Heartsick and Angry

When will America love their children more than their guns?

I avoided posting yesterday because I knew if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to avoid the vitriolic post that would come out of how I was feeling. The above quote is one that expresses a portion of what I feel in fewer words. While I’ve worked through much of that, it is far from gone so if you want to avoid the spillage that remains, feel free to move on.

Continue reading “Heartsick and Angry”

Pretty Little Lies… Ideals

Perfect. Unconditional. Selfless. Black and White/Right and Wrong.

I’m going to apologize upfront as this is going to be kind of long and rambling, but these are things that have, yet again, been running through my head on an infinity loop. Continue reading “Pretty Little Lies… Ideals”

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: What Are Your Favorites and Why

This post has been pestering me for a while, but I’ve struggled to get it written because there are just so many different things to say and ways to say it that its hard to narrow it down below a novel level.  I initially thought this would be more about authors’ writing styles and creation processes or about character building and development or what makes a great writer stand out from just a good writer, but you have to note all of those things and more to really get to the meat of the subject.

Almost all of my reading material comes from the library, usually Kindle or ePub versions and only a very few am I willing to spend money on from my limited book buying budget.  Those are books written by authors that have proven time and time again to be exactly what I love and crave in a great story.  If I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d read myself right into the poorhouse, so I only buy what I know I’m going to love.

I have found that I like a pretty large variety of subjects and genres (all within the fiction realm) when it comes to reading, but I rarely love anything to the point where I know I’m going to read it over and over again.  It takes an extremely special and unique combination set of things to push any book near that coveted Favorite rating for me.  I will give a book a 5 star/Excellent rating, but it still won’t make it onto my Favorites list but even that is a pretty rare occurrence.

If you look at that list, I have quite a few, but in comparison to the total number of books I’ve read over the years, it is an extremely small percentage.  What there is is almost exclusively books that fall into the Fantasy genre.  I really do love a great book that involves the impossible, magic and shifters and worlds that are not the one we live in.  Where people are capable of things that we can only dream about. There are a crap ton of books out there that have all those things in their stories, but the ones that are truly awesome are the ones that are capable of making all that impossible real.

I’ve read a handful of interview questions or FAQs from a variety of different authors over the years and I noticed something that seems to be a common thread among my all time favorite authors that doesn’t appear to be there for authors that don’t make that list.  That is that their characters are real to them.  They have lives.  They have opinions.  They have discussions with the author.  They will have an all out hissy fit if the author tries to push them in a direction the character doesn’t want to go.  They are, in essence, real.  In just about any other group of the population, if someone said that they have voices talking in their heads they’d end up medicated and in a hospital somewhere.

At one point, I kind of thought that was some serious crazy talk until I was forced to understand it after making several custom pieces for clients that, while not quite so out and out words and conversations with me, had some seriously strong opinions as to what they were going to be.  I finally, really, truly got it at that point because those ended up being not only some of my favorite pieces, but some of my best.

I’ve compared authors to artists before and that is what they are, their medium is the written word instead of paint or clay or metal or some other physical, tangible medium.  Like musicians use notes and instruments, writers use words to paint their pictures and the most talented ones pull you so thoroughly into their pictures that you are living them right beside the characters.  It isn’t just characters, though.  Those are vivid, vibrant, deeply layered and complex beings that you know exist even if they really don’t.  The worlds they live in are just as rich and cultivated that, as a reader, there is very little need to truly imagine it because it has been painted is such detail it is hard to miss.  When I read a book, that is what I want.  I want the full experience.  I want all of my senses engaged, not just my eyes and my imagination.

It has been something of an unofficial goal this year to find at least one new author to add to my Favorites list.  I have yet to find one because there are so very few that seem to write to that level that I’m looking for.  So many authors write for quantity rather than quality and there are so very many that are cookie cutter or formula writers that it is amazing there are any decent books at all.  They aren’t awful writers at all, don’t get me wrong.  They just are the bare effort, riding on previous success writers that aren’t willing to put in the extra needed to make something great.  They are okay with just being okay.

I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read that were so obviously in that cookie cutter/formula crowd.  The first book or two by an author you read, you may not notice and it is easy to think that you might have found something good, but then you read a few more and realize how wrong you are.  At one point, I actually watched my percentage mark as I read and found that the author I was reading literally had points where certain things had to happen in their story.  20% would have the first sexual event, 50% would have say some major drama point, 80% would have the big misunderstanding/breakup/separation and 90% would have the miraculous make-up and lets live happily ever after before the end of the book.  The only real differences would be the basic specifics like names, places personalities and scenario details.  It was like reading some plug and play book.  Ever since then (and after having something similar happen several more times), I’ve become leery of reading what I call bulk authors.  Again comparing to other types of art, it is like seeing mass produced costume jewelry sitting next to a custom, handmade piece.  You are going to notice a difference.

