Monday, April 30, 2012

Bonds of Fenris is now available! + More Reviews

Yeah, I know, the release date isn't for another week. We've actually spoken of this before; see my earlier post on the subject. Well, as planned, I uploaded Bonds of Fenris yesterday, and it is now available for purchase directly from the Smashwords site. It should be going out to other sites soon, including Apple's iBookstore,  Barnes &, Kobo, and so forth. It will be on Amazon eventually, but that'll take time. Amazon does not have a publishing agreement with Smashwords, which means I have to make a separate edition for them. (This doesn't mean the content will be any different, though I may have to cut out the ToC if it's not working right.) Unfortunately, Amazon's interface is a lot less user-friendly than Smashwords', and their support section is cluttered. Give me time.

So, short version: out at Smashwords now, out at your favorite eBook retailer soon. If it's all the same to you, I suggest buying direct from Smashwords, because I get more money that way. ^_^

In related news, more reviews are springing up:
And that's it for now. More to come, hopefully!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blog Hopping 4/27/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, independent author. My first book, Bonds of Fenris, is coming out May 7th, and reviews can be found around the net. This week has been very quiet, but plenty was going on behind the scenes. I may have a review of Bloodrose at some point next week, and of course my book is coming out soon, so I'm excited about that. And just to remind you, there are still ARCs of Bonds of Fenris available for book bloggers. So, if you're interested, my e-mail's right there on the sidebar!

I also have a review blog, Lupines and Lunatics. Latest review is Promise of the Wolves.

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"Have you had a character that disappointed you? One that you fell in love with and then “broke up” with later on in either the series or a stand-alone book? Tell us about him or her."

I try not to get too involved with fictional characters, but I think I know what you mean. I have a few examples from the realm of video games and TV, but fewer from books. I'm going to say Odysseus Grant from the Kitty Norville books, but in this case it's not a matter of disliking the character as much as disliking his effect on the story. From his introduction in book 5, he almost immediately became the most powerful good guy in the mythos. The next three books had him saving Kitty's behind repeatedly with his massive knowledge of the arcane. ("Godmoding like an Uchiha," I think I called it.) It reached the point where he had more agency in the story than the main character. Luckily, it seems that the author realized this as well: he was phased out and replaced with Amelia, who serves the same plot purpose but has a much more reasonable power level. One thing I admire about Carrie Vaughn is that she's not afraid to scrap ideas because they don't make her story better.

This week's ice-breaker for TGIF @ GReads:

"Reading Blues: We all get them from time to time. What helps you overcome those reading slumps when nothing seems to grab your attention?"

Well, I usually force myself to just pick up something and get to it. But this can cause trouble. Reading when you're not in the mood results in a book dragging. Worse, it means you'll be testy and unable to appreciate the book for what it is. A better solution is to take a hiatus, which I did at the end of 2011 when it all just became too much. I should have come back in sooner than four months, though. That's the trick to it: if you go too long without reading, you start to find other pursuits. If books are just your hobby, that's not a big deal. If they're your business, like mine, it's a very big deal. Next time I take a hiatus, I'll try to keep it down to two months.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New guest post

I did a guest post for Nocturnal Book Reviews this past Friday. I mentioned this earlier, but couldn't link because it wasn't up yet. Now it is, so if you missed it, have a look.

The release date draws closer, and the suspense is killing me. I'm occupying myself working on another project and reading Bloodrose. Which is thus far a big improvement over Wolfsbane. Full review when I'm done, though that'll probably be a week or two.

I'm not nervous. No, really, I'm not. Seriously.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Blog Hopping 4/20/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, independent author. My first book, Bonds of Fenris, is coming out May 7th, and reviews can be found around the net. I've been doing a bit of reviewing myself, lately. In the archive bar to the right, you'll see opinions on two films and one board game. Plus, the review of Running with the Pack should be up on Lupines and Lunatics later today. And just to remind you, there are still ARCs of Bonds of Fenris available for book bloggers. So, if you're interested, my e-mail's right there on the sidebar!

I also have a review blog, Lupines and Lunatics. Latest review is Promise of the Wolves.

