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.

Kill your Darlings.

Editing

I will be elbow deep in revisions of my novel Of Broken Things, my sci-fi murder mystery which started as a love story, for at least the next couple of months, so expect to see some blog post about editing, starting with this one.

Today, I want to share with you a story that, in my opinion, is the perfect example of why it’s essential to kill your darlings when editing. And by that I don’t mean murdering your favorite characters in a particularly gruesome way. No, it means not being afraid to cut out and rewrite (or sometimes delete entirely) some scenes that you like, because they don’t work with the flow of the story. This, my friends, is the hardest and the most heartbreaking part of the editing process.

But let’s go back to the story I wanted to tell.

About a year ago, a writer I know finished his first novel and decided to get it published. He sent his manuscripts to several big publishers (yes, he decided to bypass the search for an agent process and submitted directly to the publishers), but none of them seemed interested. After doing this for several months and receiving several rejections as well as some negative feedback, he decided to seek the opinion of his peers and sent his manuscript to several beta readers. Yes, he probably should have done that before submitting to publishers, but he had been certain that the book was perfectly publishable.

The beta readers came back with the verdict that the story needed a lot of work before it was anywhere near publishable. All of them were unanimous in their assessment that the beginning needed to be scrapped in its entirety. Let me tell you why.

The story opens with a prologue which begins with the words “Dear reader, imagine a world where…” and is followed by several pages of backstory and worldbuilding. All of which is presented info-dump style. Then Chapter one starts with four paragraphs describing the weather and the scenery. So about 16 pages in, we still don’t know who the protagonist is or what the story is about. I don’t know about you, but I would have closed the book and moved on to the next one by that point.

The betas told this author, “Scrap the prologue. Find a way to integrate that information into the story in smaller bites. Introduce your protagonist early on. Start with the action.”

The author refused to change anything. His answer was, “But I like those scenes at they are!”

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He was so attached to his words that he couldn’t see any flaws in his story. He didn’t t want to kill his darlings…

As far as I can tell, he hasn’t editing his book yet and still tries to send it to publishers as is. Unsuccessfully, so far. Moreover, he is so fixated on getting this story published that he hasn’t written anything new since.

I realize that it’s one of the hardest things we have to do as writers. My heart bleeds when I have to scrap a scene I had fun writing, but it’s a necessary evil to make the story better. So when editing, I try to always keep in mind the following considerations:

 

  1. No word is set in stone.

I agree with Ernest Hemingway when he says that the first draft of everything is shit. So I set off writing any story with full knowledge that 99% of the words I put on the page will be changed during revision. I try not to get too attached to them, which is also rather liberating because I don’t have to agonize over clunky dialogue or lack of description and setting at that point; I just need to put the entire story on paper and reach the end.

There are passages that I love when I first write them, of course. But if I realize that they don’t really work with the rest of the story, I don’t hesitate to change them or ax them entirely upon editing.

 

  1. Every scene must add value to the story.

I think one of the mistakes most of us make when we write down our story is that we get too attached to a particular scene and don’t want to change it later. Like that author with his prologue.

What we must remember is that those scenes are part of something bigger, aka the story we want to tell. And the story must always take precedence over a scene, no matter how much we like it.

So when I edit a scene, I always ask myself: Does this scene move the story forward? It is important for character development? Can the same effect be achieved by adding a few paragraphs to other scenes? If the scene doesn’t meet those criteria, I don’t hesitate to take it out or cannibalize it for material to add elsewhere.

For example, yesterday I removed about 700 words worth of dialogue where my characters discuss the military structure of their world. I had tremendous fun researching and writing that scene, but it brought absolutely nothing to the story. Sure, it added to the worldbuilding, but knowing about the military structure had no impact on the story. So out of the window it went.

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  1. It’s all about the readers.

That’s the hardest lesson of all, I think. Ultimately, we don’t write stories for ourselves, not if we want them published and read at least. We write them for the enjoyment of our readers.

If a reader tells you, “I loved your story! I couldn’t put it down! What other stories do you have for sale?” that’s when you know you’ve done it right, no matter how many darlings you had to kill in the process.

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson book 1) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

 

Since I had absolutely loved the Alpha and Omega series (you can read my review of Book 1 and Book 2), I decided to give this older series a go as well. They are set up in the same world after all, and some of the characters play a recurring role in both series.

