The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood.

The Younger Gods

Stars: 4 out of 5

It’s been a while since I read a good urban fantasy book that didn’t center around fae or werewolves / vampires and didn’t include a romance. In fact, I had come to the sad belief that these were the only books the genre had to offer. So The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood was like a breath of fresh air.

Jacob Greene came to New York to escape the clutches of his very overbearing and secretive family and start a new life away from the cult. Jacob’s only worries now are to try and fit into this strange new world that is life at St. Mark’s University, keep his grades up to keep his scholarship, and stretch his meager allowance in order not to die of hunger before the end of each month. Then a crucified body is found in one of the New York parks, and Jacob realizes that his family has caught up with him…

I absolutely loved the main protagonist. Jacob is a smart and well educated boy, even though his knowledge mostly lies in the field of summoning monsters and performing human sacrifices.  He is completely lost in the intricacies of the normal college life, and his social skills are so bad that he can’t seem to make friends. The author did an excellent job showing the complete lack of common ground between Jacob and his classmates. They didn’t read the same books, didn’t hear the same stories, and Jacob just doesn’t understand any of the mass culture references we all take for granted. And his over-flowery and slightly archaic speech makes him seem even more alien. Jacob tries so hard to fit in, to put his less than normal childhood behind him, but when he hears about the murder on the news, he immediately recognizes his sister’s signature.

I like the fact that the idea to simply walk away and think “it’s not my problem” doesn’t even cross Jacob’s mind. It’s his family, so it’s his problem. If he has to stop the apocalypse all by himself, he will do it, or die trying. That shows a tremendous strength of character.

And the author also did a very good job showing the diversity of races and cultures in New York city. All of the secondary characters come from different ethnicities and cultural (and magical) backgrounds. Carter is an Indian (dot, not feather) Nephilim, Antoinette is a voodoo practitioner from Haitian descent, and Dorothea is a black ex-NYPD cop who became a Brooklyn Knight. And they are not just clichés put in the book just to act as a background to Jacob’s adventures. They are well fleshed out characters. Oh, and there are also Staten Island werewolves, Rakshasa from Queens and a multitude of other magical beings that call New York home.

The pacing of the book is fast and gripping. There isn’t a single dull moment. It’s even a bit too fast in places, and I caught myself wishing for the action to slow down and give myself and the characters a breather. But at least it’s never boring!

My only complaint is that there are still some errors in the copy I read. For example, Nate is described as a man when we first meet him, but halfway through the chapter, he is suddenly referred to as “she”, then he becomes a “he” again when we next meet him. But I think all those problems are due to the fact that I read the ARC of the book I got from NetGalley, and hopefully didn’t make it into the published version of the book.

So if you like strong characters and an interesting story, you should definitely pick up The Younger Gods. I will be looking forward to the next book in the series.

NaNoWriMo Prep – 10 useful links to stay motivated during the month of November.

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NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and I’m sure that most of you are excited about diving right in and getting a start on your novel. So I’m not going to bore you with another long post about how to prepare for NaNo, or what I learned from my past NaNo experience, blah, blah, blah.

The next month will be a wonderful, but also tiring experience for everyone trying to put 50k words on page in 30 days. There will be days when words fly faster than you can write them and you get 2k down in an hour with no visible effort. Then there would be days when writing even 100 words feels like a gargantuan effort, and every one of them feels like it was written with your own blood. There will be days when you will be motivated and days when you will feel like giving up.

So I thought about what had helped me stick through the worst moments of self-doubt and discouragement and motivated me to keep going last year. The answer was simple: encouragement from fellow writers.

That’s why I created a list of blog posts about NaNoWriMo that I found useful, funny and motivating. I would encourage you to bookmark them and reread them any time you feel like you need a pep talk during the cold month of November. I know I will be revisiting them frequently.

