Monthly Archives: October 2014

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month, wanna join me?

Participant-2014-Twitter-ProfileI’ve known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for just about forever. I’m fairly sure I even signed up one year. But I’ve never made a concerted effort to participate before and I’ve certainly never been successful. 50,000 words in a month is a hefty challenge.

I consider writing much like any other challenge. It’s easier to keep going once you’re already going. And this is an important point for me. You see, I have two plots bouncing around in my brain right now. They’ve been there for a while, each growing slowly as I ruminate over them. Neither one has made it from my head to my computer, however. This means they are unlikely to ever make it to readers.

Best intentions are funny things. No matter how much I seem to want to birth these stories, I’ve found myself stymied at every aborted attempt. I’m left wondering how I ever even managed to get my first book to print. (Actually, if I’m honest, I know it happened because I never allowed myself to acknowledge that I was writing an actual BOOK and therefore avoided all of the author-centered self doubt that so compromises me now.)

Then, here comes NaNoWriMo, supposedly the perfect prompt. I even live in a moderate sized city. There are numerous pre-nano workshops and kickoff parties (even a midnight affair Halloween night) within an easily drivable distance from me. There are three separate weekly write-ins on three separate days that I can attend (more if I was willing to drive a bit farther). There is a fairly active Regional Forum and even a live chat room I can visit (and hopefully not use to procrastinate). There is a lot of support in this city.

I still face challenges, even with so much local activity about though. I have children at home, which means that daytime meetings are generally off-limits. Then there’s dinner and the guilt associated with dumping said children on the husband as soon as he drags it in the door from work, making evening meetings difficult.

All topped off by my amazing social awkwardness in real life. I went to one of the kickoff parties, for example, and hardly spoke to anyone, Kickoff at The Book Housejust hovered around looking miserable and wishing I hadn’t worn knee-high boots. (Ok, I must have spoken to someone. That’s me in the yellow, with my hand anomalously in the air. I can only hope I was making some salient point and not just helplessly flailing.) Either way, I’m a mess meeting new people and I can easily see myself talking myself out of going to write with other people.

And yes, those are excuses, mental hurtles that I know I can find a way around if I just try hard enough. So I’ve taken the last week or so to get ready, to psych myeslf up.

I’m trembling in my metaphorical boots, but I think maybe I’ve got this. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new moleskin and fancy pens and pencils. (I work best when actually scratching paper.) I’ve put all the write-ins on the calendar, with popup notifications. Look, I even got the T-shirt. Because obviously one writes better when properly attired. Riiightt. Don’t argue. Just roll with it for me.

I’ve registered on the website, read the NaNo prep page (apparently I’m a Pantser, good to know). I’ve checked out the Map-of-the Month and the blog. I’ve joined a Goodreads NaNoWriMo group, liked the NaNo Facebook page and followed NaNoWriMo on Twitter.

I’ve also picked out my non-write-in, out of the house writing hole and given it a test run to make sure the lattes and Cafepastries are up to par. (If you’re a Webster Groves/Kirkwood/Maplewood/Sunset Hills/etc local and want to meet up, feel free to toss me an email to find out where I’ll be.) So, yes, while I’m still scared silly that I won’t bring the story I’ve chosen to focus on to life, I’m doing what I can to set myself up for success.

And herein lies the point of this post. What I don’t have but need is a team. I need friends and writing buddies who will not only inspire me, but nag me, needle me, look at me with sad disappointed eyes if I don’t make enough of an effort, maybe even cuss at me on occasion. In exchange, I’ll do the same for them (you?). In the end, isn’t that the whole point of the NaNoWriMo event? I’m registered under Saussy and I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

If you, like many of the visitors to this blog, are here seeking a book review, all the policies still apply. But be advised that for the next 30 days my reading will be sharply curtailed and it’s unlikely I’ll read anything new before December.

Here’s hoping for the best. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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Review of Claire Cray’s Hidden Talents series (#1-7)

I downloaded the Hidden Talents series, by Claire Cray, from the Amazon freebie list. (Well, I paid $0.99 for the seventh, but the first six were free.)

