A New Year, A New Novel

I am going a little bit outside my normal blog routine to talk about the new year of National Novel Writing Month.

I realized today that this is the fourteenth year I will be participating in Nano. Sometimes I completed the 50,000 word goal, sometimes other life priorities got in the way. But every year I tried. I had an idea and I committed to paper.

This year is a bit of a different feeling. This is a story idea I’ve been playing around with all year. The characters have come to me over time, developing their personalities a little bit at a time. The plot is clearly formed in my mind from beginning to end. And it’s an entirely different genre than I have ever written before, romance!

Compared to other years, I have planned this book to death. I have character outlines, relationship outlines, and chapter outlines. I have always been a fly by the seat of my pants writer and gone into a book with a vague plot idea and just let the inspiration flow. So this will be an entirely new experience for me. I can’t say yet if it will work for me, but I’ll keep you updated for sure.

And romance, my gods that scares me. I am a blood and guts type writer. I have played around in the playgrounds of suspense, thriller, horror, paranormal, urban fantasy, high fantasy. And naturally sometimes a romantic storyline develops in those stories. But I am very intimidated by the idea of playing in the romance playground.

Wish me luck!

Audiobook Review: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Published: September 8, 2020 by RB Media

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: Anyone can ask the Red Court for a favor…but every request comes at a cost. And once the deed is done, you’re forever in their debt.

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members–the most elite female students in the school–deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable…by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too–ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and RB Media!***

I have to confess that I am a sucker for a book about a dark secret society that has a pretty cover. That is exactly the reason why I asked for this audiobook. I was intrigued by the synopsis of a girl who wants to take down the secret mean girls society from the inside. That’s a compelling story! Unfortunately it just wasn’t that good.

Ember started out as an interesting narrator but she lost her shine very quickly. She is supposed to be enacting this giant plot for revenge on behalf of her sister! But most of the time she is worrying and comiserating on the steps she has to take to get there. Surely you thought about these things when you were hatching this plan? No? Why not?

The plot was very cliqued with people asking the Red Court to make them homecoming queen, breaking up a couple, or embarrass someone for stealing a boyfriend. But the logistics are never really fleshed out. What if multiple people are asking to be made homecoming queen? Which one do you choose to help over the others? It’s all about trading in favors and this secret society is largely an unspoken about open secret. None of those things are talked about, which made the story seem trite.

I can’t tell you how this ended, to be entirely honest, because I tuned out. I was so bored with the story that it just became white noise. And then suddenly it was over and I didn’t even hear how it ended.

Review: The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

Published: April 14, 2020 by Orbit

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Rating:

Synopsis: Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Orbit!***

On a side note, expect to see a lot of this disclaimer. Somehow I got behind like 20 ARCs from places like NetGalley and authors. So, flurry of reviews!

On to this book. It was fairly good. The biggest annoyance that I had with it was the writing style. It was written in a world where humans have brought on their own demise. Through genetic engineering that was weaponized and AI used to fight a war, humans have been decimated. Human beings now live in separate small communities in a world that is constantly attacking them. Because while the war between humans may be over, no one told that to the attack drones or the killer trees. As a result, humans have lost a lot of the knowledge they had. And the writing style was done to match. It was also kind of annoying.

The beginning of this book wasn’t very good. Koli was not a very interesting narrator and most of what he did was pine over a girl. I was more interested in the wider world. I mean trees are out there attacking people! Can we not spend so much of our time in Koli’s bland little town of less than 200 people? Pretty please.

Once the plot moved on from his little town the story got a lot better. I liked the dynamics of the wider world and the resolution of the story. It was more of cliffhanger ending than I usually like but since I am invested in the story that’s okay with me because I planned on reading the next book anyway.

Audiobook Review: A Cry From the Far Middle by P.J. O’Rourke

A Cry from the Far Middle by P.J. O’Rourke

Published: September 15, 2020 by Atlantic Monthly Press

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: P.J. O’Rourke says we’ve worked ourselves into a state of anger and perplexity, and it’s no surprise because perplexed and angry is what America has always been about. This uproarious look at the current state of these United States includes essays like “Woke to the Sound of Laughter,” about the upside of being “woke” (and unable to get back to sleep); “Sympathy vs. Empathy,” which considers whether it’s better to hold people’s hands or bust into their heads; a brief digression “On the Additional Hell of the Internet of Things” because your juicer is sending fake news to your FitBit about what’s in your refrigerator; and many more.

