Enclave by Ann Aguirre

The Enclave

Stars: 4 out of 5

There is a multitude of YA novels out there. Some are nothing exceptional and are just content to ride on the Twilight and Hunger Games hype. But others have well written original stories with believable characters that are a pleasure to read. Thankfully, Enclave by Ann Aguirre is one of those.

The story takes place in College, an enclave in what later turns out to be abandoned underground tunnels. It is a post-apocalyptic novel, but what exactly happened to the world is not really clear, because several generations had passed since the event. People of the enclave have never been Topside, most of them have never even ventured in the tunnels beyond the barricades. Life in the community is strictly regulated, because supplies are limited. Only those who are strong, healthy and useful are permitted to survive. The enclave is ruled by the Elders, and the population is divided into three very distinct roles: Builders make equipment, cook food and are in charge of the general maintenance of the enclave, Hunters venture in the tunnels to bring back meat and defend the enclave against outside threats, and Breeders well… breed (on a strict schedule) and take care of the young. Life is hard in the enclave and not many people survive past 25 – disease and malnutrition take their toll.

The main protagonist is a young girl named Deuce, who we meet at the day of her naming ceremony, when she gets her name and becomes a Huntress – something she had dreamed of and worked very hard to accomplish. I loved Deuce. She is strong, she is not afraid of making difficult decisions and accepting the consequences. She is an excellent fighter and an even better Huntress, and nothing is handed to her on a silver platter just because she is the protagonist. Ann Aguirre made the character believable: Deuce is good because she trained all her life for it. She watched the other Hunters fight when she was a brat, she listened to all the stories, she showed up to all the lessons and did three times what was asked of the Hunters in training. So when Deuce and her partner are ambushed by four Freaks in the tunnels and manage to kill them, I believe that it’s possible. And they don’t get out of this encounter without scars either…

I also loved the fact that the author never really says what happened to the world. The reader discovers some hints at the same time as the protagonists, but they don’t care about it that much. For them it’s ancient history and they have more pressing matters to worry about, like survival.

And it is absolutely fascinating to see the society the author created. Their values, rules and aspirations might look foreign to us, but in the context of that world they make sense, and that is wonderful.

I had a few minor gripes with the story though. First of all, the motivation behind some of the things the Elders did was really lacking. If they were so worried about the survival of the enclave, some of their actions really made no sense. And secondly, I didn’t appreciate the attempt at a love triangle in the second part of the book, or the fact that it was so easy to drive a wedge between Deuce and Fade. They are partners, for God’s sake! They fought together; they had each other’s back and saved each other lives countless times. How hard is it to just sit down and talk things through? No, let’s skulk and absolutely refuse to communicate instead…

But apart from that, I am looking forward to reading Outpost, the second book in the series and explore a bit more of this world.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

I rarely award five stars to a book, but I must admit that Leviathan Wakes swept me off my feet – I couldn’t put it down.

I loved the world Mr. Corey created. I loved the fact that despite this being science fiction, it wasn’t too far fetched. I could see humanity being able to live like that in about 100-150 years if we decide to expand into our solar system. And it is absolutely plausible that we would bring our petty squabbles and our problems up there with us. Humanity is slow to change in that respect.

I also absolutely loved the two main protagonists telling the story. Holden and Miller come from different upbringings, and have had different circumstances shaping their views and attitudes, and they couldn’t be more different. But their POVs are oddly complementary, and they serve to highlight different facets of the treat that awaits humanity when the ice-hauler Canterbury decides to deviate from its course to check on a distress signal and discovers an abandoned ship. I will not talk about the plot of the book any more than that, because I’d rather you pick up this book and discover it for yourselves.

While I liked both Holden and Miller, I must admit that I managed to sympathize with Holden more. He was faced with impossible circumstances: he saw his ship destroyed, he was stranded on a small shuttle with a rag-tag crew of four, they were being chased by every faction in the solar system, but he still managed to keep it together. More than that, he did everything in his power to keep his crew safe, and the moral high even in the most dire circumstances. So I was not surprised when his crew answered him with fierce loyalty.

A special mention must be made about the secondary characters. All of them are “alive” and tridimentional and read like real people. You might like them, you might hate them, but you will not dismiss them as a part of the scenery.

