Have Book, Will Read #14

After a ridiculously long hiatus, I’m back with more mini reviews. Have Book, Will Read has been on hold for way too long, and I figured it was time to dust it off and let it out of the dark, dismal e-basement its been hiding in. I’ve read a lot of great fiction since my last book update, and here are a few of the highlights.

Recent Reads: A little bit of this, a little bit of that… A little bit of everything, really.

First off, something I don’t read a lot of nowadays, though I’ve definitely read my share in the past: romance. Suzanne Jackson’s The Beguiler is a fantasy story, set in a world and time reminiscent of our Regency period. Told in Jackson’s clean and elegant prose, this is the tale of Rebecca Vasteer, a young witch living in a society that has outlawed witchcraft. On the run from both the town marshals and the feared Rangers, Rebecca is saved by a Witch Trader with reasons of his own to stay out of the Rangers’ way.

This isn’t a light and summery love story. Jackson’s world is rich and dark, filled with tales of witch magic and the brutal Ranger skills that aim to contain that power. The story is deliciously unpredictable – every time you think you have the plot figured out, it twists away once again, keeping you guessing every step of the way.

I finally got around to reading the last book in Jo Zebedee’s terrific Inheritance Trilogy. The third and last volume, Abendau’s Legacy, does a great job of tying up Kare Varnon’s epic story in a wonderfully realistic manner that’s neither too neat nor too pretty. This is the final confrontation in a war that has lasted since before Kare’s birth, and what a ride it is!

As always, one of Zebedee’s strong points is that she does a great job of showing us the consequences of her characters’ actions, crafting tales with just enough of a dark underbelly to please both ‘grimdark’ fans and those who like a lighter touch to their space opera.

I’d read the first two volumes of Claudia Gray’s YA Firebird series last year, and been blown away by this exciting tale of multiverse hopping and true love. The concluding book, A Million Worlds With You, hits the ground running after the cliffhanger she left us with in Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Marguerite Caine and her allies across the multiverse have to stop the Triad Corporation before thousands of worlds are doomed to annihilation. But Marguerite is faced with additional challenges: an evil doppelganger from an alternate dimension, intent on her destruction; and the battle to keep her beloved Paul from completely falling apart after his soul was splintered and put together again.

An interesting – and challenging – read was Nik Abnett’s Savant. The first few pages are hard going: Abnett throws us straight into the deep end in her world, and its highly specific language and terms. But once I settled into her tale, I found I was fascinated by this story of love and devotion at a time where everything is highly compartmentalized, institutionalized, and methodical.

Savant is set in a future version of Earth where a living mind mesh cloaks the planet, defending it from alien invasion. When one of the ‘Actives’ that maintains the shield is compromised, global government races to stabilize the system. This is not an easy story, but it’s definitely one well-worth reading. You can read my SFF World interview with the author here.

For fantasy lovers in search of something a little more traditional, Exile by Martin Owton is a good bet. This first book in the Nandor Tales introduces young master swordsman Aron of Darien, an exile without a homeland, and with an oath of revenge to fulfill. Aron gets sidetracked into a quest to rescue the heir of Nandor, and soon finds himself in the thick of another land’s problems.

Duels, daring rescues, subterfuge, magic, and the (lovely but distracting) temptation of love. In Exile, Owton delivers a nicely polished tale, with all the classic elements that fans of epic fantasy will enjoy. The second volume, Nandor, is already out, and I look forward to continuing the story.

I need to mention a non-SFF ARC I read recently. Out in June 2017, Carrie Firestone’s The Unlikelies is a contemporary YA with a lovely, feel-good, summer vibe to it. This is the story of a group of high school kids who become friends at a Rotary Club ‘Home Grown Heroes’ lunch, and decide to put their summer vacation to good use with a series of ninja-style anonymous good deeds.

Firestone’s novel deals skillfully with some pretty dark themes (bullying, heroin addiction), balancing them out with friendship, romance, and some incredibly funny moments. Her snappy dialogue shines throughout, as do her diverse and lovely characters.

Now Reading: Guts and Glory.

I’m currently in the middle of Snake Eyes, by Hillary Monahan. Part of the Gods and Monsters series by Abaddon Books, this is the story of Tanis, a lamia who gets tangled in a war between her own kind and the vengeful Gorgons. I was a little reluctant about this one at first, as I know of Monahan’s reputation as a horror writer, and I don’t really do horror. But – dark, bloody, and foul-mouthed as it is – this is more of an urban fantasy, and I’m finding it hard to put down. The pacing is relentless, and Monahan’s descriptions and dialogue have me straight out laughing aloud at times.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve also been dipping in and out of Journeys, a fantasy anthology by Woodbridge Press that has one of my own stories in it. With a stellar line-up of authors, this is a great read for fantasy fans – and not just because I’m in it. There’s a bit of everything, to please all tastes, and it’s been interesting seeing what directions my fellow authors have chosen to take.