  1. First, a little bit of shameless self-promotion. Last year I had written a post about what helped me stick to my goals during NaNo. I would recommend reading it around week two, when the dreaded burnout starts – NaNoWriMo – 15 days to go.
  1. If you need a good laugh and also a boot in the butt advice to keep going, check out this older post by Chuck Wendig – 25 Things you should know about NaNoWriMo. I love Chuck for his humor, but be advised that the language he uses is definitely not PG-13.
  1. Now, if you need to go deeper into the nuts and bolts of writing your novel, here is a very good guest post by Piper Bayard on Kristen Lamb’s blog about backstory and how much the writer has to disclose and what to keep away from the reader – Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I have to.
  1. And speaking of writing that first draft, here is an excellent post by Kristen Lamb herself about turning off your inner editor during NaNo – Write Fast and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The ?Spock Brain.
  1. If you write your story from the point of view (POV) of several characters, here is a wonderful post by Jami Gold about which POVs we should use when and how to switch between them without confusing your reader – Ask Jami: Whose Point of View Should We Use?
  1. I try to stick to the advice of “show, not tell,” when I write. So this post by Amy McElroy about integrating all the five senses in our writing was very useful – Sensory Description: Deep Beyond the Five Senses We Learned in Preschool.
  1. We all love our protagonists (otherwise why would we want to write about them in the first place?), but we need to be careful not to make them too much like ourselves. So here is a good post by Anne R Allen about that – 5 Protagonists Riders Hate: Why Writers Shouldn’t Identify too Closely with a Main Character.
  1. And let’s not forget to stay healthy during November madness. So here is a nice infographic article by YogaDork – “Pose before Prose” Yoga for Writers.
  1. Since writing 50k words takes a lot of your free time, cleaning, cooking and having a social life will be next to impossible. So here is a nice link for Easy Recipes for NaNoWriMo on Pinterest.
  1. Last but not least, is the NaNoWriMo site. It’s full of useful resources, how-to guides, pep talks and most of all, all the other wonderful wrimos attempting this challenge with you. Browse, read, visit the forums, find writing buddies, but most importantly, communicate with others. They will be your best cheerleaders, your most devoted fans and a shoulder to cry on when you feel discouraged.

Here you go, I hope this list will be useful to you guys! Feel free to share more useful links in the comments. I’m always looking for good posts to motivate me and help me improve my craft.

The London Project by Mark J Maxwell

The London Project

Stars: 3 out of 5

I liked the story in The London Project. The world is a quite interesting (albeit chilling) vision of a possible future. The total monopoly of Portal over the lives of Londoners reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s 1984. “Big Brother watches you,” indeed…

This story also had all the things I usually like: a futuristic setting, a murder mystery that the protagonist has to solve, influential people determined to thwart her at every turn, and a bigger conspiracy emerging during the investigation. The story had the potential to keep me interested and turning the pages into the late hours of the night, but… it didn’t.

The biggest problem with this book, at least for me, is the pacing. For a thriller to work, the author needs build the tension progressively throughout the book, and never ever let it falter. The story has to grip me from the get go and drag me along, making me want to turn the next page to discover what happens.

Unfortunately, the abundance of technical and world-building explanations break the tension and slow down the pacing, sometimes bringing it to a screeching halt. I found myself frustrated when I wanted to know more about the investigation into the dead girl, but had to read through info dump after info dump about Portal and their little monopoly over London and how the technology worked. I know it’s probably relevant to the story and serves to introduce the reader into this world, but for me, it killed the suspense and the drive to continue reading. When I find myself skipping the explanations to get to the plot, I know I won’t stick with the book. And I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t an ARC I had agreed to review.

I didn’t need all those detailed explanations into the workings of Portal in the first 10 chapters. I would have been perfectly happy with a few brief mentions of it and a lot more focus on the case itself. But then again, I am the kind of reader who likes being lost in a world, to discover it progressively throughout the book, looking for breadcrumbs of information the author left on the pages and drawing my own conclusions. Info-dumps give me mental indigestions, because by the time I read through the explanation and assimilate it, the suspense is gone. I have to try and immerse myself in the story again… until the next info-dump.

This is sad, I think, because the book would have been a lot more interesting (and faster paced) if the author trusted the reader to understand his world without having everything spelled out. This is the case of when too much backstory does more harm than good.

I know that this is strictly a personal preference, so take my review with a grain of salt. What I find off-putting might not be so for another reader. So my advice is, if you like a well thought-out world and are not afraid of the slow pacing, give The London Project a try.

P.S. This review is for the ARC of the book I got from LibraryThing.

NaNoWriMo Prep – Know your Story or the Importance of Outlines.

