First the Ripper, Now Dracula

Call me crazy, but I love books based on old, murdery mysteries.  I don’t like to read about bloodbaths, but give me a good, old-fashioned mystery based on history, and I’m all in. A lot of this has to do with my interest in history; more than I’d like to admit, this has to do with my dark sense of curiosity.

Kerri Maniscalco is an author after my own heart.  She has chosen to tackle some of the most iconic historic mysteries possible, and has given them new life (haha) and a new spin.  I am a firm fan.

I read Stalking Jack the Ripper (the first book in this series) shortly after it was released, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story-telling from debut author Kerri Maniscalco. Having done very little research on either the book or the author before reading, I was excited when I got to the end of the book, and it was clear there was going to be a sequel. History buff that I am, I was as ecstatic as only a nerd can be to discover the next installment of the Wadsworth/Cresswell adventures would take them to Romania and settle them within the Dracula mythology. I had high expectations for Hunting Prince Dracula. I was not disappointed.

If anything, from the first book to this, Maniscalco’s writing has gotten better (as is natural), and her story-telling voice has grown stronger. Where there were a few times in Ripper I felt the leaps in logic were a little long-strided, I didn’t feel that way at all with Dracula. The plot is very thoroughly laid out and described, and doesn’t miss any steps. Though the mystery reveal is well-hidden until the end of the book, the reader isn’t kept in the dark at all when it comes to necessary clues and information. As far as the story itself, I found it to be very satisfying.  (And darned if she didn’t get me again with the twist!)

One of the things I really like about these books is the relationship between Audrey Rose Wadsworth (though I still cringe at that name – I mean it’s really, really terrible) and Thomas Cresswell. There is a mutual admiration and respect between the two of them that isn’t based on attraction, and that’s a rare find in YA fiction these days. Yes, it’s evident that the two of them have feelings for one another, but that is not the basis for their relationship. Cresswell appreciates Wadsworth for who she is; he isn’t intimidated by her intellect, he allows her to take risks, and doesn’t feel threatened by her independence. And Wadsworth understands Cresswell’s want to protect her and doesn’t deride him for it (though she does throw in a perfectly understandable eye-roll every now and then).

Something else unique about these books is the profession Wadsworth and Cresswell are working their way into. Maniscalco has chosen something out of the ordinary – forensics – for her characters to study, which is something that sets them apart from others of their social cohort. It’s not strictly “ladylike” for a high-born girl like Audrey Rose to be elbows-deep in someone’s gizzard, but does that stop her?  Definitely not.  And good thing, because their knowledge of all things dead also gives Wadsworth and Cresswell a slight advantage when it comes to investigating the crimes that take place in the book. Their unconventional training gives them an unconventional perspective on things, and their partnership gives them strength.

I really liked how this book isn’t an over-the-top “vampire book”. Rather, it acknowledges the history of the setting, and allows that history to color the mystery, but doesn’t for a second try to convince readers that Dracula is behind the murders. I believe that would have brought into question the credibility of the characters. The characters solve a real mystery, instead of chasing ghosts and goblins. And, also, readers (mostly) aren’t stupid, so better not to waste time trying to convince them of the existence of vampires.

Overall, this is a fun book, compulsively readable and clever. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of the Adventures of Wadsworth and Cresswell – in America! (And I’m having a dickens of a time trying to figure out who the big bad will be this time.  It would be too much of a time gap for them to be after H H Holmes, and too late for Billy the Kid…)

Little, Brown and Company/Jimmy Patterson Books provided me with an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tomorrow, on Top 10 Tuesday, tune in for a list of the Top 10 Fictional Librarians!  Because, well, who’s cooler than librarians?

Top 10 Literary Villains

I ❤ a well-written bad guy.  I especially ❤ a well-written bad guy who is bad because reasons.  Villians, or antagonists, make great stories.  They’re the thing against which our heroes sharpen their swords, who represent the other side of the story.  A really great villain will blur the lines between good and evil, will encourage thought and discussion, and will (every now and then) make you hope the good guys don’t win.

There are lists and lists of villains I could do, because there are so many great ones, but here is a general, extending-the-hand-of-friendship-to-villains-of-all-genres-and-age-groups list of some of my favorite villains.