 

What can I say? I was happy to come back to this world Mrs. Briggs created, because it’s fascinating and the worldbuilding is very well done. It’s a world where the fae have come out into the light of day, and now the whole world is trying to live with the consequences. And the werewolves might be forced to do that as well, because with the medical and technological advances, it’s getting harder and harder to keep their existence a secret. I was also happy to learn a bit more about pack structure and the complex hierarchy between the dominants and the submissive wolves and what it meant to be an Alpha.

 

I was NOT impressed with the role of women in this structure.  They are basically just an addition to their male mates (oh, not traditional relationships are also frowned upon). So if a dominant female mates with a submissive male, she is treated like a submissive wolf on the very bottom step of the hierarchy ladder. And if she is not mated, she is treated like an object to be protected / courted / dominated. Not cool, Mrs. Briggs, not cool at all.

 

I love Mercy. She is a fun character to follow – she is smart, independent, stubborn and tough as nails. She also loves to do a bit of mischief from now and then, so it’s no wonder that she shifts into a coyote. My problem with this book is that, unless the author plans on making the werewolf packs undergo a significant shift in mentality when they reveal themselves to the human world, if Mercy accepts to become a werewolf’s mate, she will lose everything that makes her such a great protagonist to follow.  She would become just one more female to be protected and robbed of her own agency.

 

And she understands that, that’s why she’s resisting tooth and nail and rejecting the advances of a certain very determined Alpha…  yet she still lives next to Adam, the Alpha of the local pack, and allows Samuel, who is another werewolf and who she used to have (possibly still has) a crush on to move in with her.  And no matter how much she resists and snarls, she still allows both of them to manipulate her and try to decide what’s best for her.

 

This is a very worrying tendency that I really hope not to see in the next book. I am also extremely surprised to see this kind of one-sided approach to relationships in this book, because it’s diametrically opposite to the relationship Anna and Charles have in Alpha and Omega, and they are part of the same world, after all.

 

The other thing that dampened my enthusiasm for this book is the love triangle between Mercy, Samuel and Adam. Or is it a rectangle, if you take Stefan the vampire into consideration as well? But that’s a particular pet peeve of mine. Call me naïve or deluded, but I believe that if you can’t choose between two people you supposedly love, then you don’t love either one of them. But that’s a personal quirk, and plenty of people love reading about love triangles it seems – just look at the YA shelves.

 

Anyway, I liked Moon Called, but definitely not as much as I loved the Alpha and Omega series.  I will probably give the second book a go, but if the worrying tendencies I’ve seen in this book persists, I might drop this series altogether and just read about Charles and Anna.

Keep Writing – you get better even if you don’t feel like you do.

Last week, I finally finished the first draft of Mists of the Crossworlds… again. Yes, I’ve had to rewrite this story three times now and each time it nearly doubled in size. So it went from a 6k words short story to a 20k words novella and now, at almost 50k words, it’s a novel. Hopefully, I have finally told the whole story and I won’t have to go through this process again.

 

Anyway, I feel drained and rather low every time I finish a new first draft. I can’t help but feel like everything I have written is complete and utter s%$t and why did I even bother finishing it in the first place?

 

I know that feeling now. It happens all the time. So instead of panicking and sending the whole Scrivener folder into the Recycle bin or putting the printed copy into the furthest drawer, I sent it off to my favorite beta and most vocal supporter and decided to forget about it for a few weeks. Once she is done reading, she’ll come back to me with a long list of problems and some much needed praise, and I will try to make the story better.

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So while I wait on her to suffer through the murk of my first draft, I decided to come back to editing Of Broken Things, the very first novel I managed to write from beginning to end. I had finished the first draft in January 2014, had started editing it in March 2014 and hadn’t touched it since about July 2014. Back then, I managed to edit about half of the manuscript and got burned out. Considering that I had to rewrite about 80% of Part 1 and change almost everything, It was probably normal.

 

Anyway, I had put the manuscript aside and wrote a couple short stories, did my first revision / extension of Mists and then got busy with the NaNoWriMo project which became The Choices we Make. After I finished that one, I jumped into yet another revision of Mists, so I never got a chance to get back to Broken Things before.

 

Well, I can tell you that what I discovered when I opened that manuscript again after almost a year took me by surprise. The first thing I thought was “Holy s%$t, I can write better than this now!” And that was a very empowering thought, especially since I was feeling low after finishing my first draft of Mists. So that’s and observation I really wanted to share with my readers.