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"If you could have two fictional characters battle it out (preferably from books), who would they be and who do you think would win?"


Umm... that's uh... kinda outta nowhere... Uhhh... let me think...

Oh! I know! Big Macintosh and The Engineer in a vigorous debate over the building of a fence!


This week's ice-breaker for TGIF @ GReads:

"Has there been a particular book blogger who's influenced what you read? Share with us a review/book blog that convinced you to pick up a certain book."

I more or less decide what I read based on what looks interesting, but yes, a review will occasionally pique my interest in a book that I wouldn't normally pick up. One example that comes readily to mind is You're Killing Me's review of A Brush of Darkness, which convinced me that the book might be worth deviation from my blog's usual formula. It was, though I admit I wasn't quite as enamored of it.

You're Killing Me, BTW, is a very underrated blog, and you should definitely follow it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Board Game Night: Luna

The board game group has had Luna for awhile. I've been wanting to try it, and this past Saturday I finally got the chance. It was fun while playing it (although I won, which probably makes me biased). Afterwards, I got to thinking, and I started seeing fundamental problems with the game design. Then I started thinking some more, and realized that it was deeper than I thought.

Luna is sometimes categorized as a worker placement game, but it's not. Yes, the core mechanic is using meeples at locations to perform actions, and using those actions to achieve victory points. But unlike most of these games, getting to the right locations is more difficult than just placing a meeple there before another player. Most ways of moving a meeple use up their action for the turn, and different actions are available at different spaces on different turns. So you have to plan ahead.

There are four serious ways to earn VP: You can build shrines (which have the additional benefit of making it cheaper to perform certain actions), advance your position in the council, court the favor of the high priestess, or move your meeples into the temple. There are ways to pick up little 1 VP bonuses along the way, but those four are the major VP sources. There are also favor tokens, which are one-use special actions that you can get by using two meeples at a given space. Some of these are more useful than others: the gold favor is nearly useless, the shrine favor (which allows you to build shrines) is critical, and most of the rest are situational. The tide favor, however, is game-changing. It allows you to move all your meeples to new positions. Upon arriving, they've lost their action for the turn, but you can move them with the tide even if they've already used their action for the turn. Since being at the right place at the right time is crucial, a powerful strategy is to camp out on the tide island with a meeple and a shrine, get the tide favor every turn (there's enough for all players), and use them near turn's end to set up the next turn.

What made me think the game was broken initially is that there's very limited interaction between the players. Other then grabbing openings in the temple, you can't stop other players from doing most actions. You can, with some effort, sic the apostate on other players to rob them of VP, and to win the priestess' favor you have to compete, but generally your game does not affect anyone else's. So I figured that with an experienced group, the game would degenerate into everyone doing their own thing, and whoever finds the better strategy wins. Then once everyone knows the best strategy, the game becomes a trudge with few surprises and the winner decided by little details and getting lucky with the turn order, an unsatisfying play experience.

But upon looking closer at the VP sources, I realized I had it dead wrong. What the game is really about is efficiency. A shrine is worth 4 VP. To build one, you have to use two meeples to get a shrine favor token, then two more to build the shrine. So you earn 4 VP for 4 meeple-actions, or 1 VP per me-act. The council is the same way: using 3 meeple-actions gets you 3 VP, using 3 more gets you an additional 3 VP, then it's 2 for 2 and 2 for 2, for a total maximum of 10 VP for 10 meeple-actions. 1 VP per me-act, same as the shrines. The priestess' favor is tricky: at the end of each turn, you count up unused meeples on the same space as the priestess (she moves to a new space each turn). The player with the most earns 6 VP, second place gets 3 VP and third gets 1 VP. So, if people ignore the priestess, you can earn 6 VP for a single me-act. But if a lot of people are trying to win her favor, you might get better return for your meeples elsewhere. So it's a bit of a wild card.

Then there's the temple. There are only a certain number of openings in the temple at a time, and only from certain spaces. Taking an opening requires 2 meeple-actions, and earns you points based on what turn of the game it is. On the first turn, placing a meeple in the temple is worth 6 VP. The reward decreases over the course of the game, until on the last turn it's worth only 2 VP. So between 1 and 3 VP per me-act. Additionally, for as long as your meeple stays in the temple, he earns you 1 VP per turn, in exchange for not being able to use him for actions.