  1. Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne) blog nemo It is easy to call Nemo a villain.  After all, he’s a murderer.  He uses his genius and ingenuity to build a murder machine in the form of the Nautilus.  However, Nemo doesn’t kill for fun; rather, he sees his sinking of war ships as his duty to oppressed peoples.  Nemo has an intense hatred of oppression, specifically in the form of colonization.  I am fascinated by Captain Nemo.  He is undoubtedly a tortured soul with a dark and terrifying backstory.  But he still designed and built a submarine, explored the ocean depths, and, if Verne can be believed, discovered Atlantis!  He’s brave, doesn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and also shows surprising compassion at times.  He’s a mystery surrounded by an enigma, which my contrary heart loves.
  2. Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier) blog danvers Oh, evil housekeepers are the worst.  Danvers is haunting Manderley in human form.  She is described in skeletal, cadaverous terms, and acts as if she was spawned from a hell portal.  She is a constant threatening presence throughout the novel, a lingering reminder of a dark secret.  I find her to be slightly terrifying, because she is purposefully manipulative and cruel, and sincerely hopes to cause harm, both emotionally and physically.  When she literally burns down the world, one gets the impression she is neither frightened of the flames, nor sorry for anything she has done.  So, an unrepentant, psychotic evil housekeeper.
  3. Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) blog snape Voldemort, who?  There’s no way Voldemort should get all the credit for being the big bad of the HP series.  Snape is way worse.  (My feelings for Snape are clouded by my love for Alan Rickman, who will ever be Snape to me, but) I still maintain that Snape is THE biggest threat Harry and Co. face throughout the series.  They only have to deal with Voldemort a couple of times; they have to deal with Snape every day.  This loathsome dude does everything he possibly can to make life hell for Harry and his friends, and isn’t a bit sorry for it.  He puts them in danger, he gets them in trouble, he lies to them, he keeps secrets from them, and rather than take an active role in helping destroy evil, he lingers in the shadows making things harder for them.  “But, but reeedemmmption!” you cry.  “Poppycock,” say I.  (Not even at the end, when reasons…)
  4. The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis) blog white witch This character terrified me as a child.  She is a tyrant who has set herself up as ruler against the wishes of everyone else.  I think one of the things that makes her so evil is she uses family to hurt family.  I mean, she preys upon Edmund’s weaknesses and turns him against his siblings.  She threatens adorable woodland creatures; she turns living things to stone, effectively ending their lives.  Her entire agenda is to start a war so she can destroy all who oppose her.  Oh, yeah, and she murders Aslan.  Can’t get much more evil than that.  Except if you take away Christmas.  Oh, wait…
  5. Irene Adler (“A Scandal in Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) blog adler I almost didn’t put her on this list.  But even if she’s not a villain in the classical sense of the word, she is a brilliant criminal.  After all, by Sherlock Holmes’ own admission, she was the only one ever to best him.  She is brilliant and crafty, and on top of those, beautiful, which make her a triple-threat.  She lacks a conscience, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to survive.  As an actress, she has the tools necessary to carry off sophisticated crimes.  She also has the ability to capture Holmes’ admiration, which makes her a thief of the most cunning sort.
  6. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum) blog wwow Those poor Winkies!  The WWotW is another oppressor, someone who took, rather than earned.  She’s described as being hideous, showing that sometimes the appearance reflects the heart.  She is cold, she is calculating, and she isn’t above enslaving entire countries to get what she wants.  AND only terrible people threaten little doggies.
  7. Long John Silver (Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson) blog silver So, this mutinous, murdering pirate is a very colorful and complex character, which makes him great.  He takes young Jim Hawkins under his wing and protects and mentors him, which makes it that much worse of a betrayal when readers find out he’s the scallywag leading the mutiny.  He’s opportunistic and manipulative, and switches sides with the wind.  One thing I appreciate about Silver is he’s married to a woman of African descent, who he entrusts with his business endeavors while he’s gone at sea, trusting her to build his fortune.  Argh for progressive pirates!
  8. Sauron (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien) blog sauron It takes a really bad bad guy to never be seen, and still have everyone be afraid of you.  Sauron exists as a shadow over the whole of Middle Earth, a constant, terrifying threat, even though few are around who even remember who he is, or what he did.  But he has an insatiable want for power that transcends generations, and he is willing to destroy the world, and all who stand in his way to achieve his goal of owning the Ring of power.  He is a source of true evil who begets more evil.  (And he’s way more scary in the book than just a blazing eyeball.)
  9. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Thunderball by Sir Ian Fleming) blog spectre Evil genius.  Number 1.  Head of SPECTRE.  And all-around bad dude.  Blofeld heads up the world’s biggest, most covert criminal organization, and instigates all sorts of nefarious plots.  With his eyes set on world domination, the only thing standing in his way is British Secret Service agent James Bond.  Blofeld has to be a substantial villain to stand against Bond, and holds his own as Bond’s archenemy.  He will do anything to win; he alters his appearance twice, he moves across the globe, he uses expendable henchmen.  He murders Bond’s wife.  I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Blofeld dies a slow and painful death.
  10. The Firemen (Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury) blog firemen Though this isn’t one particular character, I firmly believe they should be on the list.  The Firemen pose the greatest threat possible to  humankind, because they propose to destroy knowledge.  Everyone knows the saying knowledge is power.  Therefore, without knowledge, people are limited in what they can do, say, learn, understand, be.  At that point, they lose freedom and autonomy, and must rely on those with power to simply survive.  And that is a truly terrifying thought.

