Déjà Dead: Or A Bit of Déjà Vu

Well, it took me nearly a year, but I finished it. I have now officially read Kathy Reichs’ first novel, Déjà Dead.

I have definite mixed feelings about Déjà Dead. I had originally picked up the book because the series had been recommended to me as “books that have their facts straight” (in case you haven’t noticed, I routinely hate on cop shows because there are so. many. inaccuracies.) and because I have weirdly grown to love the TV personalities of Booth and Brennan, the main characters of Bones. They did, after all, help me get through school, so it might be appropriate to read the books that inspired the series. Thus, with my expectations set high, I ordered a copy off Amazon. It arrived shortly before I went to visit a relative, so I decided to make it my travel reading. I got about two-thirds of the way through before I couldn’t handle it anymore and just wanted to pitch the book across the plane (which is frowned upon by most societies). I gave up, and when I returned home, I put it on a high shelf where I could ignore it as it mocked me. Due to my most recent travels, I went ahead and picked it up again, determined to slog it out and finish.

The book, unlike the show, is set in Montréal, not in the D.C. area. Dr. Brennan is a divorcee in her late forties, not a young, unmarried, childless woman in her early thirties. She is a career forensic anthropologist, not an osteoarchaeologist with a penchant for being an expert in all things anthropological. Essentially, Temperance Brennan suffered the same fate that Sherlock Holmes suffered many years ago: popular television changed both from observant humans with a few weird quirks to genius misanthropes who abhor the common man, yet are in need of a companion to tend to them to see that they remember the basic things like eating and saying hello and not insulting people to their faces.

This all would bode well for the series, except Brennan also seems to have lost the common sense that comes with adulthood and picked up the common sense of Nancy Drew. While I definitely spent many hours reading the adventures of everyone’s favorite redheaded detective as a child, as an adult, her lack of common sense (you know this man is kidnapping people! Don’t follow him onto a deserted island!) tends to irk me. Dr. Brennan seems to be weak in the same department. Which leads to what frustrated me and made me put down the book: Brennan kept doing stupid things.

The only sort of horror/thriller movies that I enjoy are psychological thrillers. This is because I cannot stand when people do dumb things. For example: if a homicidal maniac is chasing you, you do not do things like willingly split up or try to figure out which room in the house he’s in. You definitely don’t wander the halls going “Hello? Hello? Who’s there? Anybody?” Brennan tends to do that, albeit with a bit more finesse. But really. If you know a serial killer has left a head in your garden, killed people just to spite you, left objects for you to find so you know he killed them, and then you come home to find your daughter’s backpack left at your doorstep, you totally go inside, make some orange juice, and do a bit more research to figure out if that might possibly be his handiwork or not without calling any of your cop coworkers.

That sort of thing happens repeatedly, and each time I found myself setting the book aside and choosing to read something else. Yet, just as I had with the show (Cait, this is all your fault), I kept circling back to find out what happened. The second time, too, was after I had been in Montréal, and I was quite familiar with a number of the metro stations that feature in the book, as those were quite frequently my stops. For some reason, you become a bit more invested in the resolution of the story when you happen to travel the routes in question. So I dove back in, ignored the fact that SHE’S DOING THE STUPID AGAIN, and finished the story.

The last third of the book was, admittedly, well written. There was more of the investigative work that I had begun reading the book for, although not as much as I would have liked. Really, between her initial analysis in the lab (which happens early on) and the last bits of dental work, not much else is done in the realm of the bone world. Actually, the writing itself was well done. It was the Nancy Drew-ness of the plot that frustrated me and made me put the book down again and again.

All that said, I will probably get the second book and (attempt) to read it. I enjoyed the characters (I even think I know which one is Booth and which one is Sully!). Claudel is so grumpy it’s cute. It’s funny to watch people live through the prehistoric era of the beginning of the internet again. Montréal is nice. It is, too, Kathy Reichs’ first published fiction, so I feel the need to be forgiving of some usage of tropes and stereotyping. Her science sciences well, which makes me happy.

