All posts by Elena Linville

I am a Russian-Swiss-American citizen of the world. I have traveled all over the globe then hopped over the big Atlantic pond and moved to North Carolina, USA, where I lived for eight years. But staying in one place for too long is not in my nature, so when the wanderlust called again, I packed my meager belongings and my cat continued my great migration all the say from NC to Texas. So here I am not in DFW area with my cat who strongly believes she is a dog and the Queen and Ruler of the house. I have an 8 to 5 job as an field force training specialist and the rest of the time I write stories “for fun and pleasure,” though most of the time it feels like pulling teeth or bleeding on the page. I have two novels, Of Broken Things and The Choices We Make, which are both in the fully finished first draft stage. I’m currently editing Of Broken Things and letting Choices sit in a desk drawer for a few months. I’m also editing my novella Mists of the Crosswords which is almost ready for beta readers. Looking for a few betas btw who are not afraid to give honest feedback. I have an idea for a serial of short stories called the Eye of the Norns Cicle. The first short story had been published in an anthology, the second story is written down but needs editing, and I’m outlining the next three stories. I think I have enough ideas for 2 seasons of 6 stories each. I also love reading sci-fi, fantasy, dystopia, urban fantasy and post -apocalyptic books. I have been known to pick up a romance or two from time to time, but NEVER in the contemporary or historical genres. I don’t read YA, children books or nonfiction.

Cupcakes, Trinkets, and other Deadly Magic y Meghan Ciana Doidge.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

 

I was so excited when I picked up this book! For once, the protagonist is not an almighty witch, but just a half-witch who prefers making cupcakes and a trinket or two to conquering the world of magic! “How refreshing,” I thought. I like trinkets. I love cupcakes (maybe a little more than I should). And I was really looking forward to reading about a down to earth heroine for once.

 

Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. Jade turned out to be one of those protagonists I don’t really want to read about: the special snowflake. She seems ordinary at first, but ends up being so unique that the author flirts dangerously close with the dreaded “Chosen One” trope.

 

Her father is unknown but it’s hinted throughout the book that he is definitely not human, which makes her half-witch, half-something else and this something seems to be powerful. Her family lied to her to keep her past and abilities hidden, supposedly for her own protection, but no justification for that is given in this book. She can sense and identify other people’s magic and that makes her extremely desirable for other magical beings for some reason? Once again, no justification is given as to why that would make her important. And there is a hidden portal in the basement of her bakery only she can open.

 

Oh, and I forgot to mention the plethora of extremely powerful, extremely magical, and extremely hot-looking guys that seem to fawn all over her throughout this book for no other reason than her magical uniqueness. Because the author makes sure to tell us that Jade is no great beauty.

 

Story-wise the book is pretty straight-forward as well. Magical beings are found murdered and Jade’s trinkets have been found on all the bodies, so naturally she is suspect number one. Queue a lot of running around with (or away from) some really hot really magical guys and poking at things that don’t need to be poked. I guess that’s supposed to be an investigation. Funny how Jade never things about looking closer to home for the culprit.

 

And that’s my other problem with this book. The ending is predictable and the antagonist is hinted upon with such heavy strokes that she might as well have been jumping up and down and holding a board saying, “I’m the villain.” Yet Jade is totally oblivious of this until the very end, which made me groan and wonder at her lack of brainpower and observation. It’s one thing to be trusting and another to be willingly obtuse.

 

This book gets 2 stars instead of 1 because it was well-written. I didn’t see any glaring grammatical errors and Jade actually has a voice, even if it’s an annoying one at times. And it is an easy read – I finished it in a little over a day. Unfortunately, it’s just as easily forgotten because of the little substance this book has.

I wouldn’t recommend it. There are plenty of better paranormal romance / urban fantasy books out there worth reading instead.

 

Protagonists I don’t want to read about – Part 1.

onceuponatime

 

The idea for this post (or what more likely be a series of posts) was born after I posted this book review, probably because the heroine in this book was a perfect example of a protagonist I don’t want to read about. So I thought about writing a series of posts about the different types of protagonists that drive me up the wall, make me want to throw the book at the wall, or just make me yawn and go, “Yeah, whatever.”

 

I think that it’s very important for me as a writer to be aware of what kind of protagonist makes me put a book down as a reader. So I thought I would share my personal pet peeves and ask my readers about theirs.

 

So without further ado, let’s start at number 1.

