Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson

Children of the Revolution (Inspector Banks, Book #21)
by Peter Robinson
Release Date: March 25th 2014
2014 William Morrow
Hardcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062240507
ASIN: B00BVJG2SS
Genre: Fiction / Murder / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
The body of a disgraced college lecturer is found on an abandoned railway line. In the four years since his dismissal for sexual misconduct, he'd been living like a hermit. So where did he get the 5,000 pounds found in his pocket?

Leading the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks begins to suspect that the victim's past may be connected to his death. Forty years ago the dead man attended a university that was a hotbed of militant protest and divisive, bitter politics. And as the seasoned detective well knows, some grudges are never forgotten-or forgiven.

Just as he's about to break the case open, his superior warns him to back off. Yet Banks isn't about to stop, even if it means risking his career. He's certain there's more to the mystery than meets the eye . . . and more skeletons to uncover before the case can finally be closed.


My Thoughts
Children of the Revolution is the twenty-first entry in the Inspector Banks series and while I have been a huge fan for quite a while, this novel was definitely not my favourite one of the series.  Typically, Robinson's novels are quite compelling, and I am often worried for Banks who tends to push the boundaries of his job to the point I am always afraid he will finally take that one step too far and have to deal with the consequences.  As a result, I am usually on the edge while reading these books, but lately, it feels as if that 'edge' has disappeared and I am feeling a bit disappointed in the plot and the storytelling.   

One of the things where Robinson does shine is in his dialogue.  I thought he took a rather simple plot, embellished a couple of things quite skillfully, and pretty much drove the plot through his characters and their dialogue, a lot of it being rather witty and interesting.  Having been a long time reader of this author though, I thought he relied too much on this type of storytelling and I was a bit disappointed. It could be very easy to get caught up in that type of storytelling, but I was not willing to let go of the suspense I expected from a Robinson novel.  Yes, I get that Banks is a rebel, enjoying the fact that he can push everyone's buttons, likes to listen to a certain type of music such as Grateful Dead, and drinks an awful lot, but that gets old rather quickly.  I just find it stereotypical to assume that young people would not have heard of classical rock artists and other things from the sixties just because they are young, and again, that gets old fast.  Don't get me wrong, I like Banks a lot, but I would like to see some development in his character as that would make it far more interesting to read about as right now he just seems stale.  

The plot was definitely not as interesting as in previous books, and I was sad to see that Winsome and Annie did not feature as much in this one as I really like their characters.  I really felt like the author was reaching in this novel as Banks took chances that a seasoned professional really would not take, even if he was a rebel police officer.  And while I absolutely enjoyed the details of the setting as usual, it just didn't make up for the predictable plot that is not a trademark of this author.  The ending was interesting, and I did like it, but I wish it had that "omg" that is so characteristic of these novels.  It was rather humdrum and I found myself not really caring what choice Banks would make in the next novel, which would definitely not have been the case in previous novels.  That is rather telling, don't you think?

Verdict
Children of the Revolution reminds of one of those novels that get pushed out there because an author is on a timeline to publish a novel under pressure.  It's not that thisis wasn't interesting as that is not the case; there were definitely parts of the novel that kept my attention and kept me riveted to the book.  The conclusion to this book could have been rather riveting and interesting, and quite controversial, as it put Banks in a very intriguing position, but for the first time, I felt that the author took the easy way out and I was rather disappointed as the unexpected and controversial is almost an expectation from this series.  I am hoping that the author takes his character Banks much more seriously in his next novel, Abattoir Blues, and please, bring back the suspense and the intrigue that long-time readers expect from this series. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review and Giveaway: Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber



Murder Strikes a Pose (A Downward Dog Mystery, Book #1)


Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Midnight Ink
Publication Date: January 8, 2014
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 978-0738739687
Purchase Links:

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
When George and Bella—a homeless alcoholic and his intimidating German shepherd—disturb the peace outside her studio, yoga instructor Kate Davidson’s Zen-like calm is stretched to the breaking point. Kate tries to get rid of them before Bella scares the yoga pants off her students. Instead, the three form an unlikely friendship.