Final Thoughts: 3/5 stars. Will probably read the ending again. Probably won’t reread the book. Probably will buy the next one. Good enough.

Posted in Fiction, Mystery/Detective, Police Procedural | Leave a comment

Felicia Day, Queen of Geekdom

“You have a finite number of toothpaste tubes you will ever consume while on this planet. Make the most of that clean tooth time. For yourself.”

Oh my goodness. Where to begin?

Perhaps I should begin at the beginning, when I was languishing over which book to talk about this week.

Although I have a number of books I want to talk about, I spent quite a while debating over which book to start with. While Machiavelli and Sun Tzu might be the most ancient in both my personal history of reading books (and then re-reading them multiple times), they can be stuffy. I nixed them early on. Almost all the history books I like are fraught with political peril, so ixnay on them, too. I’m not in the mood to write on any of the books I’ll be teaching from, and I definitely did not want my First Official Book Review™ to be of a book I ended up hating. I even went as far as to kidnap my mother and make her go get coffee with me while I prattled on and on about which book to choose.

And then…I realized. This was the perfect chance to write about Felicia Day, one of the three women who I assume rule the secret but powerful Trifecta of Kickass Hollywood Ladies.

Felicia Day is all goodness and sunshine and fluffy yet heartfelt insecurities. I first met her in Buffy, where she was one of the potential Slayers and technically didn’t say much (she did have a cool hat, though!), but I remembered her enough so that when she showed up in Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog I could go “Hey! Hey! That girl! I know her!” and furiously google to figure out where I knew her from. Then there was Dollhouse, which was great (and also another Whedon venture). Then there was a long period of time where she did not cross my path at all, until someone forced me to watch a Supernatural episode with them and there she was.

And there I was, back at the Google machine, because clearly Ms. Day had been doing a lot between when I last saw her in Dollhouse and when she turned up in Supernatural. I discovered The Guild, rewatched Dr Horrible, and in a freak coincidence, ended up at the bookstore, where her book handcuffed itself to me until I bought it. Ok, ok, fine, I bought it of my own free will, but only because a) Felicia Day, b) the title was great, and c) well, Felicia Day. Suffice to say, I had high expectations when I started reading (which is always dangerous), and she did not disappoint.

The title is simply “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir“, and it is by Felicia Day, just in case you didn’t pick up on that yet. In it, she covers everything from growing up as an early homeschoolee and finding a social outlet through roleplaying on the internet to being a musical prodigy and how she got into acting. She also talks about more serious stuff, like learning to deal with failure–and the scrapes and bumps she had along the way to figuring that out (something a lot of people just magically gloss over and ignore). Essentially, she gave us a raw-but-curated look at how she became herself and got to where she is today.

I connected with You’re Never Weird on the Internet on several levels. First off, I was homeschooled (under the same sort of “we were expected to read” rule as Ms. Day mentions), secondly, I had no real social life in my growing-up town, and thirdly, I solved that problem by getting involved in roleplaying, albeit a vastly different type. That’s also where my identifying with Ms. Day ends, although I’ve given a couple stabs at failing at adulting, too (my comeback is nowhere near as grand). There was, too, the fact that the book reveals that she is an actual real person who suffers from things like self-doubt, depression, impostor’s syndrome, and etc. I always forget that other people feel like that too. It essentially, while being totally not about me, was the perfect encouragement book.

Also, her meme usage gets an A+. And her cultural analysis of #GamerGate. And I need GIFs of her reading the book dramatically so I can throw them at my friends regularly.  Basically, this was a book that, when I finished it, I wanted to be able to trundle down to a coffee shop, sit down across from her, and continue the conversation. I wanted to make my own Pancake Ladies Group, even if it did weirdly remind me of The Breakfast Club. Felicia Day writes the way she talks, which I suppose could annoy some people, but I like it. It adds to the purely quirky flavor.