 

We spend so much time in our current project that sometimes we lack the perspective. First drafts can be soul-eating and draining. They look more like Quasimodo than Prince Charming, and we sometimes end up hating them by the time we are done. And we can start feeling like nothing we write is worth reading, that nothing is good enough. Worse, that we’re not improving, that we’re not moving forward.

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What I discovered when I picked up Broken Things again is that it’s not true.  I have written a little over 200k words since the day I finished that manuscript, and I can see that they have made a difference. I have gotten better. I have grown more confident in my voice and my abilities as a storyteller and it shows. That doesn’t mean that this old manuscript is bad. It just means that I have a much better idea of how to improve it. And editing goes a lot faster than it used to!

 

So my advice to everyone who is feeling low at the moment; who feels like their craft is not improving – dig out an old manuscript of yours and re-read it. I guarantee that you will see the difference. You are improving with every word you write, with every story you finish, but sometimes you need a little perspective to see that.

 

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Finish what you started, even if it feels like you’re just smearing manure on the paper.

PS. If you are interested in checking Of Broken Things out, I am posting it on Wattpad.

Radiant (Towers Trilogy Book 1) by Karina Sumner-Smith.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

This book is a rare mixture of post apocalypse and anti-utopia with magic and even zombies thrown into the mix. It takes an exceptionally good plot and a strong protagonist to make such an mixture work, at least for me, but Karina Sumner-Smith hit the bulls eye with this novel.

 

This is a story about choices and consequences. It’s about growing up and realizing that sometimes the wellbeing of another person is more important than your own comfort. But more importantly, this story is about a true friendship between two very strong but very different girls. Xhea is a girl without magic in a world where everything and everyone lives and breathes magic, but she can see and talk to ghosts when normal people don’t even believe that they exist. Shai is one such ghost, but a ghost that is vibrating with magic when no ghost should be able to generate any.

 

There isn’t much backstory about the world Xhea and Shai live in, which actually makes sense, because Xhea has no way of knowing what brought in the cataclysm that left the extensive ruins she lives in. There are the Towers – beautiful floating semi-organic structures where those who were lucky enough to be born with strong magic live. They live in symbiosis with those Towers: they create and maintain them with their excess magic and in exchange the Towers give them a home and a place to belong. There is a complex web of politics and commercial treaties as well as non-aggression pacts between the Towers. Their citizens live sheltered lives of privilege compared to those who inhabit the Lower City.

 

Anyone who doesn’t possess enough magic to be useful to a Tower is cast down to try and carve a life out of the crumbling ruins of the ancient City that sprawls on the harsh and barren ground below the towers. But even here, on the ground, the level of your magic is important and the stronger spell casters are recruited by the communities living in the husks of several skyscrapers. There, much like in the distant Towers above, magic is the only currency. You can get a meal and a place to sleep for a few renai – plastic pieces infused with the caster’s magic. You can get more if you sign a servitude contract with the skyscraper that sheltered you.

 

Xhea doesn’t fit into this world no matter how much she would love to because she has no magic at all, not a glimmer, not a drop. To everybody else in this society she is worse than useless – she is a burden, an oddity that is to be ignored or eliminated. She manages to stay on this side of starvation by offering her services to those who want to get rid of their ghosts, or who want to talk to them. Business isn’t booming because not many people believe in ghosts, even if the more magically sensitive can sort of feel their presence next to them. Xhea is jaded and bitter and very much out for herself… until a well-dressed man from the Towers asks her to keep the ghost of his daughter for a few days in exchange for renai and food rations.

 

I loved Xhea. She comes across as rude and selfish at the beginning of the book, but, as I described earlier, she has every reason to be. She’d had to survive on her own for most of her life, and the only time she really cared for someone, that person ended up abandoning her. But she evolves. She changes. She goes above and beyond what’s asked of her to help Shai once she discovers what fate awaits the ghost.

 

Shai is a wonderful character as well. She could have been a typical damsel in distress – stuck and helpless, waiting for Xhea to save her, but the author managed to give her agency as well. Which is no small feat considering that she is already dead at the beginning of this story. Yes, Xhea saves Shai, but Shai saves Xhea as well. They are two broken children who had been hurt by the world around them but who manage to comfort each other and draw strength from one another even in the face of very unfavorable odds.

 

The book itself is very well written. Xhea has a distinctive voice that drew me into the story from the first page and kept me engaged and interested until the very last one. I liked this world and I wouldn’t mind discovering more about it in the next books. And I definitely want to know what happens to Xhea and Shai in the next book.