There are SO MANY other villains out there – who are some of your favorites (or unfavotires, as it were)?

(Truly) Heartless

When it comes to books, I’m a generally positive person.  I recognize that different people like different types of books, and know that not every book is going to be for me.  I accept this as a given.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed when a book I anticipate is going to be wonderful falls completely flat for me.  Such was the case with Marissa Meyer’s Heartless.  Now, I am a big fan of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which includes loose, twisted retellings of several fairy tales.  There were great plots, she made interesting choices, and populated the books with great characters, including strong females.  I was looking for more of the same with Heartless.  I was sorely disappointed.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere.  A talented baker, she wants top open a shop and create delectable pastries.  But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen. 

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets the handsome and mysterious Jest.  For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction.  At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny.  But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Just the last sentence of this is enough to make me want to read this book.  I expected a fantastical tale about the Red Queen, complete with many murdery cries of “Off with their heads!”.  This was not that tale.

Let’s talk about “Cath”.  (Ugh. Unless you are the Simon Snow devotee, this name is not OK.)  This is one of the most useless, spineless main characters I have ever encountered in a book.  She has a dream to be a baker and run her own shop, which is contrary to everyone else’s plans for her to become queen.  Guess what happens.  (If you guessed that she runs away, defies everyone who wants to make her into something she’s not, and opens the best bakery in all of Wonderland, you’d be 100% wrong.)  It only took me about 27 seconds to realize that Cath lacks agency and will, and I spent the entire book being frustrated at her victim attitude.  She doesn’t make things happen, she lets things happen to her.  And then she sits and whines about it.  Then, when things get crazy, blood starts flying, and Cath figures out her terrible decisions are the cause, she blames someone else, which just infuriated me.  And I’m supposed to believe that this girl who spent 7/8 of the book being weak and whiny suddenly turns into the cold, cruel, imperious Red Queen?  Sorry, not buying it.

There were a couple of things I did like about this book.  Cheshire was a wonderfully written character, and by far one of my favorites.  I like how he embodies arrogance and feigns a complete lack of care for anything going on around him, but says the most profound things at just the right times.  I also really liked Jest and his pure heart.  He is loving and optimistic, and true.  The “world” of Wonderland was well-done, and just mad enough to be fun, but not too nonsensical where it feels like Meyer is trying too hard.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Wonderland.  More mad tea parties, more checkerboard cake, more Jabberwock, just more.

There were also some great lines in here.  Meyer has a beautiful way with words, and if I couldn’t really appreciate the story, I can at least appreciate her wordsmithy.  She has a very lyrical way of writing, which is a must for any Wonderland story, I think.  One of my favorite phrases turns out to be a prophecy, and a bit of a foreshadow.

Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.

Overall, ironically, I think what this book is missing is heart.  It didn’t make me feel anything other than annoyance for Cath, and I didn’t care enough about Jest or anyone else to be really invested in what happened.  I had high hopes for this one, but it really let me down.  I almost want there to be another installment, because I think now that Cath is the Red Queen, I might like her better, and would care about the continuing story of her being stabby and evil, but, then again, maybe not.

If you’re interested in fairy tale retellings, here are some of my favorites:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – this reimagines the Cinderella story with a cyborg and a moon colony.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is an assassin trained from birth to kill the Beast.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson – a Southern gothic-set version of the Bluebeard fairy tale with a mystery, and romance, and a lot of suspense.

Tune in tomorrow for Top 10 Tuesday!

