Book Review: Earth by Shauna Granger

I thought I’d start my regular reviews (hopefully regular, and less ridiculously long) with a newer, lesser known author and books. I happened to stumble across this book in a completely unexpected place. It’s weird how things just sort of turn up in odd places isn’t it? I can’t really say where I saw the refrigerator magnets, or who told me about the books, but if the author wants to contact me I’d be glad to tell her.

The book is “Earth” by Shauna Granger. It is the first in her “Elemental” series. As of now only the first three books are out. I have heard from a good authority that a fourth book is going to be out at some point. The author’s blog says she is working on a fifth book called “Spirit”. I like the classical elements theme.

I’m really into the self-published e-Book thing. I think it’s great, taking publishing into the hands of the author until someone picks up the book is a great idea. Who knows how much great stuff ends up in the incinerator because the slush pile reader was in a bad mood?

So here’s the jacket copy from Amazon.com:

Shayna and her two best friends have the abilities to manipulate and control the four elements, earth, air, water and fire. While learning to hone their growing powers, they discover a new and malicious presence in their sleepy beach town. Someone is performing blood magic and threatens to expose their small magical community. So far only small animals have been slaughtered, but then the nightmares start.

Shayna suffers nightmares of being chased and sacrificed only to wake up bloodied and bruised. She thinks her magical blood is the ultimate target for the final blood rite. When an innocent girl, Tracy, is kidnapped Shayna knows it’s only a ploy to draw her out; she can’t let someone die because of her.

I’m guessing the author wrote that since it is self-published.

Synopsis

Earth starts out with the protagonist, Shayna, starting her morning routine and her being slightly late to pick up her friends Steven and Jodi on the way to school. We’re introduced to the character’s abilities fairly quickly in the first chapter. Shayna warms up her mini-van with magic within the first few pages of the book. We’re told that she and her two friends are Elementals and their nicknames reflect that. Jodi is called “Fae” because she has powers related to air and the Fae are typically air spirits. Steven has fire powers and doesn’t have a solid nickname at the beginning of the book. Shayna initially refers to him as “Flamer” which pisses him off a bit. I didn’t get the joke that was being made here until the second chapter when it is revealed that Steven is gay and Shayna was being somewhat derogatory. Shayna herself is called “Terra” due to her being an earth elemental.

It’s also revealed fairly early on that Shayna has some command over all the elements and is more powerful than the other two. She’s also the de facto leader of the group and takes great pride in teaching the other two how to use their magic.

There are a few subplots that develop in the story. The one that kicks the story off is our protagonist’s desire to help her friend Tracy, who is in an abusive relationship. Their plan is to cast a spell that will bring another, better man into her life and either rescue her from her boyfriend or at least cause her to break up with him. They do this by going to their local metaphysical shop and buying the ingredients for a love spell. They then use these items to do a sort of summoning spell for this new man.

Needless to say this seems to work as Tracy is soon rescued by the valiant, burly, and incredibly handsome Ian. At the same time Shayna is introduced to Ian’s equally sexy brother Jensen and so forms the romance part of the story. Jensen saw, or felt, Shayna doing magic and tries to work his way into Shayna’s life.

While this is going on, the Ojai police have found sacrificed goats in a “Satanic ritual circle”. This really hacks off our heroes and the last half of the book is them working out what’s going on with the sacrifices.

Unfortunately if I continue on there will be some spoilers I don’t think anyone would appreciate hearing. So on to my criticisms.

Tearing it apart.

I’ll generally tear a book apart first then end with praising it. It’s fairly obvious to me that it is written for young women. Since I am not a young woman, I’m not the target audience so my opinions are colored by that.

Shayna is a very powerful person, as most fantasy protagonists are. Her particular claim to power comes from the fact that she is an Earth elemental. What that means isn’t fully explained. It’s mentioned that most of her power is “earth related” in some fashion. What’s implied is that elementals can pretty much only use powers related to their element. Shayna, however is somewhat adept at them all and it seems she uses a fire power right off the bat. No big surprise, getting it out of the way that she’s good at everything right out of the gate negates the “powers as the plot demands” thing quickly.