One night Kate finds George’s body behind her studio. The police dismiss his murder as a drug-related street crime, but she knows George wasn’t a dealer. So Kate starts digging into George’s past while also looking for someone to adopt Bella before she’s sent to the big dog park in the sky. With the murderer nipping at her heels, Kate has to work fast or her next Corpse Pose may be for real.

My Thoughts
Murder Strikes a Pose is the first book in a proposed series featuring Kate and her yoga studio.  I thought the book was fairly well done and enjoyed it quite a bit, although upon reflection, I think I liked it more for its discussion on yoga and how it keeps the body healthy, than for its mystery.  And honestly, I thought Bella was the real 'star' of this book; I just enjoyed the scenes with her and thought some of the thing she did were hysterically funny.  I'm sure all previous, and current, dog owners will appreciate her antics.

Kate was an interesting character and I really liked following her inner struggles about following her instincts or following the teachings she has been taught with regards to yoga.  These ideologies sometimes clashes as yoga tends to teach serenity and non-violence, and Kate sometimes had difficulty controlling her impulses and her temper.  I especially liked the scene where she throws the cup of coffee across the lobby just as a client walks through the door and has to deal with the consequences of her outburst.  Personally, I found her easy to like and easy to relate to as we all have moments like that, ones in which we just want to throw something, but Kate actually does it.  I also liked the secondary characters in the book and am looking forward to getting to know Rene and Michael a bit better, especially Rene as she seems so down-to-earth, but I sense a little something there that could be interesting.  My only beef with the characters is their focus on their weight and food issues; since when is 130 pounds overweight with thunder thighs?  I just think it sends such a bad message to women everywhere!!!!!  And focusing on the healthy aspects of yoga and the body/health connections would be much better as it is much more positive and healthier.  I get what the author was trying to portray, but I'm not convinced that it was done in the way she meant to achieve.

I really enjoyed the characters and the dialogue between the characters, but where I got lost somewhat is in the mystery aspect of this novel.  To be quite honest, it was quite easy to figure out who did it, and I didn't really find the reasoning to be that plausible.  However, the overall feel of the novel was good and I did enjoy it, so I was able to somewhat overlook the problems with the mystery side to things.  I think if it wasn't for Bella, the crazy, beautiful dog, I don't think I would have it enjoyed it as much.  For me, that dog was the story.  Having had a labrador retriever with a pancreatic disease, one that cost me well over $150 in medicine every month to keep healthy, I was completely sympathetic to Bella's issue and hoped everything would go well for her.  This is one aspect of Kate's personality that I really did admire as she definitely went all out for those who needed her help; giving money to George, taking Bella in when she had no one, helping her friends in need, and so on. 

Verdict
Murder Strikes a Pose was a decent first book in the new Downward Dog mystery series.  I really liked Kate and the dog Bella, and I definitely enjoyed learning a bit about yoga, something of which I know absolutely nothing.  Unfortunately, the characters and their various shenanigans as well as the scenes with Bella did overshadow the mystery, an aspect that I thought was somewhat lacking; it was far to easy to figure out who did the deed, and I thought the reasons were not very plausible.  There are a lot of good reasons though, for me to take a look at the next book in this series, Killer Retreat, when it is released next year.

Author Bio:

My writing is an expression of the things I love best: yoga, dogs, and murder mysteries.

I'm a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. I enjoy sharing my passion for yoga and animals in any form possible.

My husband and I live with our challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha and our bonito flake-loving cat Maggie. When I'm not writing, I spend my time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at my favorite local ale house.

I am a member of Sisters in Crime, The Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Dog Writers Association of America.

Catch Up With the Author:


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Spotlight and Giveaway: Betraying Mercy by Amber Lin

 photo f3d4985f-882d-42ae-9246-eebefc6c780c.jpg

Please join Amber Lin as she tours the blogosphere with HF Virtual Book Tours for her dark historical romance novel Betraying Mercy from August 4-22.