Description from Goodreads:
Talents: Born with physical and psychic abilities beyond human understanding, these flawed forces of nature burn desperate paths through their own shadowy world ruled by sex, power, and madness.

Hidden Talents

Review:
The book started stronger than it finished. It began with one predominate POV and then, about half way through, added new POVs into the mix. This was both jarring and, I think, weakened the story, as the reader had no real connection to those characters yet.

This was exacerbated by the narrator’s tendency to casually throw in information that the reader hadn’t yet been given. For example, at one point Jin had twice asked another character for his name and been given a fake one in response. Then in the next paragraph that character was referred to by his true name. I was confused on two fronts, who was this new character suddenly introduced and then, once I figured out that it was the same character Jin was asking for a name, I was left wondering when Jin figured it out. This sort of thing happened more than once. I understand that Jin is a telepath and he’s likely supposed to have read this information from the person’s mind, but the reader isn’t and it’s confusing.

Late in the novella the plot also started to expand and the reader was given a lot of history that felt very baseless and confusing. I felt as if I had missed a first book somewhere. Then it just randomly ended. I can’t even call it a cliffhanger as there is no single event left uncompleted. It really just felt like I had read the first few chapters of a book and then set it aside for the night.

Where it ended felt completely random. As the author has written at least seven novellas in the series, I cannot for the life of me figure out why it was broken up so and not just a novel. If it wasn’t permafree I’d call it a scam to make more money and I’d be really P.O.ed if I’d paid for something that felt so halfhearted.

Having said all that, the writing is good. Jin has a pleasantly sarcastic voice and personality (even if he does skate the edge of too irreverent to believe). Sky and Ken have an interesting history and I like that the author isn’t afraid to allow trauma to have happened to children. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want any child to have to suffer, but a lot of authors are afraid to go there and it’s unrealistic. Children who grow up in abusive environments get abused. Pretending otherwise (even by virtue of refusing to cast an author’s eye in that direction) is a weakness in my opinion.

I’m not sure what I think of the Mike/Dylan/Jen portion of the story, however. I think that’s where things started falling apart for me. It felt tacked on and the reader is just told this, this and this happened in the past. Meh.

All in all, I’m looking forward to the next instalment and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I could see the series going either way, either getting really good or spiralling into such a weakly supported tangle as to become unreadable.

Minus TideReview:
I think this one was actually an improvement on the first. It was more consistent. I enjoyed getting to know some of the characters more; Jin continued sarcasm and the Sky/Ken drama. Plus, Mark and Jin’s night together was hot. Again, like the first volume, I have no idea why the book ended where it did or even why this is a series of novellas instead of a single book. It’s very obviously a single story. I anticipate feeling the same way at the end of each novella.

Look SharpReview:
I think the series is getting better as it goes along…or maybe I’ve just gotten to roughly the middle of the “book” this series of novellas obviously should have been. You know how a book often picks up in the middle, once you’ve met all the characters and the plot is established enough to progress without needing to interrupt itself with explanations? Yep, that’s where the story is at this point.

I am finding that I would like a little more world-building. I’m confused about characters’ ability to die and come back. How does that work? What about the bodies? Plus, if people so readily come back from the dead, why is everyone mourning Luke’s death? Similarly, I am befuddled about people’s ages. Everyone seems to be in their mid-twenties or younger, but a couple have been together (like, together-together) for 8-9 years. Jin is 22, Ken is younger while Mark and Lip are older. The rest I don’t know about and I don’t know how much older or younger those characters are than Jin. So, I don’t know how to visualise them. I am still enjoying the story, however.

OK, I’m going to stop reviewing these individually. This is patently one single story and trying to review each volume is starting to feel like I’ve stopped every 10 or so chapters to write a partial review. It’s becoming ridiculous.