 

1. Too stupid to live.

 

This one that makes me grind my teeth in frustration and gives me the desire to whack the protagonist on the head with something heavy to put him or her out of their misery. All this protagonist does is make one stupid mistake after another during the whole book. Mistakes that land her in very dangerous situations, I must add. Amazingly enough, not only does she survive those situations, but she also refuses to learn anything from it. Special mention if those stupid mistakes are the ONLY thing that drives the story forward.

 

This one is just… GRRRR!!! I understand that a good story derives from characters making mistakes. But I’m a firm believer that there needs to be a logic behind those mistakes, and they must not seem like mistakes at the time. And no, rushing into the den of the enemy all alone and without telling anyone where you went (when your allies warned you about staying away, I might add) is never a good idea. There is no logic that can explain that apart from the idea that the character probably has a death wish.

 

Now I need to point out that I am not against the character making mistakes. By all means, let them get burned, let them do something and get smacked in the face by the consequences. But the characters need to LEARN from those mistakes, they need to EVOLVE. Those mistakes need to fuel the character progression. Otherwise it feels like this image here:

 

If you keep banging your head on the wall, chances are your head will crack first.
If you keep banging your head on the wall, chances are your head will crack first.

If all your character does is bang her head against the wall and doesn’t even pause to think that maybe finding a door or a window would be more productive… well, I don’t want to read about that.

Unfortunately, this trope usually goes hand to hand with another one of my pet peeves.

 

2. The “strong” female protagonist turns damsel in distress.

 

This is another cringe-worthy case where the protagonist is portrayed as a strong female protagonist, tough as nails, kicking butt and taking names all days of the week, doubly so on Sundays… Yet when push comes to shove and she finds herself in a dangerous situation (that might or might not have been of her own making due to stupid mistakes from point 1), she suddenly becomes completely useless. Queue the love interest / male side character(s) who ride on a shining steed to save the day.

 

I especially “love” the protagonists who can’t keep their mouths shut during the whole sad event and mouth off to their captors as well as their rescuers. If I was the antagonist, I would have gagged them, or just killed them outright rather than listen to that. If I was the love interest, I would probably rethink my priorities and the reason behind my affection toward this particular protagonist. Especially if she was kicking and screaming that she had everything under control and that I didn’t need to intervene while I dragged her from her imminent death… yet again.

 

Help, where is my knight in shining armor?
Help, where is my knight in shining armor?

This last trait of character brings me to the final point in today’s post.

 

3. Everybody loves her (usually for no reason at all).

 

We all have seen those protagonists. All the males in the vicinity seem to fall in love with them almost at first glance. They can do no wrong in their eyes, no matter how rude, pushy or disrespectful the protagonist are… or how many stupid mistakes they make throughout the book. Usually those books are also filled to the brim by handsome, strong men and the distinct lack of other female characters (at least positive ones). If there are other female characters, they usually hate the protagonist’s guts, are villains or sluts or both.

 

I think this distinct lack of positive female characters is due to the fact that they would paint our “perfect” protagonist in not a very flattering light, so instead of actually working on the character, some authors simply eliminate the competition. The Symphony of Ages books by Elizabeth Haydon are a perfect example of this – everybody loves Rhapsody, even those who say they hate her.

 

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I’m always so sad when I stumble upon a book like that, especially if the characters show at least glimpses of personality from time to time. Imagine how more profound and tridimensional the protagonist could have been, if she had real female friends, was allowed to have flaws and didn’t have the whole male population fawning over her.

 

Pfew, so those are some of my least favorite character tropes, though definitely not all of them, because listing them all probably necessitates at least another post or two. Those particular characters drive me up the wall, but what about you? What kind of protagonists make you groan and roll your eyes or close the book and move on?

Wicked Misery (Miss Misery book 1) by Tracey Martin.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

I’m always apprehensive when I start a new series, because you never know if you will like the world and the characters. And I usually try to stick with the series for at least 3 books or so before I decide to drop it, because the first book has the difficult and thankless task of introducing the reader to a brand new world. So even if I am not particularly trilled with book 1, I am more than willing to discount some of my misgivings and give the series another chance by reading book 2… That is if I like the protagonist enough to stick with him / her for another book.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with Wicked Misery.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved the worldbuilding for this series. The fact that we have a different kind of supernatural beings than vampires or werewolves is rather refreshing. It’s also interesting to read about a world where the preds and other supernatural beings are known and more or less integrated into society.