 

In other words, I will definitely recommend this book to my friends. It’s a must read.

Memorial Day – Honoring our Heroes.

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Today is Memorial Day in the United States of America – a day to honor those who gave it all for this country, who died for our freedom. I think that this is a very important holiday and that other countries could benefit from having one of those as well, especially the country I was born in – Russia. Too often, the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers goes forgotten and our veterans die homeless and alone… So today I wanted to talk about the heroes in my family – my grandfather and my grandmother.

 

I was born in Russia and both of my parents are Russian. It so happens that all Russian families have had relatives who fought in World War II. Some came back, some didn’t, but all fought against the Nazis to protect their country and their family. Because all knew what fate would befall their loved ones if Hitler had won. Russians were on the same list as Jews as far as he was concerned after all – due for extermination.

 

My grandfather got conscripted into the Red Army paratroopers at the very beginning of the war, in 1940. He was in the radio and communications squadron. They were responsible for making sure all the other squadrons had radio contact between each other. Which often meant that they had to drive out into combat zones towards a squadron or platoon who had been in that location based on 2-3 days old intel to try and establish radio contact with them. Sometimes they were lucky and found the platoon still there and holding position. Sometimes they would arrive to late and have to chase the platoon down because they had advanced to their next location. And sometimes the platoon would have been forced to retreat and my grandfather’s squadron would ride into an ambush…

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My grandfather never talked about the war. If asked, he would try to change the subject and close off entirely if pressed. When I was little, I didn’t understand why. Everybody told me that my granddad was a hero, so why wouldn’t he talk about it? Now, I know. The things he saw and went through during the 5 years USSR was at war, they haunted him until the day he died at the old age of 89. He still relieved them in his nightmares. I used to spend most of my summers at my grandparents summer house outside Moscow when I was little, and may nights I would wake up, scared to death, to my grandfather shouting.

 

“Retreat! Retreat!”

 

“Where is the damn fire support?!”

 

Or he would talk to someone called Alexander. He talked to him a lot in his sleep. My grandmother told me later that Alexander had been his best friend and his combat brother through most of the 5 hellish years of the war. He was killed in combat right outside of Berlin. My grandfather got to come back home to my grandmother and my mother, but Alexander never did.

 

On days when he would have those nightmares, my grandfather would wake up before the first light and go work in the garden. He wouldn’t stop until he wore himself out enough to pass out from exhaustion and sleep without dreaming.

 

My grandmother didn’t fight during the war, but she did her best to help the war effort as well. She had been evacuated into Siberia at the beginning of WWII when German forces had made their first push into Russian territory and it had seemed that the Red Army wouldn’t be able to stop them. My grandmother and my uncle, then barely 7 years old, ended up in Magnitogorsk, where most of the steal foundries and military factories had been relocated. She had been 3 months pregnant with my mother then, but she still went to work on the assembly line that produced parts for the famous Katyusha Rocket Launchers, the famous anti-tank launchers that turned the tide of the war on Russian soil.

 

Those were tough times, with food often in short supply, especially food needed for a baby, like milk or formula. My grandmother said that often all they had were old freezer-burned potatoes and they ground the skins and scraps into fine powder and brewed it with hot water to feed my mother, because there simply wasn’t anything else to eat.

 

For three long years, my grandmother didn’t even know if my grandfather was still alive, and my grandfather had no idea where his family had been relocated to. He just knew that the town they had lived in had been invaded and destroyed. They had finally reunited in 1944, when my mother was 3 years old. Granddad used to joke that my mother had been absolutely terrified of him the first time she saw him and refused to call him “dad”.

 

Miraculously, they both survived the war and lived a long and happy life together after that and I’m thankful for their sacrifices, because without men and women like my grandparents, I wouldn’t be here, and the map of Europe would have been completely different.

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This is the story of my heroes. What about yours? Do you have a family member or a friend who fought in a war? Who gave their lives so that we can live free and happy? Tell your stories. Let’s honor them today.

 

The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I fell in love with this book. Absolutely and totally. But this will also be one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write so far. Not because the book is bad obviously, since I loved it, but because it’s so different from anything else I’ve read recently. Heck, I don’t even know what genre to put this book into. Gothic? Fairy tale? Horror? New weird? It’s all of that and none of it at the same time. The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath is a genre of its own, that can be summarized by three words: Weird, wicked, wonderful.