While I get hugely frustrated that my favorite authors don’t produce at a higher rater, I’m also extremely glad that they don’t because that means I’m still going to get awesome when they do put something new out.  It usually takes time to produce something amazing.  Look at pregnancy and gourmet cooking and gemstones like diamonds, they don’t come quick and easy.  Like fast food and quick meals, as a reader I’ll read those mass produced authors because I like to read and sometimes something that isn’t quite so full and rich is called for, but that doesn’t mean those will ever be read more than once or earn a spot on the Favorites list.  I will keep looking as I do want a broader range of authors I wait rather impatiently for new material, the ones I’m willing to spend my very limited buying budget on.  The rest, I’ll see you at the library during those long waits.

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Male vs. Female Authors

Most everyone has preferences when it comes to reading.  Those may be the genres and subgenres they lean towards, paperback/hardcover vs. ebook, specific authors or even writing styles.  Another big preference potential is male or female authors.

Male and female authors very often write from differing or even contrasting world views.  As I mentioned in a previous post on perspectives, readers bring their life experiences into what they read.  Authors do the same thing when writing a book.  Since men and women have very different struggles and obstacles in their lives, their base level life experiences are going to be different, so how they approach the stories and characters they create are also going to be different.

It has been my experience that, as a woman, I struggle to connect with books that are written by male authors.  I can absolutely enjoy them and appreciate the artistry that is behind those stories, but I have yet to find a male author that inspires me to be watching impatiently for their next book release.

I have found that books written by male authors (though I must say that my sampling is on the narrow end and really only range in a few genres) tend to focus more on action than emotion.  The big, exciting parts of those books fall heavily into that range.  When there is an emotional context, it is often times harder to actually grasp the emotion the author is trying to impart because it comes from a different perspective than mine.  It is also more of a punctuation to different points of their stories rather than a threaded part of the cohesive whole.

A female author tends to have that emotional thread underlying and permeating everything.  When a reader sees a character developing, that character’s thoughts, actions and personality is woven in along with their feelings about themselves and everyone around them.  This applies to male and female characters.

Male and female authors usually portray their male and female characters differently.  What a woman sees as important or appealing aspects to her male and female characters is often going to be different than what a man sees for those same characters.  While both tend to either overtly or subtly objectify the opposite sex in their characters, women are more likely to emphasize non-physical or imperfect physical traits in their characters.  I think that they are also more willing to place both women and men on equal or at least balanced footing.

Author Kim Harrison posted similar thoughts on male vs. female author character representation on her FB page.

There will always be exceptions to every rule, but in the broader spectrum, these generalities tend to run true from what I’ve noticed.  I can admit that I’m biased here as I prefer a female author and often will skip even reading the blurbs of books that are obviously written by male authors.  I know that I have a better chance of connecting to how the female authors have written their stories and portrayed their characters as they are coming from a similar world view and life experience.  This absolutely is not always the case, but it is often enough to allow that to impact my reading choices.

That doesn’t mean that I am a staunch male author hater.  I will read something if it looks appealing.  I am always on the search for new favorite authors to add to my collection.  I just haven’t found one that gets to me yet.

 

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Perceptions

It is easy as a reader to think that when you open that book, you are starting with this blank space that the book fills completely.  That the book will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits.  That is great in theory, but theory and reality rarely ever travel along the same path.  In this, the theory breaks because while the book may be a blank slate, the reader is not.

We each bring our own issues, experience and history onto that slate before we ever even glance at the cover.  Our own well covered slate has us beginning to form thoughts and expectations on that first glance before the spine is even cracked.  It is impossible to not let our slate color the slate of the book.

Our slates help us to form opinions and perceptions about what we are reading.  It is what helps us to like characters, plot elements, settings, everything that make up that book.  It is also what can make us dislike all those same things if they don’t fit into our personal version of the perceptions we form.

A book may connect on a seriously deep emotional level with a reader that has a personal experience that resonates with the subject in the book.  While that same book may be incredibly unemotional to a reader that their own history doesn’t give them the background to create any kind of a bridge between them and the book  to help them empathize.  The second reader may still be able to enjoy the book, but they just won’t be able to connect in the same way or on such an emotional level.