My problem with this series is the protagonist, which is a deal breaker when you are stuck observing the whole story through her eyes. Jessica Moore is a classic case of how the character has to constantly do stupid sh@t to drive the story along. I mean, I understand that the protagonist has to make mistakes, get burned and rise to the challenge, but a good protagonist also has to LEARN from those mistakes and get better, or at least not repeat them over and over again.

In Jessica’s case, she doesn’t seem to learn. AT ALL. And while this might be endearing the first time or two, it gets extremely annoying by the end of the book. She is in deep trouble, framed for a series of gruesome murders, wanted by all sorts of powerful people because of that. Yet, she absolutely refuses to listen to the people who try to help her with this problem. People whom he ran for help in the first place, I might add. It’s like she landed this whole mess on the satyr’s lap, then can’t seem to manage to stay put and let them deal with it. They tell her to hide and lay low, but she runs off to meet with a goblin who might or might not have pertinent information for her instead… without telling anyone where she is going. Ok, that might work once as a plot device, but later on in the book she pulls the same trick again and goes barging into a Fury bar on her own without telling anyone about again, in the middle of a Griffon raid designed to find her btw.

That’s not endearing anymore, that’s called having a death wish. The fact that she seems to emerge from those encounters unscathed and with no consequences at all indicates poor planning on the author’s part. The fact that Jessica’s little escapades are the only thing that drives the story forward also makes me want to put the book down.

My other problem with this book is the romantic relationship between Jess and Lucen, or what will probably become a romantic relationship between them in later books. It doesn’t work, at least not how it’s written. He is a satyr, so a pred whose whole nature is to incite lust in humans. Jess feels that and despises him for it. In fact, even though she run to him for help, all she does during the whole book is belittle and denigrate him, at least in her head (and since we are in her head, we get to read all of it). Then by the end of the book, after a plot twist I won’t tell you about, her ability to sense preds is dampened and she realizes that she still lusts after Lucen. Light bulb moment for our protagonist – so that wasn’t entirely him, I really want him! So it’s okay to finally be with him. News flash, honey, the fact that you want to jump his bones does not a strong relationship make. Especially since you haven’t really changed your opinion on what he is and what he does.

I think that’s my biggest problem with this book – Jess hasn’t really evolved by the end of it. As a person, I mean. Sure, she learned a bit more about her powers and decided that she would use them for good rather than evil, but that’s as far as the character development went. And since she wasn’t a character I was particularly interested in following at the beginning, it doesn’t make me want to follow her into the next book.

So my verdict for Wicked Misery is – interesting world building, but the protagonist is not my cup of tea. I wouldn’t recommend this series to my friends. There are plenty of other excellent series to read instead.

What makes you put a book down and never pick it back up?

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I’ve always read a lot of books, as you can probably see from the new book reviews coming up on my blog every Friday. Until I started writing myself, I’d never took time to analyze what makes me stop reading though. What makes me groan in frustration, shrug in indifference, or simply close the book and never bother opening it again.

Well, my reading list has skyrocketed since I started getting review requests from self-published authors, so a lot more books pass in front of my eyes. And I think I might have grown a bit less tolerant when it comes to sticking with a book or putting it down. I used to read the first 50 pages to give the book a chance before I decided whether I was going to finish it or toss it. Now I usually stop after Chapter 1. And in the case of several books, I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs.

So it got me thinking, and I tried to differentiate the few things that will make me stop reading a book every single time. And once I was done with my list, I thought it would be interesting to share it with my readers, because isolating the problems helped me look at my own writing critically as well. Hopefully, you will also find this useful. So here we go. What makes me stop reading a book?

 

  1. The story takes too long to start.

Maybe I’m the product of this age when so many things clamor for my attention that unless a story grabs me from the get go, I will likely put it down and go look for something else. So when a story starts with a long prologue that usually doesn’t have anything to do with the story itself, it’s sure to dampen my enthusiasm. If Chapter 1 starts on a dream or the character reflecting about weather or some mundane things and nothing happens for the first 5 pages – chances are  I won’t bother reading any further.

And I came upon a few books that did exactly that – start with prologue, then a dream, then the character wakes up and makes coffee, reflecting about the nasty storm outside his window… for over 10 pages. I don’t know if the story picks up after that, because I yawned, closed to book and moved on to something else.