This book also raises an important point about the precariousness of human’s hold on our solar system, and the fact that our technological advances can put is in great danger if our mentality doesn’t change along with them. There are three factions in this world – Earth, Mars and the ragtag alliance of asteroids called the Belt. And each one of them has enough military power to destroy the other two. Even populations living on a planet isn’t safe anymore when the other faction can drop enough rocks down the gravity well to render its surface inhabitable. All factions know that, yet they keep bickering and fighting for dominance, like kid playing with the atomic bomb switch…

Leviathan Wakes is a trilling and intelligent read, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series called Caliban’s War. So start your new year with a good read, pick up this book!

Merry Christmas!

ImageTime flew by. It seems like only yesterday it was October and I was getting excited about participating in my first NaNoWriMo. And now it’s Christmas Eve! And I have many things to be merry about this Christmas.  I have participated and won my first NaNo, but more importantly, I established a habit of writing at least 600 words every day, rain or shine. My first novel Of Broken Things will be finished in about 3-4 chapters. I have discovered a wonderful writing community with many like-minded people who kept me motivated to finish my first draft. And most importantly ever since I sat down to write my story, I have been assailed by different ideas, clamoring for my attention. I have been patiently writing them down and putting them in my “future plot bunnies” basket. So all in all, creativity is flowing, life is looking good and snow… is nowhere to be seen. Yep, no white Christmas for me in North Carolina.

So I wanted to wish everyone who is reading  me a wonderful Christmas. I hope you send it with the people you love. And don’t forget to tell them that you cherish them on this wonderful night.

As for me, I will spend Christmas day eating good food, drinking plenty of wine… and crying my eyes out as I watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special and say goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor.

Keepers by Gary A Braunbeck

Keepers

Stars: 2 out of 5.

The Keepers is the first book I read by Gary A Braunbeck and I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.

It had such a promising beginning, where the reader is following a seemingly ordinary man who witnesses a horrible accident on the turnpike. This accident triggers memories that he thought were long forgotten. The reader then follows the protagonist, as he tries to put these memories back together and solve the puzzle of his past, while strange things start to happen around him in the present.

I liked the narrative, I liked the pace, and I even kinda liked the protagonist and the story of his past. The story that was unfolding in his present, however, left me unmoved. I think it was party because the situation was never clearly explained and the “bad guys” were neither bad nor good: they even protect the protagonist and save his life several times. It’s like the author wasn’t sure either whether his antagonist was good, bad or indifferent.

I think another reason why the book’s conflict fell flat for me was the fact that the author never really explained what the stakes were for the protagonist in all this. So why would I root for him if I don’t know what’s important to him?

The author introduced an interesting intrigue to the book, but failed to explain it or to bring it to a logical resolution. He left too many questions unanswered. Did the Keeper’s plan succeed? Why was Gil important for it? Why were Beth and the dog important? The whole turning people into animals and animals into people angle could have been a bit more developed in my opinion.

The ending also fell flat, in my opinion. It was too rushed and didn’t really explain anything. Why were those Boiler-hat men after the dog? Why did they decide to kill Gil after all? What the heck really happened in the end? The author left too many questions unanswered which is really frustrating. He might have striven for the mysterious “make your own conclusions” ending, but here it doesn’t work.

Right now I am debating whether I should try to read something else by Gary A Braunbeck or if all his book are a bit like the Keeper. I want your opinion on this. Did you like some of his books? If so, which one would you suggest I read?

Frist Drafts woes and wonders – rebelling characters.

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NaNoWriMo is over and done, but at the end of it I still had an unfinished story on my hands. So I had decided to keep up the good habits I picked up during November and write every day. I set my goal to 1200 words per day, which is about 800 words less than the mad rush of NaNo. I managed to stick to it so far, so my manuscript is now at 68k words and I would reach the end of Part 2 after one more chapter.

 This feels really good, to see this story finally taking shape on paper. I have never stuck with a story for so long and so consistently before. I have never written so many words before on one story either. The feeling is… exhilarating. If feels like an accomplishment. Even if my story is only two thirds done, even if I still have at least a long month of bleeding words on paper in front of me, I feel like having a small celebration. Like I passed a milestone or something.