I’ve now read up to book seven. Luckily, in the Note From the Author, at the end of Get Higher, she mentioned “two more books.” So, at least I now know how much more to expect. I know I’ve harped on about it, but the fact that this story is broken up into (apparently) 9 separate volumes is one of only two real complaints with ‘the series.’ The second is how much history is glossed over, considering how important it is to the events of the book’s present. This sadly includes a lot of the character development and worldbuilding. The reader really is left to just kind of catch up where they can as the events unwind.

I like those characters we get to know. (We don’t get to know all of them, even when they play a significant role in things.) Jackson’s decidedly Machiavellian plan is starting to come to fruition and it’s interesting. The sex is often hot. I especially liked the way Jin all but worships Ken.

Pending the next two books come out soon enough that I even still remember that I read the first seven, I’ll be finishing the series out. (Will probably still be grumbling about the serialisation though.) I’ve enjoyed the sarcasm and the narrative voice a lot. The writing and editing is pretty good (especially for freebies) and I like the gritty feel of it all.

Review of Darkling Drake, by Tawn Krakowski

Darkling DrakeI downloaded a copy of Tawn Krakowski‘s book, Darkling Drake from the Amazon freebie list.

Description from Goodreads:
Toni Drake is a loner with a knack for blending in and being nearly invisible to others even when standing right next to them. She turned this natural ability to her advantage by becoming a professional thief, but those talents, and her recent dreams, might be a sign that there is more to Toni than she ever thought possible.

Review: 
I really wanted to like this book, but it was not to be. The writing and I didn’t click (I’ll expand on that in a moment) and I found the main character, Toni Drake, incredibly unlikeable.

She is suicidally mouthy. I hate this in a character. There is a fine line between pleasantly sarcastic and just plain turrets-level say anything that comes to mind, especially if it’s threatening self aggrandizing. And once that line is crossed, a character becomes childish and unpleasant.

Drake definitely crossed the line. She just never stopped with her threats and snippy comments, even in the face of ridiculous odds. It’s also unrealistic. Like the time she looked at 8:1 odds (8 of them, 1 of her) and thought, ‘those aren’t good odds, I better go easy on them.’

Similarly, she’s instantly on the attack when she knows nothing of other dragons, their abilities, their politics, etc. Her confidence knew no bounds and lack of knowledge about her foe didn’t slow her down in the slightest. What? Really? It’s too damned much attitude.

The thing is that we’re never told how she became so badass in the first place. It’s just kind of intimated that it’s a natural ability that was helped along by growing up on the street. As such, I could readily believe that unknowingly being a dragon gave her a one-up on other humans and understand her confidence.

But the events of the book pit her against other dragons that should be at lest equal to her in natural ability and, though they may not have her street smarts they have the upper hand in having experience with their dragon form from birth. Thus, Drake shouldn’t be able to maintain her über badass position. But it never falters, even when the reader needs it to waver at least a little bit to make her relatable.

What’s more, we were told that she was a fighter, but not a killer. Thus all her bluster about “I will kill you if…” became hollow. Again it made her feel childish, like a kid spouting off at the grown ups in the midst of a temper tantrum.

Now, Drake was a real take-charge kinda gal and I appreciate that. I love that she never sat aside and waited to be rescued, but it too was a bit much. Within moments of finding out she’s a dragon she starts giving orders and saving the day. You’d think she might need a little time to acclimate and that the person with her who’s known he was a dragon his whole life, knows their ways and what to expect would be in charge for at least a little while.

Nope, Drake never even bat an eyelash. She took to shape shifting, flying, breathing fire, etc as if it’s nothing more unusual than having scrambled eggs for breakfast instead of fried eggs. How believable is that?

I know I’ve used the phrase repeatedly, but Drake is just too much, too much of everything. She’s made out to be the smartest, fastest, sneakiest, snarkiest, wittiest, sexiest, strongest, bravest, most capable in every context. Inexperience or lack of information be damned, even when others present should know more and be better suited for a task than Drake she still took over and saved the day.

Eventually, I stopped needing to read the actual book. I could just assume ‘Drake will have a master plan that will miraculously work, no matter how many coincidences it requires and all will be well.’ Meh.

