfights and nuclear bombs, but both have a role here.

Low Points: Unoriginal trope usage. A lot of the characters in this story don’t seem to develop beyond pre-set roles—the seer, the friendly beast, the damsel in distress. Some slow action. Some action scenes really just felt like a laundry list of martial actions, with little emotional impact.

Did I like this book? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like pulp fiction? Yes. My rating? As pulp sci-fi, I’ll give it four and a half stars out of five. As a novel? Three.

--Liz Ellor, O43

Download The Five Moons of Tiiana by clicking here

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How NOT to get your driver's license: A Horror Story

So, somewhere in between meeting the lady playing the bagpipes on the running trails and encountering the Raptor Club (complete with live birds!) on the lower floor of the community center, I realized I hadn't been behind the wheel of a car in a while. Which is weird, considering what I had to go through to get there.
This little piece of plastic is the trophy of an epic journey.
When I was fifteen and a half, in a younger, more innocent age, I was exited at the prospect of receiving my learner's permit. I went down to the local DMV and waited for half an hour before my father and I learned they weren't actually administering the permit tests there. So we got back in the car, without making eye contact with the libertarian protesters handing out leaflets just outside the door, and drove to the next DMV, about twenty minutes away.

While we're waiting in line (again), the most obnoxious jerk on my high school's football team showed up and got in line behind me. He happened to be in three of my classes. He asked if I'd studied for the test.

I laughed. "Study? Dude, it's a standardized state test. Multiple choice, man." He gave me a weird look and turned his back on me. We awkwardly waited for another hour until they finally called us up.

I flunked on the fourth question. He passed. By Monday, the whole freshmen class knew about it.

So, one mandatory thirty day waiting period later, I return to the DMV after studying for several straight hours. I pass. Now I've just got a few more things to do:

  • Wait nine months
  • Pass the in-school driver's ed class
  • Drive and record 45 hours on the road, 15 of which must be at night
  • Take the county mandated Behind-The-Wheel class outside of school
  • Pass my driving test in an actual car
  • Go to the county courthouse to receive my actual license
At least now I know why the libertarians are always picketing outside the DMV. 

So I get to work. It takes another year, during which time my parents get pretty tired of driving me places, but I pass my final test and receive a paper license. It expires in six months. All I need to do is wait for the court summons . . . which never comes.

I spend five hours on the phone, talking to county court and DMV people, who each refer me back and forth to one another. My license expires. I go to the DMV to petition for an extension of my temporary license and request my temporary one be extended. Another hour later, and I can drive for thirty more days. The extension expires. Finally, I convince my parents to try calling the court . . . and I'm told to show up the next day. Apparently, a non-voting sixteen year old can't effectively cajole the DMV into helping her out.

But it's all worth it. I got to drive just in time for gas prices to hit four bucks a gallon. Oh, the lure of the open road!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Judge a Book by its Cover 2: Back by popular demand!

So a few weeks ago, I wrote up a little post judging various book covers (see it here). To my surprise, it turned out to be pretty popular. So, back by popular demand, here's Part Two: The Judgement Day.

Remember, packaging is everything!

This cover (for this book here) looks like it might be more at home on a chemistry textbook than a sci-fi novel. Seriously, I could take out this big chunk of confusing text and replace it with 'Experiment Handbook for Introductory Collegiate Chemistry' . . . and then the cover would be ten times more exiting, because it would signal that this book teaches you how to blow stuff up. What on earth (or whatever planet this book takes place on) does 'T1' mean? At least the author stuck to only two fonts.

My score? Four out of ten
Another sci-fi! This book (available here) actually looks pretty good, even though 'Wings of Steele' did make me think of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. We have an actual image here, sci-fi appropriate fonts, a logo, and nice use of fade techniques at the top. Reminds me of something I'd find in the sci-fi section of a used book store--B-list genre fiction. It's a little more complicated than the covers you find on most mainstream genre fiction, which tend to be a bit more abstract rather than depicting what I think is an actual scene from a book, but this is a pretty solid cover nonetheless.

My score? Seven out of ten.

Well, here's an interesting one (available here). I'm not sure where to start. I'm guessing the author took a screenshot of a badly animated videogame character and popped him behind a basic faded edges filter. Then they realized it looked like a videogame and added a blur filter on top. Meanwhile, they failed to notice the character on the cover has the creepiest facial expression I've ever seen in my life. 

The big pink 'Shadow' up top makes me think this is some kind of erotica and the font down below should never ever be used on a fantasy novel, unless your whole fantasy universe exists in the Matrix. Has anyone noticed the gesture he's making with his left hand? Not only does this not make me want to read the book, it makes me not want to read it at all.

My score? Two out of ten

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

So, this is awkward . . .

I think this campus could be much improved with the addition of some cats. Preferably kittens.

Case in point
See, the nice thing about cats is that they don't really care what you say to them. You could be talking about global politics or garden gnomes. Both topics will cause your cat to look at you like you're equally stupid--or, you know, make them run away. Running away would be a good alternative to most of the conversations I've had this week. And just giving me a stupid look would probably save time.