As  reader, I try to keep in mind what my own slate has written on it and attempt to understand how a person with a different history may view a story that I’m struggling to connect with.  There are times when my imagination just isn’t good enough to stretch that far, but sometimes, I can get a different perspective on a story and understand it on a different level.

I find it fascinating to look at how differing perceptions form peoples opinions with regards to books.  There are times when I’m floored after I’ve read a book that I thought was stunningly written only to then go read how other people have reviewed that book and find out that they completely hated it.  A lot of times, if the review is well articulated, I can totally understand how someone might feel that way.  I many not agree, but I can understand it.  Other times, I’m on the opposite end of that concept when I’ve found a book I really didn’t like that is heavily praised.

Understanding how my perceptions influence my opinion has also helped me learn to articulate what or why I like or dislike certain aspects of the books I’ve read.  It still isn’t always easy, not by a long shot, but it does help.  Eh… sometimes.

Peeves: Unlabeled Genres

There isn’t much that is more frustrating when reading a book, and about a 1/3 of the way into it, you realize the book isn’t what you expected because it was missing genre labels.  This is something that has happened quite a lot recently, though, after a tiny bit of research, I think I have to lay this particular peeve squarely on my library’s shoulders.

My library tends to omit genre labels on an awful lot of their books.  At first, I thought that was because for some reason, the publishers or those marketing the books left those labels off in an effort to gain a larger readership as some labels will keep someone from picking the book up in the first place.  But after looking at a few specific books that were missing labels at the library, Amazon had them notated correctly, so it probably isn’t anyone’s fault but the library.  The three biggest labels they tend to leave off are Young Adult, LGBT and Christian.

The LGBT label missing is frustrating because that is a genre I read and I may miss a book that I might want to read because that label isn’t there.  Honestly, if someone isn’t going to pick up a book with the LGBT tag, then they are probably the type that is going to be pretty ticked to get into the book and realize what the subject actually is.  Leaving it off is just as likely to keep readers away from it as they are to bring them in.

Both the missing labels for Young Adult and Christian tick me off because I’m just not interested in either of those genres.  The only YA books that I enjoy are those by authors that I already love, and even then it is a stretch, so I generally don’t want to pick up a YA book unless I’ve specifically looked for it.  The Christian books are much the same, but more so because I honestly don’t enjoy any book preaching to me, no matter the subject.  Since there is a specific genre for this, it should be labeled as such.  And yes, my library does have this as one of their labels, they just don’t always use it.  Same as all the others.

It gets frustrating when I feel like I’ve wasted time reading a part of a book that I picked up based on the information I had from both the genre labels and the blurbs only to find out it so wasn’t what I was expecting.  It isn’t often that I will finish books that weren’t properly labeled.  Even the times that I’ve forced myself to plow through them, I normally don’t even like what I’ve read by the time I’ve finished.

I like it even less that I now feel like I need to look up a book in multiple places to ensure that what I think the book is, actually is.  Maybe by taking the time to do this I’ll read less books that I don’t like and more that I do.

Peeves: Undeveloped/Unsupported Dialog

This is one that seems to have been bombarding me quite a bit lately, because apparently a lot of authors, even some that are generally well rated, do this.

What I mean by undeveloped or unsupported dialog is when you have characters having a conversation, but the only thing that conversation contains is the text involved in the dialog.  There is little to nothing that is added to that to help the reader connect with what is being said.  Little to no actions by the characters, almost no scene continuation or descriptions, and very little thoughts or emotions expressed by the characters during the dialog segment.

Yes, readers connect to the words written on the page, but part of being able to do that is by allowing them to feel immersed in the scene.  When you throw only the words the characters are speaking at them without adding color, texture, emotion or dimension to those words, they kind of feel like they are just floating out there unanchored.  You can kind of compare it to having a conversation on the internet.  It is really easy to mistake what a person is saying without any real context to back it up.  You can take it the wrong way or add your own emotional emphasis to the conversation that may not actually be there and that gives it a whole other meaning.

In books, readers need that extra information to connect better to the characters and what is actually meant and going on.  Often, if an author didn’t support their conversations, it is easy to feel that the characters lack emotion or that the emotion the writer is trying to convey isn’t genuine.  Sometimes a reader can totally miss out on subtle clues that the author is trying to impart as well.