In other words, there are only two major ways in which you compete with the other players: getting spots in the temple and winning the priestess' favor. But these are also the only ways in the game to get a return of more than 1 VP per me-act. So the game is really about outmaneuvering your opponents for the big points and maximizing returns when you're forced to take the small ones.

So it's a fun game and deceptively deep. I'm eager to play it again.

Movie Night: The Hunger Games

I was in the worst possible situation with this movie: I hadn't read the book, so I didn't know what to expect, but I had picked up so much from book blogging and TVTropes that I knew all the surprises anyway.

One of the annoying things about being a writer is that you can't help looking at other people's stories and thinking how you could write them better. One problem that many people are citing with the film is that the tributes weren't properly developed as characters. This annoys me too, and probably more than most, because there was a golden opportunity in the training sequences. As I noted over at Cyna's place, the smart thing to do here is to start the film with Katniss' arrival in the capitol, cutting all the scene-setting at the start, and expand the training sequences so that we get to know the characters and establish some kind of dynamic between them. You could say that it's necessary to have those early scenes to establish the world these people live in. But they didn't work: Cyna talks about how they didn't portray properly the extent of the poverty in District 12, and I, too, got a very poor feel for what the situation was outside the capitol. Again, shoring up the characterizations of the tributes would have alleviated this. The kind of person you are is testimony to what you've been through. Details can be filled in with the occasional flashback or haunted monologue or puff piece glimpsed on a viewscreen, like the interview between Ceaser and Seneca near the start.

But of course, they couldn't do that, because of the great monkeywrench of modern lit-to-film adaptations: "It was/wasn't in the book." The audience won't tolerate deviation. This is the kind of thing that annoyed me with the anime community. I get how people object to twisting the story to be something it wasn't in the original form. But somewhere along the line nerd rage stopped being about the story and started centering around petty nit-picking. The audience demands the Gale scenes be in there, despite the fact that Gale isn't relevant to the story. They demand that Cinna have a role, even though he does nothing of significance. (Although Lenny Kravitz played him remarkably well, I agree.) What the film spends its time and energy on is dictated not by the needs of the story, but by self-important internet whiners with no idea how to tell a tale in cinematic media and jaded directors more than willing to pander to them. The people complaining about how Hollywood ruins everything are the very people who are the cause of it.

And now I'm nerd raging. God dammit. >_<

Putting all that aside, I did have a good time at the movie. The districts were underdeveloped, but they did a good job representing the capitol's extravagance and shallowness. Acting was generally good, with Donald Sutherland standing out even though his role is little more an extended cameo. I've been told that they pulled a lot of punches in pursuit of a PG-13 rating, which is disappointing but cinema has much different standards for this sort of thing than literature. And Katniss is a compelling heroine, attempting to hold on to her principles and moral fiber in a world that does everything to take it away from her. Carrie Vaughn's review criticized the film for never forcing Katniss to face a moment where she has make the choice to kill someone in cold blood. She's wrong, though: Katniss did have a choice, at the very end. Kill Peeta, and go free. And she made the right choice: say "Fuck that." She held to her principles, even when it meant becoming a martyr: Peeta was not the enemy. The capitol was the enemy. Don't give them what they want.

I liked it and would definitely watch the sequel. But going a few weeks after opening, when the fangirls are tired of it, was definitely the right move.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Movie(-ish) Night: The Booth at the End

I was going to review the Hunger Games film today, but I have more to say about The Booth at the End, so HG will have to wait until tomorrow.

This isn't technically a movie. It's a series of five twenty-three minute episodes, which are best watched back to back. So it doesn't have to be watched as a movie, but it's better that way.

