Tag Archives: Reviews

From Reader to Writer – a change in perspective.

I have always been an avid reader. The very first book I read on my own had been The 15 year old captain by Jules Verne, and I was 7 when I finished it. So I can pretty much says that I’ve been ready pretty much all my life. If I don’t have at least one book started at any given time, something is really wrong.

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I have also been a writer for over a year. I won two NaNoWriMos and finished several short stories and a novella between those as well. And I have been slowly learning more and more about the craft.

So being both a reader and a writer, I have noticed a change in the way I read books.

Before I started writing myself, I would pick up a book and either stick with it to the end, or abandon it somewhere in the middle (or after the first 50 pages, if the book was absolutely dreadful). I would then move on to the next book and forget about it, if I didn’t like it. Or recommend it to my friends and move on to the next book if I loved it. I didn’t waste much time pondering why I like or hated something.

Those days of blissful ignorance are now gone forever. I can’t just close a book and move on. My mind keeps coming back to it and analyzing WHY I liked it or didn’t like it. It’s especially true with books that I don’t like for some reason. As soon as I feel that my attention is slipping; that the book is losing my interest, I feel obliged to discover why. Does the author abuse infodumps? Are the characters flat or not interesting enough? Does the author tell more than she or he shows? Is the plot lacking conflict?

I can’t stop analyzing what I read, especially since I started posting book reviews on my blog. I must admit that it makes for some rather frustrating reads, when my mind starts picking a book apart instead of enjoying it. And I can’t switch it off, even if I try! In fact, if I get so lost in a story that I forget to pick it apart, it’s a sign that it’s a very VERY good book indeed. And those are the books that usually get a glowing 5 stars review on my blog once I resurface and gather my thoughts enough to actually write one.

I have also noticed that I pay particular attention to the ending. To me, it’s the most important part of the whole book. A badly written ending can ruin the whole story, no matter how wonderful and interesting it was.

I’ve heard my other writer friends talk about this shift of perception before, but until recently, I had thought that they were exaggerating.  Now I can confirm that they were right. I guess, the more you practice your craft, the more you think about it, the more you edit your own works, the more accustomed you get to critical reading. And after a certain point, you undergo the shift in perception I described above.

This shift in perspective means that I read slower than I used to, but I’m not too worried about that. Because I think that every book I read and analyze helps me improve my own craft as well. I learn what works and what doesn’t, what to do in a story and what to avoid at all cost.

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

I think that as writers we are very lucky in this respect. After all, who else can say that they are learning their profession AND having a good time in the process?

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn.

Open Minds

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I don’t usually read YA. Well, scratch that. There are very few YA books that I actually like. Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, or the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix come to mind. So I should rephrase this to : I read YA, but the book needs to be exceptional for me to like it. Fortunately, Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn is one such book.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it’s perma-free on Amazon, so I admit that I was rather reticent about downloading and reading it. I’ve been less than impressed with the quality of some free books on amazon in the past.

But the moment I opened this book, I was hooked! I kept turning the pages and I couldn’t put it down. Susan Kaye Quinn created an interesting and compelling world where reading other people’s minds is considered the norm, and where people who can’t mind-read, or zeros, are outcasts, relegated to the most menial jobs. Because you wouldn’t trust someone whose mind you can’t read. And they wouldn’t be able to operate most of the machinery anyway, since everything, from phones to cars and kitchen appliances, runs on mindware. I must admit that the worldbuilding in this book is impressive, and the consequences of common mindreading are well-thought of.

Kira is not a typical teenage protagonist either. Sure, she dreams of fitting in and having friends again, and agonizes about the fact that the boy she likes will never go out with a zero. She has the normal hopes and dreams of a teenage girl. And when she discovers that she can not only read minds, but also control them, her first reaction is to pretend that it never happened, to try and hide it, to pass for a normal reader and just fit in. That’s what Kira wants most of all, to fit in. But that option proves impossible, and she discovers that there are a lot more jackers than she thought. She also discovers that the harsh reality for a jacker is either to live your life in hiding, work for the FBI, or be sent to a concentration camp.

I liked the fact that when the shit hits the fan, Kira doesn’t lose time mopping around and waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue her. She takes the matters in her own hands instead. She does what she thinks is right, even if that means risking her life to free other jackers from a secure FBI facility, or exposing the existence of the jackers and the horrible way they are treated by the government to the media.