02_Betraying MercyPublication Date: August 4, 2014
Harlequin E eBook; ASIN: B00JTPU42G
Genre: Historical Romance  

Can she be more than a mistress? With a tarnished reputation, Mercy Lyndhurst expected to become the Earl of Rochford’s mistress, not his wife. Immediately abandoned by her husband after their wedding, Mercy transformed herself from commoner to countess, vowing to protect the lands and people her husband was forced to leave. Over the past six years, William has restored the family fortune all the while tortured by his memories of Mercy…and the dark night he killed a man. When a threat draws him home, William learns just how much has changed—including his wife. While the passion still flares between them, he fears he has wounded her too badly to regain her trust. But as the danger grows they must unite to save the estate…and possibly their marriage.

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03_Amber LinAbout the Author

Amber Lin writes erotic romance with damaged souls and deep emotion. Her debut novel, Giving It Up, received The Romance Review’s Top Pick, Night Owl Top Pick, and 5 Blue Ribbons from Romance Junkies. RT Book Reviews gave it 4.5 stars, calling it “truly extraordinary.” She has been published by Loose Id, Carina Press, and Entangled. Amber married her high school sweetheart, birthed a kid who’s smarter than she is, and spends her nights writing down her dirty thoughts. In other words, life is good. For more information on Amber Lin and her novels please visit her website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. Sign up for Amber Lin's Newsletter.

Giveaway

To enter to win a signed copy of Amber Lin's FALLING FOR THE PIRATE, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open internationally.
 
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 23rd and notified via email. Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

Under a Silent Moon (DCI Louisa Smith, Book #1)
by Elizabeth Haynes
Release Date: April 15th 2014
2014 Harper
Hardcover Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062276025
ASIN: B00ANOB8GS
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
In the crisp, early hours of an autumn morning, the police are called to investigate two deaths. The first is a suspected murder at a farm on the outskirts of a small village. A beautiful young woman has been found dead, her cottage drenched with blood. The second is a reported suicide at a nearby quarry. A car with a woman's body inside was found at the bottom of the pit.

As DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather evidence, they discover a shocking link between the two cases and the two deaths-a bond that sealed their terrible fates one cold night, under a silent moon.


My Thoughts 
Under a Silent Moon is the first book in a new series featuring DCI Louisa Smith.  I had really enjoyed Into the Darkest Corner and was looking forward to the psychological suspense that I had encountered in that novel.  Under a Silent Moon attempts to be suspenseful and complicated, with twists and turns that may trick a reader not used to reading mystery novels, but for me, I felt the book tried too hard to be tricky and because of this, felt a bit flat and mundane.

Haynes works as a police intelligence analyst and what she attempted to do in this novel was show the more behind the scenes work of intelligence gathering of a crime scene.  I think that we are so inundated with shows like CSI and Criminal Minds that we often forget that police crime investigations can be rather slow and humdrum, with many different people involved rather than just the main inspectors.  This is what this book was trying to show; the rather important work of an intelligence analyst.  And while I definitely appreciate the work, and I definitely found it interesting, I'm not sure if the reports injected into the book actually worked as I thought they were somewhat repetitive and slowed down the pace of the novel. I didn't have an objection to the analyzing; I just thought that if the author wanted to focus on the analyst side of things, maybe she should have made Jason (the analyst) the main character as it would have been interesting to have everything focus around him.  Otherwise, keep the analyzing to the background and focus on the work of the inspectors. 

There was an interesting mix of characters, but to be honest, I could do without Andy Hamilton.  The author kept stressing how good of a cop he was, but personally, I just didn't see it in this novel.  Unfortunately, I can't mention too much about the events surrounding him or I will give away an important plot point, but I wasn't overly impressed with him at all; his carelessness almost cost him his life and the case.  Louisa Smith, the DCI, attempts to be tough, but I didn't see a lot of that in this novel.  I really liked her in this novel, but to be in the position she is in, I would imagine she would have to grow a set, and she seemed a bit soft to me.  I understand this was the first case the actually led, but she would have been involved in other cases in order to be in the position she was in.  She just seems so naive and trusting for a DCI.  I am curious to see how both of these characters develop in future novels.  I did like the camaraderie amongst the other police officers and the banter though; some of the dialogue was fun and witty, and I enjoyed it. 

