Book Challenges- September 2018

I didn’t read as much this month as I have in previous months, mostly because I’m working very hard on editing my book. But I did get a few good ones read…

Popsugar Challenge

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A book set in a bookstore or library: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan (mystery): This was not what I expected, but it was still enjoyable. The story starts with an odd man who commits¬†suicide in the bookstore and leaves all his possessions to Lydia, who works in the store. He’s left her clues that connect his history to a traumatic event from her past. It was a lot of fun.

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A book with two authors: The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (MG fantasy): This is the first in a series of five books, and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing or not. There were a lot of things in it that reminded me of Harry Potter, so if you’re searching for something like it, maybe that’s a good thing…

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A microhistory: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (nonfiction): This book was disgusting and fascinating, chock full of information I never knew I wanted to know (but I kind of did). It’s got a trigger warning for everyone and is not for the squeamish. I struggled with the experimentation done on dogs, and had to remind myself that they would have been long dead anyway.

While I Was Reading Challenge

No progress this month. ūüė¶

The Unread Shelf

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (genre: contemporary, mental health): Eleanor Oliphant is completely unlikable… at first. She’s also fascinating and vulnerable. By the middle of the book, I wanted to gather her in my arms and comfort her. I couldn’t stop reading. The “surprise” ending has been done many times, but it worked for me.

Running Total: 29

5 Classic Books

No progress this month.

Miscellaneous Reading

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Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints, by Nancy Kress (genre: nonfiction, writing): My writing group has told me a million times that my characters are too gray and need more agency. I’ve understood the words, but that hadn’t helped me change. I got so frustrated by trial and error that I was ready to quit. And then this book was like a revelation. The information is presented in a concrete, straightforward fashion with lots of examples. It’s finally making sense!

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The Girl Who Fell, by SM Parker (YA contemporary romance): This is a dark romance about a teenager with goals who gets enmeshed in a psychologically abusive relationship. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying.

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Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard (YA contemporary): It was suspenseful and interesting, about the disappearance of a girl, and her friends who are all a little relieved, because the disappeared girl knew a secret about each one of them that she’d never want revealed. The first book doesn’t tie up any loose ends, and there are 16 books in the series, so be warned that if you try the first one, you’ll probably want to commit to the series. I’m not continuing.

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Where She Went, by Gayle Forman (YA contemporary): This is the sequel to If I Stay, and while I loved the first book, I adore the second one. Adam loved Mia and stayed by her side while she recovered from the car accident that killed her entire family. Then, she stopped returning his phone calls. After a chance meeting, they have one evening to figure out what went wrong.

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Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken to Brilliant, by Larry Brooks (nonfiction, writing): I will read pretty much any writing book Larry Brooks writes. He presents concrete “rules,” which maybe wouldn’t work for some people, but I like structure. He presents information in a concrete manner with lots of examples. His books can get a bit repetitive at times, but I can live with that.

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Leverage In Death, by JD Robb (mystery, romance): We know whodunit, but not why or who was pulling the strings. Another fantastic mystery in the series.

Abandoned

None this month.

2018 Running Total: 113

Have you made any progress on your TBR or book challenges?

M is for (Books About) Murder #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for¬†the A to Z challenge.

If you’ve been to my blog even once, you probably saw this coming. What can I say? I like horror, books about serial killers, crime dramas… honestly, most of my favorite things have someone ending up dead. (In books, not real life, obvs.)

The list of books I loved about murder could probably be a mile long, but I’ve limited myself to three. You’re welcome. (That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss others in the comments.)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of JK Rowling) (mystery): I wasn’t sure what to expect. I loved Harry Potter, of course, but after abandoning¬†A Casual Vacancy¬†in the middle of a sentence because I just couldn’t deal with it one more word, I was apprehensive. The Cuckoo’s Calling was a solid mystery, complete with an interesting private investigator and his plucky secretary. The characters were fresh and fun, making up for a lack of blood. Body count: 1

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevive Tucholke (YA horror anthology): I always keep notes on my favorite stories in anthologies, and I actually had to limit myself to only five because there were so many good ones. All of the stories were retellings of something else. There’s a fantastic story with the white rabbit and a different kind of tea party, a story with a girl who hunts serial killers, a Hades/ Persephone retelling, and many others. Sometimes the main character was the “victim,” sometimes the killer. This is a must-read for fans of YA horror. Body count: too many to keep track of

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson (horror): I’ve loved Shirley Jackson ever since I read her short story, The Lottery, in high school. For some reason, I didn’t read this book until earlier this year. It’s a weird book, told in a dream-like way. It took me most of the book to make sense of what was happening, but it was worth the journey. Shirley Jackson is a master of horror. Body count: 4

What’s your favorite book about murder?

October Reading Wrap-Up

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In October, I read a bunch of new books. ¬†I’ve recently gotten back into the Longmire series of books, and am trying to read them all. ¬†I love being the annoying person who points out the differences between books and movies (or, in this case, TV). I actually enjoyed everything I read last month, which is always a nice surprise.