Final thoughts: 5 stars, 10/10, would read again, have bought for friends, have made friends buy.

Posted in Memoirs/Biographies, Nonfiction | Leave a comment

Of Albion Academy and Coffee Shops

16237739_10154373368938036_1929547110_nI’m currently in a coffee shop between Trinity College and the Department of Manuscripts, enjoying some well-deserved treats before I head over to the Museum (because Bog Bodies!). As it seems every time I go on a trip a friend publishes a book, I’ve been chatting with my friend Elijah David, author of The Albion Quartet, the first book of which, Albion Academy, was recently released. In celebration, I’ve demanded he write even more, and have handed my blog over to him for the day. Thus, without further ado, Elijah David.

Thanks for having me today, Wren!

Since you’re always posting about the wonderful places you’ve traveled to, I thought I could talk a bit about how real-life places show up in my fiction.

I actually have two main real-life settings for most of the stories I’ve published. The John Valley stories (“The Debt-Keeper“, “My Friend the Fish“, “Red: Haunting” and “The Closet”) all take place in a fictionalized version of my hometown in Northwest Florida. Like Ray Bradbury in his Green Town books (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc.), I wanted to capture something of the world I grew up in, while at the same time exploring the strangeness of life. By writing these stories as fantasy and magical realism, I was able to do more than just retell events I experienced; I could create new stories that fit the setting. In fact, I’m not sure there are any “real” events in these stories. Once I established John Valley, the setting and its characters took on a life all their own. (I should probably note that I have borrowed names higgledy-piggledy in some of these stories which have no bearing on the people who owned them, like my Uncle George’s surname belonging to a haunted house in the Red story. Again, that’s the joy of fiction.)

The other main setting that appears is the setting for Albion Academy and its sequels: Ilium, Alabama. Ilium is patterned (in some ways, but not totally) on the city where I attended college. Even the name is a play on the city’s real name. (The city Ilium is based on also contributed some elements to John Valley.) Here again, I’ve taken liberties by having the town be a fictional version of the real-life city. The advantage of using a real-life location in this way is two-fold. First, I already have a general layout of major landmarks and streets available to me, which saves a lot of effort in the worldbuilding stages. Second, I’m free from the constraints of having to stick too closely to a street map that already exists. It’s having my cake and eating it too.

Using fictionalized versions of real locations isn’t always the best course, however. In Albion Academy, I had to include at least one location that can actually be visited by the readers (although I have sadly not visited it myself). In this case, that’s the Glastonbury Tor. Historically connected to Avalon and Merlin, it was the perfect location to slip into the books. (But you’ll have to be watchful; I don’t name it as such in the novel.) How did I use a place I’d never visited in a novel? Google is your friend, my friends. The wonderful thing about modern technology is that you can find pictures and descriptions of foreign (or just distant) places to help you get the details right. Google Earth and Google Maps have satellite imagery for a lot of places like Glastonbury Tor that can help you get a feel for the scenery.

One thing I haven’t done so far in my fiction is utilize a real location as a main setting without fictionalizing it. I have a story in mind that will do this with Chattanooga, but I believe that will have to wait until after the Albion series is complete.

What real-life locations have you used in fiction? Did you keep the setting strictly in line with the actual place or did you use artistic license? Are there any real locations in fiction you’ve read about where the author made you want to visit?

Elijah David works as a copywriter and content editor at a Chattanooga advertising agency. He holds an MA in English (UTC) and is a member of the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild. An avid reader of fantasy, he started writing Albion Academy when a trio of fictional characters grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. He is currently working on the second of four planned books in the world of Albion Academy. In addition, he edits and contributes to the Tolkien journal Silver Leaves. As far as he knows, Elijah’s only magical ability is putting pen to paper.