The book is a rather quick read, and because I am familiar with her other books, I felt the psychological suspense was rather lacking in comparison.  I also thought the clues were rather glaring this time round, and the fact the police missed them actually bothered me as they were rather in your face clues and not subtle ones at all.  There were definitely a lot of subplots in this one, and not all of them were actually resolved so I am curious as to whether some of them will reappear in future novels or if they will just drop off the radar.  I rather hope not as I know one of them will nag at me for some time if it is just dropped, especially as the author went to a lot of trouble to randomly throw in reports about the subject and it really didn't have anything to do with the actual plot in the end.  I hate loose ties!!

Verdict
Under a Silent Moon was a well-written police procedural that tried a bit too hard to be twisty and tricky.  And while I definitely enjoyed the analyst side of things, I constantly felt like there was a conflict between the analyzing and the inspecting, the balance of the two not having been found.  Because of this, I really felt the psychological suspense was rather lacking in this one in comparison to her other novels and the book felt a bit flat to me overall.  There is a lot of room for her characters to develop though, so I am curious as to what will happen in the next book, Behind Closed Doors.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Spotlight: Racing the Hunter's Moon by Sally Clements




Racing the Hunter's Moon
by Sally Clements 
Release Date: August 18th 2014
2014 Entangled: Bliss
ISBN: 978-1633750548
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Romance

Blurb: Pretending to be a couple may drive them crazy.
Feisty mechanic Betty Smith should have only one thing on her mind—catching the conman who swindled her mother. Not the sexy stranger who kissed her then completely disappeared.
Undercover FBI agent Joe Carter needs to focus on the bad guy who got away, not the gorgeous headstrong brunette who watches too many cop shows and keeps interfering in his case. Unfortunately, catching their prey before he skips town means working together.
But while entering the vintage car rally as a couple seemed like a good idea at the time, faking feelings for each other turns out to be the easiest part. Neither one can allow anything to get in their way, but staying away from each other is impossible. They both know, though, once their plan is complete, so is their time together.
Authors Bio: Sally Clements writes fun, sexy and real contemporary romance, partnering hot heroes with heroines who know what they want, and go for it!

She is a full-time author, who lives in the Irish countryside, and when she isn’t writing can usually be found in traffic, driving ‘Mum’s taxi’.

Always a voracious reader, she considers writing for a living the perfect job—the only downside is saying goodbye to her characters at book’s end!

Fun, Sexy, Real Romance!

Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  *  Goodreads  *  Newsletter


Excerpt:
“Hungry?”
Betty’s heart pounded hard enough to burst. She swung around, and her startled gaze shot to the man who filled the doorway. A man with midnight-blue eyes.
Him.
Her hand fluttered at her throat. What on earth was the stranger from this morning doing here? Had he followed her?
You’re Betty?” His eyes scanned her face with an I-don’t-believe-it look. He took a step forward, then another.
Everything in Betty rioted with the urge to escape. She eyed the doorway behind him and edged farther behind the table, putting solid pine between them. Her mouth was so dry it was as if she’d spent days crawling through the desert. He knows my name. She swallowed. “What are you doing here?”
 “Calm down.” As if realizing her agitation, he stopped. Held up his hands palms-out. “I’m Joe Carter.”
You’re Joe Carter?”
“Is there an echo in here?” His hands lowered to his sides. The tension seemed to leave his shoulders and the corners of his mouth lifted in a smile.
Smoothing a hand over her hair, she glanced down at the table. A funny, fluttery feeling on seeing that smile replaced the panic she’d felt moments earlier. Unwanted awareness of him chased the tension from her body and filled it with warmth.
She rubbed the ache blooming at her temple. “Very funny.” To her annoyance, her words came out husky-soft, rather than sarcasm-laced. “I’ve been waiting here for almost two hours for a carpenter to show up, and now you? If you’re Joe, what were you doing grabbing me this morning?”
He avoided the question and looked past her at the open freezer door. “Looks like you were keeping yourself busy. Raiding the freezer, were you?”
Huh. “I was hungry. Someone kept me waiting.” The only reason she would ever break into someone else’s freezer was under desperate circumstances. “What are you, carpenter or…”
“It’s complicated.” He smiled, and once again attraction grabbed her insides with both hands and twisted. “But I have got a job to do this evening before we talk. I’m hungry too.” A black eyebrow arched. “Maybe you and I could have dinner after I’ve assembled the bed?”
Faded jeans rode low on his lean hips and clung to his thighs. Above them, he wore a chunky navy sweater under a battered black leather jacket. Average, everyday clothing. But the breadth of his shoulders, the glimpse of tanned collarbone evident in the dip of the sweater’s crew neck, were far from average or everyday. She scanned down. Work boots. Big work boots. Big feet, big… Cutting that thought off at the pass, Betty’s gaze shot up to collide with his.
Amusement danced in his eyes. “Well? Like what you see?”


