Stormdancer – by Jay Kristoff

When you hit the last page of a book, give a sigh and then feel the urge to open the first page and start all over, you know you’re on to a good thing.

When my brother-in-law said a good friend of his was a writer, we were still busy pretending that we’d all have books someday too, so he was a bit of a benchmark.  He had a book already, called “Stormdancer“.  Then, I found out it was probably going to be published.  A bit of a higher benchmark then.  Then I found out that publishing houses were actively bidding on it and this guy was some sort of phenom in the writing world, and I saw that benchmark hit stratospheric levels.  The new benchmark was just to make friends with him and hope that some of his Writing Awesome rubbed off via Facebook emails.

What’s in a name?

I’ll comfortably admit that I balked, heavily, when told it was “Dystopian Japanese Steampunk”.  Mostly because I fkn hate labels.  I hate the categories that people put on books, as if that will somehow affect what kind of story is being told on the inside.  I think book categories should be along the lines of “Epic story” for one that stretches a few years, “Adventure Story” would be a shorter time period with some action, “Love Story” where the focus is around Le Romance, “Fun Story” where nobody dies, “Sad Story” where somebody dies and we liked them, and “Day in Life Of” where it’s a more focussed look at somebody’s life.  Combine ’em for fun!  Epic Love Adventure Sad Story!

Anyway, the description of this book does it absolutely no justice whatsoever.  If it weren’t written by a friend, and Sam handed me the book with the phrase, “Japanese Steampunk, you’ll like it” I would have given it the same attention that I gave the other books he’s handed me like “Dystopian Fantasy, you’ll like it” and “Sort of Adventure, you might not like it” (turns out I did like it, and didn’t like the other one).

This shouldn’t feel like History class in High School

My biggest complaint of the books Sam’s lending me are that the worlds that are crafted by the author are wonderful and vivid and intricate… but they feature SO heavily in the story that I’m lost unless I can quickly figure out what a “tinkerer” does.  Somehow, somewhere along the Way of the Nerd, you learn this shit, and these books make perfect sense.  I never learned it, and wished for a Glossary more than once.  Curiously enough, I found out Stormdancer has a glossary after I turned the last page of the book.  Put ’em in the FRONT, so I know what to look for!

Kidding, somewhat, even with Japanese words mixed in here and there, it’s not hard to figure out that he’s talking about some sort of robe, or tunic, or belt or sword.  That I appreciated.  And for some reason, Steampunk doesn’t have to involve a heap of words and definitions that I didn’t understand.  All he had to do was describe it, beautifully, and leave it at that.  There are plenty of times that I’ve felt like the author is happily leaving me behind, treating me as if I don’t get it, then I don’t deserve to.  Because of the Nerdiness Level of my brother-in-law, I had assumed that Jay would be like this as well.

Never fear!

The names, Japanese, and some of the words, Japanese as well, were the only things that took me a minute to figure out.  The rest is one helluva well-paced adventure, full of heartbreak and triumph, love and betrayal, secrets and magic and all kinds of awesome.

Hit for six, first time at bat

I’ve been on forums for writers, I’m on several email feeds, I converse with a few here and there and used to have a website built solely for my writery friends.  One of the prevailing themes of trying to be traditionally published is How Many Rejections you’ve had.  Some wear it like a badge of honour, like JK Rowling we believe that if everybody rejects us then that’s how we learn to get better.  Or maybe we’ll work on another manuscript and that one’ll be better than this one.

Jay didn’t really have to do that.  His first manuscript wasn’t rejected, it was so sought-after that 3 HUGE publishing houses bid on it in an auction.

Holy Shit.

So there’s your secret, little writers out there.  You want to get published?  Don’t really want a mountain of rejection letters no matter how cool Stephen King says they are?

Then write a really fkn good book, like Jay did.

Go buy it now, it’s really, really good.

“No Shelter” by Z. Constance Frost

I’ll just come out and say it:

Hands-down, the best e-book I’ve ever read.

Holly Lin is a nanny by day, a secret government assassin by night.  There, that’s as cheesy as I’m going to get during this review, but I do have to give some background.

Fast-paced, well-timed, slightly-humorous and fairly-realistic action, Action, ACTION.  This girl is half-Japanese, mid 20’s, hot and really, really good at killing.  The best part about the action in this book is that it isn’t all bullets flying by her ears and such, much of the action is plot-driven, taking us to all kinds of locations around the world.

The best part about the character development is that it isn’t just laid out for us.  Sometimes, the whole tagline is about the protagonists motivations, “I’m Bomber Rockmuscle.  I drink hard and shoot harder, and I’m out to avenge the murder of a busload of nuns and the guy that makes my favourite sandwich at the Greek deli down the block.”

Holly’s a complex girl though.  She’s been in love, but lost that love.  She’s got some family issues, but has some very loving and normal family members, even a typical difficult relationship with her mother.  She’s a nanny to two DC General’s kids and loves them like her own, teaching them languages and Right VS. Wrong while taking them to the museum and the pool.  Hell, she even cops shit from another character for using the phrase “love them like my own”.

This book almost, kinda sorta, maybe could border on a Secret Government Assassin Thriller formulaic approach, but that’s just to fool you.  Underneath all that is a complex woman who is both ordinary and extraordinary, and the author somehow finds a way to blend that into incredibly benign and banal situations (like sitting at the pool with women nicknamed only for their haircolour) as well as incredibly tense situations (on the phone with a terrorist threatening the lives of the children).

I’ll also come out and say something a bit bold:

There is no way, NO FRIGGIN’ WAY, that this is the author’s first novel, let alone a self-published e-book.  This is clearly a well-established thriller author who has invented a persona and is experimenting with the world of e-publishing.  There’s simply no way that somebody just writes something like this for their first shot out of the ranks.

I’ve outed you “Z. Constance” IF that is your real name, which it clearly is not.  Time to come clean and admit that you’re really James Friggin Patterson.

Come on, seriously.  The jig is up.  You’re busted.

Just kidding.  But email me and tell me if I’m right, I won’t tell.