Dotted with a quiz to determine where you stand on the spectrum of “Coastals vs. Heartlanders;” “An Inaugural Address I’d Like to Hear” (ask not what your country can do for you. Ask me how I can get the hell out of here); and an impassioned argument on licensing politicians (we license doctors, we license dentists, we license beauticians…), this is P.J. at his finest.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you HighBridge Audio and NetGalley!***

I had never heard of P.J. O’Rourke before this book. I was drawn in by the title and wanted to check it out. This is essentially a collection of this columnist’s previous columns about politics. This made it very easy to listen to. Nothing dragged out too long before we were on to the next essay.

It was such a breathe of fresh air. Funny, self deprecating, insightful, and thought provoking. I consider myself a political junkie and also a staunch Libertarian. If you’re wondering who the person in your neighborhood who thinks you should be able to own a grenade launcher, legalize prostitution, legalize all drugs, feels that taxation is theft and wants to fire most politicians….that person is me. While I have a feeling that Mr. O’Rourke falls more on the Conservative side of Libertarian than he believes he does, he did a fairly even handed job in this book. I have already quoted a few of these essays in other forums because I felt his point was right on the money. I will have to seek out more of his work.

Review: Unearthed by Marc Mulero

Unearthed by Marc Mulero

Published: July 26, 2020 by Amazon CreateSpace

Buy this book: Amazon | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: I wish the global quake had buried me. It would be easier, then, to cope.

My love? Murdered. My family? Betrayed. Friends? Fallen.

And all that in the name of the Hiezers.

My name is Blague. Just Blague. My surname was stripped the day I was marked for exile. Now I wander in the sands of the forgotten continents, scraping by among the rest of the outcasts. There are others like me, out here. Capable minds and able bodies, all scorned in one way or another by our oppressors. Every one of us has witnessed that same terrible scene: screaming citizens as they’re bagged and dragged off into labs, intended for some experimental purpose. We dare not act out, of course. Not under the watchful gaze of the Hiezers. Not beneath their lashing whips, where one false move could be our last.

It’s only in the shadows where we can plot. Tactically. Quietly. Gathering munitions until the time is right. I know something is amiss about the chemical they’ve used to brand our skin. It burns hot when we fight. So I’ll use it… I’ll use it, and light the fire that defines the legacy of an entire rebellion, even if it kills me.

By the time this is over, I’m going to make them wish they’d buried me too…

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!***

I really wanted to like this book. The premise sounds interesting, the synopsis piqued my interest, and the cover is awesome. I really tried to love this book. But I just couldn’t. I made it about 75% if the way through but then just lost interest.

None of the characters really made a dent for me at all. Blague was incredibly dull and he had no reason to be. He should have been a really compelling character. But all he did was quiet and brooding, never saying much, then he’d come out with a rousing speech and that was about it. None of the other characters felt authentic to me. They didn’t feel like real people and they didn’t feel like the personalities they were given fit them at all.

There were a lot of great ideas in this book and I wanted to look forward to where it was going. The writing needs a lot of work though. The sentences are very clunky and there’s so many similes and metaphors stuffed in there that I had no idea what was going on most of the time. And other times there was way too much description, so much that it confused the situation. In a fight scene a character is described as having a mohawk, and I get reminded about his hair style no less than four times in the scene. I got it. I know. I didn’t forget. I could tell that there was a really good idea in there somewhere, but the abundance of simile and metaphor and flowery language just obliterated the meaning of the words.

There also wasn’t much explaining of this world at all. What is a sin? How did the world get this way? What exactly is the social structure here? Who are the ruling class? Why? I feel like we spent so much time on fighting scenes that we didn’t actually explain this world and that’s a problem because I needed to live in it for a time.

I also don’t really see how the first part of the book related to the second part of the book. Maybe it all came together at the end, but I just couldn’t get that far. If the author decided to get some serious editing and rework this and publish it again, I would give it another shot for sure.

Audiobook Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Published: September 15, 2020 by Macmillan Audio

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan Audio!***

I wanted to read this book so much. The cover is breathtaking. The author is renowned. The synopsis is striking. I wanted this book more than any book I have wanted in quite a long time. It didn’t disappoint.

Kira was a great narrator to take us through this tale. She studies alien lifeforms for a living. Popping around to different galaxies to discover what she can about different lifeforms that they run across. What she finds on this trip is not at all what she expects and it unwittingly unleashes a war that threatens to consume all of humanity. But what does it even mean to be human after what she discovers anyway? I really loved her narration and watching her evolve through the situation. She reacted much like anyone would in similar circumstances, which is something I always appreciate in a novel character.