But this is not what I wanted to discuss today. No, I wanted to talk about characters and all the marvelous things they do to advance your plot and sometimes totally mess up your carefully laid plans and nicely detailed outlines.

 When I wrote Part 1 of my novel during NaNo, my main character Aiden was a good sport and went along with almost everything I had planned for him. He rebelled only on the small details. So we really had a peaceful and productive collaboration during the month of November.

 Then I wrapped up Part 1 and moved to Part 2 which follows another character. I knew that I was in deep trouble from the get go. This character has a mindset very different from my own, so getting into his head and writing from his perspective was like reformatting my brain with a screwdriver – a slow and painful process. And as if to add to the suffering, he decided to fight me every step of the way. All my carefully-laid plans for Part 2? Out of the window. All the shiny scenes of romance and conflict I thought I would write? Scrapped and disposed of. He was having none of it. It was going to be his way or no way at all. So for fourteen chapters now I have been in a state of panicked wonder – how will he manage to change my plot this time?

 But you know what? I am just one chapter away from finishing his arc of the story and looking back at it, I must admit that what he did is much better, more in character than anything I had in mind.

 So my question to you all is how often do your characters rebel against your plans? Do you go along with them when they do? Does it turn out better when you do give them free reign or worse?

October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and RueA local Habitation

Stars: 3 out of 5

I usually try to read at least the first two books of a series before I review it and decide whether I will continue reading or move on to something else. So today I will be reviewing the first two books of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation.

Seanan McGuire depicts a modern day San Francisco in which ordinary humans cohabit with all sorts of fae folk, both pureblood and half-blood, even though they are completely oblivious of the fact. Indeed, the fae don’t want humans to know that they are real and use glamor to appear human when they are out and about. Some of them feel pretty much at home in our world. They thrive and have successful businesses, legal and not so much in some cases.

The main protagonist – October “Toby” Daye, is a half-blood Daoine Sidhe who is trying to fit in in the human world. She earns her living as a private detective, but also has to fulfill her duties as a Knight of the Shadow Hills. And she has a family – a husband and a daughter who have no idea that she isn’t human. This is how the first book starts, but this life is shattered in the very first chapter when the pureblood fae Toby was investigating turns her into a fish and leaves her in a pond to die. Only the spell eventually wears off and Toby becomes human (or half-human) again… eleven years later. She stayed the same, but life moved on without her. Her human family thinks she ran away and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her now. She has trouble adjusting to the new technological advances that happened in eleven years. But most importantly, she has trouble finding a meaning and a purpose for her life.

I will let the readers discover the rest of the story of both books for themselves. What I want to talk about is why I put only three stars on this series so far.

Let’s start with what I liked. I liked Toby and I can sympathize with her struggle to adjust to our modern world after eleven years of basically swimming in circles and thinking about fishy things. It is interesting to watch her reconnect with her old acquaintances and slowly get her motivation back. It is also interesting to see her developing as a character.

I liked the world Ms. McGuire created and I am looking forward to discovering more of its facets. I especially liked the mention that the fae are mostly nocturnal, because their magic is most potent under the cover of the night, and that the sunlight weakens it. Or that the transitions at Dawn and Dusk are the moments when they are the most vulnerable.

However, I was disappointed to discover that most of the supporting characters weren’t nearly memorable enough. In fact, it seemed like the majority of them were there just to act as background. So every time I saw a character that was more or less three-dimensional, I could bet that he or she would be either the villain, or the best friend, or the future love interest for the heroine.

Also, for a private detective who is (supposedly) good at her job, Toby does a lot of flailing about in the dark instead of actual detective work. Her logic sometimes baffles me as well – in Rosemary and Rue, why did she refuse to go to her liege for help and went instead to the crime lord that had basically treated her as a slave for years? In A Local Habitation, when a killer is on the loose and offing anyone who wanders the building alone, Toby consistently let’s people wander off unsupervised and then wonders why they end up dead.

And finally, I found the plot in both books slightly lacking in depth. In the first book Toby is cursed and needs to find the killer of her friend before the curse kills her. In the second book she is sent to check on her liege’s cousin only to discover that someone is killing off her subjects, so she sets to uncover who the killer is. Those are good premises, but they are not enough for a full length book. And the subplots are sadly lacking.

