The Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Another wonderful book. Frankly, I have been spoiled with good books so far this year.

Flex has a very interesting concept of magic that I hadn’t encountered before. The ‘mancers in Flex are not officially (or unofficially) trained magicians we grew so accustomed to in other fantasy books. No, each one of them has their own particular flavor of magic or ‘mancy. There are illustromancers and musicomancers, videogamemancers and bureaucracymancers. This is a fascinating concept that a person’s believes and obsessions define his or her magic and the set of rules within which it works.

I also loved the fact that the use of magic is not free in this world. Every time there is a Flex, or the active use of magic, there will be a Flux later, or pushback when the laws of nature reascertain themselves and make the practitioner pay for breaking them. The bigger the Flex, the bigger the subsequent Flux, and it usually hits the things or people the ‘mancer cares about the most. So no wonder why ‘mancers in this world are mostly solitary and rather unhappy people – everything they love turns to ash between their fingers the more they use their magic.

Why don’t they stop? You could ask. Well, ‘mancy is like a drug, an addiction. And for a lot of these people, the Flex is the only time they are truly happy, they truly feel alive. So they are willing to risk the Flux just to experience this euphoria even for a little while.

I loved the fact that all the ‘mancers in this book are neither really good nor really evil. They are all broken people who found refuge from the ugliness of this world in their magic. They can do horrible things, but even the worst of them can create ‘mancy that’s absolutely beautiful.

Our protagonist, Paul Tsabo, had spent his life hunting down rogue ‘mancers and handing them over to the Government to be “refactored” – a horrible procedure where their mind is erased and they become no more than puppets linked to a human controller… and then he became a ‘mancer himself. When his daughter is horribly burned in an explosion orchestrated by a ‘mancer bound on destroying human civilization, he must take it upon himself to hunt him or her down and make them pay.

I liked Paul. He is not the typical action hero. He doesn’t rush into danger with guns blazing. He is not good in a fight – too scrawny, not a very good fighter. But he is extremely good with the paperwork. He is the king of forms, the god of bureaucracy. I loved the fact that he stayed true to himself throughout this book. The author didn’t make him discover sudden mad fighting skills or extreme marksmanship. Paul remains a paper-pusher, but his papers can rewrite the world.

My only gripe with Flex is that the author doesn’t give us hardly any background on the origins of this magic. One of the characters attributes the surge of ‘mancers to the birth of the Internet and the ever growing list of obsessions people have. Yet the author also hits that ‘mancers existed even in the previous centuries, way before the invention of the Internet. In fact, a full on magical battle during World War II opened a huge broach over Europe and transformed the whole continent in to a smoldering landscape full of demons.

It’s implied that ‘mancers started being hunted down and “refactored” after that incident, but the author doesn’t explain how it was before that. How did ‘mancers deal with their Flux? How did society deal with them? I would have loved to have a bit more details. I would also have loved to see more of that strange world than just New York. Hopefully, the author will expand his universe in the next book.

But even as it stands, Flex is a definite must read. It’s well written and fast paced, and the story is really interesting.

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.

A call for Beta Readers.

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Those of you who follow my blog more or less regularly know that I have several projects in various stages of competition.

I’ve just finished the first draft of The Choices we Make, a 110k words novel, so I needed to relax and switch focus for a bit. This I have been editing and outlining smaller projects, like the short stories in my Eye of the Norns Cycle.

I have concentrated most of my efforts on my novella Mists of the Crosswords, and I have taken it as far as I can take it on my own. But before I start looking for a professional editor to go over it with a fine tooth comb and fix my wonky grammar and punctuation, I need a fresh set of eyes on the story. This is where you come in.

This is a call for a few brave souls dedicated beta readers. I am looking for someone who will take the time to go over my story and tell me what works and what doesn’t, whether I left a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through, or if the actions of my characters stopped making sense all of a sudden. In other words, anything that jumps at you from the page and that I just don’t see anymore because I went over this story so many times.

