Sunday, June 29, 2014

Write On! Indie Book Reviews #3 TEXAS Edition

   For those of you who do not reside in our delightful state, I assure you, adding the words TEXAS Edition (caps required) to anything makes it better. At least for Ford Trucks and several brands of chili, apparently. In this case, adding TEXAS Edition means I will be reviewing the works of three fantastic authors who happen to share the 268,581 square miles of land that I call home. I know what you're thinking; Texas? What do they write about, cowboys? Football? The Alamo? I assure you, Texas authors have talent. Whether their current state of residence has anything to do with their talent or not, each of these authors is worthy of a TEXAS Edition of Write On! and you should give them each a look.

J. Leigh Bralick
   To start, I should mention that when it comes to traditional fantasy, especially the works of Tolkien, I'm not the biggest fan. Okay fine, in will admit it, I dislike Tolkien. There, go ahead and take away my nerd card. Down a Lost Road is the first book in the Lost Road Chronicles and it is clear from the beginning that this book is not only a traditional fantasy, but it also makes several mentions of Tolkien's work. And I loved it. I loved it enough to buy the rest of the series, which I also loved.
   Down a Lost Road tells the story of Merelin Lindon, a teenager whose father disappeared a few years before the story begins. When the story opens, she's just trying to figure out why the shopkeeper at her local convenience mart is acting peculiar. Not long after that, she's transported to a different world. Here, she learns that her father knew of this world and had been looking into their forgotten history. And thus begins what turns into an epic adventure spanning three books and several different and dangerous territories of this new world.
   World building is probably one of the hardest parts of writing fantasy. Add a made up language and the author needs to tread very carefully lest they lose their audience's interest. Bralick does this effortlessly, which is what compelled me to keep reading even after the story shifted from the real world. She expertly lays out the new world without cutting away from the book's action, and there is a lot of engaging action. I'm talking, I really should have gone to sleep several hours ago type of engagement. Down a Lost Road is currently free for Kindle, so you have no excuses for not giving it a try.

Bridgett Kay
   As I have mentioned countless times before, I have no clue what I am doing on Twitter. Fortunately, Bridgett Kay seems to have a better grasp than I. For whatever reason, she decided to follow me one day and seeing that she was a real person, I followed back. When I did, I happened to notice that she was offering her book, Mephisto Waltz for free, so I clicked the link and decided to give it a look. Being neither science fiction or fantasy, it wasn't my typical read, but the description grabbed me.
   The story follows teenager Miranda Rothschild, who is coping with the suicide of her twin brother when her parents decide to move to a coastal town in Texas. Here, Miranda meets a new group of friends, including an intriguing girl named Clara. Miranda is described as a late bloomer, but soon we learn that it isn't that she isn't interested in dating boys because she hasn't developed, rather because she hadn't yet discovered her true sexual identity. Miranda's family, who are rather religious, decide that the best course of action is to send her to a camp where she will be cured of her homosexuality. As you can imagine, this does not go well.
   Aside from being well written and engaging, I was pleased to see a young adult book that covered this subject. That anyone in this day and age would think someone's sexuality was something that needed to be 'cured' is preposterous, but a tragic reality. This story will make you emotional. Sloppy emotional. But for $2.99, you can afford the tissues, ice cream, or teddy bear you may need to cope with your feelings.
   Because I enjoyed Mephisto Waltz, I also read Kay's other book, Gemini Song. This is a space opera, which you should know by now is an addiction of mine. Like Waltz, Gemini Song is well written. The story is incredibly complex. Kay manages to build not just a world, but a whole galaxy as well as an alternate timeline from which this story emerges. This book as well, is just $2.99 for Kindle. No tissues required, but you may find yourself longing for a space ship or maybe your very own space pirate to captain it.

Douglas Schwartz
  I am breaking my own rule here. It's a rule you might not even be aware that I had. You see, I set up Write On! to feature independent female authors. Kind of sexist, I know, but that was the point. We tend to be on the receiving end of sexism, especially in the field of sci-fi and fantasy. But... I couldn't write a TEXAS Edition and not include our generation's Austin based Douglas Adams incarnation.
   Douglas Schwartz was kind enough to offer blog interviews to all of us struggling authors and I took him up on this offer. While perusing his blog posts, which were quite odd in a good way, I decided to check out his book, Checkered Scissors, which is also quite odd in a very good way.
   Checked Scissors follows thirtysomething Edwin Black as he navigates from a layoff to a successful business owner, through a less successful relationship, and to his ultimate demise at the hands of a body snatching demon who haunts Ed's CD changer, but that's just the beginning of Ed's story. In between we also get to follow Max, a portable pool salesman and owner of the titular scissors. Well, former owner. The scissors are stolen when Ed accidentally reveals that they can do more than simply cut swimming pools. The point of the story, I believe, is to get the scissors back after they fall into the wrong hands.
   If you're confused, that's okay. I might be inclined to say don't panic. It becomes clear that Schwartz is inspired by Adams, which leads to a refreshing take on absurdist fantasy that is packed full of Easter egg-like pop culture references yet can still be enjoyed by younger readers. My only complaint is that there will be a sequel, but it is not out yet. The Kindle edition is just $2.99.