 

First of all, this book tells several different stories, some shorter, some longer, but all of them are intertwined and influencing each other.

 

The first story is about Mirror who is and isn’t a little girl. When she was 12, her grandfather locked her inside a big clock painted with ladybirds. When Constable Goliath rescued her out of the clock several months later, she was no longer human, but something else entirely. What, nobody knows, not even her. And Goliath himself is not entirely human either. He is a shapeshifter who can become may other things, like a great big bear or a giant eagle.

 

The second story is about Mr. Loveheart, who used to be an ordinary little boy until the day his aunt poisoned his mother, and Mr. Fingers, the king of the underworld, killed his father and took him into his domain. Now Loveheart has eyes black as tar, wears red hearts on all his clothes and isn’t entirely sure that he still has a heart. He is also pretty sure that he is at least half-mad.

 

When Mirror appears in London, Mr. Fingers sends Loveheart to find her, because he wants to eat her heart and capture the soul she holds inside her. The soul from inside the grandfather clock.

 

This books reads like a fairy tale in parts, but not the sanitized and cheerful version of fairy tales that we got used to see from Disney. No it’s the real deal, the Brothers Grim and Andersen tales where the Little Mermaid sacrifices her life to save her Prince in the end and he never even learns that she loved him.

 

It’s also part horror story, because some really horrible and macabre things happen to all the characters. I mean, the little girl who became Mirror died inside that clock before she became something else. And one of Mr. Fingers other “sons” is the famous Jack the Ripper.

 

I loved the language in which this story is written. It’s simple and clear, but beautiful and poetic at the same time. I could really see, feel and smell everything the author described. And those pictures were strangely beautiful and scary at the same time.

 

This whole book was similar to one of those strangely vivid dreams you have sometimes. Dreams that are so real that they cling to you like smoke tendrils even after you wake up and leave you with the feeling that you had touched a secret world in your sleep.

 

I admit that this kind of book is not for everyone. Some will probably hate it or think it’s too weird for them. But I would definitely recommend it to everyone who used to love fairy tales when they were a child. My opinion: definitely a must read and re-read!

PS. I had received and advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Take me to the Air Show!

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I have never been to an Air Show. Considering that I have lived next to an Air Force base for the past seven years, this is inexcusable. Though I might add that we didn’t even have an air show in our little town in the past 5 years, thanks to the budget cuts our current administration inflicted on our military.

 

So when I learned that Wings over Wayne would finally take place this May, I decided that I had to go. After all, that’s something new and exciting, and it could be considered as research, right? What if I decide to write about pilots or something? So with that excuse in mind, I spent my whole Sunday on the flat line, watching planes take off and do amazing things. Oh, and I saw the Thunderbirds! Up close too! And it was AWSOME!!!

 

Ahem. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

 

We wanted to go to the Air Show on Saturday, but when we saw the line of stopped cars 3 miles away from the gates, we turned around, went to Lowe’s instead and spent the whole day creating a vegetable garden in the backyard. Turned out to be a rather productive day, actually, and I might even have some cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and squash this summer, unless I manage to kill them. Which is a lot more probable. Green thumb I do not have.

 

Anyway, it’s a good thing that we didn’t try to get to the Air show that day, because the whole town was gridlocked most of the morning and then again in the evening with people trying to get to the base and to leave it after the show. I heard that the Highway was at a standstill up to ten miles outside of town!

 

So we were wise enough to wait until the next day and go there early. We were also lucky that the company I work for had a VIP boot right at the flight line, so I volunteered to man it on Sunday. This let us park on the Vendor parking and get there before the crowds.

 

And as that was my first air show, I thought that everything on the program was amazing.

The paratroopers did some acrobatics in mid-air that shouldn’t be possible on a planet with gravity. First they stacked their parachutes into a 4-man-tall formation, then they turned the bottom one upside down to drag like a tail behind the formation. Then they separated and landed within a few feet from each other and the big X painted on the ground. And all of them have hundreds of jumps under their belt. I mean how? You would have to push me out kicking and screaming even for my first one, and it would probably be my last one, because there is no way I get into a plane with you ever again.

 

I loved the TORA! TORA! TORA! reenactment of the Japanese attack on pearl harbor. It had a lot of WWII planes and explosion and an excellent soundtrack. I don’t envy the fire brigades who had to make sure that the jet fuel they burned to simulate the explosions didn’t get out of hand and burn half the base, especially since it was a very warm day.