How do you initiate a conversation with someone you've been living with for three weeks and yet not spoken with? One of the two 5'3'' blond girls on your floor who lives in the room next door? If you're a normal person, you'll just forget your neighbor exists if you didn't make contact with them on day one. If you're overenthusiastically optimistic like me (and haven't thought there's a reason why they've never spoken to you) you might get into a conversation that goes like this:

Me: So . . . Hi! I, um, live here. *Point at my door

Neighbor: I know.

Me: How . . . how are you?

Neighbor (staring at me like I've escaped from a mental asylum): Fine. How are you?

Me: Oh, fine. How are you?

At this point, my wonderful roommates, Ayesha and Audrey, forcibly drag me back into my room, shut the door, and forbid me from ever talking to anyone else on the floor ever again. I'm actually very grateful to them, as they've saved me from having to reveal that I actually didn't know my neighbor's first name.

Not that that's the only awkward conversation I've been involved in the past week. For example, when I see a couple guys on the plaza fooling around with a giant robot, I went up and asked them what it was. They began trying to recruit me into their club. I attempt to explain that I'm not interested in robotics. They tell me I can join the club's 'marketing division'. I finally just had to turn my back on them mid conversation and run into the nearest building.

I miss my Hazey-poo
Of course, the best awkward conversations are the ones you only really listen to. For example:

My Lab Partner: Why isn't this microscope working?

Guy Across the Table: Did  you plug it in right?

Lab Partner: I think I did.

Quietly, I reach over the table and start fiddling with the plug. A weird sensation creeps over my hand, like someone's brushing painful little feathers across it.

Guy Across the Table: Oh! You stuck it in the wrong socket!

I'm forced to awkwardly barge in with a "Owwww!" when I hear the "Shzzt" sound of my hand being electrocuted.

Twenty minutes later, I burn my finger on a lightbulb. I think I'm missing a layer of skin.

Hope everyone's having a great day!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review: Shotgun, by Scott Colby

            Well, folks, I think I’m on a roll here. Two excellent books in two weeks. I sat down this bright Sunday morning at my favorite bagel place and stared reading Shotgun, by Scott Colby. I intended to read until I was finished with lunch. Instead, after a somewhat iffy beginning, I found myself sucked into an intriguing, well-written urban fantasy, containing an equal mix of attitude and heart. Fans of urban fantasy really can’t afford to miss this one.
And this is why you always consult an artist for cover, you know, ART. 

            Shotgun tells the story of Roger Brooks, a middle-aged janitor who winds up in possession of a magically-empowered shotgun, and the mysterious Talora, a woman who wakes up one day with no memories and a pair of horns sprouting from her head. We meet Roger as he’s in the middle of trying to fend off a robber in his house, a mysterious woman who tells him that if he wants to help her change the world, he better take a peek in his silverware drawer. Among the forks and spoons, he finds a magical ball of energy that transforms his old shotgun into an enchanted weapon capable of firing . . . well, magic balls of energy. In no time at all, he’s whisked from his home to the elven land of Evitankari.
            Turns out, Roger’s been chosen to protect that land from the forces of evil.  He seems to adjust way too quickly to his new reality, and the first few scenes explaining what the elves are and what they can do all seem to be a bit of a narrative dump. But when the story moves beyond the initial introduction and begins moving at a more even pace, Roger’s fish-out-of-water story begins evoking real sympathy and moves along quite nicely as we meet other characters—like Aldern, a spell-wielding elf attended to by sentient poundcakes, and Walinda, a seven-inch-tall pixie who becomes Rodger’s housekeeper.

            Talora, the other main character, has a bit darker story to tell. Lost without any memory of her past, she’s forced to work with an unsavory woman known as the Witch, a psycho who makes deals with demons and has a mysterious vendetta against the elves. The more she learns about herself and her abilities, the more she wants to get away from the Witch. Through Talora’s eyes, we see the darker side of the world Colby has created. One moment, where Talora kills a man only to find a photo of him embracing her, really sticks in my mind.

            Beyond the rapid beginning, there’s a really fun journey going on here. Strong supporting characters give the narrative a real boost, and Roger’s desire to re-connect with his family grows into the real center of the book. Things can get a little confusing at times, and the indentations on the Kindle edition were much smaller than normal (which was a little irritating), but when the story finds its voice, you won’t be able to put it down.

            High Points: The supporting characters. They all had plenty of dimensions, especially one elf, Pike. The mystery. There’s plenty of it, especially about the identities and origins of various characters, and almost all of it is solved—although there’s still plenty of room for a sequel. Character arcs. Roger’s story and Talora’s story are very different, and yet both manage to compliment the other. The ending. The plot builds to it very well, and the twists and turns occurring here are surprising, yet totally supported by the rest of the text.

            Low Points: Roger’s introduction to the elves. The way this totally normal person quickly adjusts to this serious change in his world challenged my suspension of disbelief; it could have been drawn out a little further without slowing down the book. Some slow action. One scene where a giant destroys a building in Evitankari really doesn’t have much emotional impact beyond ‘Roger shoots it’.

Did I like this book? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like urban fantasy? Yes, and for anyone who likes a simple, easy read on a Sunday afternoon. My rating? As urban fantasy, I’ll give it four and a half stars out of five. As a novel? Four.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can download Shotgun here