I tried to read a book by a fellow indie author who had requested a review, and I just couldn’t get into the story. I felt so bad about it that I stuck for five whole chapters. But during those chapters, absolutely nothing happened that had anything to do with the actual story. The character went to work in his book store, then went to his birthday party, had a weird dream and finally met with a friend for lunch. Yes, the character was doing things and moving around, but after 5 chapters I still had no idea what the story would be about. So I had to pass on that book, even if I felt extremely bad about it.

cropped-pen-and-paper_00043132.jpg

  1. The protagonist has no voice or all the narrators sound the same.

Voice is extremely important, because we see the world through the protagonist’s eyes, or through the perspective of several characters if the book is told in alternating POVs. If we are going to stick with this story, we need to like the character telling it, or at least be interested in what he or she has to say.

I can forgive a lot of things, like a slow dragging narrative, if I love the character’s voice. It’s like some real life friends who cannot tell a story without going on tangents all the time, but you can’t help laughing at their words, because of the way they go about telling the story.

But I have noticed that in most of the self-published books I came across the characters have no voice whatsoever. I don’t know if the authors rushed to publish their work without polishing it, or if they didn’t have a very good grasp on their characters, but the result is a dry and lifeless narrative from a protagonist that has less life in him or her than a cardboard cutout.

 

  1. Head hopping or messed up POV.

This one will make me drop the book like it’s on fire. I have no problem with alternating POVs, heck I read the Song of Ice and Fire and there are A LOT of different characters narrating several parallel stories. But for the love of God, the Maker, the Creators, Buddha or any other deity out there, please don’t switch POVs in the same scene. Don’t hop from head to head in the same damn dialogue. Just DON’T.

Head hopping is annoying. It’s confusing as s&^t and it makes my head hurt after a while. It also makes me want to throw my Kindle at the wall or set it on fire just not to have to put up with the story (I don’t do that, because it would get very expensive very fast). Heck, that’s one thing I can’t forgive even fanfiction authors, and I can forgive fanfiction authors a lot of things.

So pick the character who is narrating a particular scene and stick with him or her. If you need to give another character’s perspective on the same events, by all means start another scene for that. But don’t flutter from head to head like a humming bird on crack, unless you want to give your readers motion sickness.

Lost

  1. The book hasn’t been edited.

Notice how I put this point way at the bottom? That’s because if I love the story and the character’s voice, I can forgive poor grammar and some misplaced commas. I can even get over some wonky formatting problems. But if the book looks like the author hadn’t even bothered to run a basic spell check, yet alone hire an editor, chances are that I will quit reading, no matter how good the story is. Because I can’t keep myself immersed in a story if I stumble over misspelled words every other sentence, or if my fingers itch to pick up a red pen and start correcting everything. And I’m not even a native English speaker! I can’t even imagine how painful that would be for those who were born speaking English.

And it’s so sad because unlike the other three points in my list, this last one can easily be remediated if the author hadn’t rushed the publication and took time to find an editor. I know editing services are expensive, but some editors accept fair trade as well instead of money. And not going through this essential step and investing to get it done properly will hurt your book and your credibility in the long run.

 

 

Pfew, that turned out to be longer than I planned! Anyway, those are the four points that turn me off a book every time. What are your pet peeves? What makes you close a book and put it aside?

Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega book 1) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

While this book is the first in the Alpha and Omega series, it’s set in the same world as the Mercy Thompson books and has a prequel in the form of a short story that explains how Charles and Anna met. I haven’t read either of those. Cry Wolf was my first introduction to this world and these characters, and I was surprised at just how much I loved them.

I think it mostly has to do with the fact that their relationship is exactly the sort I like to read about. It’s a solid partnership between two mature, albeit damaged people who make actual efforts to work through their problems together and gain each other’s trust and acceptance. Amongst the sea of one-sided, often abusive relationships we see in the paranormal romance books nowadays, stories like that are a sip of fresh water on a parched throat.

It also has a lot to do with how wonderfully complex those two characters are.

So many things could have gone wrong with this relationship. Charles is his father’s Enforcer. He has the reputation of a ruthless killer, ready to put down anyone who threatens the Alpha’s rule and the safety of the pack and not lose sleep over it. He is feared and even covertly despised even by his own pack because of what he does and how seemingly remorseless and even emotionless he is about it.

He rescues Anna from a horrible situation, but at the same time, he yanks her out of a town where she had at least some kind of support system: a job, a few acquaintances that might have been friends, the familiarity of the big city. Now she has no job, no money and is in a werewolf village in the middle of nowhere with nobody to help her if things go wrong. In other words, she is absolutely and totally dependent on him.