I am very interested to see how she deals with the fallout from that bombshell in the next book,  Closed Hearts, btw.

My only gripe with this book would be how quickly Kira changes from being scared of her powers and reticent to use them to using them left and right without remorse. But you can argue that she is placed in a situation where her survival depends on those powers.

I would also have liked to see a bit more of a learning curve, because it seems like Kira went from a zero to a super-jacker in the space of a couple months and without any particular efforts.

But all in all, Open Minds is a fast-paced and interesting book. It’s also very well written and formatted. I would never have guessed it was self-published. So if you want to pick up a though provoking and intelligent book for your teen (or for yourself) to read, head over to Amazon and download the free copy.

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.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead
Three Parts Dead

Sometimes, you stumbled upon a book that resonates with you on a deeper than usual level. Maybe you had a similar idea banging around your head for a while, or maybe some of your inner voices speak in voiced strangely reminiscent of the characters in that book. Or just maybe you really get the world the author is describing. In any case, it makes reading that particular book an absolute joy.

It happened to me before with Leviathan Wakes where I just fell head first in to the world and in love with the characters. You can find my review of it here. And it happened again with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.

I knew I would love this book as soon as I read the blurb in the back. A world where craftsmen and women have almost godlike powers? Where gods walk the earth and can be killed and brought back to life? A weird steampunk-ish technology mixed with magic? Heck yeah!

So I downloaded a free sample from amazon and was immediately hooked. Sure, the world is wonderfully weird and complex, but the characters are what really appealed to me. They are different and wonderfully complex.

I loved Tara, the young craftswoman. She has a very strong personality and doesn’t take crap from anybody. She is also new to the Craft and not as ruthless and her older peers. She still has some humanity left in her. This makes her even more endearing, because she has to make some hard choices in this book between her obligations to her employers and her obligations to her new-found friends. Those choices don’t come easy, and I could really feel how much they cost her.

And let’s talk about Abelard! Great job creating this one, Mr. Gladstone, I am really envious. This seemingly lost and naïve acolyte who is chain smoking and dealing with a crisis of faith turns out to have immeasurable hidden reserves and a will of steel. He ends up saving the day and doesn’t ask for anything in return, apart from to be left alone to worship his god in peace.

I was found of the other characters as well, even if those two definitely stole the limelight. The story itself is also deliciously complex and engaging. I loved the fact that underneath it all, it was ultimately a story about love and sacrifice and about the lengths even a god would go to save the one he loves.

So my advice to you is to go pick up Three Parts Dead. You will not regret it. You will spend a day or two in a wonderfully bizarre world with engaging characters. And if you want to return to that world, Mr. Gladsone has two more books out. I’m about to start the next one, Two Serpents Rise.

Do you need to be married to your job to be good at it?

This post was born out of a brief exchange I had with a friend on Twitter. She had mentioned that in all the popular TV shows, the cops always hang around the office after hours (and sometimes late into the night), even after the case is done. Why don’t they go home? Don’t they have a life outside their work?

That conversation made me think. I also took a hard look at the shows I like on TV to see if I could confirm or deny that statement. Well, the verdict isn’t pretty – it seems like the TV wants us to think that you cannot be a good specialist (be it a detective, a CSI, an agent, etc.) unless you are literally married to your job.

 NCIS crew courtesy CBS NCIS crew courtesy CBS.

In NCIS, for example, Gibbs has been divorced three times and the relationships he had during the show never lead anywhere. He lives in a house that looks more like a cheap and ran down motel and spends most of his time in the basement working on a boat. Ducky was sharing his home with his mother until she passed away and now lives alone. As far as we know, he has never been married and is not in a relationship. Tony’s romantic life had been a train wreck after train wreck. All of them practically live at work.

CSI, another popular series, also shows us a group of workaholics with almost non-existent social lives or failing relationships. Nick, Greg, Julie and Morgan are all single. Sara’s relationship with Grissom ended a few seasons ago and Brass still has problems with his ex-wife and step-daughter. Heck, even the family man D.B Russell is starting to feel the strain in his personal life.

CSI courtesy CBS.
CSI courtesy CBS.

And there are plenty more shows like that. Heck, the latest example of this was shown in Rizzoli and Isles, when Jane chose her career over marriage to the man she loved, because it meant following him around.