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Treachery by S.J. Parris

Treachery (Giordano Bruno, Book #4)
by S.J. Parris
Release Date: June 17th, 2014
2014 Doubleday Canada
Softcover Edition; 544 Pages
ISBN: 978-0385679985
ASIN: B00F1W0R0U
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Pages

Summary
Summer, 1585: As English ships are held captive in Spain, fear mounts of an Invincible Armada, built by King Philip II, and intended to invade English shores. Sir Francis Drake prepares to embark on an expedition by royal commission to cross the Atlantic and seize major Spanish ports, diverting Philip's American treasure supplies to Queen Elizabeth. Giordano Bruno, radical philosopher and spy, accompanies his friend Sir Philip Sidney to Plymouth to oversee Drake's departure. Unbeknownst to Bruno, Sidney intends to join the mission - and he wants Bruno to go too. But when a ship captain is brutally murdered, and Drake's life threatened, it becomes clear that someone plans to destroy the expedition before it begins. Bruno and Sidney hunt for the killer, but are they being lured into a trap? And when Drake's young wife and her cousin arrive, Bruno and Sidney find themselves thrown into an unexpected rivalry.

My Thoughts 
Treachery is the fourth book in the Giordano Bruno series and this time, Dr. Bruno heads to Plymouth on the eve of a momentous occasion, the Great Expedition, led by the famous Sir Francis Drake.  For those of you not familiar with this time period, the Expedition was mounted to attack the Spanish colonies when Spain (Philip II) declared war after the Treaty of Nonsuch.  In command of over 1800 men and 21 ships, Sir Francis left in September 1585.  Knowing quite a bit of this history, I was intrigued to see how how Ms. Parris would treat the subject, and I was not disappointed.  Intrigue, mystery, secrets, and her usual flair for historical detail abound in this novel and I was somewhat disappointed when the ending came, knowing I would have to wait for the next book.

For those of you not familiar with this series, Giordano Bruno is a real-life figure and his story is very interesting, creating controversy even today.  It was because I was familiar with his story that I began reading this series, and I have not been disappointed at all.  Bruno is one of those characters with whom I identify, and his character has just developed from book to book.  In all of his books, he is hunted, constantly having to watch his back living in exile from Italy, defending his works that are famous in Europe, and defending his principles and his morals.  He is constantly struggling with himself and his beliefs, wondering if he did the right thing, often being haunted by past actions.  I adore the character that Ms. Parris has created, and knowing what will happen to him, read each book with trepidation and fear.  I find in this book, Bruno has kind of taken on a different role, one where everyone looks upon him as being a 'saviour', the person who can resolve all difficulties without causing a huge scandal and allow Drake to continue his expedition as planned.  Interesting!!

I also liked the secondary characters and their development.  Sir Philip Sidney was given a bigger role in this one, one that makes him seem petulant, like a child whining about a toy he has trouble getting, but also you get a better understanding of the walls that surround such a man because of his birth.  One of the things I definitely have admired about this series is the serious gap between the gentry and everyone else;  Ms. Parris definitely shows the reader how difficult life was for either class, but in different ways.  

In terms of plot, I figured out who was the murderer quite early, but I think it was because all the novels are formulaic when it comes to the set-up and the denouement so if you have read all of the novels it can be easy to pick up the patterns.  I actually didn't mind knowing as Ms. Parris is such a skillful writer that it was fun seeing how she would pull all the threads together in the end and how Bruno would eventually discover who actually committed the crime.  There were several sub-plots to this novel, one that has carried from a previous novel, so I am not sure if this novel is the best one to begin with if you are new to the series;  I think some things might make more sense if you read the books in order.  The twists and turns were quite fascinating and I was caught unawares with some of them, putting Bruno in lots of danger.  There was a good mix between the action and the dialogue which I liked.

