Twiceborn by Marina Finlayson.


Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I must admit that Twiceborn is a very entertaining book. It has everything I love about a good urban fantasy story: a strong (and fleshed out) protagonist, an interesting take on the subject of paranormals leaving among us and a well-paced story.

Kate O’Connor has lost everything when her son died in an accident six months ago. Now she just does some courier jobs for a friend, because he needs help and because frankly, it beats sitting at the house all day. She suspects that some of the packages she carries around might exactly be legal, but can’t muster enough strength to be bothered or even mildly curious about it. Like everything since the death of her son, it seems unimportant… Until one of the jobs goes south, and she finds herself with a gap in her memories and a werewolf in her kitchen bound and determined on killing her.

I liked Kate. She is a very down to earth, no-nonsense kind of girl. And the depiction of her grief was well done and believable, and, more importantly, not overdone. Her reactions in the face of everything that happens to her are also realistic and logical, which is a great plus. And she is not a damsel in distress in constant need of saving, like some of the heroines in  urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Even when confronted by a werewolf in her own kitchen, Katie goes for the knife first and waits to have a hysterical fit after the werewolf is dealt with.  And she also shows her willingness to fight for her life and freedom (and for the safety of her friends) several more times during the book.

I won’t go into details about the plot, because I want this review to be as spoiler free as possible, but I will just say that Kate has to deal with some serious issues and is in danger of losing her own self, and she handles the situation admirably.

The book is also well written. I would never have guessed that it was the author’s debut novel at all, because the quality of the material and presentation is top notch.

So by now you must be wondering why I only gave this book 3.5 stars? Well, even though I liked it, I had several issues with it that bugged me enough to spoil the overall enjoyment.

The first and the biggest issue for me is Ben, or more precisely, the romance between him and Kate. It felt forced, and more importantly it added nothing to the story itself. It felt like the author added this romantic relationship almost as an afterthought after the book was already written.

I think the main reason why this relationship didn’t work for me is the character of Ben himself. He is not fleshed out or unique enough for me to care about. From the moment he first appears in the story until the last page, he is just a walking talking stereotype. He is immediately described as hot, gorgeous, nice and caring. The author might as well have put a big sign over his head saying “love interest” and moved on, because we never get to explore his character any deeper.

Also, for someone who is still grieving about the loss of her child, and who admits not being even slightly interested in any sort of romantic relationship, Kate jumps into bed with him way to easily. I understand doing it once because of the adrenaline rush, the narrow escape and the realization of having been so close to death. But nothing in their relationship prior to that point hints at anything deeper, and certainly not that passion that seems to come out of nowhere. In my opinion, this whole romantic relationship could have been cut out of the book without any damage to the story.

My second problem is some inconsistencies within the worldbuilding. We are told that the heralds are under the Dragon Queen’s protection and thus neutral and untouchable, yet everybody and their mother seems to be able to kidnap / harm / slap them around without any retribution. Seriously?

Also, if all heralds were a magical amulet that protects them from psychic influences, but also proves that they are genuine, shouldn’t it be easy to determine whether the amulet is authentic or fake? Yet we hear the argument that the heralds are not who they say they are and that they anyone could counterfeit that amulet several time in the book. That makes no sense. Either you have an order of heralds who are easily identifiable, neutral and protected, or you have a bunch of wannabes that pretend to be heralds, but then who would trust them?

And the last problem is directly tied to the previous one. If the amulet is supposed not only to identify, but also to protect the herald, shouldn’t it be difficult, even impossible to take off or tamper with? Yet Leandra does just that to Kate at the beginning of the book…

But even despite those gripes I have with the story, I think I will definitely pick up the next book in the series to see who this story evolves. After all, not all the villains have been dealt with, and there are plenty of loose ends left to explore.

My verdict – if you want a well-written and fast paced story with a strong heroine, definitely pick up Twiceborn. And the fact that it’s set in Sydney Australia instead of another city in the USA is an added bonus.

PS. I have been given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

January is almost over and I have some accomplishments to share!

fireworks

January has been a surprisingly busy month for me and resulted in a few interesting news that I am happy to share with my readers.

1. New site.

First of all, I finally took the plunge and moved the blog to my own site. I must admit that the endeavor had seemed daunting and almost impossible at first. After all,  I know virtually nothing about web hosting, or web design, or site building and maintenance. Plus I managed to build a small following for my blog on wordress.com, and I didn’t want to lose it. I wanted to keep my blog theme and migrate my posts and try to accomplish all that without pulling too many hairs and having a screaming match with the computer screen.

