Category Archives: Books and Reading

The Read List: City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong

city of the lost

Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you’re accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding?in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.

My thoughts on City of the Lost:

I adore Kelley Armstrong’s work. She’s an amazing writer and even more amazing in person. If you’ve been following her writing recently, you’ll have noticed she’s started doing a lot more non-urban fantasy books. The new books are more on the thriller or mystery side, and they are good!

  1. I actually came to Kelley’s works through her Nadia Stafford series, so in a way I got to know her through her non-fantasy works to begin with. (In case you’re not familiar with them, the Nadia Stafford series is about a female assassin–and they are very good reads.) So City of the Lost was right up my alley.
  2. Kelley has such a way with atmosphere, and she’s as brilliant as ever with building atmosphere here. Even though I knew this wasn’t an urban fantasy, I kept thinking something paranormal or supernatural would show up. But I wasn’t disappointed in my anticipation; the things that did happen, while not paranormal, were very creepy and eerie and in total sync with the atmosphere.
  3. Did I say creepy? I need to say it again. Creepy. Eerie. In a good way.
  4. I really liked Casey Duncan. Strong, independent, a self-thinker. Her flaws added strength to the story. Also, she’s half Asian, and it’s so nice to see an Asian protagonist in a book. And perhaps what I like most about her being half-Asian is that Kelley doesn’t make it into some big deal. It’s just who Casey is.
  5. There’s a romance. I’ve never been big on romances in my thrillers (I tend to prefer them in my romances, you know?), but this romance felt so natural and didn’t detract from the story events at all.
  6. Rockton–such an interesting concept for a town!
  7. Dalton, the sheriff, is an interesting character, and the more I read, the more interesting he got. Talk about a backstory!
  8. And as for the ending, I definitely didn’t see it coming.

My verdict: a very good read indeed.

 

The Read List: The Mind-Gut Connection, by Emeran Mayer

mind gut connection

Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with the latest discoveries on the human microbiome, a practical guide in the tradition of The Second Brain, and The Good Gut that conclusively demonstrates the inextricable, biological link between mind and the digestive system.

We have all experienced the connection between our mind and our gut—the decision we made because it “felt right”; the butterflies in our stomach before a big meeting; the anxious stomach rumbling we get when we’re stressed out. While the dialogue between the gut and the brain has been recognized by ancient healing traditions, including Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, Western medicine has by and large failed to appreciate the complexity of how the brain, gut, and more recently, the gut microbiota—the microorganisms that live inside our digestive tract—communicate with one another. In The Mind-Gut Connection, Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine and executive director of the UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress, offers a revolutionary and provocative look at this developing science, teaching us how to harness the power of the mind-gut connection to take charge of our health and listen to the innate wisdom of our bodies.

My Thoughts on The Mind-Gut Connection:

I know … two posts in one day. What is the world coming to?

(No need to answer. I kind of hate thinking about what the world is coming to these days.)

So I read The Mind-Gut Connection because Trish at TLC Book Tours sent me the description and it looked like something I’d be interested in. And while I’ve been wrong before (and oh, have I ever been wrong before!) I was right about this one.

If you’re interested in that colony of bacteria that resides in your gut and how it affects your life, The Mind-Gut Connection is the read for you.

What colony of bacteria, you ask?

If you put all your gut microbes together and shaped them into an organ, it would weigh between 2 and 6 pounds–on par with the brain, which weighs in at 2.6 pounds.

This “forgotten organ” is quite incredible, and The Mind-Gut Connection goes into detail about exactly why it’s so incredible.

In addition to references to lots of scientific studies that back up how these microbes in our gut affect our brain, this book also has a bit of a holistic feel to it. There’s an entire chapter on intuitive decision-making that makes you want to recognize the next time you’re relying on your intuitions so you can “go with your gut”. And I wished the author had talked a bit more about working with dreams (although that doesn’t have much to do with your gut microbes. But still: interesting!)

Science has shown that chronic stress has a very detrimental effect on the interaction between your gut bacteria and your brain, and I  found myself wishing science would also spend a bit more time on exploring the effect positive emotions have on this interaction as well. I mean, it would be good to have some solid, scientific evidence pointing to what happens when we experience positive emotions.

After reading all about how the microbiome in our gut affects our brain, I was very happy to read the final section on how to optimize your brain-gut health.  I was a little disappointed, though, to learn it’s very difficult to actually change your gut microbial diversity. But still, there’s more than enough reason to continue with the probiotics and fermented foods.