Verdict
Treachery is a good addition to the Giordano Bruno series and had plenty of action and suspense.  There was a lot of intrigue, some of which will carry over into the next book of the series, and that is something I look forward to.  As always, Ms. Parris' research is fantastic, and I can definitely picture Plymouth as it looked during that time period; I love her descriptions of everything from dress, to food, to the ships, to the behaviours of the people.  One of the things I would like to see more of in future novels though, are Bruno's personal works, which were quite famous during this time period, as I feel this is an area that has been somewhat neglected.  Naturally, I can't wait to read about the further adventures of Bruno when the next book is released May 2015.

Review: The Agben School by Jo Sparkes


The Agben School (The Legend of the Gamesmen, Book #2)
by Jo Sparkes
Release Date: June 24, 2014
2014 Oscar press
Softcover Edition; 386 Pages
ISBN: 978-0985331863
ASIN: B00LYO1VFE
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from Pump Up Your Book

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary


Agben had stood for a thousand years. A mysterious school housing more than students, it was the seat of the powerful Women of Agben, and the center for harnessing the potency of herbs. Few knew all that transpired within the walls.

And now Marra stood at its gate.

Friends and support stripped from her, the fragile life she’d built for herself now lay in tatters. And the source of this evil hunted her like a deer culled from the herd.

The gateway before her was her only hope.

For as the city itself crumbled, all depended not on a prince trying to save his people, nor the valiant men who’d brought them this far.

Everything depended on finding a magic powder in the vaults of Agben itself.

Everything depended on her.

My Thoughts
The Agben School is the second book in the Legend of the Gamesmen series and while I didn't read the first book, I had no problem following along and keeping up with the storyline in this book.  I actually thought the author did quite a good job at describing events in the first novel in such a way as to foster understanding of the characters and events and situations in which the characters now find themselves.  I enjoyed this novel on a surface level, but felt character development was a bit lacking and thought there were too many coincidences in the plot to be always convincing.

First of all, I did enjoy the setting and liked the world that was described in these pages.  I find it interesting that even with minor descriptions I could actually picture a lot of the places that were described in this book when I closed my eyes; it actually reminded me a lot of Gondor in Lord of the Rings with the different tiers overlooking sudden drops and I kind of dropped that city at the edge of an ocean with some alterations and we now have the main city itself.  I wondered what this author could do with if she really described the thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in more depth.  I am one of those people who like descriptions and like to drown in sensations.

I thought Marra was an interesting character and really liked her desire to help her friends and her loyalty.  While appearing meek and mild at first, she is anything but, and she definitely grew on me throughout the book.  I really admired her tenacity to learn and her desire to protect those she loves.  There were a lot of interesting characters in this book, but I thought many of them were overshadowed by the plot, and weren't really allowed to grow and develop in a way that would endear them to readers, at least not to me.  I felt compassion for the gamesmen when they lost against the Skullen team and hoped they would find redemption, but it was definitely passive compassion, not active.  I think Marra was the only one I started to feel empathy towards, but this was probably because her voice was the one I read the most, not necessarily because her character really developed.  I enjoyed the plot and thought it was rather interesting, but there were times when I did wish for less dialogue and more introspection on the character's part.  There were also times when I wished for a deeper explanation of events as well.

Verdict
The Agben School was a nice entry into the Legend of the Gamesmen as it was interesting and charming.   I definitely liked the setting and thought there were some unique elements that made it interesting to read; the Comet game is one of those aspects, although I don't think I have a full grasp as to how that game is played.  I have this vision of the old Aztec games that were played and I can't seem to get that out of my mind when I visualize the game and I'm sure I'm way off.  I did feel the plot overshadowed the characters and would like to see a bit more character development as there were some characters that I really enjoyed and would like to know a bit better, get a good grasp of their character.  