Coffee Break: The Case for YA Literature

I have a confession to make: I read a lot of YA (young adult, for those of you who are wondering) literature.  Ok, ok, maybe it’s not a confession, since if you all are paying attention, you know that already.  But it’s true, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I actually have an extremely eclectic reading taste – I’m game for almost anything, save terrifying, bloody horror books, and Amish fiction.  This is because I ❤ books, I appreciate authors and want to support their heroic work, and I like to learn things about all the things (except stabby, murdery psychopaths and sweet, sweet Amish love).

I have always been a #reader, but over the years have read for different purposes.  As a child, I read because I enjoyed it; as a student, I read because I had to; as an adult I still read because I have to, but not because it’s required – rather, it’s a compulsion.  It’s not for a grade, but for the soul.  Because I’m old now, and can do what I want (*insert sarcastic laughter here), I read what I want.  My time is limited, and I don’t see the point in torturing myself by wasting precious hours reading something I don’t enjoy.  I enjoy YA literature.

“But, why?” you ask.  “YA lit is for, you know, teenagers.”  I respectfully disagree.  Saying that is like saying teenagers shouldn’t read contemporary fiction, or nonfiction because those genres aren’t written to target a teen audience.  YA literature is a unique creature unto itself, in that it can be about anything.  YA literature is not tied to genre limitations; is is not stifled by literary conventions.  YA authors aren’t afraid to put it all out there and write about cyborg Cinderellas or about children hunting other children to amuse evil adults; they aren’t afraid to take risks.  They aren’t afraid of what their audience may think – they know kids are up for anything.

So why is YA literature thought of as being less than

Currently, YA literature is experiencing an explosion in popularity.  YA books are ending up on best seller lists; they are taking up huge amounts of space in bookstores; they are being turned into blockbuster films.  Are there really that many teens reading books?  NO.  While there are a lot of teens who read, the explanation for what can only be called the YA Phenomenon is this: adults are reading YA books.  Why?  BECAUSE YA BOOKS TALK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS that adult books don’t.  Here’s an example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published by HarperCollins this past February, is about an inner-city girl who witnesses her childhood best friend shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed, and the implications and fallout of that situation.  It places the reader squarely within the story, and provides a perspective most readers may never get.  No AF (adult fiction) books are talking about this topic – something that is very timely and relevant.  Yet Thomas is brave enough to do so, and to an audience that is open-minded enough to consider that other perspective.  Another example is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This book follows Junior as he moves from the reservation to the suburbs where he navigates the minefield that is trying to make friends while battling social stereotypes.  This book highlights specific identity issues facing indigenous peoples, and resonates with many who feel marginalized.  *Looks around – AF?  Anything on this?  No?

The examples I used here are two contemporary novels, set in reality.  Many YA authors choose to tackle these issues, as well, only in a fantasy context.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is a good bellwether for this: she highlights society and class, as well as identity, but sets the story in a post-apocolyptic world.  YA books deal with questions of drug culture, suicide, death, violence, identity, sex, acceptance, family, relationships, mental health, etc., ad infinitum.  You name it, there’s a YA book that talks about it.  YA is valuable because people can relate to the books, no matter how old the reader is.

YA books also provide:

Escapism – Most people don’t want to sit down, crack open a book, and read about depressing things.  They want to, at least for a little while, bail on their real life.  Settings in YA books are often fantastical and foreign, and allow readers to step away from their lives and experience something that speaks to their imagination, rather than their reason.

Excitement – Let’s get real here for a minute.  There are some AF books that are boring AF (see what I did there?).  YA books, no matter the genre, are always moving.  Because teens are always moving.  There is drama; there is action – and most of the time, the two are happening at the same time.

Strong Characters – In case you haven’t met one for a while, and need to be reminded, let me point out: teens are opinionated.  They are learning, they are developing their own thoughts and world views, and they want to see the same thing in their book hero(ine)s.  Many YA books are written in 1st person point of view, so the reader hears the character’s voice specifically.  The voices are strong and sure, and inspire that same confidence.  Additionally, there are many, many strong female characters in YA lit, who represent some of the most individual voices in literature of any genre.

Hope – For all the “issues” found in YA literature, rarely do things end on a negative note.  This is because the authors realize they are writing for the next generation, who have a lot to look forward to.  Soul-crushing situations are resolved, hurts are mended, and the bad guy is rightfully punished.  Teens are creative and they’re smart, and they have a habit of looking forward, rather than backward; YA authors do a wonderful job of giving them something bright to move toward.