I would like to point out that accepting to beta read is a hard job and can’t be taken lightly. Yes, you get to read a brand new book before anybody else, but I expect you to put some effort into it and give me constructive feedback. And I will need that feedback before the deadline.

The Mists of the Crossworlds is a fantasy novella aimed mostly towards Young Adults. Here is the blurb:

Lori has the ability to shift into the crossworlds, the strange plane that connects different words together. She guides merchant caravans for the Guild who has absolute monopoly on crossworld travel. But one day, her best friend goes missing and the mists start calling her name. Lori is faced with a though choice:  will she hide from those voices in the safety of the Guild Tower, or will she dare step off the beaten path in order to save the person that matters to her the most?

  •  All beta readers will receive a .docx file and a Beta Reader’s questionnaire that should help them focus on the areas I need most feedback with.
  • Please write your comments and suggestions directly in the file using Track Changes.
  • I would need all feedback and questionnaires sent back to me by March 9th. The novella is only 22k words long, so I think two weeks should be plenty of time.

All beta readers who accept this task and provide constructive feedback will be mentioned in the  Acknowledgement section once the book is published. They will also receive a free short story as a thank you gift.

If you are interested in beta reading it for me, please either put your email address in the comments to this post, or email me directly at elorenalory@gmail.com.

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

With Murder of Crows, we are back in the world of the Others, and I am very happy about that! This is a fascinating world and Anne Bishop lets us explore it a bit further in this second book of the series. I have also reviewed the first book in the series, Written in Red.

A lot happens in this book. We learn more about the origins of the drugs “feel good” and “gone over wolf”. We discover that there are human settlements on the Others land that are under the Others’ control. The people who chose to live there did so because they were persecuted by other humans for being different. The Others granted them asylum from persecution in exchange for work and goods. Those humans, Simple Life folks and Intuits, are not considered “meat” per se, but they are not considered friends either – they are simply tolerated as long as they don’t break the rules.

It was interesting to look at the settlements and the human / Others interaction outside of the Lakeside Courtyard. It was also a stark reminder that humans are just tolerated on this continent, and that there are a lot more dangerous terra indigene inhabiting the deep wild country that would not hesitate to wipe them off the land if provoked. It also served to emphasis just how progressive Simon is as the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard. He actually tries to work with the human authorities instead of just dealing with most of the problems the terra indigene way –  eat the intruder, throw the personal belongings out of the Courtyard for the police to find.

Speaking of the humans in the Lakeside Courtyard, we also see changes that are a direct consequence from the previous book. Meg has been accepted by all the inhabitants of the Courtyard. She is part of the Pack, even though she isn’t terra indigene, but she isn’t “smart meat” either. This is a source of confusion for Simon and and some of the other members of the Business association until they decide that she is just The Meg and leave it at that.

Another big change is that the humans working in the Courtyard become Meg’s human pack, so they transition from being just employees who are not eatable unless they misbehave to people the Others feel obliged to protect, especially when the rest of the human population of Lakeside turns on them and dubs them Wolf lovers.

And the Others finally turn their attention to the cassandra sangue  and those who keep them and bleed them for profit. The consequences of that attention will be life-changing for everyone concerned…

I loved this book. I got to spend more time with all the characters I grew to love in Book 1 and watch their relationship develop and become stronger. I got to see more of this fascinating world of Others and discover a bit more about its inhabitants.

So by now you are probably wondering why I only gave this book 4 stars instead of 5? I have one problem with it, but it’s a problem significant enough to deduct a whole star, because it tarnished my enjoyment a little.