So she’s able to use all the elements, very smart, high deductive reasoning skills, good at teaching magic, has a pretty tactical mind and generally competent at what she does. Shayna even has martial arts skills, even though she’s taken a singular self-defense course as far as I can tell. She’s just awesome. Also she’s an Empath, which means she is good at reading and actually feeling people’s emotions, and can project them on others. To compensate for this sheer awesomeness, she has the fatal flaws of insomnia, a raging caffeine addiction, and the idea that she’s a good matchmaker. She also sometimes dives head first into things she knows are dangerous, even though conveniently until the end there was no real danger posed to her. I mean, how can we ever understand this horrible affliction of not enough sleep and can’t start the day without coffee?

The fact that she’s really good at almost everything is even self-referential as early in the book Steven says that Jodi is trying hard to be better at something than Shayna. I like to think the super awesome teenager thing is a bit of satire on this type of fantasy novel in general. I’m just really not sure that it is. It could easily be used as such if it isn’t already.

Each of the main characters is “extremely something” just as Shayna is extremely powerful. We don’t hear just a whole heck of a lot about Jodi, but a lot of time is devoted to Steven. Or maybe I just noticed it more, but other readers point this out too. Steven is the obligatory half-Mexican Catholic that is in practically every urban fantasy novel I’ve read. As much as Shayna is super-awesome, Steven is equally morally conflicted. He’s gay, a devout Catholic, and practices magic. Combine this with his Mexican heritage and you have one very confused young man who is embarrassed about his faith. Actually I have no idea what his being half-Mexican has to do with anything except it gives him the obligatory distrustful of white people grandmother. Also the author can use the word “bruja” at least once.

I understand this part. Say ‘bruja’ out loud. It’s just fun to say. Go pop it into Google Translate for the correct pronunciation.

I do not know why so many urban and contemporary fantasies have half-mexican characters who are involved in the supernatural parts of things. They’re always Catholic, and the author will usually make a huge point of making Mexican culture seem very mysterious. Being half-mexican especially seems to be kind of a thing with newer fantasy authors. I would like to go on the record as saying that many times how this culture is portrayed by contemporary fantasy authors isn’t actually all that flattering. There’s probably some metaphor for being in between two cultures or worlds but usually it’s just annoying.

The character of Jensen bothered me. His attempts to get into Shayna’s life were a bit annoying to read about. I don’t know if this is the kind of thing that drives teenage girls and young women wild, but his approach seemed strange for a teenage boy. This might just be because I’m pretty far removed from the author’s target demographic and I just don’t get it (which could be the entire point). Also, to begin with his conflict seemed a bit contrived but I will say it made a little more sense later.

The story fits into my made up literary category of “Amazing children, Utterly incompetent adults”. In this case I understand why it’s like that. These elementals are apparently rare, and the abilities are due to the circumstances of their birth. It still seems unlikely that none of the adults really figured out what was going on or had the wherewithal to just follow these children around and make sure they don’t get in trouble.

Also if these three children are elementals and are recognized as such by their peers, it would seem to me that there might be adults with these same powers running around too. Where are they? Are they just not in the area? Where are the mediocre but well studied witches that could deal with this problem a bit better? Does Shayna’s being an elemental and fairly well read just make her awesome at the magic and stuff, or is it just so simple anyone can do it with a little practice? These are all questions that aren’t answered in this book. I hope they are in others.

My last piece of criticism is actually the cover art. This is unusual for me to criticize as I typically don’t care much what the cover art is.  I saw some refrigerator magnets with the cover art on them and the book title. I automatically thought, ‘Vampires, or fairies. Also her hair isn’t really red’ when I saw it. I showed it and the cover for ‘Air’ to some friends of mine. One of my friends is a true connoisseur of contemporary fantasy and paranormal romance and she told me, ‘Fairies in the old days. Could be vampires’’. Her husband said, ‘I think that’s going to be a romance, maybe with witches in Europe?’. My fiance said, ‘Demons?’. At no point does the cover art show this is in fact a high school contemporary urban fantasy novel set in California. “Too much sex appeal,” was what I got after revealing this. Not a huge deal, but I thought it gave the wrong impression.

Singing the Praises

One of the many things I loved about this book was that it portrayed high school as sucking, but in a way that seemed a bit more realistic to me. Some of the characters had problems, exaggerated as they were, and it didn’t seem like everyone liked the main characters.

The romance wasn’t the focus. What existing romances there were had some complications and issues. Some were very adult situations like Tracy, and some were just teenage stuff we’ve all dealt with. I really like how Shayna kept reminding Jodi of her existing boyfriend at the beginning of the book and then later it was shown Shayna was missing something that Jodi confided in Steven. There was a fair amount of ‘gossip’ and drama in their little circle. This seems to be a normal state of affairs in your average high school. This is not portraying romance in the idealized way that the Twilight Saga does. So I really applaud Mrs. Granger for that.