When I first picked up the book, I was scared that this would turn into one of those toxic and abuse relationships with Charles being the typical “alpha male” – possessive and jealous, disregarding Anna’s wishes and opinions and depriving her of her own agency for her own protection. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case at all.

Charles might lead a violent life and be forced to do horrible things out of duty to his Alpha father, but he is always treats Anna with respect. She is his mate, but that doesn’t put her in a subservient position in his eyes. To him, she is an equal partner in this relationship. She has a voice and an opinion that he listens to.

Anna is also not your typical female protagonist. She doesn’t go through life kicking ass and taking names. In fact, she is not a fighter at all. And, surprise of all surprises, she actually thinks before she opens her mouth, can assess a situation and knows when saying nothing might be the best course of action. She is the slow and steady river current to Charles’ firestorm. A soothing presence that can ground him. She helps him remember that no matter what the rest of the pack thinks of him, he is not a monster. That all those glances of fear and barely veiled contempt are directed at the façade he has created, not the man that hides behind it.

It’s never a one-sided relationship, because they both give as much as they take. They complement each other and manage to build something beautiful out of the broken pieces of their lives.

… and this is the first review in which I managed to wax poetic about a love story while saying absolutely nothing about the actual plot! It’s not because the plot was lacking depth, I can assure you. It’s just that it paled in the face of those two wonderful characters, at least in my eyes.

So would I recommend his book? Definitely. But I would suggest reading Alpha and Omega short story in the On the Prowl anthology first, otherwise the beginning of the book might seem a bit confusing.

 

Let’s go to the gun range or things we do in the name of research.

gunrange

I’ve already mentioned the adage “Write what you know” in some of my other posts. I wanted to add “learn what you don’t know whenever you can” to that as well. So when all my colleagues at work decided to go to the gun range to start the new fiscal year “with a bang,” of course I jumped at the occasion!

Now I come from Europe, so I have never shot or even held a gun in my hands before. Yes, I know, for some of my American readers, that’s very hard to believe, but guys, we don’t carry guns in Europe. You can’t just walk into a convenience store and buy a hunting rifle. I’m sure there are such things as gun ranges and hunting clubs somewhere in Europe, but I would be hard pressed to point you in the general direction of one.

So for all purposes, I am a complete gun virgin. Everything I know about handling and shooting guns comes from the TV shows and movies I saw and books I read, which, as most of people familiar with guns would agree, is usually far from reality. But at least I knew the basics: always point the gun downrange, always assume the gun is loaded, put your finger on the trigger only when you are ready to shoot. If it jams, put the gun on the counter and scream for help. Okay, that last one is an Elena rule more than a real safety rule, but it worked like a charm when it happened to me!

Thankfully, most of my co-workers are retired military, so all of them own guns and are more than willing to bring them AND let others play with them as well. And are more than willing to spend some extra time with little clueless me who doesn’t even know how to load a gun, fumbles with the safety and is rather vague about how to hold a gun, how to stand and how to shoot… In the end, much fun was had by everybody, I think.

But for me, the main reason for this trip was research, even if it was a fun research. So here are a few things I learned about guns that TV and books couldn’t tell me.

 

1. Dang the guns are loud!

You never hear that in the movies and TV shows. I shot a 22, a 9 mil semi-automatic and revolver and several riffles, and I can tell you that those earplugs they give you at the gun range are absolutely necessary. Even the little 22 caliber sounds loud and the 9 mil is even louder, and the riffles would make your ears bleed without protection. Not to mention that you feel the “thump” of air when the gun fires like a wave in your entire body. Rather disturbing the first time it happens.

So now I wonder how people in the movies can go through a gun fight and then have a chat with each other in normal voices? Their ears would at least be ringing after all that, so they would be shouting!

 

  1. Either aiming is hard or I’m just challenged like that.

For a first time gun user, everything is difficult. First you need to load the gun, then you need to figure out how to hold it properly, then you need to find the safety and take it off (and the location of that safety is different on all gun models as well, to add to the stress). Then you lift the gun to eye level and try to aim it downrange to actually hit your target. I have to wear glasses to drive, because I’m nearsighted, so seeing my target had been a bit of a challenge. The whole scene went like this:

I aim very carefully and press the trigger. The 9 mil semi-automatic fires with a loud bang and the muzzle jerks upwards because I didn’t expect it to do so and hadn’t really gripped it hard enough.

“Oh wow, headshot! Not bad for your first time” my boss says. It’s his gun, so he’s been hovering behind me protectively, scared both about his possession and his office manager.