  1.  For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn.  This was a really good self-help type book for insight into the male mind.  I picked it up because it was recommended reading on how to write men in stories better, but I see that it also applies to the men I know.
  2. I Was Here, by Gayle Forman. ¬†I loved If I Stay, and the follow up, Where She Went, so I have no idea why I hadn’t read another book by her before this. ¬†I went looking for fiction to read on suicide, and this was a good one. ¬†It drew me in from the start, and did a decent job of showing the devastating effects on family and friends.
  3. You, by Caroline Kepnes. ¬†This one was recommended by my book club. ¬†Funny story: because of who sent it to me, and the title, I thought it was a self-help book, or something like that. ¬†Yeah, it’s definitely not. ¬†It’s actually a thriller about a stalker and his victim. ¬†Brutal, fascinating, and disturbing, it’s pretty much everything I want in a book.
  4. The Shining, by Stephen King. ¬†When I read You, I found out that The Shining has a sequel: Doctor Sleep. ¬†Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I had no idea. ¬†None. ¬†It’s been years since I read The Shining, and since it’s one of my favorite King books, I wanted to reread it and be fresh from it when I read the sequel. ¬†It’s still one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read.
  5. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King. ¬†I was really skeptical that a sequel could be as good as The Shining, but this one was definitely worthy. ¬†I’m sure it could work as a standalone book, but I was glad I had just re-read The Shining, as there were a lot of references to it.
  6. Death Without Company (Longmire #2) & Kindness Goes Unpunished (Longmire #3) & Another Man’s Moccasins (Longmire #4), by Craig Johnson. ¬†I’m a fan of crime novels, and I love the Longmire shows on Netflix. ¬†These are quite different from the TV show, but they’re good in their own way. ¬†Walt is a pretty similar character in both the books and the show. ¬†I actually like Henry a bit more in the books. ¬†He’s a more active character, and frequently involved in Walt’s escapades.
  7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black. ¬†This is a vampire book, but not a typical one. ¬†It’s what would happen if vampires were shown to be real, in the modern age. ¬†One girl wakes up to a massacre that happened at a party, and it begins with her saving her ex-boyfriend (who’s been bitten), and saving a vampire who helps her. ¬†I like books where vampires aren’t portrayed as sexy teddy bears who just happen to like blood.
  8. The Liar, by Nora Roberts. ¬†I’m a sucker for Nora Roberts books, mostly because I know that she usually mixes romance with other things, like suspense. ¬†This one has it all: a great love story, murder, secrets, conspiracy, and an underdog who comes out ahead.

I liked every book I read this month, and I can’t always say that. ¬†I got most of them on my Kindle, through the library.

What did you read this month?

I is for In Death

Unknown-2JD Robb has written 53 books in the In Death series in the past 21 years. ¬†That’s a huge number of books. ¬†(Some of these are novellas that appear in anthologies, but it’s still impressive.)

The books center around Eve Dallas, a police lieutenant in the New York Police Department, and her husband Roarke, multi-billionare businessman and former criminal. There are also multiple supporting characters that make regular appearances.

Each book centers around one or more murder that Dallas must solve.  As the series has continued, Roarke assists her more and more often.

I love reading¬†these books, but I’ve also started studying them from a writer’s perspective. ¬†If you’d ask me, I would have told you I didn’t think that a character arc could span over 53+ books, but I would have been wrong.

Dallas and Roarke have continued to develop, as a couple and as individuals. ¬†Though the focus tends to be on them and their relationship, the other characters in the universe are interesting and often experience character growth of their own. ¬†I love the fact that a married couple can continue to be the subject of a series; too often the curtain drops just after the wedding, but that’s not real life. ¬†They argue, they compromise, they have past lovers, and yet they navigate it together.

Each story shares characteristics, but they’re not formulaic. ¬† There are multiple series subplots, like Dallas’s past, and information about these is doled out over time. ¬†It’s masterful the way Robb keeps my interest in these subplots. ¬†She drags them out for just the right amount of time so that they never get stale, but also never turn into an info dump.

The books are thrillers with elements of romance and science fiction, and while the science fiction might not please hard-core sci-fi fans, they’re always a good story.

More than anything, I want the stories I tell to be compelling and interesting. ¬†I think that’s the best rule for any author: tell a good story.

‚ÄúLife is never as long as we want it to be, and wasted time can never be recovered.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē J.D. Robb

In Death, a Review

On Throwback Thursdays, I review older books.

The first “In Death” book was published in 1995, and #41 is scheduled to be released this fall.

Naked in Death is the first in the series, and it introduces Eve Dallas, a hard edged “murder cop” in New York City, circa 2058. ¬†Dallas is the main character throughout the series. ¬†Each book has her conducting at least one investigation into a murder. ¬†In this first book, she must investigate the murder of a senator’s granddaughter. ¬†She also meets Roarke, an Irish gazillionare with a secretive past.