The world in this book was just stunning. I don’t think I’ve ever read a world that was more thoroughly and entertainingly rendered. The history, dynamics, politics, all of it was there. I was quickly transported into this universe and I loved it.

The biggest problem with this book was that it was just so long. The print version is 880 pages and the audiobook is over 32 hours long. I loved the story but after awhile it all started to blend together a bit. I was no longer clear what exactly the goal was anymore. And that’s when it started to drag for me. So while I loved this story as a whole, it was just too long.

Unexpected break and back to the grind

I didn’t intend to take a week off the blog, but life sometimes decides to throw a bomb in the middle of our worlds and laugh at the chaos. That is what happened to me this week.

My daughter got to start in-person kindergarten. So we had a whole new adventure of figuring out drop off/pick up and working with her to wear her mask and be familiar with the other rules. Since she’s never been in preschool or anything similar to school, this was a task.

Then we celebrated my birthday at the same time, so spent some time as a family going to the zoo and having a date with the husband.

And then all of a sudden it’s a week later! I will be getting back to the grind on Thursday though, with the review of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars as promised in the last new releases post.

Review: The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

Published: September 3, 2019 by Harper

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.

Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.

Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life — Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.

Rósa’s isolation begins to play tricks on her mind: What — or who — is in the attic? What happened to Anna? Was she mad, a witch, or just a victim of Jón’s ruthless nature? And when Jón is brutally maimed in an accident a series of events are set in motion that will force Rósa to choose between obedience and defiance — with her own survival and the safety of the ones she loves hanging in the balance.

Review: I picked up this book on a whim. I found the cover spectacular and the synopsis piqued my interest. In all my years I don’t believe that I have read too many books set in Iceland. 1600’s, newly Christianized, Iceland to boot. This caught my attention and made me want to read it.

I loved the premise of this story. Iceland as a whole is caught in this transitional period of being newly Christianized but a lot of the community are finding it difficult to give up the old pagan ways. So while they know that their local pastor will accuse them of witchcraft for it, they can’t seem to let it to entirely. That makes for a very interesting scenario. Rosa is one of those people. She has embraced the new Christian faith but still finds a lot of comfort in the runes and sagas from her youth. Her father has passed away and in an effort to ensure that her mother doesn’t follow him to the grave she makes an advantageous marriage to Jon.

Jon was an all around interesting character. He doesn’t say much but toward the end of the book we get a few snippets of his narration of the story. He was also caught. He grew up poor. He scraped and scrabbled his way to being the leader of his village. Unfortunately that means he is that the heart of every rumor and his name is on the lips of every troublemaker. And the local pastor doesn’t like him too much and so is very eager to find something he can pin on him.

These two were not my favorite however, that honor is reserved for Petur. He is Jon’s right hand man. No one is quite clear on why he’s so committed to protecting Jon but he is an unstoppable force. Rumors have abounded about him since he first stumbled out of the frozen woods as a child. Everyone seems to want to hate him. He was so funny and witty. And tough as nails. I loved him endlessly.

The actual plot was a good one. A young woman suddenly finds herself living with her new husband, whom she doesn’t really know, and quickly finds herself often alone. Jon is often traveling or out in the fields, leaving her alone in the house for extended periods. She thinks she hears noises. Scrabbling, scraping, sometimes whispering from the attic. But she can’t investigate because Jon keeps it locked and has forbidden her to go up there. It quickly sparks her paranoia about the rumors regarding the fate of Jon’s first wife. Could it be her in the attic? Her ghost perhaps? Some spectre coming to haunt Rosa for stupidly agreeing to this marriage? It was wonderful.

My biggest complaint was Rosa’s character. While I understood her fear initially, eventually it started to wear on me. She kept flinching away from Jon like a beaten animal and didn’t dare speak in his presence. She took every single thing that he said in a threatening manner, even when it wasn’t clear that there was any threatening intent. And he had never even been physically intimidating to her and never actually hurt her in any way. So initially the fear of an unknown husband with a ferocious reputation made sense. But as time went on I couldn’t felt thinking “Wtf are you flinching from woman? He has never done a thing to you. Grow some ovaries, gods.”

