I’m a gamer and proud of it!

I have a confession to make – I’m a gamer. I have been a gamer since I was about 15, got my very first computer and a floppy with King’s Quest. I know that I’m supposed to feel ashamed about this, like it’s some kind of disease or addiction, and I’ve also heard that playing games was somehow beneath the “true” writers…

Well, let me tell you that this is a lot of bull. And I’m not ashamed. I love playing games, and I don’t see how that is bad. In fact, I think that games help develop our creativity and imagination.

In our day and age, there are numerous ways to share a story with the audience, and the novel is only one of them. In fact, I must admit that I have encountered some of the best-told stories not in books, but on TV or in computer games.

In fact, I think that those stories stay with you longer than those in books, probably because in a book, you are reading about a character living that story, but in a game, you are that character, so you are living that story yourself. This is especially true for the MMORPGs where you start by creating your own unique character that grows and discovers the world, and eventually becomes important enough to influence it as well.

That’s why I wanted to talk about a few of the games that I consider truly memorable, at least for me.

256px-Planescape-torment-box

I have played Baldur’s Gate (in all its incarnations) and Neverwinter Nights, but the game that remember the most is Planescape: Torment. I loved the story in that game and the grim, a bit depressing atmosphere. Imagine waking up in a morgue, with no memory of who you are and just a talking skull for a companion? Stumbling through this strange and alien world, trying to piece together your memories, meeting people who knew you before, and whose lives you changed, for better or for worse, and not being able to remember them? Yes, that’s Planescape: Torment.

Final_Fantasy_VII_Box_Art

Another game that still remains a favorite of mine is Final Fantasy VII. I have played all of the Final Fantasies, but the 7th one will always have a special place in my heart. It has a lot to do with the complex world and the engaging characters, but also with the best villain I’ve ever seen in games, TV or books. You can read my blog post about him, if you are interested. And I think that all the fans of Final Fantasy VII also need to play Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, which is kind of a prequel, telling the story of Zack, Aerith, Sephiroth and what really happened in Nibelhelm.

256px-Silent_Hill_2

I am not a big fan of survival or horror games. I’ve never played Resident Evil or any of its clones, but there is one game that shook me to the very core and it’s Silent Hill 2. Maybe because the story behind it is not the usual “shoot them up” horror, and the town of Silent Hill, although full of monsters, is haunted by the character’s own feeling of guilt and regret. After all, you play this game as a man who received a letter from his long-dead wife and comes to Silent Hill to find her… And the soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka is the best I’ve heard in a video game before or since.

Another one of my favorites is Final Fantasy X. It’s a wonderful story of courage and determination, where the characters have to often make hard choices in order to save those they care about… I admit that it’s the last game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I liked. The rest of them were… not very memorable.

But all those games thought me something about how to tell a good story, or about how to create tridimensional and memorable characters, or that having a complex villain is essential for a good story. I am a better writer because of them, so no, I’m not ashamed that I am a gamer. I’m glad.

So, are any of you gamers as well? What games influenced you? Made you laugh, or cry, or pause and think about the meaning of life? Or just gave you a few hours of good time when you were so absorbed in the story, that the real world ceased to exist for bit?

The Deep by Nick Cutter.

The Deep

Stars: 3 out of 5.

 

I am hard-pressed to grade this book, because I loved it… until I didn’t. And that “didn’t” came in the last 1/3 of the book, including the ending.

 

The premise of The Deep is very promising. There is an incurable disease called the GETS that slowly kills people. First you start forgetting little things like where you put your keys or the name of your boyfriend in high school, then you forget more essential things like how to feed yourself, until you forget how to breath or your heart forgets to beat. It’s always lethal and nobody knows what causes it. But there might be hope for humanity. A substance has been discovered deep in the Mariana Trench that might be able to cure the GETS. A group of scientists had been lowered down to study it in a high tech habitat called the Trieste. Only the base station above has lost contact with Trieste several days ago, and then a horribly broken body of one of the scientists surfaced in the bathyscaphe that had been attached to the habitat. Two people are sent down to investigate what happened. They will face more than just crazy scientists and the crushing pressure of the depths.

 

As I said, I started really liking what I was reading. Loved the main characters and the world Nick Cutter built. Can’t say anything bad about the language either. I read the first 2/3 of the book in two days. It took me a whole week to finally bring myself to finish it. But I need to mention that I don’t think it’s because the last third of the book is bad. I think it’s just that I really didn’t agree with the choices the author made and what he made his characters do.

