Monday, November 15, 2010

Pandora's Box

I tried something new. Not young adult, memoir, or contemporary adult. How about military science fiction, for a change? Yep, I was totally out of my league...well, not totally. Though never having been through any military training, I'm not completely ignorant about it, and I've read some science fiction, though I prefer fantasy. But what kept me reading Pandora's Box, by Nathan Marchand, was his characters.

Pandora's Box stars a woman without a name, at least not one she can remember, as the sole guardian of a military base containing all the world's weapons of mass destruction in the 22nd century. She can't remember how she got there. All she knows is her job and how important it is. But a little red journal contains the key to unlocking her past with its failures and sorrows. She's a battle-hardened soldier, but does she have the courage to face what she has done and look the truth in the eyes?

Her handwritten history begins with her dad, an elite member of the American Vanguard. All she desires is to be like him, though his breed seems hardly necessary in a world of peace. So, as soon as she is able, she joins the army, a little woman in a sea of raw manpower, but she's tougher than she looks. It will take every ounce of strength and then some to prove herself, both to the Vanguard and to the world. When hell breaks loose and war and disease ravage the land, she'll be clinging to the very shreds of her sanity.

And when the journal ends and some very important surprises are revealed, one woman will have a critical choice to make.

Pandora's Box was an interesting read for me. There's just enough suspense to pull the reader through the story. Though parts of it, mainly military-related, were very technical, it was accessible to me because of its heroine. That's not to say the book is written to a female audience. It's fairly well-rounded with plenty of battle action and just enough emotional gravity to make its heroine believable and pull in the female readers.

In the spirit of realism, there is some swearing, but it's tempered from what it could be and nothing to make you cringe. There are some horrifying war elements, but nothing overly graphic. In short, it's a very tastefully-written war story. There's also a spiritual element that's not overbearing but comes into play most toward the end of the story.

In a story that could have been over the edge morally, the morality pleased me, but I would have expected nothing less, knowing the author of this book. Yes, I've reviewed another book from my circle of acquaintances, and unlike my last reviewed manuscript, this one is now published and available for purchase! So, if you need a good Christmas gift for a hard-to-buy-for man in your family, check out Pandora's Box, and support my friend Nathan Marchand.

And lest you think I was coerced into writing a good review for a friend, let me just add that when I was reading the end of this book, and my husband tried to talk to me, I shushed him and sent him away. Fortunately, he's understanding about my book-reading habits and knows that it's nothing personal, just how I react at the end of a good read.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sea Glass

This is the sequel to Storm Glass, which I reviewed a couple blog posts ago. I will try to be semi-vague about the plot so that I don't spoil too much for those who, like me, want to read a story from beginning to end and can't stand to even look at the cover of the next book or open to the last page. (I know some of you do that, however. To each his own, I guess!)

This book was, in some ways, far more intriguing than Storm Glass. Perhaps it was because there is a lot of set-up in the first book, and the second just jumps into things. In Sea Glass, the danger was upped, the magic was cooler, the heroine, Opal, was bolder and more fascinating. I do have to say that the amount of times she almost dies or gets captured and tortured begins to approach the ridiculous. But it also makes the book fun and exciting, and I'm not complaining.

Sea Glass is definitely more sensationalized than the first book. There's more girl-power and more sex. I like Maria V. Snyder, and her sex scenes aren't graphic and are mostly implied, but I do have a problem with her targeting young adults with her books and then being so nonchalant about intimacy between two romantically involved characters. She did the same in the Poison Study series. In her world (and, unfortunately, she's probably just imitating our world), lovers are practically expected to sleep together. Marriage isn't even talked about. Like I said, it isn't graphic, but it's what it says to young adults and the example it sets that I don't appreciate.

I can give this book five stars for entertainment value and four for plot (it was way interesting but just not entirely believable, even for a fantasy world), but I give it only two stars for morality.

Readers of the Poison Study series should enjoy this addition to the Glass series just as much. I'll be reading the next installment, Spy Glass, soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book trends and why I read what I do

My husband sometimes gets annoyed by books or, more particularly, book trends. He and I are supposedly writers by profession (with completely different jobs from our college degrees), and we learned all about writing for the market. Publishers look for what's hot, but you have to be careful because if you write about what's hot now, by the time you get that baby to an editor, the heat wave could be over. You have to catch the wave at the beginning, or by the time you try to publish vampires, angels have hit the market. (What IS the big deal with angels anyway? I don't get it. But more on that later.)