It crushes my soul when I hear critics (and by critics, I mean other readers) bash YA literature as “shallow” or “dumbed down” derivatives of AF.  Because this is not the case.  YA literature is just as sophisticated and important as every other genre of book out there, because it does its job: it speaks to its audience.  And it’s audience listens, and loves it.

Just one last thought: if it wasn’t for YA authors, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter; we wouldn’t have Katniss Everdeen; we wouldn’t have Anne Shirley; we wouldn’t have Bilbo Baggins.  Some of the most iconic and beloved literary characters ever created are products of YA literature.

So next time someone scoffs at you because you choose to spend your time reading a YA book now and again (or always), don’t be ashamed to stand up for those authors who choose to create iconic characters and memorable settings, and who choose to face the hard issues head-on and try to make sense of them.

(All those gorgeous covers, though…)

 

Top 10 Reading Confessions

So, reading is kinda my thing, and has been since I was a very small child.  I grew up in a rural area, and it was just my parents, sister, our animals, and I on 250 acres of farm and woods.  (Don’t get me wrong – we had friends and went on trips and vacations and whatnot, but our everyday life was quiet, and a little isolated.)  I read a lot.  Those were the days – I could get up and get my chores done, and then disappear into my tree fort for the rest of the day with my book and a sack lunch.  Reading was part of my daily life; I always had a book in my hand, no matter where I was.  And that has not changed.  If I could make a living as a professional reader, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.  (Publishers, you hear that?  I’m available.  Just so you know.)  My husband says I have a “problem”; I say it’s a gift.  (Husband is wrong, btw.  Just in case that wasn’t already clear.)

When one reads upwards of 100 books a year, it’s inevitable that one will develop some reading tricks and preferences.  It’s also inevitable that said reader has habits, loves, and dislikes when it comes to reading, and to books in general.  BUT not everyone is willing to talk about these most guarded of secrets.  I am.  I’m here to confess.  And this is what I have to say.  (You may want to take notes.)  Side note: there’s no order to these – number 1 isn’t any more important than number 10 – it’s just how I thought of them.