The premise: Somewhere in America (or maybe in Canada, where filming took place, but in any case somewhere in the English-speaking world) is a diner. Sitting in a solitary booth in the corner is a man with a notebook. He sits there all day, from the time the diner opens to the time it closes. And all day, people come to him, because they've heard that this man has a gift: he can make whatever you desire happen. But there's a price. Before this man will do something for you, you have to do something for him. It may be something small, or it may be something large, but it will always be something you don't want to do. And until it's done, you must return to him frequently, and keep him appraised of your progress. The series follows the stories of several people and their interactions with the man with the notebook, as they are forced to confront just how far they will go to get what they want.

The plot plays out pretty much as you'd expect: what seems at first to be a series of unrelated vignettes evolves as the storylines converge and overlap. And, yes, a lot of it is predictable. Wish-granter stories are very old, and 99% of what can be done with them has been done. But even old stories can be invigorated by a fresh approach or good execution. The Booth at the End has both, and thus elevates itself above its worn premise magnificently.

Cyna, a friend of mine who I have mentioned before, is always grumbling about books that tell instead of show. This film might make her twitch, because the central conceit -- the camera never leaves the diner, and every scene takes place in The Man's booth -- means that the entire plot is the characters telling The Man what they need or what they've done. It works, though. It gives the production a kind of low-budget indie-film vibe, and transforms what could have been a cheesy morality play into an unflinching, character-driven study of human nature. The actors are all relative unknowns*, but iMDB profiles reveal respectable careers in small film roles and TV, and it shows. With literally the entire series standing on the strength of their performances, they rise to the occasion with top-notch work.

(*- Well, unknowns to me, but that might very well mean that I know jack shit about actors. Timothy Omudson of Psych is here, and fans of the Twilight films - I know you read my blog - might notice Sarah Clarke (Bella's mom) playing a nun in the midst of a crisis of faith.)

Perhaps the most memorable character in the series is The Man himself. There are a number of stock portrayals of this sort of character: mysterious but ultimately benevolent; manipulative and deceitful; playful trickster-god. Or make him a complete cipher, a living plot device rather than a true character. The Man is none of these. He veers towards one or the other occasionally, but as the stories unfold, we start to realize that The Man is just that: a man. He may make a show of his seeming omniscience sometimes, but in the end he's not omniscient, possibly not even supernatural. He's just another pawn on the board, an intermediary between his clients and who or whatever is truly making the magic happen. His job is a blessing and a curse, to sit in his booth all day and behold the best and worst of humanity.

The Booth at the End was apparently created specifically for Hulu, and is streamed there 100% free and legal. I highly recommend taking two hours to watch them straight through, it's damn fine bit of low-budget film that spotlights a cast with talent far exceeding their fame.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It continues...

More BoF-related guest posts and reviews are showing up. Quick summation:

- This past Friday, I had a guest post up on Reading and Writing Urban Fantasy, prognosticating on indie publishing and its role in the future of the industry.

- Also Friday, Bengal Reads interviewed me.

- I'll have another guest post up this Friday at Nocturnal Book Reviews.

- Last but far from least, Known to Read has given me a very positive review.

My personal blog is also going to be active this week. I've got a few non-book things I wanted to review, plus my review of Running with the Pack should be up on Lupines and Lunatics sometime this week. Busy, busy, busy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Blog Hopping 4/13/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, independent author. My first book, Bonds of Fenris, is coming out May 7th, and reviews are starting to show up around the blogosphere.  Yesterday, I linked a number of early reviews. I saw The Hunger Games film a few days ago, and I'll post some thoughts on it sometime next week. And just to remind you, there are still ARCs of Bonds of Fenris available for book bloggers. So, if you're interested, my e-mail's right there on the sidebar!

I also have a review blog, Lupines and Lunatics. Latest review is Promise of the Wolves.

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"What is one book that you would be nervous to see a movie adaption of because you think the movie could never live up to the book?"

Kitty Norville, because it wouldn't work as a movie. The structure of the storytelling makes it much better suited to a TV series. But really, I think it's a mistake to think of a movie as an extension of the book. Thinking like that gives us adaptations like The Golden Compass, so obsessed with putting the big scenes and moments on screen they forget about the story thread that connects them. A proper adaptation is more of a retelling, like how Mallory's Morte d'Arthur took the old french Arthurian romances and repurposed them for contemporary British sensibilities. An adaptation, in other words, does not have to live up to the book. It has to live up to the story.