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With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I wanted to share some of the advice I took out of my own experience with NaNoWriMo 2013. I learned a lot about writing in general and my own writing process last year, so hopefully this will also be useful to somebody else.

Last week I had talked about why I think everyone should do NaNo at least once. This week, I want to talk about outlines.

I know  people who approach who don’t plan or outline their stories; they just start writing on November 1st and see where the story will take them. They enjoy the process of discovering the story, of being surprised by the unexpected plot twists. In writer-speak, they are called pantsers, because they write “from the seat of their pants”. I know a lot of wrimos for whom this approach works wonders, and who can’t imaging writing their first draft any other way. I learned the hard way that I’m not part of that club.

Lost

I am a plotter. I need to be familiar with my story and my characters before I start writing my first draft or I will crash and burn somewhere around the 1/3 mark. So for all of the first time wrimos who had tried to pants it before and didn’t quite succeed, my answer would be – start outlining.

It doesn’t have to be an extensive outline. I know some writers who are happy with just knowing the ending and the general direction in which their story is going before starting to write the first draft.  Others don’t outline the plot, but do extensive profiles on all their characters, then let those character’s reactions decide which way the story is going.

My experience with outlining:

I have learned that if I want to win NaNo (and finish my first draft), I absolutely need to spend some time exploring my story beforehand.

I need detailed background stories and profiles on my main characters, including the so important antagonist. I tell you, in order to get this sucker right, you have to know his / her life story better than your own.

I also need to know the ending. I might only have a vague idea of how my story will progress and which road it will take to reach that ending, but if I don’t know how my story ends, I cannot write. Tried, failed, learned from the experience.

Wriring Of Broken Things for NaNo 2013 had been my first try at outlining beforehand. I had character bios and a brief outline of what I wanted to happen each of the three parts of the book. Oh, and the last scene of course. It worked like a charm – I wrote like my fingers were on fire, and there hadn’t been a single day where I felt stuck. Of course, a lot of the scenes changed and the story evolved in the process, and I took a few detours and alternative routes, but I never felt utterly lost, because I knew my final destination.

This year, I am picking it up a notch. I am applying the process I developed for writing my short stories to my NaNo preparation. When I brainstorm a short story, I write a detailed scene by scene outline. They I start writing the story, trying to follow that outline. Most of the time, it changes drastically during the first draft, but that process allows me to immerse myself in the story and explore several possible courses of action.

I took this process and adapted it to this year’s NaNo novel, but instead of doing a scene by scene outline, I did a chapter by chapter one. So now I have detailed character bios, a general outline of the entire plot, and a detailed outline of what will happen in each chapter. Now I am ready to finally start writing! Is it November 1st yet?

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I want to finish this post with a word of caution though. Don’t consider your outline as something set in stone. It’s more of a roadmap with one route that would take you from point A (the beginning) to point B (the end), but there are a lot of roads and alternative routes. Feel free to take a different turn, stop in a small town, or to take the scenic route instead of the highway. Just keep your destination in mind and make sure you are progressing towards it no matter what road you take.

So how are you guys preparing for NaNo? Plotters or pantsers? How detailed are your outlines? I want to hear from you!

Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans

Of Bone and Thunder

Stars: 5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC of the book I have received courtesy of NetGalley.

I am in love with this book and I’m not afraid to admit it. Vietnam War meets a fantasy world? It could have crashed and burned if it had been poorly executed. Fortunately for me, Chris Evans pulled this off masterfully, and the end result is a book that I found very hard to put down.

The premise Of Bone and Thunder is quite simple: the Kingdom is waging war in Luitox, a strange tropical land full of “savages” that the brave army of the Kingdom came to liberate from the Forrest Collective. That’s the official story anyway, but to most of the characters in this book, that propaganda is irrelevant. What matters to them is whether they will live to see another day and whether their squad will make it out alive as well.

I loved the fact that the author didn’t go into rhetorics or political explanations of this war in the Lux. Instead, he chose to tell this story through the eyes of regular soldiers, those forced to fight and die for ideals they don’t understand in a land that is absolutely foreign to them, against an enemy that knows the terrain and can literally disappear at will.

There isn’t one single protagonist in this book. We follow several characters instead. There is  Carny, a young crossbowman and his fellow soldiers from the Red Shield. The young thaum Jawn, who arrives to the Lux full of ideals and dreams of glory which are soon shattered against the gory reality of war. Obsidian flock leader Vorly and his thaum Breeze who fly real fire-breathing dragons called rags. And several other unique characters.