I googled several web hosting providers that had so many options with so many different price plans that I got instantly lost. Thankfully, the excellent people on #myWANA channel on Twitter pointed me in the direction of Jay Donovan from Tech Surgeons, who had been more than helpful. He walked me through the entire process, and moved the entirety of my blog, theme, posts, links AND followers to my new domain in the space of a single evening.

So I am now the proud owner of elenalinville.com and I don’t have to worry about my blog disappearing if anything happens to WordPress. As long as I pay for my web hosting, my blog isn’t going anywhere.

For everyone following me through WordPress, there is nothing you need to do. WordPress will automatically redirect you to my new site (another neat little feature I didn’t’ know about).  Those who subscribe to my blog should also still receive updates.

2. Of Broken Things on Wattpad.

Of Broken Things

I have heard about Wattpad before, but I have never looked at the site myself. Well, this year I decided to do a little experiment and created a profile. I decided to put the first major edit of my first novel, Of Broken Things, on Wattpad.

First of all, I wantto share it with a larger readership than just a couple beta readers, but I also want to see if there is an audience for this story. It’s my first novel, after all. I  know it still needs a lot of work and the version I’m posting is by no means final, but if you are interested to check it out. Here is the link for it.

I will be posting one scene at a time twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays until the whole novel is up there. You are more than welcome to read it and leave me some feedback. In fact, I would love feedback!

3. The Choices We Make is finished!

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

Today I have officially finished the first draft of my second novel The Choices We Make (and I have already celebrated with a glass of wine  or two, so pardon me if most of this post doesn’t make sense). So as of today, I’m not only a real writer who can finish her s@#t, but also a serial finisher! (or a repeat finisher? Not sure, confused now. As I said, much wine has been had)

I must admit that the feeling that you get once you finish something as big as a novel is absolutely exhilarating. I was on could nine when I was done with Of Broken Things, and I’m back there right now as well. Of course, I will be back into editing hell soon enough with both, but for now, I’m celebrating.

I have also realized something else while I was working on the first draft of Choices – this is by no means a stand alone book. This is the first book in a series, and I even already have the main idea for the next book.

A year ago, if you had asked me if I would ever write a series, I would have laughed at your face. I thought myself incapable of sticking with a story for longer than a single book (heck, before last year, I thought myself incapable of finishing a story at all).

Now I KNOW there will be at least one more book based in this world and telling the story of these characters, and maybe even a third one. The plan is to get to work on it for NaNoWriMo 2015.

4. I’m on The Indie View Reviewer List.

Last but not least, I have joined the Reviewer list on The Indie View, a site that helps indie authors find bloggers willing to read and review their books. I have joined this list because I know how important reviews are for book sales. Reviews (and word of mouth) sell books better than any expensive advertising campaign ever will. I always read a couple reviews on Amazon or Goodreads before I decide to purchase a book. I also know how difficult it can be to get those first few dozen reviews, especially for an indie author.

I have received a surprising amount of email since I joined the list. Some books weren’t really in the genres I am interested in, but a lot are books that I am very excited to read and review. So to all the authors who contacted me and whose books I agreed to review, I want to say, thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your book! I will post a review, I promise, I’m just a bit overwhelmed with the demand right now. I’m slowly working through my list though.

 

Well, that’s all the news for now, folks. All in all, it’s been an exciting January. Hopefully the rest of the year will be full of great and exciting things as well.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop.

Stars: 5 out of 5

I must admit that what attracted me to this book is the premise. In a genre with a gazillion books about werewolves, vampires and other shifters / supernatural beings, it’s really hard to find a books that stands out or offers something new. Well, Written in Red does exactly that.

What do we usually see in most books in this genre? A supernatural community that does its best to stay hidden from humans, that lives on the margins of society, hiding in the shadows. Or if they have already shown themselves to humans, they are usually marginalized and oppressed.

Well, not so with the Others. Imagine a world where the humans are not the dominant race. They were late to the party, in fact. By the time our ancestors climbed down that tree, the world was already inhabited by the Others, and they were not willing to share it… Millennia later, a shaky truce exists between the humans and the Others, and there are even some lands that humans can live in and cultivate, but they are not the owners of those resources; they are just lenders. And the Others make sure that the “monkeys” never forget that they can reclaim those lands any time they want, because for them, humans are just another kind of meat. Smart, useful in some ways, but still meat.