If you would like to order Albion Academy, you can find the paperback here and the ebook here. I would also recommend visiting Elijah’s blog and following him on facebook.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Leave a comment

From One Coffeeshop Writer to Another: Mir Published Paper Crowns While I Wasn’t Looking

tumblr_o4995pxJel1tkzty6o1_500As I have been lounging around playing with bones and doodling in coffee shops, a dear friend of mine has been hard at work, writing. As I greatly enjoy reading her works (and more or less making snarky comments in the margins), when she announced the publication of her second book, I thought it might be time to introduce her to all of you. Thus, without further ado, I would like to present Miss Mirriam Neal, author, inventor, and saboteur of bad fashion.

W: So this is your second published book, but the first in this series. Your first book, Monster, was quite gritty. Paper Crowns seems a lot lighter, and, dare I say, fluffier. What inspired that change?

MN: The Paper Series is the fluffiest thing I’ve ever written. I wouldn’t call it a change so much as a side-dish – my main courses are still the same. Grittier. The Paper books refresh me and give me something lighter to play with when I feel overwhelmed with the heaviness of my usual subjects. Essentially, they’re my palate-cleansers!

W: When you first started Paper Crowns, were you expecting it to turn into a series?

MN: I had no idea it would become a series. It wasn’t until Azrael appeared that I thought, /he needs his own novel/. So I wrote him one, and there were several characters in /that/ novel who needed their own novels, and so on and so forth. Very vexing (but I’m not complaining).

W: What do you expect to work on next?

MN: I’m currently writing a futuristic Japanese sci-fi retelling of Robin Hood, and I’m overhauling my Southern urban fantasy novel, Dark is the Night. I have several other novels planned, but they’re in various stages of formlessness at the moment.

W: You seem to always circle around to Japanese tales–I’ve noticed nearly every project you’ve worked on has had some Asiatic element. What draws you to that/what do you find so fascinating about it?

MN: I can thank Rurouni Kenshin for igniting my love of Japanese history. I’ve always found Korean and Chinese history interesting, but Japanese history simply never crossed my radar until I picked up the first volume of Rurouni Kenshin. I love Asian flair – from clothing and hairstyles to military tactics and skill to traditions and languages. For whatever reason, my love of Eastern Asian began to influence everything I wrote and, to coin a phrase, I ain’t even mad. It’s solidified now – eight years and the influences only grow stronger.

W: Speaking of Chinese history, if I remember correctly, you’re also a fan of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, as well as his European compatriot Machiavelli’s The Prince.

MN: I’m a HUGE fan of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, although Musashi reigns supreme in my mind.

W: How do you think Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Musashi have impacted your writing and how your build characters?

MN: They’ve helped round out my political and strategic knowledge. Plus, I can write feasible-yet-epic swordfights thanks to Musashi. I’d say they’ve given me a lot of knowledge that shows itself in writing, but haven’t specifically impacted the way I build characters, per se.

W: What author do you think has impacted your writing the most, and which ones are your favorite to read?

MN: Some of my favorite things to read…I have a stack of books I re-read every year or so. The Hobbit (Tolkien), I Capture the Castle (Smith), Howl’s Moving Castle (Jones), Inkheart (Funke), The Riddle-Master trilogy (Mckillip), and (of course) Musashi, Machiavelli, and Sun Tsu.

Tolkien inspired me to begin writing, but the biggest influence /on/ my writing has been Guillermo del Toro, in huge ways. Tolkien was my motivation, del Toro is my constant inspiration.

W: Can you tell me a bit about how del Torro’s work has impacted you?

MN: It began with Pacific Rim and his work on the Hobbit movies, and solidified itself with the Hellboy movies. I was amazed, because here was the David Bowie of film directors – doing just exactly whatever he wanted to do, whether or not it made average sense. If he had an idea he thought was great, he just /did it/, please and thank you. He doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, and not everything needed a good reason for being the way it was – and because he cares so little about convention, his stories are some of the most inspiring ever told. His characters are some of the most colorful ever to grace the screen. His inventions and creativity gobsmack me on a daily basis – and he does all of this without ever sacrificing one element for another. Humor, romance, action, fantasy, sci-fi, character relationships, character growth, and attention to detail – he does it all. And I love him for it.