 

Without going into details, because that would be a huge spoiler, but I don’t think anyone would make the choice the protagonist makes in the end, no matter how crazy they become. There is no mistaking that evil thing for his son. Sorry that’s just not plausible.

 

I have two other gripes with this book.

 

The first one is also deeply personal and might not put off other readers. But for me, there were way too many flashbacks in this book. I understand that they are necessary and an important part of the story, and that the reader wouldn’t understand what’s going on without at least some of them. But they are just too long! And they break the narrative, killing the suspense. I mean one chapter we are on board of the positively creepy Trieste and the tension can be cut with a knife… and then we have a whole chapter about the day the protagonist’s son disappeared. Once we come back to the Trieste, the tension is gone, flushed down the drain.

 

My second gripe is how the characters behave. I mean they are both smart people, they both come to the realization that weird s%&t is happening on board of that station, and that they are more susceptible to it when they are alone. So why oh why do they think that separating and wandering off on their own is a good idea? And why did the author use that tired old trope from every bad slasher / horror movie ever? Especially if bad stuff repeatedly happens when they do it, surely after the third time they would have worked out that staying together might be wiser?

 

*Deep breath*

 

So to summarize, it’s a well-written book with an interesting story. Some of the things in it didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work for other readers. So I would say, if you like horror, you should give The Deep a try.

PS. This review is for an advanced copy I got from NetGalley.

The Outline is more a suggestion than a set of rules.

My second novel The Choices we make, is three chapters away from being done, at least in its first draft form, so now I can speak with the experience of having completed two full novels. And I’m saying to you that outlines are not set in stone. They are just a suggestion, a few road markers on the way from the beginning to the end of your story. Or, like Captain Barbossa would say:

Guidelines
The Pirates of the Caribbean are property of Walt Disney.

 Now the pantsers in the audience will probably yell at me, “I told you so!” while the plotters will grumble, so let me explain what I mean by that. I am a plotter. I find out the hard way that I simple cannot finish a story without having written down at least some kind of outline beforehand. All the novels I tried to “pants” lay abandoned somewhere in the 1/3 to 1/2 of the story, because I either wrote myself into a corner, or had no idea where my story was going. So I outline everything, from short stories, to novels. And with Choices, I went even further and did an in-depth chapter by chapter outline.

 

But I have noticed something interesting while I was plodding through my first draft. While I followed that outline pretty closely in the beginning of the book, I started deviating even before the end of Part 1, I only glanced at it during Part 2, and threw it out of the window completely in Part 3 because my book had very little to do with the original story idea by that point.

good-luck-road-sign

 

If it had only happened with Choices, I would have called it a fluke and found another topic for a blog post, but when I looked back at EVERYTHING I wrote in the past year, I noticed a trend. It seems that I always throw my map away after the first leg of the journey and set off running happily towards the end of the story.

 

I don’t think it’s a bad thing (hence the title of this blog post), because when the time comes to deviate from the outline, I have spent some time with my characters already and I know how they will react and act, so I’m more comfortable with taking the back sit and letting them lead the story. But if I ever feel stuck or lost, I still have that map with the nearest road marker circled in red, so that I know where to stir my unruly crew towards.

 

Some of you might say that doing an extensive outline before sitting down to write the story seems like a waste of time if I throw two thirds of it away in the process. I disagree. By doing this outline, I already “write” this story once from the beginning to the end, and I can tell which parts don’t exactly work and need tweaking. So when I sit down and write my first draft, I usually manage to find a better way to tell that story: a better plot twist, a new and exciting way for my hero to get out of a dangerous situation, a more satisfying ending. This in turn makes the editing phase a lot less painful.

 

So what’s the conclusion of all this? I will still write extensive outlines for my projects, but I will never feel bad about deviated from them. In fact, if I manage to write a whole story that follows the outline to the letter, I will be extremely worried about its quality and probably spend longer on the editing stage.

 

And what about you guys? Are you a plotter or a pantser? How detailed are your outlines and how closely do you stick to them when you write your first draft?

It Started with a Whisper by A. W. Hartoin.