To Read: There’s magic afoot…

I currently have a ridiculously long to-read list – and that’s just considering what’s already loaded on my Kindle, or sitting in paperback or hardback on my bookshelf. So here are just a couple that I can’t wait to start.

I’m a huge fan of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels, and the last one left Alex in a really dark place. I’m part excited for and part dreading the new volume, Bound, because Jacka is a master at making his characters suffer. If you love urban fantasy, and haven’t tried Jacka, please do!

Another urban fantasy novel I recently picked up is the latest in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, Magic For Nothing. So far, McGuire has introduced us to Verity and her brother Alex. Now it’s time to meet the youngest Price sibling, Antimony. Ever since Book 3 in the series, when we switched from Verity’s story to Alex, I’ve been hoping for a closer look at the infamous ‘baby’ of the bunch, so I was delighted when I found out who the protagonist of Book 6 was going to be.

A quick shout out to Rick Riordan, whose latest novel, The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo, Book 2), recently landed in the bookstores. I’m a absolute fan of Riordan’s work, and my kids know that their mother always gets first dibs on any new novel. I’m sorry, did you say ‘It’s a kids book’? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my unapologetic fangirling.

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I’ll get there, eventually!

Villains We Hate To Love (Part 2)

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“I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose…You WILL kneel before me!”

Yeah, yeah. I know they’re the ‘bad guys’. I KNOW, all right? Sheesh, stop shouting. It’s just…why did they have to be so darn awesome? The fact is, some villains are too cool for school, and although we know we’re supposed to hate them, we end up loving them instead. I’m not talking about ‘grey’ villains, ones who have redeemable qualities, who deserve understanding even if ultimately they still do All The Wrong Things. I’m talking about characters who are clearly bad to the core, but who we can’t help adoring anyway.

An example is Scar from Disney’s The Lion King. It’s hard to find a villain as delicious as Scar, voiced by the amazing Jeremy Irons. His particular brand of suave yet petty nastiness blew everyone away when the movie first came out. Scar telling Simba that his surprise is “To die for”? *shivers*

I haven’t seen the Lion King musical. But if we were casting Scar nowadays, he would have to be played by Tom Hiddleston. And speaking of Tom: Loki, in Marvel’s The Avengers. We’re supposed to dislike him – rather intensely, I imagine – but come on, that’s hardly fair! The character’s quiet yet supreme arrogance is played so beautifully by Hiddleston that Loki quickly emerged as one of the highlights of the star-studded movie.

Another character I can’t help rather liking is Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. In part, perhaps, because on-screen she’s played by the inimitable Helena Bonham Carter. But book Bellatrix is also fabulous. She definitely fits in the ‘hate to love’ camp. I think, with Bellatrix, the attraction is her completely unapologetic devotion to evil. She’s not just old Voldy’s right hand lady, she truly enjoys being horrible. With crazed giggling pleasure.

I think it’s easier to find ‘bad guys’ that we love on TV and in movies, than in books. In visual media, a dashing portrayal by a charismatic actor can be enough to make us fall for a villain, however heinous their crimes. (Hannibal Lecter, I’m looking at you.) In books, once an author starts adding charm and depth to an evil character, that character risks ending up in the ‘grey morality’ zone, where we know they’re bad but we understand their motivations and sympathize with them. Which is not really what I’m looking for here: I’m going for characters we KNOW are evil, but can’t help falling for anyway.

Take CW’s Supernatural, for instance. Over the show’s 12 seasons, the audience has embraced outright evil characters such as demon Crowley, played by Mark Sheppard, and Lucifer himself, played primarily by Mark Pellegrino. Both characters are fan favorites, and Sheppard and Pellegrino are for sure the reason behind this. In Arrow, also a CW show, recurring character Malcolm Merlyn is a slippery, self-centered jerk. But actor John Barrowman consistently woos the audience, over and over.

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for an author or show creator when a villain suddenly takes off as a fan favorite. I imagine it goes something like this:

Fans on Twitter, Tumblr, etc: WE LOVE THIS CHARACTER.

Creators: No, they’re actually the villain, you’re not supposed to like them.

Fans: LOVE.

Creators: I don’t think you understand, see, they’re bad?

Fans: *Fan art everywhere. Make a million gifs. Write thousands of words of fan fiction.*

Creators: But…

Fans: Looooovvvveeeeeee………………..