W: I love del Torro so much…I’m glad you like the same things about him. You really need to watch Pan’s Labyrinth [sorry, running back and forth between us]. To switch gears a bit, I know you are quite the coffee connoisseur. Where is your favourite place to write and sip coffee?

MN: My favorite place to write and drink coffee is a place called the Daily Grind, a Christian-run operation with wonderful coffee and some amazing gluten-free cranberry-orange scones. Every coffee shop has a different vibe, and the Daily Grind is full of life and energy and you never know who you’ll run into. I’ve struck up some golden conversations with strangers there. (Plus, there’s this one old leather couch by a window.)

W: Would you mind sharing an anecdote of your adventures there?

MN: Well, one day I was sitting with ‘Mere Christianity’ on the table next to me and one of the baristas (I think he may actually be a manager; he’s there literally every time) walks past and says, “Oh, hey! That’s on my reading list!” We then began a discussion about C. S. Lewis that continues every time I go there and he’s free. He’s currently reading The Magician’s Nephew.

W: Oh, so no wild adventures. I do applaud his taste in books, though. Is he cute?

MN: He’s short with a huge beard.

W: You should keep him. You often mention how much you love particular aspects of foreign cultures (KPop comes to mind, and you usually look like the quintessential stereotype of French fashion). Do you have any plans to travel, and if so, where would you like to go?

MN: Oh, I would love to travel. I want to visit Japan and spend a year in South Korea, then bike across Ireland and visit Wales and Scotland (a personal heritage tour) before settling down in Iceland. Obviously after settling down I would take trips.

W: What made you choose Iceland as your eventual home?

MN: I fell in love with it when I researched Iceland for my novel ‘Kenna’ two years ago.

W: It’s been a while since I’ve heard you mention Kenna! What’s going on in that bookiverse right now?

MN: I’m trying to wrap my head around the sequel, is what. It’s /very/ open and a lot of things could happen – I just need to choose my own adventure and make sure it takes me to the ending in mind.

W: It seems you have a lot of projects right now (but then again, when do you not?). Paper Crowns was just released last month (you can purchase a copy from Amazon here). Can you give us a hint on what we can expect next from you?

MN: Well, I plan to finish up The Dying of the Light (futuristic Samurai Robin Hood retelling) within the next couple months while simultaneously editing Dark is the Night (because we need some good Southern Christian vampire novels). I’m trying not to heap too many things on my plate, although I’d like to. (I always regret it.)

W: Sounds great! Incidentally, before we close, I seem to recall hearing about a certain incident at your library today?

MN: Yes! Fun story; my sister and I drive to the library. Nothing abnormal about it. We drive through the gates, get out of the car, and walk up to the front door. There’s a sign taped to the door. ‘WE ARE ON LOCKDOWN UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.’ Completely baffled, my sister and I get back in the car and drive out the gates, and as we do, we see a) at least five police cars lining the street and b) a helicopter overhead. I’m friends with one of the librarians, and so I texted him and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘There’s an active shooter in the area.’ So yep. Active shooter. Same old, same old.

pcAnd that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Mirriam Neal and I are friends: apparently weird adventures that just skirt being dangerous bind us together. Mirriam hails from the West Coast, but currently resides in Atlanta. She is not only an amazing novelist, but also a brilliant artist who often creates portraits of both real and imagined people. If you are interested in reading Mirriam’s book, you can find it on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble (and I don’t even get a kickback from those!). Paper Crowns is a the first novel in a fantasy series appealing to all ages. The tale provides a bridge between our world and the world of fae, and follows Ginger and her companions on their search for justice. If you wish to read more from Mirriam, you can follow her blog at https://mirriamneal.com/ 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | 3 Comments