Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Zoo City

Zoo CityZoo City by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zoo City by South African writer Lauren Beukes is a must read for anyone looking for capable, resourceful female characters or a damn good urban fantasy mystery.

Zinzi December is and ex-reporter, ex-junkie with and unusual companion in Sloth. Sloth is an Animal, a familiar that the guilty are cursed with it. When a person receives and Animal, they are instantly known as a criminal, an outcast. Animals are a powerful magic, tying their person to a black hole called the Undertow and bestowing them with a special ability. Zinzi's ability is that of finding lost things.

At it's heart, Zoo City is a good mystery novel surrounding a missing person, something that Zinzi usually refuses to do. By taking the case, she must call on favors from those of her pre-jail, junkie life. Her pre-Sloth life. This is where Beukes shows her skill by weaving information from past and present together to create a draw that sucks the reader in. Beukes never gives the reader everything at once, forcing them to put the pieces together. All the threads are there, another sign of Beukes skill.

The book is written in first person present tense adding to the intensity. The point of view is even more effective given that Zinzi's old skill set is journalism. I can her her voice in every word, every sentence. She reeks of the intelligent person who made very, very bad decisions, but is much tougher for her ordeal. I love Zinzi. She's well rounded and whip smart.

Beukes also immerses the reader in a very well-built world set in Johannesburg, South Africa. From Zinzi's dank apartment in a condemned building to the the music scene she's forced to investigate, all of it is tangible and real. You can see the textures and hear the sounds. Beukes even includes little bits from fictional documentaries, thesis papers, and newspaper clippings.

For fantasy junkies, the magic system is simple but complete. All the rules are there for the reader to understand.

As if you need another reason to read this book, Zoo City is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

So, take my word for it.
  Read this book.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Update On This Thing Called Life

It's been exactly twelve days since my last blog post. What have I been doing? Writing and reading.

I recently finished the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I'm not doing a formal review because it really isn't needed. I'll just say I enjoyed reading it until the end. Why? Because I felt cheated. I wasn't properly distraught enough with the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth. I should have been crying harder than I was during the dog fight scene in Bait Dog. Instead, I felt disconnected. A lot of her decisions seem to be shooting for the dramatic more than the story called for. Oh well. I would still recommend it as a YA novel for young women over anything involving vampires or werewolves. The Hunger Games is a solid sci-fi dystopia.

As for my novel, I'm chugging along. I'm currently working on chapter 32, which leaves me with three more chapters to crank out when I'm finally finished with it. I'm enjoying writing them because they're so exciting. My little Skyriter is getting a serious work out, but I need to take a gum eraser to the typeface again. Smacking into an ink covered ribbon has a tendency to get them all clogged up. Go figure.

By the way. When the end our your first novel is in sight, it teases you. This is the second time I felt this. The first time I thought I was done, and then had to add fifteen more chapters to round it out. It's a much better novel now, but I'm going to have to do some serious word chopping at the front end. Cutting out all "had" and "that" should cover a good couple thousand.

I also had the luck of recently reading a self-published short story by and internet acquaintance of mine. It's a genuinely good story with good writing. I can't wait for the his first novel. Check out the link:

For those who wonder if I have any other kind of life outside of the Word World, I have taken up bowling. I guess it was only natural since I work in a bowling alley, but I've joined the league team. I suck, but I'm getting better through practice, a concept that is not foreign to me. (See writing.)

I have also discovered that my dog is terrified of the rain. Not thunder storms. The rain. I know there has to be a story in their somewhere. Too bad Dan isn't a girl dog, or I would name her Wicked, short for Wicked Witch of the West. It's the water thing. You would think he was freaking out because he's melting. My dog is special.

Enough rambling. Time for me to go back to Typo. I think my cramp is gone for now.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Typewriter: Sears Corrector I

When I was back home about the third week of September, my grandma asked me if I wanted her typewriter. Now, I was a bit confused since I learned to type on a white and blue Smith & Corona Corsair she gave to my mom. As it turns out, she had this electric sitting around.

It's in excellent shape but needs to be cleaned out with some canned air since the white tape on the dried out ribbon flaked off under the platen and ribbon feed.