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Guest Post: Eliot Baker



Title: The Last Ancient
Author: Eliot Baker
Publisher: Burst Books, imprint of Champagne Books
Pages: 316
Genre: Supernatural Thriller, Historical Mystery
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Around Nantucket Island, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who--or what--left them?

The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he'd realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters -- some natural, others less so -- while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.



The Alchemy of Fiction

Alchemy can be described as the process of sublimating base materials into precious metals; of turning lead to gold through. The process is both mystical and scientific, involving specific materials and properly observed rituals. Fiction writing shares a similar philosophy. There’s a certain alchemy to nurturing a story idea into an actual novel.

Stories, like alchemy, follow a process that varies with the practitioner. First and foremost, you need your base material. In fiction, that is your creative vision. Turning that vision into gold requires a host of skills that you must spend thousands of hours refining. There are dozens of such skills. Here are ten tips to being a fiction alchemist.

1.     State your alchemical intentions
Whether you call it a thesis statement, a lead, an executive statement or a pitch, you should be able to come up with one to three sentences that captures the soul of your story, the central concept of its action, mood, message, and characters. Even if you have a complex plot—my novel, The Last Ancient, does—you can still clearly, succinctly define its core. In doing so, you’ll better nurture your story to its greatest potential. It’s kind of like raising a child. While she has her own personality and might grow in a number of directions you hadn’t anticipated, you can nurture her towards the best path by understanding what fundamentally makes her tick. The end result might surprise you, but you’ll love her all the more for it. Your book, likewise, will grow in directions you hadn’t anticipated but you can keep it from getting out of hand by coming back to remembering what its core goals are as a story.

2.     Remove adverbs from the mixture
On the sixth page of my book, a potentially homicidal hunter tells my protagonist, a journalist: “You use too many (effing) adverbs. Stop writing all flowery and passive. Read some Bukowski.”  It’s true. In journalism and technical writing, adverbs and cliché’s are helpful. In fiction, they are the plague. 

When you look at amateurish writing, you’ll find that it tends to be studded with adverbs. Knights ride beautifully and fight courageously; girls weep sadly and boys laugh merrily; vampires smile evilly as they drink thirstily. Adverb addiction creates redundancies. It also precludes imagery and a unique voice vital for a story to come alive. Adverb addiction promotes laziness in writing. Removing adverbs forces you to make interesting language full of vivid images and deep context. 

3. Let the gold shine—hyperbole dulls it
Avoid saying things like, “He was the strongest knight she’d ever seen with the fastest sword and the most amazingest armor” or “Brutus was indescribably powerful, and his horse was so unbelievably fast no one could believe it.” Constantly saying this or that was the most big or amazing or terrible thing makes your writing sound like a red-faced child bragging about his superhero Daddy. Try instead to convey the gravity of this thing or event through its effect on the surroundings, or by people’s reactions. That will show us what’s happening and establish scene and character depth. Let your scene sparkle by making us see, feel, taste why this place, thing, or action is so amazing.

4.     Touch, smell, taste, hear, feel your elixir
Engage the senses, particularly when introducing a new scene. What music is playing in the restaurant? What conversations are happening? How does the wind and sun feel in the prison yard? What does the murder scene smell like? What does fresh squeezed pineapple juice taste like? How does the rope feel in the sailor’s hands? You’d be amazed at how many sensory observations you can get across in a single sentence within the first two paragraphs of a chapter.  And how you’d be further amazed at how much those observations dually inform us about your characters and bring us into the scene. 

5. In dialogue, just use, “said”
Bad adverb use in attribution actually has its own term; it’s called pulling a Swifty, after the Tom Swift books others like the Hardy Boys series: “Tom said swiftly,” “She said hesitantly,” “He cried indignantly,” “He hollered loudly.” Such attribution gets old quickly. Also, in attribution, avoid consistently doing this stuff: “He intoned.” “She exclaimed.” “They cried.” “He wept.” Constantly using your thesaurus for a variation of “said” is distracting (although in children’s literature it can work). Just use “said.” If people are always crying and shouting and intoning and interjecting, readers get distracted. Again, it’s overwriting, like that red-faced child describing the most amazingest thing that just happened. Your dialogue on its own should indicate whether characters are crying or shouting or interjecting. Avoiding such attribution will force you to beef up your dialogue. If you must convey tone, introduce a descriptive sentence before the character speaks. 