We see the war through their eyes; we follow them from simple skirmish to battle to desperate fight for survival, and we see them change. And that’s the biggest strength of this book. All the characters we follow are flawed in their own way. Jawn is naïve but also arrogant; Carny is an addict who doesn’t care about anything and anyone but himself; and the only thing Vorly cares about is his rags. And the other members of the Red Shield squad were just as bad. I hated some of them at the beginning of the book…

Yet they change, they evolve, they grow on you, so much so that you start cheering for them, hoping that they will make it out of one desperate situation after another in one piece. And when some of them die, it really hurts, like you have just lost a good friend.

With subtle strokes of the brush, the author also showed us how a ragtag group of men transforms into brothers in arms. You can see the moment when concern or individual safety is overruled  by concern for the safety of fellow squad members. When the words “leave no man behind” suddenly become a moto to live by. And Carny gives up the drugs and assumes the mantle of Squad Leader because there is nobody else left to do it. Vorly risks his life and the life of his precious rag to help the troops on the ground he had transported so many times that he grew to consider his own. And Jawn risks both his life and his sanity to defeat enemy thaums  before they annihilate the small army surrounded by an enemy force twice its size in the valley of Bone and Thunder. And the words “Anything for the greater good” gain a truly sinister meaning.

 Of Bone and Thunder is the story of a big war described through a multitude of small, almost personal wars, and that’s what makes it so powerful. This book leaves a lasting impression long after you finished reading.

So my advice is read this book. Definitely and without reservation.

5 reasons everyone should do NaNoWriMo at least once.

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We are now midway through October and thousands of writers across the world are frantically preparing for the biggest writing challenge of the year – the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Since I had jumped into it head first last November, I read a lot of blog post and articles about NaNo on the web, and I realized that there are often opposite reactions to the event. Some like it, some don’t; some swear it’s the best thing that ever happened to them, while others think it’s worthless.

Personally, I think that if you think of yourself as a writer, even an aspiring or pre-published one, you should do NaNo at least once in your life. And below are the 5 most important reasons why you should do it.

  1. 50k words is an average a professional writer produces every month, not just in November.

Before I did my first NaNo, the idea of writing 50k words in 30 days seemed almost impossible to me. I could barely manage to write 300 to 400 words a day, and it was a good day when that happened.

But consider that an novel is anywhere between 80k to 120k words. If a professional writer releases one of those a year, he has to go through all the steps (outlining, research, first draft, editing, beta readers, etc) in just 12 little months. That means  the first draft has to be put on paper pretty fast. So 50k words per month is actually not that farfetched.

So if you have a dream to one day become a professional writer, I think NaNo is a good training ground to see what it takes to do this for a living. Plus it’s always interesting (at least for me) to challenge myself and see if I can do this.

  1. NaNo helps you build a habit of writing consistently.

As I had mentioned in point 1, before NaNo, I was lucky to put 400 words on the page in a day, then spend a week or more without writing anything. After NaNo?  My average is about 1000 and I write every day. Or if I’m not working on my first draft, I edit, rewrite or outline something.

NaNoWriMo showed me that waiting for a muse to strike to sit down and write is just an excuse NOT to write. Inspiration can come to you, but it has to find you ready and already at work. I have a day job, I have a family and a social life, but NaNo showed me that I could find a way to balance all that and find time to put words on paper everyday if I wanted it badly enough. And if I managed to balance all that during the month of November and nobody died (and I still have my job), why not try to make a habit of it?

The results are staggering. Before NaNo, I had 3 attempted and abandoned novels. After NaNo, I have a published short story, a finished novel (still editing that one though), a novella, and 2 more short stories. I went from never finishing anything to consistently finishing all my projects.

  1. Lock your inner editor in the basement.

When you have to reach a daily goal of 1667 words, you don’t have time to stop and edit every sentence. Heck, sometimes you don’t even have time to go back and correct a typo. NaNo is about putting that first draft on paper, and even Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Hemingway

NaNoWriMo teaches you how to tie you pesky inner editor up, gag her, and throw her in the basement. It allows you to write prose that looks like crap. A scene isn’t turning out quite to your liking? Don’t stop, write it down and move on. You are not quite sure where your character or story is going? Write on, your story might take you to a surprising and interesting turn.