“I was aiming for center mass.”

“Erm, well… good job anyway.”

 

  1. Watch out for the recoil.

The characters in books and movies must have a steel grip on their guns, because the muzzle barely moves when they fire. How do they do that??? I mean, even the smallest 22 jerks upwards a bit when I fire, no matter how hard I grip it, with both hands at that. When I tried the 9 mil, my muzzle was all over the place after each shot, and I didn’t even try the “Dirty  Harry” gun one of my co-workers brought, because just looking at him shoot it I KNEW it would hurt my wrist. And I still have a bruise on my shoulder from one of the rifles.

Not to mention that after 2 hours of shooting different guns, I felt like my hands were about to fall off. They don’t tell you that in the books…

 

So all in all, I think my field research trip was successful indeed, and very fun at that! I actually enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t sure I would. And I certainly have a new respect for firearms. They are lethal, but also beautiful and powerful.

 

The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga 1) by Kameron Hurley.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

There are books that you fall in love with since the very first page. There are books that take time for you to warm up to. There are also books that absolutely fail to keep your interest. Then there are books that have such an enormous potential that you WANT to love them, but have some flaws that seriously dampen that love.

Well, The Mirror Empire falls into that last category. There is so much to love in this book! The world Kameron Hurley has created is fascinatingly complex and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the fantasy genre before. Too often, we see endless iterations on the worn out theme of elves, dwarves and magicians. Nothing of the sorts here, thankfully. The races are unique and very distinct and they live in a world like nothing I have seen before. It’s wonderfully alien and complex and a delight to explore.

The magic system is rather unique as well. I don’t think I have read about mages who depend on one of the multiple satellites that orbit this world for their powers. Which makes for an interesting dynamic, with different magical schools coming to power with the ascendance of their satellite and waning into obscurity for a few decades when their star moves away.

So as you see, there is a lot in this book to love, at least for me. The problem is that there is TOO MUCH stuffed in one book. Too many locations, too many characters, too many plot lines at once. And because of that, there is not enough worldbuilding. Yes, I never thought I would voice that particular complaint about a book, but with so many things happening simultaneously in so many places, the author doesn’t have time to concentrate on any of them.

The reader is left stumbling from character to character, trying to puzzle out who all those people are and what part of the world they are in and how the heck does it all tie in together? It’s annoying at first and gets extremely frustrating after a while when you discover that almost nothing will be explained the further you get into the book. We will just continue switching POVs and jumping from story to story, desperately trying to figure out how it all falls into the big picture. Usually, I don’t mind doing the leg work. It can even be exciting. The problem with this book is that so many seemingly unconnected stories are told at once, it’s hard to keep up.

And with so many characters to follow, the author doesn’t have time to dive deep and really develop any of them. As a result, I didn’t feel connected to any of them at all. And if I can’t connect to the characters, it takes away a lot of the tension from the story. Because I can’t worry about the fate of a character I don’t empathize with. I think the book would have been noticeably better with half the characters. At least, we would have been able to spend more time with each one of them and get to know them better.

So what’s the take away from this review, you might ask? Is this book worth reading? I think so. Even if it’s only for the wonderfully complex world Kameron Hurley has created. It’s refreshingly new. But if you like character-driven narrative like I do, this book might not be for you.

The Little Things that boost our Creativity.

pen-and-paper

Writing a first draft, or even beating it into submission editing it afterwards isn’t always sunshine and daisies. There are days when you feel like doing anything BUT sitting down to write. Heck, there are days when I’d rather clean the entire house from top to bottom and do the dishes (by hand) rather than forcing words onto the page.

 

All of the writers I talked to agree that establishing a routine and sticking to it helps a lot when you have one of those days. And a routine doesn’t only mean pick a time dedicated to writing every day and stick to it, though that’s a very useful advice. There are other elements that incite you to pick up the pen (or put fingers to the keyboard) and write. So I thought to make a list of the little things that put me in the mood or motivate me to get on with my writing.

 

1. The right pen and a stack of recycled paper.

 

I know a lot of people chose to type their first draft directly on the computer, and I must admit that it certainly is faster than writing it by hand. I do that when I need to write a lot of words fast, like during NaNoWriMo, when I have to meet my quota of 1667 words per day. When I’m not in such a hurry however, I prefer to write the old fashioned way – by hand.