Now, about the writing, I’ve encountered this before and have never come up with a way to say it that makes more sense. But the book is just too wordy. Here are some examples:

The other earth dragons, whom he had been forced to flee from with Toni, would never kill their own, no matter the transgression.

I finally decided that I had wasted enough precious time and stalked toward the back door leading to the roof.

Mumbling something into the gag that I had secured over his mouth last night before I turned in, he gazed at me with exhaustion and resignation in his eyes.

She absently tucked a loose strand of her lustrous dark tresses behind one sharply pointed ear, smoothed the wrinkles from her sleek, cerulean tunic, and began to speak, her voice low and smoky.

I gently placed the Book at my feet and ambled over to the papaya grove to collect the fallen fruit so that I would have something to placate my rebelling gut while I examined the tome’s pages.

After my last stop to fuel up with some artery-clogging, grease bombs some local fast food joint called “hamburgers,” I grabbed another vehicle from a nearby BMW dealership for a test drive and drove to my self-imposed rendezvous with my wayward foster father, Charlie.

It’s just too clunky to read smoothly. A lot of the book is like this. Part of the reason is that there are too many adjectives and adverb, both in the dialogue tags (which is largely discouraged in general) but also in the narrative itself, especially since it’s mostly a first person POV. Who says things like, “I called out playfully”  or “I grinned at him mischievously” about their own behaviour? It’s even more notable when one gets into seductively or menacingly. No one describes themselves this way.

There were also a lot of conveniences that cropped up. For example, when Drake wanted to swap cars so they weren’t followed, she found, not one, but three subsequent cars that the owners had left unlocked with the keys in them. Who does that? Similarly, when she needed a place to stay for a night, she happened across an empty rental. Or instructions on how to do something she doesn’t know how to do posted next to the computer she wants to use. As far as I know, being extraordinarily lucky wasn’t meant to be one of her dragon skills.

Then there were things that just didn’t make sense. Like how we’re told that dragons developed a talent for being seen as they want humans to see them. This suggests it’s an illusion. If that’s so, how come they physically transform? That’s no illusion. Plus, when they do transform into their giant dragon forms (where does all that extra mass come from, BTW) they fill rooms but don’t even displace furniture.

Often abilities come and go. Sometimes draconic characters seem able to communicate telepathically, other times they can’t. We’re told late in the book that male dragons aren’t taught to speak telepathically, but Christian does before that and more importantly it suggests that female dragons have to be taught the skill. Certainly, no one taught Drake.

Also, Drake makes a point of never trusting anyone, or caring for anyone or having any real connections. Despite this, someone who should know her better than anyone uses people as leverage to get what they want from her. If they know her so well, why would they think this would work?

Plus, the structure of the plot seems obvious sometimes. For example, at one point Drake storms out of the house for no discernable reason. She suddenly got uncomfortable and bolted. While gone her friends got kidnapped, requiring her to go rescue them and progressing the plot. Her providing the opportunity felt very convenient, almost as convenient as some of her almost miraculous leaps of logic. ‘Someone burned down this castle. As far as I know no one knows I’m a fire dragon, but they must be trying to frame me for it. Why else burn it down?’

Then there is the lack of description of the dragon forms. We’re told they have scales and their colors (Apparently Drake’s are onyx. I know this because it’s mentioned about 1,000 times) and that some have wings. That’s about it. At ~95% Drake mentions trying to impale someone on her horns and I went, “She has horns?” We’re never told what their structure is. This would have been important, especially since they talk in dragon form and I can’t figure out how what I imagine a dragon snout to look like manages that. And if they can talk in that form, how come they need telepathy?

Lastly, a little personally annoyance, the book is chocked full of sexual innuendo, literally from page one. Drake’s constant sexy thoughts (again, turrets-like) got old fast. Not only because the redundancy of it but because after all the hint, hint, hints there isn’t ever any actual sex. So, what was the point?

If not for all that innuendo I’d suggest this book might be attractive to young readers. They probably wouldn’t cringe as much at Drake’s baseless crowing. Me it drove crazy and I’m glad to be done with her.