I loved this take on the whole humans versus supernatural beings confrontation. And Anne Bishop managed to create a very interesting and complex world around this idea. I could see how much thought and research went into it – the world felt REAL and logical. So just for that, I would already have loved the book, but there is so much more about it to love!

Meg became one of my favorite protagonists. She is a casandra sangine, a human whose blood holds prophecies. Any cut that draws blood brings them forward. As such, she spent all her life in a secure institution, where she was the property of the Controller, who made her bleed and prophesies for his wealthy clients, along with over 1000 other girls. She didn’t even have a name, just a number.

What I like about Meg is that despite her utter lack of experience with the outside world, she has an unbendable force of will. She saw a way out during one of the prophecies and she wasn’t afraid to take it. She can come across as naïve and even “simple” sometimes, but that’s because everything she knows about the world comes from training videos and pictures that often just gave her names of things without context. The controller just needed her   to be able to recognize the things she was seeing in her prophecies and be able to name them, not know what they meant or how they worked.

So there are moments when Meg is lost and baffled by the new world she finds herself in, like when she is confronted by the training image #457 Coffee Machine. She knows it’s supposed to make training image #97678 Coffee, but she has no idea how it works. But Meg doesn’t just give up and wallow in self-pity when she doesn’t understand something. She researches, she looks for a book, or a manual, or asks people. And then she LISTENS and she LEARNS. I think, that’s what I like about her the most. No matter what life throws her way, she never gives up and she always learns.

The depiction of the Others is also excellently handled. They are not just human people that can turn into wolves, crows and bears, or drink blood and disperse into black mist. They are other, some of them utterly alien in their way of thinking and behaving. They have their own rules of interaction between themselves and with the humans that they allow to live on their land.

I also liked the fact that there is no romantic undertone in this book. At all. Yes, the Others come to care about Meg by the end of it, but it’s the beginning of a solid friendship based on mutual trust, respect and caring. There is nothing romantic about it.

Pfew, so what is the take away from this long and rambling review? If you want a complex new world and engaging characters – go buy the book! A must read.

I’m a gamer and proud of it!

I have a confession to make – I’m a gamer. I have been a gamer since I was about 15, got my very first computer and a floppy with King’s Quest. I know that I’m supposed to feel ashamed about this, like it’s some kind of disease or addiction, and I’ve also heard that playing games was somehow beneath the “true” writers…

Well, let me tell you that this is a lot of bull. And I’m not ashamed. I love playing games, and I don’t see how that is bad. In fact, I think that games help develop our creativity and imagination.

In our day and age, there are numerous ways to share a story with the audience, and the novel is only one of them. In fact, I must admit that I have encountered some of the best-told stories not in books, but on TV or in computer games.

In fact, I think that those stories stay with you longer than those in books, probably because in a book, you are reading about a character living that story, but in a game, you are that character, so you are living that story yourself. This is especially true for the MMORPGs where you start by creating your own unique character that grows and discovers the world, and eventually becomes important enough to influence it as well.

That’s why I wanted to talk about a few of the games that I consider truly memorable, at least for me.

256px-Planescape-torment-box

I have played Baldur’s Gate (in all its incarnations) and Neverwinter Nights, but the game that remember the most is Planescape: Torment. I loved the story in that game and the grim, a bit depressing atmosphere. Imagine waking up in a morgue, with no memory of who you are and just a talking skull for a companion? Stumbling through this strange and alien world, trying to piece together your memories, meeting people who knew you before, and whose lives you changed, for better or for worse, and not being able to remember them? Yes, that’s Planescape: Torment.

Final_Fantasy_VII_Box_Art

Another game that still remains a favorite of mine is Final Fantasy VII. I have played all of the Final Fantasies, but the 7th one will always have a special place in my heart. It has a lot to do with the complex world and the engaging characters, but also with the best villain I’ve ever seen in games, TV or books. You can read my blog post about him, if you are interested. And I think that all the fans of Final Fantasy VII also need to play Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, which is kind of a prequel, telling the story of Zack, Aerith, Sephiroth and what really happened in Nibelhelm.

256px-Silent_Hill_2

I am not a big fan of survival or horror games. I’ve never played Resident Evil or any of its clones, but there is one game that shook me to the very core and it’s Silent Hill 2. Maybe because the story behind it is not the usual “shoot them up” horror, and the town of Silent Hill, although full of monsters, is haunted by the character’s own feeling of guilt and regret. After all, you play this game as a man who received a letter from his long-dead wife and comes to Silent Hill to find her… And the soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka is the best I’ve heard in a video game before or since.