There are a lot of things happening in this book, and a lot of different forces threaten Meg and the Courtyard inhabitants, as well as some of the other terra indigene we encounter, but there was almost no suspense, at least not for me. And the reason for this being that Meg would always have a prophesy that would warn them beforehand about the bad stuff coming their way, so that they are prepared. I understand that it’s part of who she is and what this whole world is about, but it kills the suspense. I don’t worry about the characters anymore, because I KNOW nothing will happen to them, no matter how threatening the danger is…

It could have been easily rectified though. Meg is only one blood prophet. The Controller has a whole compound full of them. Why don’t the bad guys get prophesies before they set out to do anything as well? That way they would at least see what would work and what would fail miserably. Or we could have the Others fail to interpret Meg’s visions correctly, or understand the warning only AFTER the fact. If some of the evil plans actually succeeded and there had been casualties among the cast we grew to love, I would have been more invested in the story. It’s hard to be worried about characters when the author portrays Meg’s power as infallible.

But despite that, I enjoyed Murder of Crows and I would definitely recommend it. Can’t wait for Book 3 to come out.

The cyclical nature of the creative process.

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A couple weeks ago Chuck Wendig wrote an excellent post about the emotional milestones of writing the first draft of a novel. It describes my own experience perfectly with all the highs and lows, so I would definitely say it’s recommended reading.

That post also made me think about the creative process in general and the various stages I go through between the new idea in my head and the finished product. And I realized that that process also has its highs and lows, but that in the end, it’s cyclical. I thought it would be fun to share my observations with my readers and see if anyone’s experience is similar to mine.

1. Shiny new idea aka rabid plot bunny.

That’s the beginning of every new story, isn’t it? A fluffy plot bunny comes hopping  into your brain and kicks every other idea out until its the only thing you can think of. It’s so fresh and new and exciting, and you can’t wait to start writing this story down, because you know without a doubt that it has all the makings of a true masterpiece.

There is only one slight problem. The plot bunny is never a whole story. It might be a scene, or an idea, or a group of characters, or even just a “what if this happened?” moment. No, the true story is still playing hard to get. You need to do some archaeological digging to get to it. That’s where stage two starts for me.

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2. The rough outline.

Now this stage might differ from writer to writer, depending on whether you are a “pantser” or a  “plotter”.  Some writers might even skip this stage altogether. I’m not saying that one method is better than the other. I’m just saying that I’m very much a plotter. I can’t write a story without knowing where it’s going and having an approximation map of how to get there, so I tend to write rather extensive outlines.

That’s the stage where I grab that plot bunny by its fluffy ears and shake it until the details of the story start tumbling out.  By the time I’m done with my outline, I know exactly how the story will start and how it will end, but most of the stuff in between reads like “stuff happens to get the protagonist from point A to point B,” or “I have no idea how she ends up here, but I’ll think of something.”

But it’s a good enough road map to follow and I’m usually so sick with the whole outlining process by that time that I’d rather start on the first draft now, before I get too tired of the story, and work out the kinks later.

3. The First Draft.

Chuck gave a very accurate description of the emotional roller coaster a writer goes through during the first draft. Needless to say that after the three months it usually takes me to finish the first draft of a normal length novel, I am an emotional mess, and the only thing I want to do is throw that draft in a drawer and forget about it.

And I DEFINITELY don’t want to tackle another first draft. Sometimes, depending on how difficult the story had been for me, I feel like I never want to write another new story ever again… So by this time I have reached the next stage of my creative process.

4. The editing adventure.

Since I don’t feel like chasing another plot bunny right at the moment and going through the highs and lows of a first draft again, I go digging into the Dropbox folder where I keep all my stories and unearth a story I had put aside when that plot bunny had gotten me distracted 3-4 months ago. I print out the story, get my faithful blue pen out and dive into editing.

I know a lot of people dread that process, and it can be tedious and heart-breaking to take the jumbled mess of a first draft and make the words better. But after the trials of the draft when you give birth to the story, having a stack of pages to edit feels really good. So I dive into my edits, I hack and slash and rewrite about 80% of the draft until I’m more or less satisfied with the end result. And by the end of that process, I’m so burned out on editing that I start actually looking forward to writing a new story again, even if I had swore in stage 3 that I would never do that again.