 

And while I’m not very particular about the paper I use, preferring to recycle printed pages that would have otherwise gone into the trash at work, I am VERY particular about the type of pen I use. I have tried many pens in the past year and I have arrived to the conclusion that the Pilot G-2 gel pen is the best suited for my needs. It glides over the paper almost effortlessly, and my hand doesn’t hurt so much even after a long writing session. Oh, and it has to be blue ink. No other color will do.

 

I know that my method is slower than simply typing on the computer directly, but I find that it lets me concentrate better on what I want to say. Also, I go through the first round of edits while I type everything into my Scrivener file at the end of the day.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

 

2. Background noise is good, but music is distracting.

 

I can write in a crowded coffee shop or restaurant, in a park, in the waiting line at the post office or even in my car. The background noise of conversations doesn’t distract me. In fact, I find it rather stimulating. Which is good, considering that I often use my lunch hour to put 300-400 words on the page. At first, waiters in the local restaurants used to give me funny looks when I showed up with my pen and plastic folder full of loose papers, but now they got used to the crazy lady scribbling furiously in a corner during lunch.

 

I can also write with the TV on, as long as my husband refrains from poking me every 5 minutes and wanting to discuss the series he’s watching. And my patience grows very short indeed when he does that. I’m sorry, dearest. I transform into a fire breathing dragon all of a sudden and you have no idea why. And it could easily be avoided if you just let me be for an hour or so!

 

I know a lot of writers work with their headphones on and even compile entire playlists with their “writing” music. I discover however, that I can’t write with music on, especially if it’s music that I like or that has words in it. I end up either listening to it or singing along instead of concentrating on writing. I don’t know why background noise is fine, but music isn’t.

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3. Using visual media for inspiration.

 

I have a pretty good idea of what my characters look like when I sit down to write about them, but just before NaNoWriMo 2014, I discovered that Pinterest could be a nifty little tool for gathering all the visual information I need to boots my creativity. I created several boards for all my ongoing projects and spent several days happily hunting around the Internet for pictures of people that looked more or less like my characters or places that I could use in my stories.

 

The advantage of having these boards is that I can always look at them when I feel sluggish and it will inevitably push me to write. Plus, it’s harder to get the description of a character wrong if I’m staring at his picture. If you are interested, you can visit my Pinterest page and see what I have been up to.

 

The downside of Pinterest is that it’s a huge time sink. No matter what you start looking for, you always end up going on a tangent. And the next thing you know, two hours have gone by and you have a bunch of Dragon Age pictures in your dedicated board and nothing about the Norse mythology you had wanted to research…

 

So these are the little things that help me get in the writing mood even when I don’t feel like writing. What about you, dear readers? What helps you or hinters you? I’d love to hear from you!

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels Book 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I started reading this book with a lot of apprehension and even fear, because in my experience with other series, the second book is usually the weakest one of the lot. And since I had really loved Magic Bites (which I also reviewed), I really didn’t want to be disappointed by book 2 and stop reading what was promising to be an excellent series.

Well, I’m glad to say that Magic Burns is the exception to the rule. This book is just as good as Book 1, if not better.

Ilona Andrews continues to develop the wonderful world she has created and gives us a little bit more insight into Kate’s past along with a few explanations about how she came to be as kickass as she is. I’m happy that she isn’t one of those heroines that just wakes up with superpowers. No, Kate had to work, sweat and bleed for every single one of them. And this is also so very refreshing, after reading about some indestructible heroines who seem to acquire a new level of badass with every consequent book without seemingly lifting a finger.

So far, Kate is by far my favorite Urban Fantasy heroine, with October Daye just a little bit behind. She is smart, she is strong, she is badass, but she is also very human and vulnerable in some things. She really feels like a living breathing person.

The wonderful world she lives in has also been developed further. In an alternative Atlanta where magic comes in waves, people (both magical and normal) have learned to adapt to the changing nature of their environment. They have electricity as well as runes and magelights and use either one of the other depending which wave is upon them. And car rentals and garages have both normal as well as magically altered cars, and even horses. But every seven years or so, an exceptionally powerful magical wave rolls over the land, leaving destruction in its wake and often drastically changing both the physical and the metaphysical landscape. One such wave is coming, and Kate finds herself smack in the middle of its path, even if she doesn’t want to.

All of the characters from book 1 get further development in this book, and we are introduced to several new people as well. I love the fact that they aren’t there just to play second fiddle to Kate. They all have their own lives and agendas, and even though most of that happens outside of this story, you still can feel that.