It started with a whisper

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ernest “Puppy” McClarity has only one wish: that Miss Pritchett, his dreaded math teacher, leaves him alone on the last day of school, so he makes a wish to his great-granddad Ernest to take care of her for him. Only wishes are a powerful thing when you are a McClarity, and old Ernest always watches over his own, even if he is long dead.

I absolutely loved It Started with a Whisper. It has magic and paranormal elements in it, but they are presented in such a manner that a lot can be seen as coincidences or weird accidents. This book is not about the all-powerful witches that smite their enemies with deadly spells. It’s about a family that loves each other and their land, and would do anything to protect each other as well.

I loved all the characters in this book. The McClarity clan is big, colorful and full of crazy people. They biker, they fight with each other, but they also have fun and love each other unconditionally. And they are all fully fleshed and tridimensional characters. I felt like I was right there at Camp with them, just another member of the Pack.

And Great-grandpa’s Ernest old homestead, or the Camp as everyone calls it, is described with such love and attention to detail, that I could picture it perfectly in my head as well. That’s actually one of the reasons I loved this book so much – it reminded me of the summers I spent at my grandparents summerhouse when I was a child. It was in a remote village in Russia where everybody knew each other and nobody ever locked their doors. All the kids would play together from dawn till dusk, and nobody worried where we were. That long-forgotten feeling of freedom, of summer heat and lazy afternoons swimming in the pond or exploring the woods behind the village, I managed to recapture it again while I read this book. And for that, Mrs. Hartoin, I thank you.

This story is less about magic, and more about Puppy slowly leaving his childhood behind and realizing that actions have consequences, and that sometimes things are not what they seem, and neither are people. Nothing is black or white, and even the hated teacher who had been so awful to him all year long might do so because she is profoundly unhappy and just lashing out.

It’s a coming of age story and it’s executed perfectly. Puppy is a typical 14 year old boy who has just barely left childhood and suddenly discovered that girls might as well be aliens from Tau Centori, because they are just as puzzling. Like any other boys his age, he is awkward around them, unsure of himself and slightly embarrassed about his mother always dropping him at school at least 30 mins late. All he wants at the beginning of the book is spend a fun summer at Camp with his family and friends, and hope that Beatrice, the llama that seems to hate him for some reason, doesn’t spit on him too often.

But when real disaster strikes and some of his actions have grave consequences, he steps up and does what is right. By then end of the story, Puppy has turned into a good man, a man Grandpa Ernest would be proud of.

I thoroughly enjoyed It Started With a Whisper and my time spent at Camp with the McClarities. On this cold and dreary season it was a much needed breath of summer heat. I would definitely pick up the next book when it comes out in 2015, because I wouldn’t mind coming back for a visit… as long as I’m invited. Because bad things happen to people who step on Ernest’s land uninvited.

PS. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review through LibraryThing.

The Best books I read in 2014.

I have read 48 books last year, according to Goodreads. I’m pretty sure I read more than that, but I didn’t write a review for all of them (and some I started but never finished for various reasons). But that’s still a lot of books! A lot of it is due to the fact that I became member of NetGalley and got access to the advanced copies of so many shiny new books, but mostly I just love reading.

So before I start on my 2015 goal to read and review 50 books, I wanted to mention the best books I had the pleasure to read in 2014. Those are books that touched me, made me turn the pages into the wee hours of the morning thinking, “just one more page, and I’m going to bed,” and whose stories stayed with me long after I reached the end and closed the book.

So here we go. I tried to break it by categories, but I usually suck at it, so meh. Some categories will have several books, some just one, but all of them are a must read.

SCIENCE FICTION.

Abyss

The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F Hamilton. I loved this book. It reminded me of the Culture series by Iaian M Banks, which I absolutely loved. I will definitely purchase the next book in the series because I want to find out what happened to the characters. Here is my review.

DARK FANTASY.

I have three whole books in this category for 2014.

Of Bone and Thunder

Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans. Have you ever wondered what a Vietnam war like situation would be like in a fantasy world? Wonder no more, because that’s the book Chris Evans wrote. But it’s so much more than Vietnam war with swords and dragons. It’s the story of several fleshed out characters that we come to know and love during the book, and some of whom we still morn in the end. My review is here.

City of Stairs

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. There was once a world where Gods walked the streets of mighty cities and interceded on behalf of their people… and a man who invented a weapon that could kill them. Now Bulikov, the city of the Gods, lays in ruins, and those who were once rulers of the world have become second class citizens. But are the gods really as dead as they seem? I loved this startling new world, and I’m hoping for a sequel. And here is my review.