Remember, that you can always go back and edit everything later, once you are done with your first draft, that’s what revisions are for.

  1. Discover which writing methods work for you.

Writing a novel is hard work. Writing one in 30 days is a feat. You need to be aware of all the tools in your writer’s toolbox and put them to good use if you want to achieve your goal. I look at NaNo as a big experiment to test different writing, outlining and time management techniques to determine which ones work for me. Those I keep for further use, the others I discard.

This is how I discovered that if I want to put my butt in the chair and type until my fingers bleed putting that first draft on paper, I need to do all my research and planning beforehand. I need to have a very good idea of what my story is and where it’s going or I get stuck and discouraged.

I didn’t outline any of my failed novel attempts, but for last year’s NaNo, I decided to change things up and wrote a 10 page outline of the whole project. It resulted in a finished draft. Lesson learned. Now I take the time to do extensive outlines on everything I write. This year I’m experimenting with chapter by chapter outlining.

5. Be part of a wonderful writing community.

Last year, over 600,000 people participated in the NaNo challenge. There is a lot to be said about being part of such a large community. Writing is a solitary act, but knowing that thousands of people around the globe are writing their own novels with you makes it considerably less so.

Plus the forums are full of useful resources for writers. There are always people happy to help you out if you are stuck, need help with your plot or character development, or just need some cheering up (or a kick in the butt to make you get off the internet and keep on writing). Browse the site, add some writing buddies, make friends, do some word sprints, and enjoy this special brand of November madness.

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And to conclude this blog post, I wanted to point out that when you wrote your 50k words and won NaNoWriMo, you are still not done. Your novel is probably not finished. So stick with it. Make the commitment to continue writing through December (and January, if necessary) until you can finally put those two wonderful words at the bottom of the page: THE END. It’s a wonderful feeling, I tell you. Makes you forget all the blood and tears and frustration that went into writing that first (and bloody awful) draft. And if this feeling makes you want to do it all over again with a new story, then congratulations, you are a writer!

The Undying by Ethan Reid

The Undying

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC I have received courtesy of NetGalley.

The Undying by Ethan Reid could have been a great book. When I read the blurb, I really looked forward to diving into the book itself. I mean two young American tourists trying to survive an apocalyptic event in Paris, as our civilization falls apart? That ought to be a an interesting read, no? Especially if you add the undying (the author’s version of zombies) into the mix. I love Paris, I love disasters books and I love zombies. So this book was right up my alley.

Unfortunately, my excitement about the premise was quickly dampened by the execution. First of all, the prologue takes place months after the event, and the author tells us right there and then that only Jeanie and the baby will survive. This makes it very difficult to empathize with any characters in the book. I mean why bother caring about Ben, Zou, or Farid if you already know they won’t make it to the end? And even during the episodes when Jeanie is in serious trouble, I wasn’t worried about her, because I knew from the prologue that she would survive. And not being able to care about the characters makes for a very boring read.

The cataclysmic event itself is well described. It was scary to see the familiar topography of Paris transforming into a death-trap for its inhabitants. I also liked the progression of events and how the author slowly plunged our world into Hell. First the light go out, but there is a beautiful Aurora Borealis in the sky, and it’s New Year’s Eve, so nobody pays too much attention to the loss of power, because everyone is too busy celebrating. It’s the next morning, when the skies get shrouded with dust and rocks start falling down, that the chaos really begins. The author built the tension well, with things going progressively from bad to worse, and the appearance of the undying plunging an already scary situation into the realm of cheer terror.

And the undying deserve a special mention. Those “moribund”, which are Ethan Reid’s take on the usual zombie trope, are really scary. Unlike their more mainstream counterparts, they are fast, they are cunning, and they hunt in groups.  In fact, their behavior is similar to a pack of wolves or a pride of lions. Add to that the fact that they can bend shadows around themselves for concealment and that they are very fast learners, and you have a truly terrifying enemy. Most of the memorable moments in the book are tied to the undying, one way or another.  So they deserve the 2.5 stars.