The other thing that brings this book down for me was the author’s note at the end. I was curious to read it because I wondered where the author got her inspiration from for this story. It was so wonderfully rich and unique. I know there are some who will find it unfair for me to add a judgment of the book on the author’s note but it aggravated me too much to overlook. The author signs off on her author’s note saying that she identifies with Rosa….and experiences similar struggles. That she has had the experience of quaking in fear because of the presence of a man, felt powerless to his authority. She hoped that her sons wouldn’t grow up to feel entitled to the world because they are men. And hopes for a day when her nieces don’t have to “put on their armor just to leave the house.” What the actual fuck is this woman talking about? Is she legitimately comparing the power dynamics in gender between the United States in 2020 and 1686 Iceland? She feels it’s an apt comparison between her irrational fear of a man’s very presence and a society where the mark of a good husband is that he doesn’t beat you? I have never had to put on armor to leave the house, not once in all my life. And hopefully she’s not raising her sons to be jerks, or else they’ll inevitably end up as jerks. I found it so tiresome. It detracted from the book and left a bad taste in my mouth.

New Releases Wednesday

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Published: September 15, 2020 by Tor

Goodreads

Synopsis: Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .” 

My Thoughts: I went through hell and high water to get an ARC of this. I got rejected by two of my ARC services and the publisher directly, but then I got approved for the audiobook from Macmillian Audio because they like me, hehe. I have a full review of the audiobook coming in the next few days. Be warned it is LONG. 880 pages long. But, oh so good.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Published: September 15, 2020 by Margaret K. Elderberry Books

Goodreads

Synopsis: Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

My Thoughts: I really hope this book lives up to the hype. I am hearing about it constantly. I want a YA book with a strong female lead, a rich world, a thorough magic system. And please, Gods please, no love triangles.

Review: Hella by David Gerrold

Hella by David Gerrold

Published: June 16, 2020 by DAW

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you DAW and NetGalley!***

I went into this book with a mixture of expectations and unfortunately it didn’t really meet any of them. On the one hand, I would have been happy if this was a B-movie style Creature Feature. But it wasn’t. And on the other hand it comes to me from David Gerrold. I have not read Gerrold before but I know him from being the writer of the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek and writing The Man who Folded Himself. A highly acclaimed writer in the sci-fi landscape and so I would have been happy with a wonderful sci-fi adventure from a practiced hand. Unfortunately it wasn’t that either.

The world was built in a convincing way, even if the descriptions were not that great. I liked hearing about the trees that weren’t really trees, and the creatures so large that they have their own small ecosystem. The settlers on this planet seem to have a structure similar to that of the show Stargate. Half military, half scientific exploration. You have the head of the expedition who is called Captain and there is largely a military like structure to a lot of the colonists activities. And they are there for the express purpose of conducting scientific exploration of their new home to figure out how to exist there with minimal impact on the natural environment. Why then are we naming things “bug-things” or “bat-things.” Our narrator, Kyle, is highly scientifically minded and he tells us that all of these things have scientific names…..so why are we calling them stupid things? They even have a giant salt flat that is called, no joke, “Oh my God!” because that’s all anyone could think of saying when they discovered it. It was really lame and annoying. I mean, they named the planet Hella because everything is “hella big”. Eye roll.

Kyle was a great character. He has some kind of “syndrome” that they never actually name but many have speculated is supposed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He was volatile and aggressive as a young child and so got a chip implanted in his brain to help him suppress his emotions. I loved how Kyle transitioned and changed throughout this book. He starts as a boy who feels that he doesn’t fit in and the only person he can talk to is his brother, Jaime. He relies on Jaime for just about everything. Throughout the events of the book Kyle decides to explore his emotions and build himself a more expansive support system. It was really great character development.

The author also introduced us to some really intriguing concepts in this society that I really wanted to learn more about, the government structure of the colony and the evolution of how society understands sexuality and gender. The government seemed to be a ruling committee that is guided by their Charters in making decisions for the good of the whole colony. I wanted to know what the ramifications would be when one of the committee decided to put themselves over the needs of the colony. Unfortunately we never really spend much time on that.

This is also a society that can change gender at will. Kyle’s brother, Jaime, was born a girl and decided to change. Kyle was also born a girl and decided to change because Jaime did. Later Kyle and his boyfriend have a discussion about whether the boyfriend would prefer Kyle to be a girl and he’d change back. It seemed that most people had changed genders at least once and technology has evolved to a point that the change can fully make you the other gender. Kyle’s mom was a girl, switched to be a boy for awhile, then went back to being a girl so she could experience pregnancy and childbirth. But it just seemed so casual. People are changing out of curiosity, just because, pressure from romantic interests, etc. But we never actually met someone who wanted to change their gender because they wanted to be their authentic self. It was more like choosing a new hair color. I wanted to see some depth to that discussion, but that never comes either.

This book was also way too long. At 448 pages I didn’t expect to be bored. But literally nothing happens for about 260 of those pages. The last half is very action packed. But literally NOTHING happens before then. Nothing. So overall, the whole thing left me feeling underwhelmed.