Three Parts Dead
Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. In a world where Gods interact with their worshipers and some people possess godlike powers, it’s inevitable that the two would eventually clash in a bloody conflict. Several decades after the massacre that killed several gods and their creations, a young Craft woman is called to the city to investigate the death of it’s main god… I loved this book! And I’m absolutely in love with this world. My raving review is here.

URBAN FANTASY

Rivers of London

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Step aside, Harry Potter, here comes Peter Grant. This is what is what a real modern day wizard would be like – full of inquisitiveness and the willingness to find out how magic actually works, to try and systematize it and put a scientific base behind the spell casting. Add to it wonderful characters and vivid descriptions of London and you have me hooked. And this series only gets better with each book. Here is my review.

The Rook

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. This book defies classification. Yeah, it’s kinda urban fantasy, or maybe a superhero story, but the hero is more broken then super-powerful in this case. But I loved Myfawny and the wonderful (and scary) world she lives in. Where is the next book, Mr. O’Malley? And the review is here.

POST-APOCALYPTIC.

Darwin's elevator

Darwin’s Elevator by Jason M Hough.  Twenty three years ago, the Builders, a race of aliens that nobody has ever seen, shot a giant elevator cable from their spaceship into the soil of Darwin, Australia. Fourteen years later, a plague called SUBS wiped transformed every human being on the planet into an animal driven by only one primal emotion, which was rage in most cases. Only a small zone around the Darwin’s Elevator is SUBs free and everything that’s left of humanity is huddled around it. But what if the Builders are not done with Earth? What if they are coming back? Here is my review.

PARANORMAL ROMANCE.

Yep, I even read that from time to time.

Magic Bites

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews. I’m not big on romance, but this story had me hooked and wanting for more. Maybe because of the rich and complex world, maybe because Kate is not your typical paranormal romance heroine, or maybe because the romance itself seems to progress so naturally that I BELIEVED in it. But yes, I’m going to read the rest of this series and I’m not even ashamed of it. As usual, the review is here.

Pfew, there! I consider myself very lucky to have read so many good books last year. And there were more books that I liked, but not enough to put them on the “best of” list. Granted, there had also been some books I got so frustrated with I had wanted to throw my e-reader across the room, which would end up being expensive if I did that every time I get upset with a book.

I am hoping to read even more wonderful books in 2015.

Hotter than Helltown by SM Reine

Hotter than Helltown

Stars: 3 out of 5

Hotter than Helltown is one of those books I find tough to review. On one hand, I liked it while I read it – there was an interesting plot and it kept moving along fast enough to make you want to turn the pages; the characters didn’t get on my nerves, and I didn’t mind following them. On the other hand, once I reached the end, closed the book and tried to summarize what I’d just read, I was left with a shrug and a “meh, it’s alright, but nothing stellar” assessment.

 

Yes, the story moves along at a fast pace, and it’s fun to follow Cesar along while he tries to investigate the gruesome murders and study for a big magical test that might cost him his life if he fails. 

 

The problem is, the story moves along too fast. It’s a relatively short book and a lot of events seemed crammed into the pages. This leaves no space for character development or world exploration. It’s a non-stop sprint from page 1 to THE END. I mean, sure, it keeps you entertained while you read it, but once you’re finished, it doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste.

 

I liked Cesar’s POV, but he is the only character in this book with any kind of background or development. Everybody else around him are just sidekicks with no dept. Oh, stuff is implied or mentioned in passing about them, but never truly explored. I would have loved to know a bit more about his partner or his boss, or even have a glimpse into Bella’s story. But all this was left by the wayside as the book raced through the plot. Which made it hard to empathize and care about the characters, at least for me.

 

The world building element was also rather none-existent. Now, this might be due to the fact that this is book 3 in the series and most of the world building had been done in the previous installments. But it felt at times like I was running with the protagonist through a movie set – normal looking houses on the outside with just cardboard and wooden poles in the back to prop them upright. I think each book in a series needs to add something to the world, but Hotter than Helltown didn’t seem to do any of that… 

 

So to summarize, it was a fun and quick read, but it was forgotten just as quickly once it was done. If you just want an easy book to spend your Saturday afternoon with, by all means pick it up.

 

PS. This review is for the advanced reader copy I received via NetGalley.