Unfortunately, this building tension is constantly interrupted by Jeanie’s flashbacks to seemingly unrelated events, like the death of her father or the last conversation she had had with him. I understand the need to introduce the readers to her background, but it can be done as a paragraph or two here and there, not a whole chapter thrown in smack in the middle of the action.  By the time I made it through that chapter, all the tension was gone; I didn’t care what happened to the characters anymore.

The author chooses the oddest moments to go into those flashbacks or info dumps. For example, the protagonist and her friends are in the Louvres and they are running out of time. They need to get somewhere safe and underground before the temperatures outside rise to unbearable levels. That moment is full of tension, right? Will they make it? Will the find a place to hunker down?.. Yet the author choses to spend 3 (!) chapters making Jeanie talk to people about what they think happened to cause the disaster. All I wanted to do while I was reading this, was smack the protagonist on the head and yell, “Who cares? You have to get out of here NOW, not speculate on why this happened.”

So when the time runs out and characters start to die, I didn’t feel upset or sorry for them anymore. I felt frustrated with the author, because it felt like the exposition had just been a plot device designed to get rid of some of the characters.

I also couldn’t help but feel that the ending is rushed and rather anticlimactic, like the author ran out of steam and just wanted to wrap up the story really fast.

So The Undying  had sounded like a good book, but turned out a disappointment. But then again, everybody looks for something different in a book, so what I didn’t like, you might love. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this book, but ultimately it’s up to you to make your own choice.

The More you write, the better you get.

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While I was looking for a novel to write during NaNoWriMo 2014, I did a little archeological foray into my older, unfinished stories. Not only did I find a project to work on, but I also learned something new about my writing.

I read a lot of writing blogs and I talk to a lot of writers on Twitter and Facebook. All of them say that the more you write, the better you get. Up until now, I was skeptical about that, because I wasn’t seeing progress in my own writing. Other people, notably my beta readers, have told me that they noticed an improvement, but I just couldn’t see it. Maybe because I was too close to my work to notice the difference: I usually let my first drafts rest for only a week or two before I dive into edits.

Well, I understand the truth of this saying now. Choices is a story I had last worked on back in 2012. I got stuck about 25k words into the story and abandoned it. Last Monday, I decided to read through what I already had to see if anything could be salvaged. Well, two hours later, I was forced to admit that I was better off just scrapping the whole thing and just starting from scratch.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

But that reread wasn’t all negative. It made me realize how much I had grown as a writer since 2012 when I had tried (and failed) to first write that story.

Back in 2012, I had no idea what I was doing, or what writing a novel required. I had no idea about story structure, tension and plot or character development. Most importantly, I had only a very vague grasp on what my writing process was. The result was a barely reanimated corpse of a novel.

I had no outline. I had no idea where my plot was going or if I even had a plot at all. I had a backstory only on my two main protagonists; everyone else, even the antagonist, was just vague shadows in the background. No wonder I got stuck and abandoned that story!

I have learned since then that I can’t write without a detailed outline, a good backstory on most of my characters, and a lot of worldbuilding. Oh, and I absolutely need a clear idea of the ending. So that’s what I will be working on during October, and once I’m done, I have full confidence that I can write this story to the end without problem.

Editing woes

Reading through my failed first attempt, I also noticed just how many rookie mistakes I had made. In fact, I might keep that draft as a perfect illustration on how NOT to write a story. I started with a small prologue that didn’t bring anything to the story and would have been better situated at the end of Chapter 1 or cut out of the story altogether. Most of my worldbuilding and character backstory were huge info-dumps that almost managed to put me to sleep during my re-read. All the dialogues had some truly “creative” dialogue tags when a simple “he / she said” would have done just fine. And, most importantly, I told about my characters’ reactions instead of showing them.

Back when I wrote those words, I didn’t know any better, but now, one finished novel and several short stories later, the flaws of that draft stood out like a sore thumb.

For me, it was an eye-opening but also reassuring experience: I did become a better writer in the past two years, even if I hadn’t noticed it. And I did that by sticking with my stories, not being afraid to write crappy first drafts that I would later edit within an inch of their lives. And I was not afraid to start all over again with a brand new story each time the old one was done. I also read wildly about writing, editing, and publishing.