 

 

 

 

Villains We Love To Hate (Part 1)

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A few great villains from my bookshelf

What makes The Ultimate Villain™? Now, I’m not necessarily talking about the Big Bad in a story; for instance, we all know the Emperor is the puppet master behind everything in Star Wars. (Gaaasp, spoiler alert!) But the Ultimate Villain in the original trilogy isn’t the Emperor, it’s Vader, with the all-black ensemble and the heavy masked breathing. He’s the one on all the t-shirts, the one who sells the action figures and LEGO kits. True, he had his moment of redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi, but for the majority of screen time in the trilogy, he was fabulously and unapologetically evil.

Darth Vader got me thinking about some of my favorite screen and page villains, and what makes them so fun to hate. In Vader’s case, I think his utter calm and coldness, allied with the distancing his black outfit, gloved hands, and mask produce, makes him a frightening on-screen presence from the moment he appears in New Hope showing off his Force choke.

The Narnia series was my childhood passion, and you don’t get any nastier than the witches that C.S. Lewis came up with. The scene in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where the White Witch throws Edmund into her dungeon was one I always found chilling: Edmund trusted her (okay, he was also partially bewitched. And an idiot), and she treats him worse than dirt until he’s eventually rescued. The Green Lady in the Silver Chair was also a great villain, with her poisonous sweetness and terrible hidden schemes.

Like Star Wars, the Harry Potter series is another where side villains are often more compelling than the Big Bad, Lord Voldemort himself. Take Dolores Umbridge, for instance. (No, really, please take her, she terrifies me!) She’s tremendously effective as a villain, I think perhaps because most of us have come across that particular brand of petty nastiness at some point in our lives. A schoolteacher, a supervisor at work, an authority figure. Not someone with the power of life or death over us, just someone who can make our lives acutely miserable if they choose. The Harry Potter books have many ‘evil’ characters who we can’t help but understand, at least a little (there’s no way NOT to feel sorry for Draco Malfoy by the end of the series!), but Umbridge certainly isn’t one of those. And oh, boy, do we love to hate her.

Children’s and teen books do this sort of irredeemably nasty character very well (look at Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or President Snow from The Hunger Games), but even in adult fiction, you can’t have a decent fantasy or sci fi novel without a great villain. Or villains, plural. Sauron may have been the Big Bad in The Lord of the Rings, but I always particularly loathed Saruman for his backstabbing, tree-slaying, self-centered behavior. The sequence where the ents take down his fortress will always have me cheering wildly, no matter how many times I read it.

I know the trend nowadays is to have villains that readers/viewers can understand, with tragic backstories and deeper motivations that place them in a sort of moral grey zone, rather than the old-fashioned black-or-white of older stories. And I’m all for that, don’t get me wrong. It makes for a hugely compelling story. But sometimes it’s just so fun to be handed a character we’re unabashedly allowed to love to hate. So authors, producers, creators: grey zone your villains as much as you like, but please, please, please toss us an Umbridge every now and then? Go on. You know you want to.

Boskone 54

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Last weekend I made what has become my yearly pilgrimage to Boskone. For those who have never heard of it (and if you live in New England, you’ve definitely been missing out!), Boskone is a great science fiction and fantasy convention that leans heavily toward SF/F writers and readers. The con always has a fabulous line-up of guest speakers, and the panels are varied and interesting. The overall vibe is relaxed and friendly.

This year, I didn’t manage to go to any of the kaffeeklatsches*, one of my absolute favorite things to do at Boskone. I also went to fewer panels than I usually attend, for one simple reason: this time, I was one of the panelists myself.

So, what was the view like from the other side?

Terrifying, on the first day! By the second day, however, I’d got the hang of it. I relaxed, and really enjoyed the discussion. It helps that I had fantastic co-panelists and moderators, of course. Thanks to Boskone for inviting me! I had a great time. (Check out a list of the panels I was on here.)

Some of my Boskone 54 highlights include the panel on Skullduggery and Dastardly Deeds, hilariously moderated by Scott Lynch, and the panel on Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson’s career. It’s always encouraging to hear great writers like Sanderson talk about the beginning of their careers…

Every year I try to catch a reading, and this time I went to a great one by Lynch – a short story that will appear in the Book of Swords anthology, out in October.

However, one of the best things to do at Boskone can’t be found on the official schedule. And that’s – quite simply – conversation. I love getting a chance to chat to SF/F fans, writers, and other industry folks. It ends up being one of the high points of the con, every single time.

So here I am, two days after returning home, sitting in the middle of a pile of notes, papers, and bookmarks from this year’s Boskone, and all I can think of is: Boskone 55? Bring it on.

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Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

L to R: (not shown: Margaret Ronald), Robert B. Finegold M.D., myself, Adam Stemple, Leigh Perry (Moderator) – photo courtesy of Robert.