  1. If a book is really good, I cast its movie in my head.  In addition to books, I like movies.  Correction: I like well done movies.  So when a book captures my attention/imagination/love, I want to experience it in as many forms as I can.  I think this also comes from me being a writer, and a visual learner; when I develop characters in my own work, I find a photo of someone who resembles what the character looks like in my head.  Sometimes it is an actor/actress; sometimes it is a celebrity.  It may have to do with a character they once played, or it may be that they simply look the part.  It’s a habit, and when I read, I assign faces to characters.  It happens, deal with it.  (You, over there, you who doesn’t think that the movie is ever better than the book and that movies aren’t worthy of book inspiration – all I’m going to say is: The Prestige.)  I love it when books are made into movies, and I have no problem when the movies is different from the book.  “Sacrilege!” you cry.  “More versions of what I love,” I respond.
  2. When I see huge chunks of exposition, I skim.  Some description/exposition is completely fine.  Entire pages of it?  Ain’t nobody got time for ‘dat.  I loathe info dumps.  This may be why I am staunchly against most prologues.  Yes, some authors (Clive Cussler and Maggie Stiefvater come to mind) use prologues masterfully; most do not.  I find prologues to be a convenient way for writers to be lazy, and rather than find creative ways to fill in backstory or detail, they rely on a prologue to do it for them.  Same goes for huge paragraphs of description within the narrative.  Bo-ring.  Give me the info in dialogue or in small bits, not in super-size, coma-inducing boulders.  Show me; don’t tell me.
  3. I judge a book by its cover.  Well, initially, anyway.  I am a visual person, and covers are the parts of the books that I can see.  Books with pretty/interesting covers draw my attention; books with terrible/boring covers repel me.  Don’t ever believe that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Publishers know that covers sell books.  When they want a book to do well, they give it a great cover.  That’s not to say they intentionally sabotage books by giving them horrible covers, but actually I think they kind of do.  I like buying books that will look nice on my shelves.  Call me shallow, but I don’t want to spend my life looking at ugly books.
  4. I blame the dark circles under my eyes on my kids, but it’s really from staying up until four in the morning reading.  I’m not sure what else there is to say about this.  If I was  a “plugged in” parent, I would park myself on the couch with my Kindle while my kids are playing and read while they imagine.  But I don’t want their first memories of me to be me distracted by my phone and missing the important stuff.  I’m gone during the day at work – surrounded by books all day at the library – so I do my best to stay off my devices until they’re in bed.  So, night time is my reading time.  This means that sometimes I do not sleep.  At all.  (Ok, reading time cuts into sleeping time a lot.)  And I’m ok with that.
  5. I don’t use book marks – I dog-ear my pages like a savage.  And I don’t care who knows.  I don’t have time to worry about trying to remember where I put my book mark.  Not only that, I use my books.  I read them, they bang around in my bag, they ride with me in my cars.  Not often do they remain in pristine condition.  They are well-loved. Plus, I like dogs.
  6. I hate 1st person present POV.  When I pick up a book and see it’s written in that tense, 9 out of 10 times I put it back down, no matter how pretty the cover is.  There are few authors who can pull off this combination of tense and POV well, and I mostly find it to be pretentious and a cry for attention.  The character’s voice has to be one I really, really like, because it means I’m stuck for x-number of pages in this character’s limited, immediate point of view.  There aren’t a lot of characters I like that much.
  7. I dislike book snobs.  You know the type.  “Well, I only read literary fiction“, or “I only read nonfiction.”  OR… “Oh, I don’t read YA books – they’re for kids.”  Ugh.  A good book is a good book is a good book.  It doesn’t matter who wrote it, what genre it falls into, or who its intended audience was.  I feel a little bit sorry for people who are so narrow-minded that they won’t read outside their preferred taste.  Think of all the things they’re missing!  And what makes it worse is when that same person looks down on others for what they read.  Different people read different books – that’s a fact.  My books aren’t any less legit than your books.  And my books just might teach you something.  Now, that’s not to say I think people who always read the same types of books are wrong; people read what they like, and that’s completely fine.  But what’s not completely fine is when people judge others for what they read, or don’t read.
  8. I am a book hoarder.  I believe the correct term for my “condition” is bibliophile.  I have books everywhere.  Towers, piles, shelves, baskets, crates – you name it, it houses/holds/displays books.  Books bring me comfort, they give me peace.  I enjoy reading them, I enjoy looking at them, I enjoy shopping for them, I enjoy adding them to my towers/piles/shelves/baskets/crates.  (*whispers while looking over her shoulder, “Some books I even own multiple copies of.“)  And some day, if I go missing and can’t be found, it’ll be because one of my book towers collapsed and buried me beneath it.  I may suffocate, but I’d consider it a good death.
  9. Sometimes I write in my books.  Yes, it’s true.  I spent enough time as a student that I’m ok with this.  I have thoughts while I read, and there are times I want to refer back to those thoughts.  I don’t want to have to expend the brain power to try to remember which of my 1,236,735 notebooks I wrote said thought in.  No, I want it right there for ready reference.  When I buy used books, the first thing I do is look for notes made by previous owners.  I ❤ reading the thought others have had about books, as well.  (See: “Marginalia” by Billy Collins – a magnificent poem about just this subject, courtesy of Poemhunter.com.)
  10. Most of the time, I prefer books to people.  This is probably why I always have either a book or my Kindle with me at all times – so if there are too many humans around, and it looks like I might be drawn into a conversation, I can hide my face.   That is not to say I dislike people in general – I just dislike drama in all its negative forms, and with people comes drama.  So when the dude in front of me at the bank starts to get belligerent because he doesn’t understnad why he can’t go back into the vault to look at his money, and looks at me for support, he’ll find me oblivious.  “Nothing to see here – busy in Narnia.  Thank you, move along.”

Yes, it’s all true, Dear Blog Follower.  I am a beastly reader.  And unapologetic about it.  You know why?  Because I know you have reading confessions of your own.

Let me know what some of them are!

Lord of Shadowhunters

I like to consider myself a loyal reader.  If I really like an author, I’m more likely than not going to buy every book they ever wrote/write ever.  There are currently about ten authors I feel this way about, and Cassandra Clare is one of them.  It’s a pleasure to be able to grow with an author.  I was able to do it with J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series; I’ve been able to do it with Cassandra Clare and her Shadowhunters series.  I picked up City of Bones when it was the sole Shadowhunter volume, and so have been a fan from the very beginning.  Clare’s writing skills have grown and developed, something that always makes me appreciate the fact that writers are always working to improve their craft.  And Clare’s ability to tell a story is admirable.