This week's ice-breaker for TGIF @ GReads:

"If you could read a book about any song, which song would you love to see written down in story form?"

When you think about it, isn't this the same question as above? A song, after all, is a story in itself. Some are more overtly narrative than others, but all of them tell a story. And you can adapt a story from one medium to another, but to do so you have to not be bound by the original text. I can't come up with an answer to this, but I'd be interested in how three to five minutes of music translates into 200+ pages. You need to expand a lot.

Of course, on the other hand, many of our earliest stories were also songs. Iliad and Odyssey, for example, are in verse because they're meant to be sung.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It begins...

Reviews for Bonds of Fenris are starting to trickle in. Singing and Reading in the Rain offers a pre-review to claim first post on Goodreads, with the promise of a full review to come at her blog later. Livin' Life Through Books logs a positive opinion, as does Gothic Mom's Book Reviews. Synchronized Reading offers another thumbs up, along with an author interview. Thanks, Janina!

Looks like I'm off to a pretty good start with the critics. ^_^ Remember, there are still a few ARCs available for fellow book bloggers!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blog Hopping 4/6/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, aspiring author. This week was pretty big for me. After a long hiatus, my review blog Lupines and Lunatics is finally back online! My latest review is Promise of the Wolves, head over and check it out. Also this week, I had a guest post up at Denim-Jacket Librarian Dishes, which I'm very proud of. I also had a cold, which was not so much a source of joy, but I'm feeling a lot better right now. My debut novel Bonds of Fenris releases next month through Smashwords, and there are still ARCs available for book bloggers. So, if you're interested, my e-mail's right there on the sidebar!

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"Have you ever bought a book BECAUSE of a bad review?"

No, but that's because I rarely buy books. I get them at the local public library, a heavily underrated resource. I only buy books that have already impressed me, although I try to give as many as I can a chance.

While we're on the subject, though, maybe the latest bit of review-oriented drama necessitates linking my post on how bad reviews are not to be worried about.

This week's ice-breaker for TGIF @ GReads:

"Which book, from any series has been your favorite ending? What about your least favorite ending?"

We talking book ending, or series ending? Well, if the latter, I'd have to answer Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I've heard people say it wasn't a very satisfying ending. I agree that it's easy to miss what it's getting at; I had to read it twice before I understood. The thing is, the central conflict of the entire series has been our four protagonists learning to deal with their problems as adults. The end of Forever shows them doing that. The results aren't important, the important thing is the path they've decided to take.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Good News, Bad News

First the good news:

Good news: The first of several guest posts you'll be seeing from me in the coming month is up on my friend DJL's site. W00t and thanks, DJ! ^_^

Good news #2: Since most of the prep work for the Bonds of Fenris release is done, I've had time to focus on other things. One is the sequel. Another is my too-long-neglected review blog. You'll find a review of Promise of the Wolves there, and Running With the Pack to follow. From now on, however, I'm going to be doing things a little differently. First, while I'll do my best to provide the kind of thoughtful, analytic reviews my fans expect, I'm not going to force myself to say things when I have none to say anymore. That happened a lot with the old reviews, to their great detriment. Second, I'm not going to obsess over having a new review every week. Instead, I'm going to read at my own pace, and release reviews when I'm done. Hopefully this new philosophy will help to alleviate the mass of stress and burnout L&L became for me last year.

Good news #3: Good news #2 gives me a legit excuse to post this:

Bad news: I'm sick. Not life-threatening sick, just blaaaaaaargh sick. My tonsils are so swollen that swallowing is painful, and I've been reduced to subsisting on soggy cereal and bananas. Half the time I've got a fever, and not the kind that can be cured by more cowbell. The other half I'm wrapped up in a big quilt, shivering. My energy level has flatlined.

I say this not for your benefit, but for mine. People tend to judge their situation by the relative intensity of experiences. For the last few days, this cold has so obsessed me that I've been miserable. Putting it next to a few of the good things going on in my life helps me get a little perspective.

I just hope I'm better by Easter Sunday. It won't do to show up at the party unable to eat.