*For those who have never been to one, a kaffeeklatsch is an informal round table with someone like an author. I’ve been to several memorable ones, like the one with Myke Cole at my very first Boskone, or the one with Ginjer Buchanan that ended up being a friendly tête-à-tête after a blizzard chased most of the con goers away.

Juliana on Keystroke Medium LIVE

 

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Yesterday I was a guest on Keystroke Medium‘s LIVE! interview show, with hosts Josh Hayes and Scott Moon. I had so much fun chatting with Josh and Scott about writing, Young Adult fiction, and longswords! Keystroke has lots of terrific author interviews, and it’s well worth checking out their YouTube channel.

If you’d like to have a look at my interview, here’s the link:

LIVE! with Juliana Spink Mills

Keystroke Medium has partnered up with cover artist Tom Edwards to raise money for Parkinsons.org.uk. If you’d like more information on this fundraiser, have a look at the Facebook page: Covers for a Cure.

Also, for all you military science fiction fans, Scott has a brand new book out today!

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Boskone 54 Schedule

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From February 17-19 I’ll be at Boskone, in Boston, MA, for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. This will be my third year at Boskone, but my first as a panel participant. Boskone is a friendly con with great panel themes – I’ve been to panels on everything from writing fight scenes to pirates in fiction!

Check out the Boskone website for 2017 speakers and a list of panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, and other activities. There’s still time to register.

My own schedule:

When Villains Defy Expectation in Young Adult Literature

Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Harbor II (Westin)

In YA fiction, the bad guys used to be easy to spot. However, in a world with many shades of gray, villains just aren’t as easy to identify. The handlebar mustaches — gone; the dark trench coats — left on their hangers; the goon squads — seem like bunches of ordinary guys. What does the revamped “villain” archetype mean for our young heroes? How does it affect the story and the other characters? How might this more nuanced sense of good/bad play out as young adult fiction continues to evolve?

Tui Sutherland (M), Ken Altabef, Christine Taylor-Butler, Juliana Spink Mills, Michael Stearns

 

The Year in Young Adult and Children’s Fiction

Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Harbor II (Westin)

Last year was another great one for young adult and children’s fiction. While the explosion of new authors in these genres may be stabilizing, the number of well-written, top-shelf stories continues to soar! Join our panelists for a lively discussion about what you absolutely must read from 2016 — and what we’re looking forward to as 2017 continues.

Maryelizabeth Yturralde (M), Christine Taylor-Butler, Emma Caywood, Juliana Spink Mills, Bruce Coville

 

Indie Pub Your Backlist

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Do you have old stories that were published ages ago, now lingering in drawers, gathering dust — not getting read? Independent publishers can be a great resource for letting your stories see the light of day again, and drumming up interest from new readers. We’ll discuss ideas on revitalizing your backlist and finding indie publishers for your unpublished early gems.

Joshua Bilmes (M), Walter Jon Williams, Richard Shealy, Juliana Spink Mills, Craig Shaw Gardner

 

Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

An inconsistent or poorly described worldscape can furnish a confusing story, or challenge a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, even when you’re dealing with a world that is “just like ours.” Is creating an urban fantasy world as simple as adding magic to a place like Chicago or New York City? Or is there more to it? Hear from writers who have created fully realized urban fantasy worlds that their readers can almost see, touch, and smell.

Leigh Perry (M), Margaret Ronald, Adam Stemple, Juliana Spink Mills, Robert B. Finegold M.D.

Aliens – The Truth Is Coming

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I have a short story out this week in a brand new anthology by Tickety Boo Press, UK. Aliens – The Truth Is Coming has a great line up of authors, with a wide variety of takes on the theme.

From the publisher:

Many of us look up into the wondrous night sky and know that we are looking at a galaxy full of life. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t discovered definitive proof of it yet – we know it’s out there and, perhaps, looking back at us, wondering the same thing in return.

The stories in this anthology explore myriad ideas of what ‘extra-terrestrial’ could mean. Not only to humanity, but to individuals. 

You will read stories of invasion, stories of loss and discovery, stories of trickery and subjugation, and so much more.
This anthology throws the doors wide open, and all you need do is step through… 

And here are the authors:

Foreword and Acknowledgements by Andrew Angel

Stories:

In Plain Sight by Juliana Spink Mills

Geometry by Alex Davis

Gods of the Ice Planet by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Island Visit by Nathan Hystad

Even the Klin Are Only Human by Bryn Fortey

A New Dawn by Liz Gruder

Rent by Steven Poore

Salvage by MJ Kobernus

The Devil’s Rock by William Anderson

The Man Who Wasn’t Dead by Terry Grimwood

We Three Remain by Stewart Hotston

Welcome to Cosmic Journey by Michael Chandos

The Zoo of Dark Creatures by Leslie J Anderson

Here by Tim James

 

You can find the anthology on Amazon UK and Amazon US.