I think as writers, we need that sort of reassurance from time to time, especially if we are querying our first novel and getting only silence or rejections back. So my advice would be – do not lose hope. When you feel like giving up, open that dusty box where you banished all of your older failures and read through one of them. See how much you have grown since then and feel proud of what you have accomplished. Then put your pen to paper or your fingers on the keyboard and start working on a new story!

One day I might be confident enough in my skill that I might even unearth some of my unfinished stories from 2004-2005, though I rather dread the horrors that might be lurking between those pages.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

Memory Zero by Keri Arthur

Memory Zero

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

It’s usually hard to evaluate the first book in a series. After all, the author has to introduce a brand new world, set up the rules, introduce the characters, and tell a story that’s engaging enough to make the reader want to buy the next book. And all this without making the book read like a huge info-dump. Not an easy feat to pull off, by all accounts.

I think that Keri Arthur did a pretty decent job with Memory Zero on all accounts.

Sam Ryan accepts to meet with her partner, Jack, who has gone missing two weeks prior. She hopes that he will give her some answers as to why he has suddenly gone MIA. Instead, he tries to kill her, and she is forced to kill him in self-defense. Only the Jack she had known and worked with for five years was human, and the man she killed is a vampire. So is it really Jack she killed? And why is someone bound and determined to hunt her down? Does this have anything to do with her past that she can’t remember?

Keri Arthur manages to create an interesting world. I can see that it has depth and history, but this is conveyed without the dreaded info-dump. There are hints at a bigger conflict, but mostly we discover this along with Sam. So we only know what concerns her, nothing more. I kinda like that. It gave me enough information to know that it’s a potentially interesting world I wouldn’t mind reading more about, so in that respect Memory Zero did exactly what it was supposed to do – it hooked me.

Now let’s talk about our protagonists. I actually liked Samantha Ryan, even though she comes with the trope I absolutely hate – memory loss. Sam was dumped at an orphanage as a teenager and has no memory about anything that happened to her before that day. One of the reasons she joined the police is to discover any leads about her past. The fact that she found nothing, and that even the birth certificate that was found in her pocket by the orphanage staff is fake, indicates that someone very powerful is involved and they don’t want her digging any further.

She is a strong character, but without being pushy or rude, like too many “strong” female protagonists are nowadays. She has a head on her shoulders and she knows how to use it. I also love the fact that she faces her fears and fights them. She has a fear of dark small spaces, but she is stubborn enough to crawl through the fake ceiling to escape from imprisonment, even though the dark and tight space makes her want to hyperventilate and scream at the top of her lungs in cheer terror.

I am less impressed with Gabriel Stern. He is described as the second in command at SIU, but he spends the whole book one step behind the bad guys, trying to put out the fires that were smoldering for months without him noticing. Heck, he’s even too blind to notice a traitor in his own family!

I think the biggest problem with Gabriel is that the author didn’t bother looking much further than “love interest”, “man with mysterious and dramatic past that leaves him incapable of trust and love” tropes. So his behavior is sometimes illogical and bewildering. I really hope that the author gets a better grasp on his personality and motives in the next book, because right now he is rather frustrating to read about.

But my main problem in this book and the reason I only gave it 3.5 stars is the antagonist. Jack is such a stereotypical villain that almost everything about him is a trope. He is the right hand to the current big bad Sethanon (whom we don’t even see in this book, btw), but he wants to overthrow him and become the next big bad… Ok, whatever floats his boat I guess? He is also inexplicably fixated on Sam, whom she wants to either join his side, or kill, or just experiment on; it’s not every clear, even to the author, I think. Plus I find it hard to believe that Jack managed to play the role of a good partner and friend for 5 years without Sam suspecting anything because the Jack in this book has the acting capabilities of a doorknob.

My other problem with Jack is that he makes way too many stupid decisions. I seriously wanted to hand him the Evil Overlord’s Rulebook when I was reading. I mean who would lock both protagonists in the same room and not even bother to search their pockets? And after that he acts all surprised and asks Sam how she got out. I would have laughed in his face.

This is sad because if the antagonist was less of a caricature and more of a fleshed-out human being, the book would have had a lot more tension.

But despite all this, Memory Zero did what it was supposed to do. I will pick up Generation 18, the next book in the series. I want to know more about Sam’s past and who this Sethanon that everybody is afraid of is. But pretty please, give me a real villain, not a walking cliché next time.