My problem with that portrayal is that it slowly convinces the viewers that if you want to be good at your job, you need to prioritize it above everything else, personal life included. You need to be married to it, even obsessed with it.

Well, I have a beef to pick with that. First of all, obsession is never healthy. Also if you structure all your life around one single thing, once this thing taken from you, your life crumbles. Have you noticed that when those series show us a retired cop, he is usually either a heavy drinker, struggles with depression or bitter at the world? And how many characters took their own lives when they were declared unfit for duty for one reason or another?

I don’t agree that you have to sacrifice everything to be good at your job. I think that in order to be good at something, you need to be a healthy and balanced person. That means having more than one “obsession”, a hobby that you would enjoy doing during your free time, plenty of friends (and not only colleagues), and a good family life / personal relationship. That way, if disaster strikes and you fail at one aspect of your life, you still have all the others to fall back to and help you through. And your work won’t suffer too much, if you leave on time to enjoy a good dinner with your family. On the contrary, you might come to work happier the next day and ready to tackle oncoming challenges.

So that’s the characters whose stories I want to read and watch. I want well-rounded people. I want people who are not defined only by their job, who can balance profession and personal life, and be happy doing both. Those people are not boring. They have their own challenges to overcome. And there is so much more that can be done with characters like that as an author.

So what do you think? Do you think that being married to your job is unhealthy? Do you think that we, as authors need to create more in-depth characters who actually have a life to come home to? I would love to hear from you all.

Third Star made me rethink my life.

Image

Watched Third Star a couple weeks ago, but it took me that long to actually sit down and write a review. I had to let some time pass and wait until the raw emotions this film provokes settle down a bit. I can say this – it’s one of the best movies I have seen this year, but I will admit that not everyone will like it.

Basically, if you are looking for a an easy, switch your brain off and laugh out loud movie , walk away. Third Star is anything but easy, though it has some funny moments. If you are looking for two hours of eye popping non-stop action, chose something else to watch. But if you want a movie that grabs you and takes you on an emotional roller coaster, a movie that makes you laugh and cry and hurt with its characters, a movie that leaves you with many things to think about once it’s over – by all means, buy Third Star.

The main premise is common enough: four childhood friends – James (Benedict Cumberbatch), Davy (Tom Burke), Bill (Adam Robertson) and Miles (JJ Feild) embark on a road trip to James’s favorite place on Earth – Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire, Wales. But this is where this trip differs from countless other road trip movies. James is terminally ill with cancer and his friends decided to organize this trip as their last adventure together. This is not a spoiler. In fact the movie starts with James saying “I am 29 today. I won’t be 30.”

So this movie is a road trip, yes, but one that is also a goodbye –  goodbye to a friend, to childhood memories, to dreams not fulfilled and paths not taken. And while all four of the protagonists do their best to ignore the elephant in the room (James’ sickness), they will have to face it eventually, as they will have to face their own shortcomings and lost dreams.

It is hard to describe this movie. Yes it is sad and the ending is hearth-wrenching and had me really crying, which not a lot of movies do. But you know what? It’s also filled with beauty and subtle humor and you can really see how much those four care about each other.

To me, this is what this movie is about – love. Those four friends really love each other and they genuinely care about James or they would never be able to make the decision they made at the end of the movie. And they all love life and see the beauty in the little things around them.

All four actors gave exceptional performances for Third Star. Nothing is overplayed or heavy-handed. I believe them when I watch them interact on screen. I forget that it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and JJ Feild, instead I only see James and Miles. That is the highest praise you can give an actor.

But most importantly for me at least, this movie made me think. We all have dreams and things we want to do eventually, one day, when we have time. And after a while, like James says, “all those daydreams become fantasies rather than possibilities.” Well what if there is no more time? What if the next day is your last one? What would you see when you look back at your life? What happened to all those possibilities and dreams?

This movie made me think about what I really want to do with my life. And you know what? I don’t want my dreams to become mere fantasies. I want to fulfill them, even if it will be hard work. So for this realization I must thank director Hattie Dalton and Western Edge Pictures and the main actors.

And for those who want to spend two hours with a good movie that makes you sympathize with its characters and think about life and death, watch Third Star. It’s available for download from Amazon or on ITunes.