This is an incredible accomplishment for a first novel, especially a self published one. I noticed practically no typos, or wrong word usage in the book. There were a couple of mistakes I found but at least two of them could be due to a formatting issue in the e-book. This is impressive, and not just for a self-published book. I’ve noticed many more errors from mainstream publishers recently (I’m looking at you Penguin). I won’t even talk about a lot of self-published stuff. So major bonus points here.

Earth and I hope the rest of the Elemental Series is by no means a Twilight clone. This actually is what gets the most praise from me. For the most part I ‘bought’ the story.While it wasn’t my cup of tea, I did like it, especially after about the middle point when things got moving a bit faster. I liked how there were a few little mini-dramas expertly woven into the main storyline. I think this showed that life exists outside the group as it is portrayed. I heard on a podcast once that so many stories are so isolated you feel that if you look outside the city limits that you’d just see a huge field of grey where the world ends. I didn’t get that from this book. This seemed to me to be a telling of a set of events that exist in a greater whole.

Religion was treated well in this book. The characters didn’t seem to be disrespectful of Steven’s Catholic faith. That faith was shown to have power, and actually used in the final confrontation. I also like how Shayna was outraged nearly to the point of being completely irrational every time she saw a ‘wiccan’ symbol or idea perverted towards evil. This was one thing that really showed her immaturity. That is a good mark of a teenage character. So many times in novels like these the teenage hero is almost like a little adult copy of the author with the kind of maturity that only comes from age and experience.

Is it good and who should read it?

I don’t give ratings to books. I either say read it, don’t read it and who might like it.

I say read this if you fit the following description. If you don’t, it’s a good airplane novel.

This book is targeted towards young women as far as I can tell. Your older high school girls, and young adult women are who would probably enjoy this the most. If you really liked the Twilight Saga, you’ll may or may not like this. It isn’t specifically a romance novel so if you are into that, you may not get a lot out of it. If you like urban fantasy with a good story and well developed characters this is a good read for you, go pick it up now.

As I said before I liked this book, it just wasn’t really intended for readers like me. I will probably read the rest of them, with much shorter reviews posted here.

The Author

I kind of like to look authors up and see if they have a web presence, if they interact with any online forums, have a twitter account, and so forth. Shauna Granger does, and that’s awesome. I’m going to link to her blog here. If you want Facebook and Twitter, you’ll have to grab it from her blog. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.

http://shaunasspot.blogspot.com/

Just noticed our blogs have a similar theme. Great minds I guess?

Here’s a link to the Kindle version of the book on Amazon in case you missed it up top. They also have it in paperback.

Earth by Shauna Granger

Food Experiment #1

 

I decided a while back that I’d broaden my horizons on the food I ate. I decided at least once a month I’d learn to make something new and try it. Then I’d try to make it my own. This isn’t really my first experiment but it’s definitely the bravest so far, and one I don’t think I’m going to attempt to improve on too much. Last month it was Gazpacho, which I’d tried before at a Jason’s Deli, this month it is something a bit braver than that.

This month it is a Limburger Sandwich. For those who aren’t aware it’s a kind of sandwich from Germany and Belgium. It consists of two pieces of rye bread, a thick layer of limburger cheese, and a thick slice of raw onion. Definitely braver than Gazpacho.

First off I’d like to say that I’d never even smelled limburger, much less tried it. I’d just seen on cartoons as a kid that it was terribly smelly, and probably not very good. It is the cheese jokes are made of. But I decided, what the heck, they’ve been eating the stuff in Europe forever so it probably wouldn’t kill me.

I also had some trepidation about an onion sandwich. That’s just not something I’d ever thought about eating, much less being palatable to someone who hadn’t grown up eating it. I do like onions, and again they eat it in Europe so it probably isn’t going to kill me.

Pictures and Comments

Here are some pictures of my ingredients. All this stuff is more or less local, except the cheese which was imported from Germany, and the mustard I believe is from Ohio.

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This is pumpernickel bread from United. Locally baked, and pretty good. I don’t think this is exactly the kind of rye bread that they use traditionally but a lot of people seemed to prefer it when I read up on this adventure. It’s also the only fresh baked rye bread I could find at United. It’s about $4 a loaf.