And I’m definitely leaning toward a Mediterranean diet now, big-time. Veggies, here I come!

The Read List: The Memory Painter, by Gwendolyn Womack

memorypainter

Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artist, whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret to Bryan’s success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. Bryan believes these dreams are really recollections?possibly even flashback from another life?and he has always hoped that his art will lead him to an answer. And when he meets Linz Jacobs, a neurogenticist who recognizes a recurring childhood nightmare in one Bryan’s paintings, he is convinced she holds the key.

Their meeting triggers Bryan’s most powerful dream yet?visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, died in a lab explosion decades ago. As his visions intensify, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.

My Thoughts on The Memory Painter:

  1. When I finished this, I basically said, “Wow.”
  2. It’s time travel. Or reincarnation. Or both. I vote for both, because it feels like time travel but I guess it’s really about reincarnation. (The subtitle is kind of a giveaway: “A novel of love and reincarnation”.)
  3. It had me riveted right from the very beginning. And once this book got its claws into me, it didn’t let go. Highly readable, but with great pacing. Little by little, things are revealed to us, but with perfect timing.
  4. It all made sense. Very credible. I could see this actually  happening (well, okay, maybe not really happening, but you know what I mean. Suspension of disbelief? Not difficult at all.)
  5. I won’t go all spoilerish, but I’ll say this: there was a point where I was like, “Hey, why does Bryan get all the juicy reincarnations?” And then the ending hit, and I was like, “Yay, Linz!”
  6. And that ending? Really good. Great twist.
  7. Did I just say twists? This book has such an interesting, complex plot. So really, lots of twists. Without making you lose that suspension of disbelief. Riveting is the word that comes to mind (yes, I know I’ve already used it. Because it fits.).
  8. I’m looking forward to the sequel. Because there’s definitely going to be a sequel. But–and I am very grateful for this–NOT because this ends on a cliffhanger. No cliffhanger, but lots of promise to come. I love books that end like this.
  9. If you like thrillers, if you like time travel, if you like a good read … grab a copy of The Memory Painter. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for another great read.

 

Reading: After Alice, by Gregory Maguire

after alice

 

After Aliceby Gregory Maguire:

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

I’m in the middle of reading this one; it’s not an easy read, and to be honest, I’m not sure, now that I’ve put it down, if I’ll get back to picking it up again. The list review style is also great when I’m dealing with a book I’m not sure about, so here goes:

1. This book is most definitely not an easy read. It demands a lot of the reader, and I’m still unsure whether the payoff for all that effort is there. But it might be.

2. If you’re the type of reader who likes to know the meanings of words that are new to you, keep a dictionary on hand. You’re probably going to encounter at least one word you’ll need to look up in every paragraph.

3. I think, actually, that’s where the book started to lose me. The Words. Now, I love words, and I love word play–I mean, that’s what makes Alice in Wonderland the charmer that it is. But the thing is, in Alice in Wonderland it really is word play. In Alice, Lewis Carroll displays a genuine delight, a kind of delirious fun with words. But in After Alice, this sense of play isn’t there. Often you get the feeling the Words are The Point of the paragraph, the passage, the book. Not character, not story, not theme, but the Words.

4. Having said that, there are some delightful lines. Like:

From a distance he has the appearance of a walking cucumber that has gone deliquescent in the middle.

(And nope. I did not know what “diliquescent” meant. In case you’re wondering: “becoming liquid or having a tendency to become liquid.”)

5. Despite what you might be thinking, only about half of the book is about Ada’s adventures in Wonderland. The other part is about Alice’s sister, Lydia, in the real(er) world of Victorian England. And at times, with all this back and forth, it felt like After Alice wasn’t sure what it truly wanted to be: the story of Ada’s journey into a surreal world, or a philosophical exploration of the mores of Victorian England.

6. I preferred the Wonderland chapters.

7. Some of the dialogue in Wonderland is wonderfully quirky and reminiscent of Carroll’s dialogue.

8. So you don’t have to stop and Google it, if you’re reading the book: in the language of lowers, yellow flowers stand for jealousy and infidelity. (See Chapter 11, and Ada’s reflections on the mysterious nature of the literature of roses.)

9. I’m not quite ready to DNF this one, but it might join the books in my stacks labelled “To Be Finished Later”.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for my review copy of this book.

The Read List: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay

disappearance at devils rock

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay:

Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her thirteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.

The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend Tommy’s disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration: the local and state police have uncovered no leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were the last to see Tommy before he vanished, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock.

Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connects them.

As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened become more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

I have a hard time writing about books I really enjoyed, because I usually find myself reduced to wanting to say stuff like, “Read this already, okay?” and “Oh, wow” and “This was good. Really good. I mean it. This was good.”

Which is not particularly helpful. And, since I really enjoyed Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and find myself wanting to say, Just pick this one up and read it! I’ve been trying hard to figure out exactly what I should write (other than “You really should read this”).

So to make it easier on both me and you, I thought I’d do this in a list. That way, I can be incoherent and ramble on a bit, which is probably a lot more helpful than waving the book in the air and saying to everyone and anyone near enough to hear, “You need to read this!” (which is what I actually did say when I finished reading it).

  1. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is billed as a horror, and yes, it is an eerie read, with lots of atmosphere and I think you’ll like it if you like horror … BUT this isn’t really a horror novel. At its heart, it’s about love and it’s about loss.
  2. So if you were thinking, this read isn’t for me, because I don’t like horror novels, I think you should still give this a try.
  3. It made me cry. I read this nearly a month ago, and even now, thinking back to that last scene, I can still remember why it made me cry.
  4. I read this in one long gulp. I literally couldn’t put it down, so it ended up being one of those books where you read the last words with a deep sigh and then realize, oh, crap, it’s 3 in the morning. I’m getting kind of old for this kind of thing, but at the same time, I’m very happy when I stumble across a book that keeps me reading deep into the night.
  5. Even though I couldn’t put the book down, this wasn’t a purely plot-driven novel, the kind that keeps you madly flipping the pages quickly, sort-of-kind-of taking in the words because really, you’re just hell-bent on getting to the end and finding out WHAT HAPPENED. Sure, there was plot, a good one at that, but  for me, it was the characters that really made this book work.
  6. I liked the way the narrative went back and forth between the present and the past. It worked well. And I was never confused about when in time I was. Always a really good thing.
  7. I think it could have used a better title. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock doesn’t really work for me. Actually, it makes me think of the Hardy Boys, so maybe it would work for me if I’m feeling like reading the Hardy Boys. Which I used to do all the time, back when I was 13. But not so much now. (Don’t ask me what would be a good title, though, because I’m not good at stuff like that.)
  8. I really enjoyed this book.

So a huge thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy. And of course a huge thanks to Paul Tremblay for penning this one. And did I mention, you should read this already, okay?

 

The Read List: Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

hex

Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.

One of the most impressive things about Hex is that the original version was written in Dutch, and for the North American/UK release of the novel, author Thomas Olde Heuvelt decided to revise the novel and Americanize it—and while I haven’t read the Dutch version (I don’t, unfortunately, have any familiarity with the language), I can say that this version of Hex worked for me.

In this interview from Rue Morgue, the author had this to say about both versions of Hex:

The original Dutch edition was set in an existing small town in The Netherlands. It’s the town of Beek, in the east of the country, in the hills near the German border. My grandmother used to live there, and I always thought: if there’s any place in a country so densely populated and neatly cultivated as The Netherlands where something like this could happen, it’s here. Even more so: Beek has a history of witchcraft persecutions and hangings that goes back to the middle ages and is still visible today. The woods around the town are gloomy. There are witch-references in the naming of places and streams. They even have an annual ritual at Carnival, where they hang a big straw witch doll from the town hall, and after the festivities, they burn it. (And believe it or not: I did *not* know that when I wrote the wicker burning scene in HEX, which was a perfect and very creepy coincidence). The English edition, however, is set in Black Spring, New York. You could say it’s a remake from the Dutch original, and Black Spring is based on the town of Beek (the early settlers called it “New Beeck” for obvious reasons). For me as a writer, it was a fantastic challenge to see if I could pull it off to make the book work in a totally new, culturally different environment. Plus, it was an excuse to revisit the town, the characters and the storylines that I loved so much, and spend some more time with them without having to fall in the trap of a sequel. The Dutch ‘soul’ of the book I kept very much alive during the process.

I enjoyed Hex. While this is a horror, there were also several humorous passages that made me laugh, and the horror deepened in intensity in a way that really worked for me. Aside from one scene of extreme violence (which I flipped over, as I don’t like reading stuff like that—lucky for me I wasn’t listening to the audio version—and which was necessary for the narrative rather than gratuitous) the violence was more muted than anything, which is another thing I appreciate in a horror novel. It seems to me it takes far more skill to build that horror feeling in a novel without using a lot of graphic violence, and that’s something the author does well.