All in all, I liked the world and I will probably stick around with the protagonist through the next installment of the story, but probably no further than that, unless book three is really good.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – on wining and what I learned from the experience.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

As of this morning, I have won NaNoWriMo 2013 with 50021 words. What a strange and wonderful journey that has been!

When I made the decision to participate in NaNo, I thought that the goal of reaching 50k in one month was frankly unrealistic for me. I had been writing on a story for over a year, on and off (mostly off), barely managing 100 to 400 words per session. How was I supposed to get 1667 words per day on paper? But I decided to give it a try, especially since another story came to me beginning of October and just wouldn’t let go. I am glad I did.

What NaNo taught me is that I can sit down every day and write. That 1667 words is not that much, all things considered. Most of the days, I averaged about 1800-2000 words, with only two days where my word count was under 1600 but still over 1300.  So lesson number one – I can do this if I stop making excuses. If I want to be a writer, nothing stops me from being one but my own insecurity and procrastination.

Lesson number two – there is no such thing as writer’s block. The story is not going to write itself while I sit around and wait for inspiration. Only words on the page push the story forward, no matter how horrible they seem to me or how painful they were to come up with.

Lesson number three – you really need to love your story when you  set out on this big adventure, or you will get discouraged and abandon it. I had days, especially during Week 3 when I switched to a different POV, when it felt writing was like pulling nails. I was tired, I was starting to loose steam and my new character’s POV was very different from my own, so inhabiting his head was like trying to reformat my brain – painful. But I sat down and powered through it all, because I love my story, I love my characters, and I want to see them safely to the end.

Now that the big rush to the finish line is over, what I am going to do? Well I will continue working on my novel, because at 50k words it’s only barely half-way done.  And now that I know that I can write that much in a month, there is no excuse not to finish the manuscript before January.

So that ‘s my next goal.

What about you? What are you all planning to do with your NaNo novels?

Help, I feel like I’m writing utter crap!

ImageThis is week three of NaNoWriMo and I feel like nothing I wrote in the past two days is worth keeping. Now I am on track, even about 4k words ahead with my word count, and up until a few days ago I have been happily writing my story. Then I finished Act 1 and switched to Act 2 and the torture started.

I think part of the problem is that I had to switch POVs between the parts. Also the story that my new MC is telling is essential in understanding everything that happened in Act 1 and will foreshadow a lot of things that happen in Act 3. So I really want to write it “just right”, so that the readers would understand him and his motives. Plus I care very deeply for the characters in this part and I want to do them justice.

As a result, I have been paralyzed with fear ever since I started this Act. I managed maybe 1000 words in two days and every single one of them feels like it’s been written with my own blood. And I’m still not sure I am happy with how they turned out! Am I over thinking it? Do I care too much and it’s bogging me down?

Has anyone else encountered this problem before? How did you work through it? I want to hear from you.

NaNoWriMo – 15 days to go.

ImageWell, we are half-way through November already. Time just seems to fly by, doesn’t it? This is my first NaNoWriMo and to tell the truth I wasn’t sure if I could make it. But as of today I am at 30k words and about one chapter way from finishing Part 1 in my novel. And I still have 15 days to write another 20k words. That looks a lot less daunting than the big 50k from November 1. So I start getting more hopeful about the fact that I can make it to then end and win.

I would like to use this half-way point to go over some of the observations I made so far about my writing process. Hopefully, someone else will find them useful too.

1. Discipline helps. I haven’t missed  single day of writing so far. I made sure that I would find time to sit down and work on my novel every day, rain, snow or storm. It doesn’t matter how much time I have, even a five minute coffee break spent scribbling in a notepad can produce 100-200 words. A lunch date with a pen and paper adds another 400-500 words. And in the end, it all adds up.

2. Setting goals and working towards reaching them is essential. When I decided to do NaNo, I set myself  a daily goal of 1700 words. And I made a vow not to go to bed until I reach that goal. So it doesn’t matter if my pen is flying so fast that makes the paper smoke or if my muse packed up and went on vacation, I will sit and put one word after another until I get that goal done. And most of the days I end up with 200-300 words over that goal.