That said, I just finished Lord of Shadows, the second installment of The Dark Artifices mini-series within the Shadowhunter Chronicles.  (Yes, the number of books, and the order in which they go can be confusing.  For a quick reference guide, check out Fantastic Fiction here.)  So far, The Dark Artifices is by far my favorite of the books. There is a depth to them that isn’t present in earlier books, and I hope to see this continue into future installments.

Here’s a quick plot rundown:  Following the events of Lady Midnight, things in the Los Angeles Institute have not calmed down.  Emma and Julian are at odds, each struggling with their feelings for the other; Mark is still straddling his desire for two worlds; the younger Blackthorns are searching for their place in the Shadowhunter world, and Christina is discovering she has her own brand of quiet, yet powerful strength.  The faerie courts are also in turmoil. The Unseelie King is tired of the Cold Peace, and set events in motion to destroy the Shadowhunters forever; the Seelie Queen is scheming to overthrow the King.  Caught between  trying to save their family or protect their way of life, the heroes must find a way to come together to defend everything they hold dear against attacks from outside the Shadowhunter ranks – and from within.

This plot (and all the subplots which somehow, with the help of voodoo magic, all fit together seamlessly) is on-point.  Clare does a magnificent job of making her reader feel the immediacy of the danger the characters face.  There were times where I felt physical agony over the sheer apparent hopelessness of the situation, where I actually worried about what was going to happen, and how they were “going to get out of this mess”.  To me, that is the mark of a great writer; I feel what the characters feel, I fear for their safety, I care what happens to them, I am along on their journey.  This is a beast of a book, coming in at more than 700 pages.  And I read every word.  Every. Word.  Because Clare is the type of author who chooses her words carefully, and if she’s including something, it’s because it’s important.  It may not be important now, but three books from now, it may be the reason someone dies.  Or lives.

The characters in this series absolutely own my heart. This book boasts a huge cast of characters, and none of them are made of paper.  They all serve a purpose. It’s impossible to talk about each one of them, because there are so many, but I particularly ❤ Emma Carstairs, Julian Blackthorn, Tiberius Blackthorn, and Kit Herondale.  Using these four characters, Clare shows two different types of relationships.  Emma and Julian are the protectors. The decisions they make are made to save the ones they love.  They endure emotional agony and physical pain because they continually place themselves in the line of fire.  Their love for one another is fierce and potentially destructive, so they must choose to (figuratively) rip out their bloody, beating hearts, or destroy one of the most fundamental Shadowhunter relationships – the parabatai bond.  Emma wants to take option A; Julian wants to take option B.  I fear this may actually end in tragedy.  Emma is absolutely brutal and stabby, and Julian is terrifying with his scheming.  My prediction: he is going to break the world.  Tiberius and Kit are the hope.  Ty is a classically-trained Shadowhunter, while Kit comes into the Shadowhunter world as an outsider, someone who hasn’t been indoctrinated with the Shadowhunter dogma.  He has a completely different perspective on things.  Whereas the Blackthorns have always thought of Tiberius as different (and have completely accepted him as such), Kit recognizes he is autistic.  He doesn’t shy away from Ty; rather, he draws closer to him, takes it upon himself to translate the world for Ty in a way he can understand.  (Aside: the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson parallel Clare creates here is a brilliant one.)  Kit’s love for Ty is born of his desire to shield him from how ugly the world can be to people who are different; Ty’s love for Kit is as pure as friendship can be – a recognition of who the other person is, and accepting them for exactly that, and nothing more.  And I’m not sure which type of #ship this is going to turn out to be, but I’m ready to enlist as crew.

Now, a few very unprofessional, random thoughts about this book that may or may not contain spoilers, so read at your own risk:

  • Ash is the son of Sebastian Morgenstern and the Seelie Queen.  He has to be.  There’s no other explanation for his physical appearance or for his inclusion.  And it’s my prediction that he’s the “weapon” Jace and Clary are looking for.
  • I don’t care if you are the author, you DO NOT TOUCH Magnus Bane.  This “sickness” better disappear, and Magnus better come back as snarky, narcissistic, and glitter bomb as ever.
  • More Jessamine.
  • More London/Cornwall Institutes and Infernal Devices tie-ins.
  • Less Zara – like, I hope she dies a horrible, murdery, painful death by a thousand cuts from Cortana.
  • My heart that loves Tiberius breaks for him.
  • Annabel the Terrifying will save her family.
  • Julian is going full Dark Side, and I am SO in ❤ with his moral slide (scheming, lying, bargaining, selling his soul to the devil Seelie Queen).  Also, he’s possibly a high-functioning sociopath.
  • Kit Herondale is absolutely life.
  • I am so angry at the Clave for not standing up against the Cohort, I almost hope the Unseelie King destroys the power structure of the Nephilim, just so the “old regime” burns.  (As long as all my loves survive intact and not undead, that is.)
  • Um, Clary might die?  (Mad props to Clare if she goes through with that one.)
  • Mental illness, PTSD, autism, LGBTQ, body image, appearance, xenophobia – all issues discussed in this series, and I am so grateful there are authors like Clare who are this brave.  I very much appreciate how Clare populates her plot with social issues relevant to the Shadowhunter world, but that also parallel contemporary issues happening in our world.  She does this without overtly beating the reader over the head with the “moral of the story”, but deftly and creatively raises awareness of these issues.

I usually don’t get so emotionally invested in books (I can’t remember caring about characters this much since Harry Potter), but this one got me.  Good on you, Cassandra Clare.  Well done.

TOMORROW IS TOP 10 TUESDAY!  Come on back for a discussion of my Top 10 Reading Confessions!

Coffee Break: Ideas, Ideas Everywhere

No one else will write it for you.

I don’t know who said this first, but it’s one of the most true statements about writing I’ve ever come across.

Since I learned how to spell the most basic words, I’ve been a writer.  My elementary years produced stories about circuses, fairies, horses, and space pirates (which, interestingly enough, are all ideas worth revisiting as an adult – especially the space pirates).  As I grew, so did my ideas, my subject matter, and my story length.  It takes longer to finish a project than it used to (and finish you must, if you want agents/editors/publishers to look at your work), and it seems like at the absolute worst time possible (see: the dreaded demon middle of a WIP) a fantastic new idea hits out of the clear blue sky.  Well, perfect.  (Note: sarcasm.)

What’s a writer to do?

Dear writer, do not be distracted by said bright, shiny, new idea.  Write it down, of course, so this golden gift from the writing gods won’t be forgotten, but then put it down and back away.  It’s a trick.  Your brilliant subconscious is trying to avoid writing the middle of your story.  But… if you don’t write the middle, you’ll never finish.  And, what’s the first rule of Fight Club writing?  Finish the story!

I speak on this subject from a place of authority.  I am not too proud to admit that I am an idea-harlot.  I ❤ ideas.  I ❤ developing ideas.  I ❤ researching ideas.  What I do not ❤ is pledging all my time and energy to one idea, and committing to a long-term relationship with it.  Yes, I have commitment issues.  So, I find myself with multiple works-in-progress, and nothing finished.  As you can probably guess, this is problematic.  Because though I have the ability to finish a project, giving myself a product to shop around to agents and editors, I don’t have the discipline to finish a project, which makes me empty-handed.  And for a writer with publication aspirations, this is a terrible place to be.

So…  How to solve this problem of all problems.  In the above photo, you see what I call a Mind-Map.  It’s part of my planning process.  (I’m not going to take the time to explain the Mind-Map process – that’s a different post for a different day.)  Usually, this “planning” stage can go on indefinitely, until I decide to just dive in and start writing (I am a notorious pantster).  But that obviously doesn’t work for me.  This is how I’m trying to transform my writing process:

  1. Limited Research Time.  Because of who I am as a person, I could start researching ancient China and end up learning awesome things about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Interesting? Yes.  Productive? Sadly, no.  Setting a time limit (hopefully) will keep me on track.
  2. Accountability PartnersOnes that aren’t afraid to tell me to get on with it.
  3. Actual Planning.  This is legit So. Hard.  BUT if it works, the pain will be worth it.  I need direction.
  4. Deadlines. When I was in university, I was that student – you know, the one who wrote her paper the night before it was due.  I tried – really – to write it ahead of time, but without a sense of dread, immediacy, anxiety, terror, horror (or all of the above) I found my work lacked that certain spark that pushed it over the edge from just ok to great.  So, YAY for deadlines!

All this to say: for those of you out there struggling – stay with it.  Stay focused.  Don’t be distracted by new ideas; be confident in your current project.  And, above all else, finish what you’re working on because no one’s going to do your work for you.

Arrivederci.