The Dutch version has a different ending, and I’m rather curious about the difference, although I did enjoy the ending of the version I read: it was rather bittersweet, which is unexpected in a horror novel.

 

 

The Read List: Death at Breakfast, by Beth Gutcheon

deathatbreakfastI hate to say this, but Death at Breakfast just didn’t work for me. When TLC Book Tours sent me their list of upcoming books going on tour, I read the synopsis for this book and loved the sound of the two main protagonists:

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.

Don’t Maggie and Hope sound just lovely? I think the mystery world is really really ready for a pair of middle aged sleuths like them. So as I settled in to read, I was all set to cheer for Maggie and Hope, and ride along as they set out on their first mysterious adventure. Only … it didn’t turn out that way, because I didn’t really get a chance to get a sense of who Maggie and Hope are.

Unfortunately, it takes a good long while before the murder in this murder mystery actually happens, and in the scenes leading up to it, we get into Maggie’s or Hope’s POV just a few times. Now, the murder itself doesn’t have to happen quickly in order for a murder mystery to be good; Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries come to mind as an example of long build-ups to the murders themselves that work well. But George is also a master of characterization, and good characterization is something I found Death at Breakfast lacked.

A lot of the scenes in the book are scattered among an astonishing number of secondary characters. At first I’d start reading a new scene, be confused about who this particular character was, flip back to find out, then start back on the scene again. After a while, though, I got tired of doing that, so I just kept plodding on, on the assumption that sooner or later it would dawn on me who this person was. But having to do that just doesn’t add up to very enjoyable reading for me.

The writing itself is fine, with a nice turn of phrase here and there. But without solidly fleshed out characters and a better developed plot, I wasn’t really drawn into the story itself. It’s a little bizarre, but I found the character I liked best, in that I was intrigued by her and actually wanted to learn more about her, was Artemis, a celebrity pop star who never physically shows up in the book.

When I finished reading, I headed over to Amazon and Goodreads to see some of its reviews; I like to do this when a book doesn’t work for me because there’s always the chance I missed something that could have made a difference. But after reading through the reviews, it occurred to me that Death at Breakfast would probably be enjoyed by the reader of general fiction, but perhaps not so much by mystery aficionados.

And on a side note, it was interesting to see one reviewer had actually counted the number of secondary characters who make an appearance in the book: there were twenty-three of them! That’s a lot of secondary characters, and with several of them getting their own scenes in the book, it was all too confusing and unwieldy for me.

Depending on your reading tastes, your mileage with this one may be different, though.

 

The Read List: Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

Witches of Lychford

What it’s about:

Traveler, Cleric, Witch.

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.

Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth — that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.

But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies…

I picked up Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford after I read an excerpt of it on the Tor website (actually, I pre-ordered it right after reading it, as it wasn’t released yet — and I don’t normally place pre-orders, so the excerpt definitely grabbed me). 

Then the ebook was released and sent to my Kindle … and like lots of other ebooks on my Kindle (and my Kobo), it ended up sitting on my Kindle for a while. But then I remembered it, and decided to pick up where I’d left off.

And I’m really glad I did. Even though this is a short book (it’s novella-length), Cornell has no problems building a believable world where magic is worked within the nicks and corners of the normal, magic-less every day.

Set in a small English village, the story pulls in the workings of local politics and is quite epic in scope. The rest of the story turned out to be just as good as the excerpt that had pulled me in, and when I finished, I found myself hoping Cornell would continue to set more stories in this world he’s created.

I had read Cornell’s London Falling a while back and enjoyed it, so reading the Witches of Lychford has reminded me how much I wanted to read his The Severed Streets, too.

 

The Read List: Die Again, by Tess Gerritsen

die again

So … I figured out “whodunnit”. Not until close to the end, but definitely before the big reveal.

Sigh.

It’s never nice when that happens. Still, this was an okay read. I particularly liked the parts of the narrative that took place in Botswana, and I enjoyed the mystery of how those parts fit in with the rest of the story. Unfortunately, once I found out exactly how those bits fit in, the rest of the puzzle pieces slipped into place–just a little bit too early.

Botswana? you say. But I thought Die Again was a Rizzoli and Isles mystery … And so it is. Here’s the synopsis:

When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.

Six years earlier, a group of tourists on safari fell prey to a killer in their midst. Marooned deep in the bush of Botswana, with no means of communication and nothing but a rifle-toting guide for protection, the terrified tourists desperately hoped for rescue before their worst instincts—or the wild animals prowling in the shadows—could tear them apart. But the deadliest predator was already among them, and within a week, he walked away with the blood of all but one of them on his hands.