And for the lovers of paranormal romance, the relationship between Kate and Curran develops even further. I love the fact that those two don’t go all love / lust at first sight like it so often happens in other books. I love the progression of their relationship from rivals to reluctant allies who come to respect each other and realize that they can count on the other to have their back in a fight. Trust is a very important aspect to any relationship and it’s not easily gained, especially  for people with difficult pasts like Kate and Curran.

I also like the fact that Kate finally decides to make herself vulnerable enough to actually connect with other people and acknowledge that she might consider some of them friends. And we are introduced to several other strong female characters that are not portrayed as rivals or complete b$#%es or anything else we often see in the paranormal romance books. Ilona Andrews shows us that having other strong women as the protagonist’s friends doesn’t bring the protagonist’s awesomeness down at all. In fact, it makes her even more awesome.

So, as you have probably gathered from all the praise in this review, I think Magic Burns is a must read. I love this series and I will definitely pick up book 3 very soon.

Write What You Love.

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Since the beginning of my writing adventure, I have often heard it said that you should write what you know. And I agree with this statement.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you need to be a quantum physicist in order to describe a new form of space travel in your science fiction books, but you need to at least do your research and consult with one to make sure that your ideas are not too farfetched. It also means that when you are creating your own world and magic system, you need to think it through, put down the ground rules and stick to them throughout your book.

So this is sound advice, but lately I have come to the realization that there is another piece of advice that works even better for me – Write what you Love.

I know this might be self-explanatory and some of you will think that I’m reinventing the wheel here, but I felt like this was an important realization I wanted to share with my readers. So let me explain what I mean by that statement.

 

  1. Write in the genres you love reading.

What books do you enjoy reading? What TV shows, movies or video games you like the most? Chances are, that’s the genres you will find the easiest to write in because you know them inside out by now. Also, if you are excited about something, if you love your idea and your genre, your readers will feel that. Hence, your book will be better for it.

For example, I really love fantasy and science fiction, with a dash of paranormal, a good mystery, and a sprinkle of horror from time to time. Now if I look at the works I’ve finished so far, what do I see? Of Broken Things is a science fiction mystery. The Choices we make is definitely set in a fantasy world. Mists of the Crossworlds is also a kind of weird fantasy. And The Eye of the Norns cycle leans more towards dark fantasy and horror.

Those are all the genres I love reading, so I naturally gravitated towards them because that’s the kind of stories I love telling. Would I be able to write a non-fiction self-help book or a romance? Probably… If I REALLY put my mind to it. I would suffer every step of the way and the end result would probably not be worth reading though.

snoopy-writing

  1. What characters do you like? What characters do you feel the most involved with?

We all have our preferences, certain types of people that I would find absolutely fascinating, or could relate to, but would leave you unmoved and bored. And this is wonderful, because this means that no matter how strange, or damaged, or bookish your characters are, there will be someone out there that would love them. This also means that when we write about the characters we love, they tend to come out more “alive” because we are invested in them so much more…

I have a funny (and eye opening, at least for me) story about that.

I had an interesting discussion with one of my best friends and fateful beta readers the other day. We are both fans of the Dragon Age games and, girls being girls, we were talking about the different romance options. I told her that I found it weird that I found the romance with Cullen in DA: Inquisition so satisfying when I couldn’t stand romancing Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins. I always picked Zevran over him (and Fenris over Anders in Dragon Age II).

So I told her, “I guess I’m just a sucker for strong, if slightly damaged men.”

And she answered, “Duh, it’s kinda evident from your own work.”

I must admit that I had never thought about it before, but after she said that, I went back to analyze my own characters and I had to admit that she was 100% right. Aiden, GMS798, Sky, Brand, Gabriel, all of them are exactly what I told her – strong if slightly damaged men. So I think this example perfectly illustrates the truth of this statement.

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  1. Forget the genres, write what you love or genre hopping is permitted.

A lot of writing and publishing advice tells us to pick a genre and stick with it, because that’s what your audience would come to expect from you. I might be stating a controversial opinion here when I say bull&$#!

Write what you like. Does your story shape out to be a hybrid between fantasy and science fiction? Go for it. After all, Iain M Banks did exactly that with Inversions and it turned out to be an excellent book. You feel like adding a good murder mystery to your fantasy world? Why not? You don’t feel like writing science fiction stories your whole writing career and want to try your hand at horror? Go ahead.

My point is, write what you love. As long as you love the story you’re telling and the characters you are writing about, the readers will feel it. They will love or hate your characters, depending on their personal preferences, but they will stick around to find out what happens to them regardless.