So I send my edited story to some brave beta readers and eagerly open my mind to the next plot bunny willing to hop in and take me for a ride. And the cycle begins again…

It’s funny to discover that I start each stage of the process full of excitement and energy, and that I’m usually burned out and eager to move to the next stage by the end.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this cycle as well? Is your creative process different? Drop me a few lines in the comments, because I would really like to hear from you!

The Locksmith by Susan Kaye Quinn.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

The Locksmith is a short novella is is set in the Mindjack world (I have reviewed the first book of the series Open Minds if you are interested), and I must admit that it felt good revising it.

This story had all the ingredients I loved about the original books – the complex world, engaging characters and often serious problems they face. I also love that the author doesn’t pull any punches when exploring the social problems that arise when the normal mindreading society discovers the existence of mindjackers…

But I digress, so let’s concentrate on this story. We are following Zeph, who is a mindjacker with a unique ability even for his kind: he can not only jack into other people’s brains, but also modify them (lock or unlock as he puts it). He tried very hard to stay hidden, to pass for normal, even though he is forced to work for the local mindjacker clan. He doesn’t like what he is forced to do for Clan Marshall, but he understands that the jacker would come after his family if he disobeys. Yes, his life is difficult as it is, but at least he manages to pass for more or less normal, even if he has to lie to everybody around him, even his family.

So when Kira drops the bombshell and reveals the existence of mindjackers to the world, I understood perfectly well why Zeph was mad about it. She had just destroyed all hopes for him to live a normal life. Of is she didn’t annihilate them entirely, she made it so much more difficult.

It’s interesting to see the repercussions of Kira’s decisions and the events of the original 3 books of the Mindjacker series on other mindjackers, to see the reaction of another other jacker kid to the fact that hiding his ability had just become 100% harder.

I liked Zeph. He is a completely different character than Kira and he is very far away from the hormone-driven teenager stereotype we encounter so often in YA fiction. He is aware of his powers and slightly afraid of them, because he doesn’t understand what he does or how he does it and he is scared to hurt people. He is also a very responsible young man. Unlike some other mindjackers we encountered in this world, he doesn’t think mind controlling someone to like him is right. When other jackers bask in attention and jack everyone to like them, Zeph skirts the crowds, staying in the shadows and doing just enough to get barely noticed and immediately discounted as insignificant.

His attempts at a normal conversation with Tessa were really rather cute and heartbreaking because he realizes that he can’t have a normal relationship with her without having to lie to her constantly.

I also loved the fact that when Zeph was presented with a very difficult choice, he had the courage to do what’s right, even if it was difficult and dangerous and presented him with potentially dire consequences… And I will not say anything else about the plot of The Locksmith because I don’t want to spoil the story for you!

All I will add is that this is a fast paced story that keeps you on the edge of your sit until the end. It’s only five chapters long, so if you are looking for a quick, but still good and entertaining read this weekend, definitely buy this book. It’s a wonderful new installment in the Mindjacker universe.

Another milestone – this is my 100th post.

keep-calm-this-is-my-100th-post

 

I have reached yet another milestone it seems. This is my 100th post on this blog, and I wouldn’t even have noticed if WordPress hadn’t reminded me.

Wow… Who would have thought that I would have enough things to say for even 50 posts, yet alone 100? When I started this blog back in October 2013, I hadn’t even imagined that I would reach this number only a little over a year later.

I have a confession to make. I have never been very good at creating this kind (or any kind) of content with any kind of consistency. I never even managed to keep a diary for longer than a month or two. I would try it from time to time, and the first few weeks I would write every day, then once every few days, then once a  week maybe, until the diary got put in a drawer to be forgotten. Then I would unearth it two or three years later, dist it off and try keeping it again. And the whole circle would repeat itself.

So I am the most surprised that one year later I am still here and I am still blogging, and that I manage to write two post a week as well. And not only that, but that I actually LIKE doing this! I discovered that I really enjoy blogging. I enjoy sharing my ideas, my opinions and my stories with my readers.