Now this killer has chosen Boston as his new hunting ground, and Rizzoli and Isles must find a way to lure him out of the shadows and into a cage. Even if it means dangling the bait no hunter can resist: the one victim who got away.

So yes, the Botswana parts were good. Figuring it out early? Not so good. Still, it was nice to meet with Rizzoli and Isles again.

But I have to say, I’ve not been all that interested in the story arcs of a number of continuing series characters for a while now, this one included. I don’t mind the conflict going on at Rizzoli’s parents’ house (although someone really really needs to sit Angela down and talk some sense into her) but the whole thing with Isles and her sociopathic mother? It’s like, the priest thing didn’t work out (both literally and also as the continuing story arc) so we have to have something just as dramatic going on. We share DNA so we have a bond … I mean, really. Isles is supposed to be a scientist.

And while I’m not one to rip covers apart, and I love the woman’s eyes in the cover of the hardcover version (which is the version I read), I really don’t get the connection between that cover and the story.  I think the paperback cover provides a much better connection to the story:

die again v2

 

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

If you’re a Rizzoli and Isles fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

 

The Read List: Fiction Unboxed by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

fiction unboxed

Why yes! I am determined to keep my Read List up-to-date (once this post publishes, I’ll be two for two – yay!).

So I just finished Fiction Unboxed by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. I’d missed all the hoopla around the Kickstarter that began this project a couple of years ago, so I’m glad I discovered it the other day when I was bored and clicking around Amazon.

As I always do when I’m deciding whether to buy a book, after reading a handful of the five and four star reviews, I then read all the three, two and one star reviews. I find that these lower-starred reviews often help me to gauge whether a book is a right fit for me. If I don’t agree with what these ” this book was meh” reviewers are saying, or if they point out the reasons why the book isn’t for them and these reasons don’t affect me (or, as is sometimes the case, these reasons actually make me want to read the book), I often will end up getting the book.

(So to all you authors out there despairing about mediocre or downright bad reviews, take heart! There are readers like me who actually find these kinds of reviews helpful in making the “purchase” (rather than the “don’t purchase”) decision.)

After reading the “this didn’t work for me” reviews, I decided to take a shot with this one, because:

In the meh reviews, this sounded like the main problem–that if you’ve done all of these things, there’s nothing fresh in Fiction Unboxed for you (although many of the five star reviewers had done all these things, and still really liked the book).

Luckily, that wasn’t me. So I plunged in. And i’m glad I did.

What I liked about this book is how Truant takes everything that happened during the course of the 30 days it took for them to write, produce and publish The Dream Engineplus all the Kickstarter days preceding it, and puts it into a narrative first-person tale that’s engrossing enough to keep you reading. I mean, seriously, you’re reading about two authors writing a book–that’s something that could get quite boring.

As they indicate at the beginning of the book, Fiction Unboxed is all about their process, and it’s a very intriguing process. They use story beats rather than a set outline, and I was fascinated by how the story beats enabled them to continue to write organically, with all the spontaneous surprises that entails, while at the same time providing them with a series of guideposts so they always knew in what direction they were headed.

My problem with all of my fiction WIPs has always been finishing the projects. I write by the seat of my pants, and often find myself backed into a corner at around 50,000-60,000 words. I’ve tried to outline projects several times before, and it’s never worked for me. There’s something about the word “outline” that makes me feel confined within the plot points I’ve put down, and I find myself just plugging away at my writing, bored stiff–and trust me, this shows in the resulting work.

But I also know that when I sit down to write and I know where my scene needs to end up, the writing is almost always fun and effortless. I just haven’t done this that often, so I can’t say for certain I still get those delightful surprises which, for me, are one of the main reasons I like to write–I want to discover the story as I go.

So I think I’ve discovered a process that I can tweak to my needs. For that alone, Fiction Unboxed was worth the price.

But it’s also a good look behind the scenes at how a couple of full-time fiction writers actually do their stuff. And judging from the excerpts in the finished book, writing at that speed doesn’t affect the quality of their writing – Truant seems to have a real knack for painting a scene and quite a lovely way with words. In fact, their production process seems quite rigorous, and while I haven’t read any of their novels yet, I suspect none of them are rife with the kind of grammatical errors I’ve been seeing in a lot of books lately (both self-published AND traditionally published, sadly).