They also did a joint forces combat simulation with F-15s, Warhogs, Bombers and paratroopers and simulated aerial combat. That was impressive in itself, but the thing that completely floored me was at the very end of that simulation.

 

All of the planes except for the two F-15s had already landed, when the presenter said, “Now we will show you the fastest way a fighter plane can get to the right altitude for landing. This particular maneuver is designed to reduce the time they spend on low altitude and in range of ground to air weapons to a minimum.”

 

And those planes are rather high up right now, so I think, no way they can descend fast enough to land in one pass.

 

Then the two F-15s flip upside down, point the nose straight towards the ground and dive from 4000 feet to about 700 feet. Then they turn back to horizontal and are ready for landing. And I pick my jaw off the floor.

 

But the Thunderbirds put everything else that came before them to shame. Their performance was… out of this world, that’s all I can say. I didn’t know it was possible to make a plane, even a fighter plane, do what they did. Not at those speeds and that altitude. And they also made it look so easy…

Flying in perfect diamond formation and then the four planes do a perfect synchronized Aileron Roll without breaking formation. Who do they do that? Or when two planes fly on above the other, one of them flips upside down and they almost touch cabins…

I would have taken more videos, but my phone died halfway through their presentation AND I was too busy gawking with my head turned to the sky to even remember to start the recording. Plus they are so darn fast!

Anyway, consider me amazed, awed and happy to have spent a day at the Air Show! Even if that’s research I might never use for my writing.

Hunting Ground (Alpha and Omega book 2) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I was a bit apprehensive when I started Hunting Ground. I loved Cry Wolf, the first book in the series (and you can read my review here), as well as the short story that told us how Charles and Anna met. I was scared that the next book wouldn’t be as good, and that I would end up disappointed with the series. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. If anything, I loved Hunting Ground even more than Cry Wolf.

 

The events of Hunting Ground take place just a few weeks after the first book, and all the characters are still dealing with the aftermath of their confrontation with the witch that almost destroyed the Marrok and his pack. But they don’t have the luxury to lay low and lick their wounds because the Marrok has decided to make the existence of werewolves known to the general public, just like the fae have done a few decades ago. The advances in science, technology and medicine leave him no choice – it’s just a matter of time before they are discovered anyway, so the Marrok wants to do a preemptive strike and “come out” on his own terms.

 

Since he is the Alpha of the North American pack, his decision is law, but he decides to call a summit in Seattle as a courtesy to the European, African, Russian and British werewolves, because this decision will impact them as well. The werewolves are coming out of the closet and that is not up for discussion, but Bran is willing to offer terms and aid to the other packs to mitigate the backlash of this announcement.

 

Only the spirits tell Charles, in no uncertain terms, that if the Marrok attends the summit, he will die. So after a lot of werewolf-style discussions (aka lots of snarls, fighting and broken furniture) and a little help from Omega wolf Anna, Bran finally decides to send Charles and Anna in his stead…

 

The story itself is interesting enough, and we get to meet a lot of different werewolves, both dominant and submissive, as well as another Omega. It was interesting to learn more about the structure of werewolf packs and their society, as well as the interaction between different Alpha wolves. The author also reveals more details about what makes an Omega so special and why using Omega powers can be bad in some situations.

 

Oh, and the villain was not who I had expected, so that was a nice plot twist.

 

But what sucked me into this series and kept me reading book after book is the relationship between Charles and Anna. I love how wonderfully detailed those two characters are, and how their backgrounds impact their actions and their perception of the world. More importantly, I love how they grow and evolve in this series so far.

 

They are still pretty much newlyweds, and their past experiences don’t make married life easy. Anna had been raped and abused by her first pack and still has problems with intimacy. Charles has been a loner most of his life. He is used to being treated with fear and disgust because he is the Marrok’s enforcer, the cold-blooded killer who will hunt down and eliminate anyone his father orders him to. He has no friends, because he never knows when he would have to kill someone he’d called friend just a few days ago. So it’s easier for him to build a wall and not get attached to anyone.

 

Needless to say, they both struggle with everything that being a couple entrails. But what I love about this series is that they work on these problems. They don’t just go skulk in different corner after a fight or a misunderstanding. They sit down and talk it out until they uncover the underlying problem and agree on how to make things better. They are a couple, yes, but they are also equal partners, and their relationship is based on mutual respect as well as love.