   See, I told you we have some great talent down here! Go read a book!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conspiracy Theory

   I just wrote a very long post about how I have been neglecting the vampire part of this blog, comparing vampirism to social awkwardness and talking about how in this respect, I too am a vampire. I had some good points. I had some funny points. But apparently, I didn't have enough robots, so Google ate it.
   I give up. The blog is now called Robots Are The Greatest. I hear you, Google! I will never make the mistake of talking about vampires or other carbon based lifeforms again.
Sincerely,
Princess Robot Commander Esq.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Robots on Route 66

   As a pretentious, naive, and as of yet untested youth, I drove all over this great country of ours. To me, at the time, there was something almost magical about the open road and the wonders one might see along the way. Then, as a financially secure and world wary adult, I discovered something even more magical about air travel and the concept of arriving at my destination mostly refreshed, knowing that my car was safely back home in a parking lot instead of littered with fast food debris, in desperate need of an oil change,and perfumed with eau de unshowered Christina. Sure, it was fun when I was living on the east coast and I could hit five or six states in a weekend drive, but after the fifth or sixth cross country road trip, I made a vow to fly anytime I went anywhere with a drive longer than a few hours.
   In recent years, I've broken that vow for a few notable exceptions like the seven hour trek to Corpus Christi (the best beaches are inaccessible without a car) and the ten plus hour trip through the swamplands of Louisiana that we took for book research as much as vacation. Last month we drove through the Adirondacks and into Canada because we had already flown to NY and it was a pretty short drive and well worth it. Most recently, we upped our disregard for my rule by driving nearly halfway across the country. This trip took us along the eastern half of the old Route 66, which simultaneously reinforced my belief that I made this rule for a very good reason and reignited my love of the great American road trip.

   But the great American road trip has changed so much in the last decade, thanks to technology, and I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, you read that correctly. Me, princess robot commander, who sings the praises of technology and might as well rename this blog 2579 reasons you should stay calm, take a selfie, and welcome our Google overlords, has mixed feelings about the technical advantages offered to the modern road tripper.
   First of all, let's look at the obvious. On this trip, I found myself using the one feature that I never utilize on my phone: GPS. Why don't I use it? Because I already have Google maps and I can read maps. Also, when traveling for long distances, the highway is pretty good about not suddenly deciding to spit you out in the wrong direction without giving you plenty of warning first. But GPS can do things like find the highway when you are in the middle of an unfamiliar city and sometimes it can even do this without sending you the wrong way down a one way street or driving into a lake. From this perspective, this is good. Also, GPS can tell you where the nearest Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts/Caffeine Depot is and Google can tell you if they are open. Sure, you get what you want, but it takes away the spontaneous serendipity of finding something new or exciting.
   Yes, you can look for local places with GPS and you can even look at yelp reviews and see if the locals have vetted the place you find. I admit, this is something I do in any city I visit, but there's a small part of me that still thinks gastronomic uncertainty is a part of the road experience. Also, here's a neat little quirk I have: as socially awkward as I am, I never seem to have a problem talking to people I don't know who will likely remain strangers to me. This includes gas station attendants, waiters, and store clerks. These are the people who usually have the greatest tips on where to go and what to see.
   Case in point: we were in a coffee shop in St. Charles, MO and an employee overheard us talking about a WPA project we had seen in Memphis. He told us about another WPA project nearby that turned out to be amazing and cool, but something we never would have found on our own if we relied on a Google search for places of interest along our path.
   And let's talk about those hidden gems. It used to be that finding an oddity along the way was part of the charm of taking a road trip. You might pick up a souvenir or take a picture. Now, you're already checked in on Facebook at the Sacred Miracle Cave before you are even out of the car. Then you need to post a selfie with the entrance to the cave in the background. After that, you need to post a picture of your Sacred Miracle Burrito on Instagram. And then, you need to spend the next half hour complaining on Twitter that you couldn't even see the Sacred Miracle because of the pollution from a local plastics plant. If this paragraph seemed familiar, congratulations, you are well read and now you know who my most cynical literary hero is.
   Is it all bad? No, of course not. There were a lot of things we missed due to driving through the night, but thanks to 4g connectivity in the wildest reaches of the American wilderness, we were able to look up such oddities as the Precious Moments Chapel and the Vacuum Museum, and make a determination as to whether or not we want to go back and see them someday.* And I have to admit, having a phone to call for emergency service in the middle of the night and the middle of nowhere is great (like when some hapless idiot who may or not be a younger me forgets to turn off the headlights before crashing out at a rest stop in rural Georgia). So no, it's not all bad, it's just harder to look back on fifteen hours of nonstop driving with rose tinted glasses these days.
   *Spoiler alert: we totally do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back In the Ghost Town

It seems as if I've been neglecting this blog. Okay, I have been neglecting this blog, but I didn't mean to. I have plenty to talk about, but this post is only going to talk about the things I'm going to talk about later. Does that make any sense?

First of all, you might have noticed that I've added an entry on the MY BOOKS page. Last week I finally published Kind of Like Life, my first attempt at breaking into the young adult market. Admittedly, this is largely why I've neglected the blog. But hey, I've accomplished something! You can't fault me for that. :)

Next up: You might have noticed that a chunk of my blog from October of last year went missing. Okay, who am I kidding? No one noticed, but it still happened. I've taken down the short zombie vignettes because they are being incorporated into my next book. Yes, I am doing a zombie themed homage to the golden age of sci-fi. Expect this to be a novella length and inexpensive offering to tide you over while I work on my next series.

As far as this blog goes, I have a handful of posts waiting to come out. One about the sexism of yesterday's future and how we haven't come as far as we would like to think. Another will address my apparent paranoia and why I am paranoid, but not in the way that you think. And finally, I have a very special Texas Edition of Write On, my indie book review. I will be posting reviews of books by three Texas writers who are all very different, but equally awesome.

After that? Well, I would tell you to expect more robots, maybe a few vampires, and to forgive me when I fall off the old blogging wagon yet again.