That brings me to my next problem: the ribbon. You see, the ribbon is one of those cartridge drop-in types. (Sorry I don't have a picture of the funny little ribbon doors open.) I've searched high and low for the ribbon I need for this typewriter, but it appears that it isn't made anymore. I might have to get creative and spool my own ribbon around the spools on the inside of the cartridge.

This is the cartridge with the backs pulled off. Lovely bit of luck it is. It'll take some work, but I probably can manage it.

For those typospherians who come across this blog and want to help, here is a picture of the top:

This cartridge is made by Brother. I've searched high and low short of traveling down to Berkley and checking out the much recommended typewriter repair men.

Any help is much appreciated.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review: Mockingbird

Mockingbird (Miriam Black, #2)Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It all starts with a gun shot. Well, sort of. It starts with the vision of a gunshot.

Chuck Wendig's Mockingbird takes place a year after Miriam's introduction in the novel Blackbird. She's working a crappy job scanning groceries for tourists and living in an Airstream surrounded by meth addicts. Her off/on/it's-effing-complicated paramour Louis is constantly on the road. In other words, Miriam isn't happy. Then she gets fired and touches her boss's hand. Enter fate's worse enemy.

Wendig's second novel featuring Miriam is better than his second, a considerable feat considering how much I enjoyed the last one. This time around he focuses the story on her new found talent at changing lives by taking lives. While the main story arc starts in the typical, "This person contacted me for help," fashion, it doesn't take anything away. In fact, the main plot adds to Miriam's characterization exponentially.

While she's still the foul mouthed highway rat that we all know and love, she's matured. Miriam tries really hard at certain points to be less abrasive than she usually is, but fails when she gets irritated or under duress. Wendig has balanced her growth out nicely because she's recognizable as the character that the reader has fallen in love with but has "matured" past scavenging off others. (It's hard to use the words "mature" and "Miriam" in the same sentence.)

This second installment also has stronger paranormal qualities than the first novel. Since Miriam's power has developed, so has her connection with those that seemingly fuel her ability. Miriam has dubbed this twisted little clue giver as The Trespasser, and "it" fits well into the world that Wendig has developed for the reader.

Like the first book, this one is written in third person present, which lends an effective urgency to the language. The shortness of his sentences and brevity of the scenes give it an almost running cadence that is engrossing yet comfortable to read. If you can stand abrasive, volatile language and truly disturbing "images," than check out this book and the first.

In the words of the layman: "This book is freaking awesome! You have to read it!"

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Bait Dog

Bait DogBait Dog by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wendig has done it again. This book is just as fast and emotionally evoking as strapping a rocket between your legs and zipping down a test track at spine snapping speeds.

Atlanta Burns is a high school student with a reputation for shooting the balls off a grabby boyfriend of her mother's. Her mother is unemployed, she lives in a house with a drunken lean, and has very few friends. One of them has just committed suicide. Atlanta must deal with grief while investigation a string of dog kidnappings.

The two plots are woven together with a deft hand. They don't drag at any point, galloping along and drawing the reader in. Just the dog plot alone had me hugging my dog with a tightness that he didn't appreciate. It is potent and evoking, but can be difficult to read since it focuses on the topic of dog fighting. (I cried, a lot.)

Atlanta herself is a shotgun toting badass despite her vulnerabilities. What makes her a strong female protagonist is that she fights through her weaknesses no matter how much she wants to run. She tackles her fears to defend those that are preyed upon by others. Atlanta burns takes no shit. Every young woman could learn a thing or two from her.

Unlike Wendig's Miriam Black novels, his Atlanta Burns stories are more young adult friendly. I won't say they are young adult because he still deals with some adult themes. Anyone who worries about what they put in front of their high school aged girl (or boy), rest assured. I wouldn't mind my kid reading this, if I had kids. I've read more disturbing things in my high school classes. Like I said, young women should be exposed to a protagonist like Atlanta.

Before reading, catch the novella Shotgun Gravy. My e-book of Bait Dog came with it's own copy before the sequel.

I can't wait for more Atlanta Burns!

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