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This is what it looks like sliced. Pretty good stuff. I toasted it before eating. That was kind of a mistake, I’ll explain why later.

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I cut the onion about half an inch thick.

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Bayerischer Limburger. This is imported from Germany, made from pasteurized milk. I don’t know that they use pasteurized milk to make it normally. I think it’s illegal to sell products made from raw milk in the U.S. though, so it might not be terribly authentic. This was $7 at United. I researched Limburger online and developed a respect for the cheese. This was especially true after seeing how they package it. It was double wrapped in cellophane. Each wrap was about four to six layers deep. Underneath the cellophane was a foil wrapper, and beneath that was wax paper.

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Here is the cheese unpackaged. I was surprised at the smell actually. Because it’s been refrigerated, or maybe it’s made just a touch different for sale in the US, or maybe because I was determined not to let this stuff hit room temperature, the smell wasn’t overwhelming. The smell isn’t hard to describe. It smells like human body odor. I don’t mean it smells reminiscent of human body odor, or like it, or reminds me of body odor. I mean the smell coming off the cheese is that of human body odor. Like the high school boy’s locker room. Like feet. If you want to know exactly what this smells like, work out for an hour, don’t wear deodorant, then smell your armpits. That’s what Limburger cheese smells like. I assume if I let this get to room temperature it would have been stronger. In fact what got on my hands got pretty strong fairly quickly. The actually use this stuff in places with malaria carrying mosquitoes to draw them away because the bugs can’t actually tell the difference between the cheese and a person. The reason is they use Brevibacterium Linens to make it. That is exactly the same bacteria found on human skin and produces our distinctive body odor.

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This is what it looks like inside. I got some mixed information online. Some said the rind (the orange part) is inedible, others said it was perfectly fine to eat it. I didn’t particularly care to try it so I cut it off. The cheese is a little firmer than Brie, but not much. Definitely tastes nothing like Brie either. It’s got a fairly strong taste, but it doesn’t at all taste like it smells. It’s milder than I thought. I’d expected something a lot different. As it warmed up it got stronger. You’ll note the glass jar in the background. I had to wrap the cheese in cellophane and foil and put it in the jar to keep the smell down.

I read that in the US the onion sandwich is usually served with a strong brown mustard. I thought I’d try with and without. So I got some stone ground mustard, but decided to put it on with each bite rather than spread it over half the sandwich.

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All the ingredients together.

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I read that this is best eaten with something strong to drink. Most sites recommended a dark beer of some kind. Since I absolutely don’t drink, I decided to go the strong coffee route as some suggested. That’s Peet’s 2010 Anniversary Blend coffee made in a French Press.

My Thoughts

I thought the sandwich was surprisingly good. I wasn’t a big fan of there only being a big chunk of onion in it though. The onion was fairly sweet with a bit of a bite in the aftertaste. The cheese complimented it quite well. It was a bit bland though. Just wasn’t much to it. Definitely an acquired taste.

The half of the sandwich with the mustard was definitely better. The mustard brought out the flavor of the cheese a bit more and subdued the onion. It might have been that half of the sandwich had warmed up as well so the flavors were a bit stronger. Might have also been that half had a bit more cheese, and a bit thinner onion.

I kind of expected it to make my stomach upset, Brie has a tendency to do to that to some extent. The Limburger really didn’t. That surprises me but since it’s a bacteria and not a mold that produces the flavor that might have something to do with it. Since we all have this bacteria on us and in us, I guess that’s why. I’m mildly lactose intolerant so I am guessing the bacteria broke the cheese down enough it doesn’t cause a lot of issues for me.

I can definitely see why this would be a popular sandwich in some areas. It’s relatively inexpensive, a lot of flavor at room temperature or just a little cooler. It’s one of those things that might be a local favorite especially if you were raised eating it. If I were somewhere that served this and I wasn’t worried about the inevitable smell, I would order it. It’s not going to do pretty things to your breath at all. Kind of a guy’s “I dare you” foods.

On a scale of one to ten, ten being “Awesome”, I’d give this an easy four. It’s not terrible. Overall it doesn’t sit with my tastes very well.

My Ideas

The first thing I’d do is not toast the bread at all and cut it a little thicker. The pumpernickel is pretty airy and with even just a light toast it is very fragile. Maybe use a denser bread.

I’d treat the cheese a little differently. I’d either let it warm up so it spread easier, or I’d slice it up. Kraft or some other company supposedly makes or made a processed limburger type cheese that might be more acceptable to American tastes. If that’s still available somewhere, it might be a better alternative.