The books have a little bit of everything: romance, mystery, intrigue. ¬†Amazingly, JD Robb has not repeated the same story twice. ¬†They’re new and interesting.

One of my favorite things about this series is that Dallas and Roarke get together over the course of several books and (spoiler alert) eventually marry. ¬†However, we’re not left with a happily-ever-after romance book ending romance. ¬†They argue like real married people, have conflicts, and continue to learn more and more about one another.

Dallas develops friendships and builds relationships, and some of these people stay a part of the world. ¬†Her relationships with others are complex and interesting. ¬†While you could pick up any book in the series and enjoy it, I think they’re much more enjoyable as part of a series. ¬†The people within the pages of this book have become my friends; people I can root for and really enjoy seeing triumph.

Don’t get me wrong; all the characters have flaws. ¬†But that makes them even more real and endearing to me.

If you like a little bit of everything, mixed up and tied together with a good murder mystery, this may be the series for you.

V is for Villians

But... but... I'm not a villain!  I'm a good dog!

But… but… I’m not a villain! I’m a good dog!

I love a good villain, but I prefer a complex villain. ¬†One dimensional evil is kind of boring and doesn’t offer much in the way of character development or surprise. ¬†I prefer villains with their own ethical codes. ¬†It doesn’t have to be a code I agree with; it’s just important that whatever the code is, it’s consistent.

Villains are meant to move a story forward, but at their best, are foils for the hero, a way to contrast the hero’s choices and make the hero shine brighter.

So what makes a good villain?

I think that they have to be in somewhat understandable and relatable. ¬†Who wants to read about a villain who is so far out there that no one cares. ¬†That’s one of the things I liked about Hannibal Lecter (from Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, and Hannibal by Thomas Harris); he didn’t do things he considered to be rude, and he “ate the rude.” ¬†Sure, a little extreme, but I agree that the rude should be punished.

They have to live by a set of rules. ¬†Annie Wilkes of Misery (by Stephen King) was CRAZY. ¬†But she didn’t like profanity, didn’t like cheating, and liked fiction. ¬†Maybe she was okay with hobbling a guy, but she wasn’t going to say any naughty words while doing it.

They should be well-developed enough to be an actual character. ¬†Seems a bit obvious, but I want to know a little bit about my villain. ¬†Enough to know what makes them a villain. ¬†In Watchers, by Dean Koontz, The Outsider’s character was so well-developed that I felt a little sad and wondered if he could have been redeemed, even though I knew he had to die.

Though sometimes mystery is good. ¬†Darth Vader was much scarier in Star Wars IV-VI than he was in I-III. ¬†‘Nuff said.

They should be scary. ¬†If a villain isn’t scary, what’s the point? ¬†Evil should always scare us. ¬†The Joker in The Dark Knight was one of the scariest villains in a long time, and what made him scary was his complete and total unpredictability. ¬†(That’s not to say he didn’t live by a set of rules; he did. ¬†But he was all about anarchy, which is inherently unpredictable.)

Sometimes the villain makes you kinda agree with them. ¬†A little. ¬†I love villains who make me question my views on morality. ¬†Erik Lensher aka Magneto in the X-men movies. ¬†He’s tired of being a second class citizen, so he wants to kill off all his potential oppressors. ¬†Yeah, it’s wrong. ¬†But if wrong is a continuum, it’s not at the far, far end. ¬†Is it?

Writing villains can be satisfying and fun, but it’s also difficult to do well. ¬†I’m not saying that a good villain must have all these qualities, but at least one or two, and scary is a MUST.

 

‚ÄúThe villains were always ugly in books and movies. Necessarily so, it seemed. Because if they were attractive‚ÄĒif their looks matched their charm and their cunning‚ÄĒthey wouldn’t only be dangerous.

They would be irresistible.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Nenia Campbell

Who’s your favorite villain?

 

Lost and Unfortunately Found…

by The TV Guy

imagesThe long running series Lost is on Hulu for all to watch. I have tried, I have watched most of the first season. I have to say the story could have been interesting. Just when you think its going somewhere it just circles back around and you are in someone‚Äôs flashback. I guess if you have nothing else better to do and you really have some free time you may want to venture into this ‚Äúcutting edge‚ÄĚ series. I wanted to like this; it was all the rage for the six long and painful seasons that it ran. I wanted to be swept away into the intrigue and mystery of the tropical island and its numerous residents including but not limited to polar bears, boars and a freaky French woman who killed all her friends and set her son loose on the island; plus the 40 something survivors of the ill-fated flight from Sydney to LA.¬†¬†There were moments when I wanted to poke my eyes out from the boredom, yet I continued to watch waiting for the ‚Äúmagic‚ÄĚ that never came.

My recommendation: don’t bother.