Another one of my favorites is Final Fantasy X. It’s a wonderful story of courage and determination, where the characters have to often make hard choices in order to save those they care about… I admit that it’s the last game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I liked. The rest of them were… not very memorable.

But all those games thought me something about how to tell a good story, or about how to create tridimensional and memorable characters, or that having a complex villain is essential for a good story. I am a better writer because of them, so no, I’m not ashamed that I am a gamer. I’m glad.

So, are any of you gamers as well? What games influenced you? Made you laugh, or cry, or pause and think about the meaning of life? Or just gave you a few hours of good time when you were so absorbed in the story, that the real world ceased to exist for bit?

The Deep by Nick Cutter.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

 

I am hard-pressed to grade this book, because I loved it… until I didn’t. And that “didn’t” came in the last 1/3 of the book, including the ending.

 

The premise of The Deep is very promising. There is an incurable disease called the GETS that slowly kills people. First you start forgetting little things like where you put your keys or the name of your boyfriend in high school, then you forget more essential things like how to feed yourself, until you forget how to breath or your heart forgets to beat. It’s always lethal and nobody knows what causes it. But there might be hope for humanity. A substance has been discovered deep in the Mariana Trench that might be able to cure the GETS. A group of scientists had been lowered down to study it in a high tech habitat called the Trieste. Only the base station above has lost contact with Trieste several days ago, and then a horribly broken body of one of the scientists surfaced in the bathyscaphe that had been attached to the habitat. Two people are sent down to investigate what happened. They will face more than just crazy scientists and the crushing pressure of the depths.

 

As I said, I started really liking what I was reading. Loved the main characters and the world Nick Cutter built. Can’t say anything bad about the language either. I read the first 2/3 of the book in two days. It took me a whole week to finally bring myself to finish it. But I need to mention that I don’t think it’s because the last third of the book is bad. I think it’s just that I really didn’t agree with the choices the author made and what he made his characters do.

 

Without going into details, because that would be a huge spoiler, but I don’t think anyone would make the choice the protagonist makes in the end, no matter how crazy they become. There is no mistaking that evil thing for his son. Sorry that’s just not plausible.

 

I have two other gripes with this book.

 

The first one is also deeply personal and might not put off other readers. But for me, there were way too many flashbacks in this book. I understand that they are necessary and an important part of the story, and that the reader wouldn’t understand what’s going on without at least some of them. But they are just too long! And they break the narrative, killing the suspense. I mean one chapter we are on board of the positively creepy Trieste and the tension can be cut with a knife… and then we have a whole chapter about the day the protagonist’s son disappeared. Once we come back to the Trieste, the tension is gone, flushed down the drain.

 

My second gripe is how the characters behave. I mean they are both smart people, they both come to the realization that weird s%&t is happening on board of that station, and that they are more susceptible to it when they are alone. So why oh why do they think that separating and wandering off on their own is a good idea? And why did the author use that tired old trope from every bad slasher / horror movie ever? Especially if bad stuff repeatedly happens when they do it, surely after the third time they would have worked out that staying together might be wiser?

 

*Deep breath*

 

So to summarize, it’s a well-written book with an interesting story. Some of the things in it didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work for other readers. So I would say, if you like horror, you should give The Deep a try.

PS. This review is for an advanced copy I got from NetGalley.

The Outline is more a suggestion than a set of rules.

My second novel The Choices we make, is three chapters away from being done, at least in its first draft form, so now I can speak with the experience of having completed two full novels. And I’m saying to you that outlines are not set in stone. They are just a suggestion, a few road markers on the way from the beginning to the end of your story. Or, like Captain Barbossa would say:

Guidelines
The Pirates of the Caribbean are property of Walt Disney.

 Now the pantsers in the audience will probably yell at me, “I told you so!” while the plotters will grumble, so let me explain what I mean by that. I am a plotter. I find out the hard way that I simple cannot finish a story without having written down at least some kind of outline beforehand. All the novels I tried to “pants” lay abandoned somewhere in the 1/3 to 1/2 of the story, because I either wrote myself into a corner, or had no idea where my story was going. So I outline everything, from short stories, to novels. And with Choices, I went even further and did an in-depth chapter by chapter outline.