The onion was probably the weirdest thing about the sandwich. I kind of wanted something meatier than just a big slice of onion. Perhaps a different kind of onion, and a strong sausage of some kind would be better. It wasn’t unpleasant, but there’s room for improvement there. I might have got the onion to cheese ratio wrong after looking at some pictures online.

The mustard stays.

As just an onion sandwich, I’d make it smaller and serve it with a meat of some kind. Again sausage or something like that would be excellent.

I’d also have yogurt for dessert to deal with the breath problem. Preferably greek style yogurt (Like Oikos, although I make my own). Then follow that up with a mint. Or two. Or a whole box.

Variation

A neat variation might be a wheat bread with apple and labneh cheese as a sweeter, healthier variation.  Would probably fit most people’s palate a lot better, especially Americans. Maybe have honey or olive oil in place of the mustard.

Limburger has a LOT of calories and a crapload of cholesterol. If you have issue with that it’d be a good idea to avoid this particular sandwich.

Stuff and WoW Expansions

Well, today’s the day! I was in last night when The Burning Crusade went live in Europe, they said it was stable. I think I logged out about 20 minutes after it went live in the US. No resets or anything that I could tell. I’m pretty sure the server will be overloaded with thousands of Blood Elf women.

They’re pretty much the gnomes of the horde, except way cooler looking and not quite as small, but almost.

My own copy won’t be here ’til Thursday or Friday probably, assuming Wal-Mart shipped it today. Jonathan’s should be here a day or so after that if all goes well. There’s a big distribution center in Plainview, so maybe they shipped it from there instead of somewhere on the East Coast.

Can’t wait to explore Outland!

Still working on my backup program, that One Click publishing thing Microsoft came up with is a real hassle. I get the thing done and their deployment method, while easier, prevents most of my schedule code from working. I guess it doesn’t pay to be lazy. Thought four lines of code would work, it doesn’t though. No one at the xtremevbtalk.com boards has any ideas either, apparently.

I’m thinking an XML file containing schedule information would be a good idea. It would check it every time it started up, and calculate which the likeliest ones that need ran are. After it runs all of them, it shuts down. Windows Scheduled tasks can deal with the when it runs.

I don’t think any more often then every half hour would be good though. The compression algorithm is kind of slow, as is the copy function. Not much I can do about that without coding my own functions though.

I guess if I had a good Assembler compiler I could speed up the copying, but not the compression or encryption (well maybe the encryption). I’ve done that before on other apps, used assembler macros instead of C++ or VB code to get the job done. Quick, mostly painless, but not real flexible. Plus it’s smaller.

Our D&D campaign is going well, ZB and Jonathan are only playing intermittently right now though. I’m kind of looking for a few more players here in the Amarillo area that don’t mind playing with a wide variety of ages. We’re playing Ebberon right now, but we usually do homebrew campaigns. If you’re in the area and interested, send me a message ok?

Playstation 3

I’d like to say that I have the $500-$600 it takes to get a PS3 when they come out on the 17th, because I would just to be able to play White Knight Story. It looks awesome. Go to gametrailers.com and check out the quicktime version of the trailer. It’s “Final Fantasyesque” looking I think.

My brother-in-law and I were discussing that earlier. We thought it was probably worth it. Even if to just beat the game then sell the PS3 on E-Bay for twice what it’s worth. You know they’ll run out by noon that day.

Aaah if only I had the money!

Anyway my brother is running our D&D game now and sucking badly at it. I hope he gets better but I don’t think he’ll put the effort into improving. He wants me to help a lot but I quit DMing because of his crap. I don’t think I want to give him too much.

I accidently threw away my Rome: Total War expansion a few weeks ago so I had to order a new one. Kinda sucks because I hadn’t actually beat the expansion enough to really feal satisfied with it. I’m working on a Scipii campaign now, very little cheating and I seem to be kicking butt. The Scipii seem harder then the other two factions and their troops seem to suck more for some reason.

I like that their weapons and armor can both hit the ‘gold’ level but troop experience is more valuable in my opinion. I find it annoying that some campaigns you can get a general for practically no effort whatsoever by using an army with no family member to lead it against an enemy army, and in others you can conquer half of europe with an un-generaled army and never get one. I wish I knew what caused the ‘man of the hour’ thing to pop up.

I just can’t wait for Medieval 2 to come out. It looks great!