 

I also love the fact that even though Charles is extremely dominant (he is only a little weaker than the Marrok himself, which makes him the second strongest wolf on the American continent) and has a protective streak a mile wide, he never tries to dominate Anna or to smother her with his care and protection “for her own good.”

 

Oh, the impulse is there, and his protective instincts scream at him a lot. He is just wise enough to stop and think about whether locking Anna in their hotel room or forbidding her from joining the hunt is really the best solution or if it’s just his fear talking. And in the end, he always choses to let Anna do whatever would help her become stronger, even if it means letting her participate in a hunt with a bunch of other Alphas.

 

Anna grows tremendously in this book as well. She finally comes to terms with being a werewolf and an Omega. She even starts using her powers to help Charles and her pack. She also faces her own fears and insecurities. Anna is a very calm and level-headed person, some might even call her passive, but she is no doormat. There is a steal core of resolve under that soft exterior. So it is perhaps symbolic that it’s not Charles, the Marrok’s enforcer, who defeats the antagonist in the end of this book, but shy and broken Anna. I loved the way she does it as well. In fact, I loved that whole scene.

 

My only complaint is how one-dimensional the character of the Beast of Gévaudan, Jean Chastel, was. He is too much horrible bad wolf, maniacal murderer. All darkness and no light. He is so evil he reads like a caricature, especially compared to all the other well-developed characters in this book. I think that he would have been much more interesting if Mrs. Briggs had added a bit more ambiguity to his character.

 

All in all, I will definitely recommend Hunting Ground to my friends, and I can’t wait to start the next one in the series.

Authors who changed my life – Sir Terry Pratchett.

I have decided to start a new series of blog post where I would try to share with you some of the authors who had a significant impact on how I perceive the world. Some of them you will probably have heard of or even read, but others might be a discovery.

 

I want to do this because as authors, we don’t just read books for fun – we usually try to learn something from each and every one of them, even if it is not to make the mistakes that particular author made. But some authors go even further than that. Some authors touch something deep inside us. Their work resonates with something in our hearts and minds and ends up changing us.

Sir Terry Pratchett
Sir Terry Pratchett

For me, Terry Pratchett is one such author. I stumbled into his books during a rather bleak period of my life and I can say with absolute certainty that his dry humor pulled me out of some dark places. There were days when reading about the fantastical world of Discworld was the only bright spot in my day.

 

But this is not the only reason I love Terry Pratchett books so much. Yes, they made me laugh out loud sometimes and just chuckle most of the time, but underneath all that humor and sometimes ridiculous premises, they imparted some very insightful grains of wisdom that made me pause and think… then change the way I see the world.

 

So now I want to introduce my readers to this wonderful author who, sadly, has left us in March.  He has led a long and interesting life, as his Wiki page would tell you, and left a legacy of over 60 books. All of them are good and all will make you laugh or cry, but always teach you something. You can look at his Amazon page for the list.

quote-Terry-Pratchett-light-thinks-it-travels-faster-than-anything-44296

Most of Terry Pratchett books take place on Discworld – a world that is literally a flat disk riding on four elephants standing on a great turtle who travels through space in search of a mate. Legends say that when that happens, the world will end, though debates abound on that subject, the main point of contention being whether the turtle is male or female. So of course, the rules of physics don’t really apply in this weird world. Rules of magic do instead, when they feel like it, that is…

 

And this is the first lesson Sir Terry Pratchett taught me as a writer – no matter how fantastical your world is or how ridiculous the rules are, once you have explained them, you have to STICK with them  till the end. Because everything that happens on Discworld makes perfect sense in the limits of that world’s logic. Always.

 

Another big lesson I learned is that characters are paramount, and creating memorable characters is essential to a good story. Now my immersion into the universe of Discworld didn’t start with book one (though I came back and read it eventually). The very first book I read was Guards! Guards! And to me the series about the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork will always remain my favorite. Because it introduced me to some wonderfully broken, twisted, but also noble characters, one of which is a 6 foot tall adopted dwarf named Carrot, who might or might not be the long lost Heir of Ankh-Morpork defunct ruling dynasty.  It also introduced me to Captain Sam Vimes, a jaded, bitter, tired guard who had seen everything bad and dark that his city can throw at him but who still LOVES it and will do anything to protect it and its citizens.

RIP Sir Terry, you will be missed.
RIP Sir Terry, you will be missed.