 

But I have noticed something interesting while I was plodding through my first draft. While I followed that outline pretty closely in the beginning of the book, I started deviating even before the end of Part 1, I only glanced at it during Part 2, and threw it out of the window completely in Part 3 because my book had very little to do with the original story idea by that point.

good-luck-road-sign

 

If it had only happened with Choices, I would have called it a fluke and found another topic for a blog post, but when I looked back at EVERYTHING I wrote in the past year, I noticed a trend. It seems that I always throw my map away after the first leg of the journey and set off running happily towards the end of the story.

 

I don’t think it’s a bad thing (hence the title of this blog post), because when the time comes to deviate from the outline, I have spent some time with my characters already and I know how they will react and act, so I’m more comfortable with taking the back sit and letting them lead the story. But if I ever feel stuck or lost, I still have that map with the nearest road marker circled in red, so that I know where to stir my unruly crew towards.

 

Some of you might say that doing an extensive outline before sitting down to write the story seems like a waste of time if I throw two thirds of it away in the process. I disagree. By doing this outline, I already “write” this story once from the beginning to the end, and I can tell which parts don’t exactly work and need tweaking. So when I sit down and write my first draft, I usually manage to find a better way to tell that story: a better plot twist, a new and exciting way for my hero to get out of a dangerous situation, a more satisfying ending. This in turn makes the editing phase a lot less painful.

 

So what’s the conclusion of all this? I will still write extensive outlines for my projects, but I will never feel bad about deviated from them. In fact, if I manage to write a whole story that follows the outline to the letter, I will be extremely worried about its quality and probably spend longer on the editing stage.

 

And what about you guys? Are you a plotter or a pantser? How detailed are your outlines and how closely do you stick to them when you write your first draft?

It Started with a Whisper by A. W. Hartoin.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ernest “Puppy” McClarity has only one wish: that Miss Pritchett, his dreaded math teacher, leaves him alone on the last day of school, so he makes a wish to his great-granddad Ernest to take care of her for him. Only wishes are a powerful thing when you are a McClarity, and old Ernest always watches over his own, even if he is long dead.

I absolutely loved It Started with a Whisper. It has magic and paranormal elements in it, but they are presented in such a manner that a lot can be seen as coincidences or weird accidents. This book is not about the all-powerful witches that smite their enemies with deadly spells. It’s about a family that loves each other and their land, and would do anything to protect each other as well.

I loved all the characters in this book. The McClarity clan is big, colorful and full of crazy people. They biker, they fight with each other, but they also have fun and love each other unconditionally. And they are all fully fleshed and tridimensional characters. I felt like I was right there at Camp with them, just another member of the Pack.

And Great-grandpa’s Ernest old homestead, or the Camp as everyone calls it, is described with such love and attention to detail, that I could picture it perfectly in my head as well. That’s actually one of the reasons I loved this book so much – it reminded me of the summers I spent at my grandparents summerhouse when I was a child. It was in a remote village in Russia where everybody knew each other and nobody ever locked their doors. All the kids would play together from dawn till dusk, and nobody worried where we were. That long-forgotten feeling of freedom, of summer heat and lazy afternoons swimming in the pond or exploring the woods behind the village, I managed to recapture it again while I read this book. And for that, Mrs. Hartoin, I thank you.

This story is less about magic, and more about Puppy slowly leaving his childhood behind and realizing that actions have consequences, and that sometimes things are not what they seem, and neither are people. Nothing is black or white, and even the hated teacher who had been so awful to him all year long might do so because she is profoundly unhappy and just lashing out.

It’s a coming of age story and it’s executed perfectly. Puppy is a typical 14 year old boy who has just barely left childhood and suddenly discovered that girls might as well be aliens from Tau Centori, because they are just as puzzling. Like any other boys his age, he is awkward around them, unsure of himself and slightly embarrassed about his mother always dropping him at school at least 30 mins late. All he wants at the beginning of the book is spend a fun summer at Camp with his family and friends, and hope that Beatrice, the llama that seems to hate him for some reason, doesn’t spit on him too often.

But when real disaster strikes and some of his actions have grave consequences, he steps up and does what is right. By then end of the story, Puppy has turned into a good man, a man Grandpa Ernest would be proud of.

I thoroughly enjoyed It Started With a Whisper and my time spent at Camp with the McClarities. On this cold and dreary season it was a much needed breath of summer heat. I would definitely pick up the next book when it comes out in 2015, because I wouldn’t mind coming back for a visit… as long as I’m invited. Because bad things happen to people who step on Ernest’s land uninvited.

PS. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review through LibraryThing.