“Boris stared into his drink until the sun broke through the clouds, making him squint his watery dark eyes as he said in trembling tenor of someone repentant for their sins…” See how much you get across there? Compare that to, “Boris said quietly while he stared sadly into his drink as the sun shined harshly in his squinted eyes.”
There are exceptions, but there’s no science behind it. The story will just demand it. But for the vast majority of the time, just use “said.”

6.     Stir your suspension
The book’s heart is its plot. Tension is its pulse. Consistent tension keeps things interesting as information and characters are introduced and dispatched. Some sense of fear and uncertainty must pervade the narrative. That doesn’t mean you need to write a 300-page chase scene. Tension can be whether a boy smiles back at a girl; the pause between a man’s presentation and his superiors’ reaction; a mother’s low fuel-light lighting up while her baby screams on their way to the doctor. Tension is pacing, it is the twisting and unraveling of conflict, it is the pauses in conversations and actions. It is the uncertainty clouding events’ outcomes. Make sure there is always some sense of uncertainty, some tension, in your story that the reader see resolved.

7.     Invert your steps
Write the last page. Know your ending. While your first page is the most important part of selling your book, the last page is most important for first getting it finished. Don’t stress the beginning when you’re in the drafting process. The beginning will be better if you write it to fit with the ending. Try to imagine an ending to your story, something you’re working towards. Write it down. It’s likely that your story will go off in a different direction, but having an ending to aspire to provides you a guiding light for your outlining and writing. 

8. Plan your reaction
I’m a natural pantser who’s seen the light of outlining. They’re so, so helpful, even if you know you’ll stray from it. You can write chapter titles on notecards and lay them on a board. You can make pictures and sprinkle them on the floor. You can write a straightforward plot synopsis and cast of main characters, which agents interested in seeing a full manuscript require. That’s basically what I do.  Or maybe your outline involves graphics, or speaking into a recording device. Whatever your method, organize your basic plot structure.

9.     Isolate your substance
Isolation goes beyond the typical “blow up your TV and go to a cabin in the woods” stuff. Consider your book a classified operation. The wrong influences could compromise it. Until your book is done, be very careful about two things: what you read, and who reads you. I pleasure read within my novel’s genre only before and after my novel’s written, but never during. Otherwise I risk getting derailed; I sometimes find myself subconsciously affected by a story I like, or admiring too much another writer’s style. You’re not writing someone else’s book. You’re writing your book.
Regarding readers: as much as they ask to read it, there’s a chance the wrong reader will provide damaging and unhelpful feedback. Just because you love someone doesn’t make them your ideal reader, as Stephen King calls the person who is most suited to appreciating your work. Choose your first readers wisely. Try to probe for their tastes, strengths, and limitations as readers, and then decide whether they’ll give you useful feedback.

10. Listen to the voices
If you were to look at your dialogue, would you know who was speaking without attribution? No? Then consider altering that character’s voice. Especially the main characters. Consider giving them a social tick, or an accent, or a go-to couple phrases, or an attitude; think about making them speak in longer or shorter sentences. John Irving’s Owen Meany speaks in all caps and declarative sentences. Your characters need individuated voices that reflect and amplify their personality. Think about a Cohen brothers movie like Fargo or Big Lebowski or, well, pretty much all of them—voice practically makes the movies.

About the Author
Eliot Baker lives in Finland. He teaches communications at a local college and runs an editing and translating business, but would be content singing for his heavy metal band and writing novels full-time. He grew up near Seattle, got his B.A. in World Literature at Pitzer College, and got his M.S. in Science Journalism from Boston University. He was an award-winning journalist at the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, and before that he wrote for the Harvard Health Letters. He spent four years pursuing a career in the sciences while at the Harvard Extension School, during which time he spun old people in NASA-designed rocket chairs and kept younger people awake for 86 hours at a time in a sleep deprivation study. He likes good books, all music, and bad movies, and believes music and literature snobs just need a hug.

His latest book is the supernatural thriller/historical mystery, The Last Ancient.

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