This is also the series that gave us Men at Arms, in which the city of Ankh-Morpork introduced the Equal Species Act and wonderful characters like Angua the werewolf, Detritus the Troll and Cuddy the Dwarf joined the motley crew.

 

And if following a bunch of guards who try to fight crime in the most dangerous city of the world is not really your cup of tea, I would recommend reading The Wee Free Men. This book shows us that becoming a witch doesn’t involved going to a fancy magical school and waving a wand around for 7 years. A real witch has to have the common sense to see that something is wrong and the courage to do something about it. A real witch says, “This is my town, those are my people, and I will NOT let you harm them.”

 

No matter where you start your acquaintance with Discworld, Terry Pratchett books are guaranteed to make you laugh, make you feel better about your life and your day and teach you a thing or two in the process.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Book 1) by Tana French.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

I am rarely upset about a book. I am excited if I love it and usually just sad or even indifferent if I don’t. After all, you can’t like them all. Well, this time I’m pissed off with this book. Really, really pissed off! In the Woods had all the makings of a 5 star, all-time favorite book, but those hopes crashed and burned about 2/3 in. Now I feel cheated, like a kid who was promised candy only to discover a piece of rock under all that bright glittering packaging.

 

I realize that I’m not exactly an expert in this genre – I rarely read murder mysteries. I watch plenty of those on TV though. I had picked In the Woods because the premise seemed interesting: Three kids go to play in the woods. Only one of them is found the next morning, wearing bloody shoes and no memory of what happened. Twenty years later, that kid, now a detective in the murder squad, is forced to come back to this town to investigate the murder of another child in the same woods.

 

Now my understanding of the murder mystery genre is that the author and the reader enter into an unspoken pact – if the reader sticks with the story, the author will reveal the mystery in the end. Most of the questions will be answered and the culprits found. The reader will know who had done it, why and how.

 

The biggest mystery in this book is what happened to Peter and Jamie 20 years ago. The book even begins with that disappearance, and Katie’s murder comes a few chapters later. So that’s the mystery that should be resolved by the end, right?

 

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

 

WRONG.

 

By the time I was maybe 10 pages away from finishing the book, I had the sinking feeling that the author would not answer any of those questions. We will never find out what Rob saw in the woods that night or what became of Peter and Jamie. I had invested hours of my time to read through 400+ pages just to end up with the lukewarm explanation that “some memories are just gone for good, and some mysteries are not meant to be solved.”

 

I realize that in real life that’s what happens about 70% of the time. I mean, just look at the amount of cold cases gathering dust in police archives around the world. However, book logic is different. I don’t want to get invested in a story that won’t give me a resolution. I want to feel a sense of fulfillment after I finish a book, not to feel cheated and frustrated.

 

I’m upset about this because the book has so much potential. It’s wonderfully well-written. The prose is just beautiful, and some passages are just poignantly poetic. The protagonist has a strong and interesting voice that I wanted to follow. And his personal involvement with this place just made me want to finally find out what had happened on that fateful day 20 years ago even more… So I dived into the book head first and fully expected an exceptional read.

 

The alarm bells first went off in my head when Rob decided not to come forward about his identity even when evidence found on the new crime scene linked it to the case of his missing friends. He chose to keep his mouth shut on the fact that Ryan Adams and detective Rob Adams were one and the same person and he reiterated this decision several times during the investigation. I find this decision stupid and irresponsible, because not only does it jeopardize his career, but the whole case as well, since all the evidence he collected will become inadmissible in court if the truth comes out. And his reasoning behind this decision makes less and less sense the further we get into the book.

 

My second problem with In the Woods is Rob’s partner Cassie. The way Tana French portrays her, she is “saint” Cassie who can do no wrong. She always has the right hunch about the case. She is smart and beautiful and has a keen understanding of people. Yet she chooses to stick with Rob no matter what he does. Even after that disastrous night, she isn’t mad at him for the abject way he starts treating her, but because she lost his friendship and somehow she thinks it’s her fault. Really? Hot, smart and sassy girl who is extremely devoted to her abusive boyfriend / friend. Hello trope!

 

But even though I didn’t like Cassie and had a tough time with some of Rob’s decisions, the story would still have gotten a 4 star review if the author had kept her end of the bargain and actually given me and ending. The fact that it didn’t happen was just the last nail in the coffin lid.

 

I’m upset. I won’t recommend this book. I had planned to read the next one in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but I have zero motivation to do that now.