Nobody likes to created in a vacuum. It’s like talking to yourself in an empty room. It might echo, but all you hear back is your own voice. When I started posting on this blog, a lot of times it felt exactly like that. I think the very first comment on one of my posts was from a spam bot and I had wanted to hug it then because hey, somebody had noticed me!

But then something wonderful had happened – I got a follower, then another one, then two more. And suddenly I wasn’t talking to myself anymore. People were actually listening and responding to me. I started having a steady influx of traffic on my blog, and not only on days when I published something new…

Of course, my blog is a small fish in the ocean. I only have 150 followers right now and my site gets only  a few dozens views per day, so for many of you it would be considered small potatoes. But for me, it’s everything. A writer craves feedback, whether on the novel she is working on, or the blog post she just published. Being able to get that feedback is what motivates us to soldier on even on the days when the ideas refuse to come and the words bleed into the page.

So this post is mostly to say a big THANK YOU to all my readers. I probably wouldn’t still be here it wasn’t for you.

thank-you

Thank you for visiting my blog every week and taking precious time out of your day to read my ramblings about my writing ups and downs, as well as my book reviews. Thank you for liking my posts and commenting on them. Thank you for sharing them on social media. I truly feel blessed to have you!

And now, onward towards the next milestone!

Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Lizzy Borden had an axe and Atlanta Burns has a shotgun. I couldn’t help myself, sorry! But I can assure you that Atlanta Burns isn’t at all like this notorious murderer from the 19th century. Oh, and as you can see by the 5 stars on top of this review, I absolutely loved the book.

Fair warning though, this is a difficult book to read. It’s not your typical young adult book about life in high school where the earth-shattering problem is that the guy the protagonist likes chose to go to the prom with someone else. It covers some pretty harsh and gruesome themes like racism, bullying, teenage suicide, drug use and outright cruelty towards both humans and animals. So don’t pick up this book thinking that it would be an easy read. In fact, it should come with several trigger warnings.

But if you are looking for a serious story that challenges you and makes you think about our society and your own behavior; a book that leaves you a slightly better person after you close it, then definitely pick up Atlanta Burns. Chuck Wendig delivered a rare gem: a young adult book that strives not only to entertain the young readers, but also to teach them something. Too few books do that nowadays, unfortunately.

Alright, vague eulogies aside, what gripped me in this book, you might ask? I won’t go into details because I’m not sure I can avoid big spoilers, and I really don’t want to ruin the story for you.

I will say one thing though, Atlanta is not a typical teenage girl, or rather, she used to be a typical teenage girl until something horrible happened that left her rather broken and disillusioned. Some girls would wallow in their own misery and self-pity, but not Atlanta. I loved the fact that she took the matters into her own hands. If her mother was not going to defend her against the monster she had invited into their house, Atlanta would take care of it herself… with a shotgun.

I loved how Atlanta is portrayed. She doesn’t regret what she had to do. He mother’s boyfriend was molesting her and she blew his balls off. But the whole experience left her broken, disillusioned and isolated, because the people she used to be friends with in school don’t seem to notice her anymore, as if she was a blank space or something too dangerous and unpredictable to interact with. And I can understand her anger and resentment towards her mother – she was supposed to protect her from this, but failed miserably, and that loss of innocence and trust hurts more than the horrible act itself.

In some respect, I think Atlanta and Whitey are very similar – both will get back up and fight no matter how many times they are kicked down, and both are fiercely loyal and protective of those who they consider their friends.

From what I described above, it might seem that Atlanta Burns is  a very grim book, but it’s not. Yes, it touches on pretty grim subjects, but the main message of the book is one that I endorse 110% – STAND UP TO BULLIES, don’t just take it, don’t walk past when you see someone being bullied and think that it’s not your problem, because it is everybody’s problem. One person might not make a whole lot of a difference, but a group of people might. And this message is true in every aspect of our lives, be it high school, work environment, or cyber-bullying on the internet.

So in case you are still wondering whether this book is worth buying, my answer is yes, absolutely. Go get it now!

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.