So, why does my husband hate book trends? As a writer, it's terribly inconvenient to write for a market saturated with one tedious thing when you have a brand new story to tell. The problem is, once Stephanie Meyer is top of the trends list, every female between 12 and 60, is devouring only vampire novels, and publishers are bound by the trends more than writers. What sells is what makes money. Obviously. I can't fault the publishers as much as the readers although as a writer, sometimes you just wish the editors would take that chance of a lifetime on you. It's just hard to get a reader to switch tracks and read about bumbling, extremely introverted squires when she's craving fallen angels. (Still shaking my head over that one.)

Now, switching gears from writer to reader, let me go into the current young adult book trends. I'm very familiar with them. Young adult is my genre of choice, and I'll explain why in a moment. Supernatural young adult is highly popular right now. It started with Stephanie Meyer's vampires, took a short detour into werewolves, and is now obsessing over fallen angels. In the past few boxes of advanced reader's copies Summer and I have drooled over at her bookstore, I was surprised by how many of them dealt with young fallen angels falling (all over again) in love. Summer has read one or two of those, but I haven't wanted to touch them yet. Perhaps I'd be pleasantly surprised, but I haven't been willing to make the jump from the completely fictional vampire, or even werewolf, to a being who, while fictionalized and completely made-over, actually exists in my theological worldview.

Another top young adult trend is the post-apocalyptic/end-of-the-world plot. Off the top of the my head, I can think of at least four of those that I've read recently. They all have to do with kids and teenagers fending for themselves in a world without adults (adults have gone crazy or died from a disease that affects people over a certain age, or kids are living on a spaceship in search of a new world because Earth and the adult population were destroyed). Seriously, sometimes I wonder if there's a memo list you can subscribe to: "What's hot in young adult fiction today: children killing other children. Ready, set, write! First ten manuscripts get published!" It's uncanny how quickly similar novels come out. Either there are some fast writers out there with easy access to editors, or writers just think alike.

Not too far behind these trends comes teenage gladiators. I saw a spurt of those books, but it seems to be dying out, aside from the Hunger Games trilogy, which I love.

So, what books are on my to-read-soon shelf now? At least two werewolf novels and an angel one to try (have to try at least one, don't I?). One virtual reality. At least six about teenagers with powers or special magic abilities (these are pretty much part of the supernatural trend, though they come under different guises). A few miscellaneous nonfiction titles. One or two about boarding school, another trend that is lower on the list but constantly resurfacing. Oh, and I might even have some adult titles!

If it hasn't become obvious by now from the books I've reviewed and the ones I talk about here, I read mostly young adult. If you love plain old good stories, that's the way I suggest you go. Young adult isn't concerned with what sounds good, literature, and all that...trying to be the next classic. Young adult is to be enjoyed at the moment. I love stories, and that's why I read young adult, trends and all. Call it a guilty pleasure, or call it relaxation. I'm not trying to escape the world (I like my life very much), but I do visit other worlds...and that's nice.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Unremarkable Squire

Great book! Unfortunately, it's not published yet. The Unremarkable Squire is my husband's piece of work. Although it's not his first book, he began writing it in college for a senior project, put it aside in favor of another novel for his senior project, and finally found the time to finish it this year.

I'm reviewing it now since I just read the complete manuscript for the first time, but you all will have to wait a year or three until the book gets through the submission and publication process. I'm confident it will although it's a book probably unlike anything you've ever read.

We've all read or watched or heard the stories of knights and princesses, fantasy tales with strong heros and beautiful heroines. The Unremarkable Squire is like the behind-the-scenes version, casting all the extras and misfits as its main characters. The squire himself is Obed Kainos, a boy approaching manhood, who lives a simple life and keeps to himself and is thrust into service quite accidentally.

What follows is high adventure, taken on by the lowest and humblest (or not) cast of characters, comprised of servants, thieves, bumbling guards, and monsters. Though much like a spoof with the driest of humor liberally flavoring it, the plot is also serious, kept so by the deeply introverted Obed, who swears a squire's oath and means to follow it to the letter, no matter what. He fights mages and thieves, even death, as he learns what it means to be a squire and what it means to be human.

Obed is unique because, unlike other heros whose motivations for acting the way they do are obvious, Obed isn't really motivated in the normal way. He is a boy who does what he must because he said he would. An apparently boring character becomes a fascinating hero as nothing deters him from his mission.

Nick Hayden can't write a normal story, and that's why you should read him. You will find yourself intrigued by the simplest of people and laughing until the very last line.

ADDENDUM (June 19, 2012): I have changed this post to reflect the new title of what was before simply The Squire because this book is soon to be published under that new title. Barking Rain Press accepted Nick's manuscript and will be releasing it near the end of this year.

ADDENDUM (August 7, 2015): The Unremarkable Squire is published and can be purchased from Barking Rain Press or Amazon.