3. Celebrating small and big achievements is a sure way of boost motivation. I had a piece of chocolate cake and a fresh cup of tea when I reached my first 10k. I pored myself a glass of wine at the 20k marker. I sneak attacked my husband in the bedroom after I flew by the 25k :). Those little celebrations really make you want to go on writing, and thinking about your next reward helps when the fatigue sets in and you start getting discouraged with your writing.

4. Word wars and prompts help. No, seriously, they really do! There are days when words are just not coming, no matter how much you stare at the blank screen. I found that picking up a prompt or joining a word war either on the site or on twitter @NaNoWordsprints helps me get the ideas on the page. I tend to procrastinate less when I have a deadline.

5. Do not get discouraged. Whether you are 5k ahead or 10k behind, keep writing. You still have 15 days to go, don’t abandon you novel now. Every word you add to it is more than you had before. Word by word, the novel will get from “Once upon a time” to “The end”.

So how is everyone else doing at his half-way point? What are you guys happy about or struggling with?

Mike Carey – Felix Castor series

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Rating: 3/5 stars.

***SPOILER ALERT***

There might be possible spoilers in this review, so read at your own risk!

I only read the first two books of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series so far – The Devil you know and the Vicious Circle, so that’s what my review will be based on.

All in all,  I liked the world that Mike Carey created – modern day London with a twist. And the twist is that the dead are coming back for some inexplicable reason. Some come back as mere ghosts, some manage to possess human bodies becoming zombies (not the “Braaaaains” kind, just the slowly rotting but mostly harmless kind), and some possess animals, twisting them into human-like forms and become loup-garous. Some of those revenants are peaceful, some not so much, but all of them raise questions that modern society is not prepared to answer: Do the dead have rights? Is exorcising them considered murder?

While the authorities are struggling with the answers and working on new laws, people who possess the particular talent of exorcising the dead make a good living for themselves. Our protagonist Felix Castor is one such exorcist. And while he is not entirely sure where the ghosts he destroys go (or if they are just snuffed out of existence), his way of making peace with his conscience is to persuade himself that those ghosts are not actual dead people, just memories of dead people, an imprint they left on the fabric of the world before they died. So he is not destroying people, but erasing that memory, which, by all accounts, is just stuck in a repetition of a particular pattern and unable to evolve, think or feel.

But this belief is put to test when a ghost he is sent to exorcise deviates from her pattern and actually saves his life. Now Felix must reconsider his approach and also face the fact that he had been destroying actual souls who could feel and be afraid, not mere memories.

This inner turmoil is explored further in the next book of the series, where Felix is hired by a family to rescue the ghost of their daughter who had been kidnapped by another exorcist. Of course, it turns out there is a lot more to that story then first meets the eye…

And as if ghosts were not enough, the other inhabitants of the underworld are eager to squeeze through the opening and invade our reality as well, like the demon who possesses Felix’s friend Rafi or the succubus summoned to kill him in the first book.

All in all, the world building is great. Mike Carey does a fabulous job describing a London that is and isn’t the city we know and populating it with engaging characters. I particularly loved Nikki, the conspiracy theory geek whom even death couldn’t slow down for long.

Where the book falls short of its mark for me is the main protagonist, Felix Castor. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like the “let’s spit in the face of danger and never give up” protagonists, but in Castor’s case it is taken to the extremes. While I was willing to suspend my disbelief in book one, it got harder and harder to do as book two progressed. I mean, this guy just doesn’t know when to shut up and sit quietly instead of mouthing off and provoking conflict that could have been avoided. I’m sorry, but the chances of survival of a normal man once he managed to alienate several werewolves and make enemies of at least two powerful organizations are next to nil. Going all alone into a church full of Satanists armed only with a gun would also fall into that category. Yet Felix Castor emerges from the wreckage alive and relatively unscarred. This is when I put the book down and say, “I do not believe.”

I know every author likes his protagonists (heck, I love my darlings too), but make them believable! They can rush into the thick of it without thinking or mouth off once, but chances are they will get hurt for doing that, and hopefully that would make them think and change their behavior. It would make them evolve. I think that’s what bothered me the most in those two books, that Castor doesn’t change and doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

I might give this series another chance and try to read book three. Who knows, maybe Felix is just a slow learner? But if that’s not the case, I think I will have to find something else to read.

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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