An example of a bad conversation set up I read set the scene of the two main characters sitting down on a couch with drinks to talk.  After that little detail of what was going on outside of the conversation, there were about 3 pages of nothing but talking.  Not once was there a pause in the dialog to note that either character took a drink, shifted positions on the couch, neither touched the other character in any way (it was something of a romantic scene, or was supposed to be, there should have been small caresses and touches here and there).  There also weren’t any thoughts mentioned from either character’s perspective as to how they were taking the conversation, not even mentions of facial expression changes, something as simple as smiles or frowns or how something was said.  Because it was missing all of those things, what should have been a kind of deep and important conversation came across as dry and lackluster and I felt like I’d missed something.

There are so many places in a typical written conversation to add depth and context to a scene.  In a lot of cases, it doesn’t even need a whole lot, but just enough to give the conversation a fuller feel.  Without those things, it is so much harder for readers to connect to characters in an emotional sense.  Absolutely, dialog is integral to a good book.  But because we do not get to actually see the characters in front of us like we do in a movie, we cannot see the body language and the environment, the emotional impact the words are having on the participants.  We need to be told about those things by the author.  The ones that don’t take the time to even put bits of that into their conversations are lazy in my opinion.

For me, if the dialog is presented without those critical supporting features, it can nearly kill a book no matter how well the author writes everything else.  I can think of a few authors that tend to write this way and, even though I often like their books, those books tend to get pushed to the bottom of my To Read list until I’ve already read the better books on that list.  It is surprising to me how many professionally published authors just don’t do really good dialog.  If they would take that little bit of extra effort, those books could easily go from good to excellent.

Updated Ratings

After having written several reviews now, I realized that my previous rating system just didn’t quite cut it.  Apparently it is one thing to think, internally, that there aren’t that many slots to categorize books, but another entirely to be able to clearly define those slots when writing about them.  There are way more gray areas than I’d believed.  Because of that, I’ve decided to adjust my ratings to a more standardized form that, hopefully, will make it a bit more clear.

My previous rating scale and reasoning can be found here.  The new one isn’t a whole lot different, but it gives a bit more wiggle room that I felt I needed and didn’t have with some of my previous reviews.  I won’t go back and change any existing reviews, but all new reviews will follow the new system.

 

5+stars

 

A 5 star rating is reserved for my absolute favorites.  I will absolutely be willing to spend the money to buy this book.  This type of book is one that I will read multiple times, has such great content that I find myself so absorbed in the story that I’m incredibly disappointed when the book is over because I want more.  The books that receive a 5 star review will be few and far in between because there just aren’t that many books that speak to me on that level.

 

4+stars

 

4 star books are really good; excellent story/characters/world, but just miss the mark of falling into the favorites category.  There is a good chance that I might read it again if I didn’t have something more interesting in my To Read list.  It would definitely be something I’d recommend to others if asked.

 

3+stars

 

3 star books are good, but not great.  I enjoyed it, didn’t feel like it was a waste of time, but more than likely won’t take the time to read it again.  They may have mostly decent writing, but often one major aspect seems weak or not well thought out or fully developed.  I might read other books by the same author or in the series when I’m looking for something to read, but don’t have something more anticipated or interesting on my list.  A lot of the time they are the type that seem like a replay of every other storyline out there.  Cookie cutter writers eventually fall into this category, no matter how much I may have liked the first book or so.  There are only so many times you can read the same story with only slightly different characters/scenarios before it gets really old.

 

2+stars

 

2 star books are books that I didn’t particularly like. They are usually books that just weren’t for me, now matter how well written they may have been.  Sometimes quality of writing alone will drop a book down to the 2 level, even if the story concept was good.  There are only so many flaws a story can have before a reader loses interest.

 

1+stars

 

1 star ratings are not ratings that I hand out often.  These are those that I seriously question every single person involved in the process because that book was BAD.  Bad story, horrid characters, no way was there any editing involved, or any combination of those things.  An awful lot of times, these are the books that I may get a few chapters into and cannot force myself to attempt to plow through another sentence and are absolute and total garbage.  I really hate using the last term for these books as I don’t like to slam anyone, but there really just isn’t a nice way of saying it when a book is actually that bad.

Key Essentials to a Great Romance Novel

A great romance novel is something that tugs at the heartstrings, yanks on the readers emotions and draws them into the story.  It is an escape and, in some cases, a hope that honestly great romances do happen.  There are several things that a story needs to have to become a truly great romance novel, essentials that really help connect a reader to the story emotionally.  Those essentials are some of the primary aspects that make a real romantic relationship work.

Honesty
Yes, authors often use secrets and the withholding of information as a way to create tension and drama.  As long as you give a strong reason why that honesty isn’t happening, then it can work.  It can also work if it is one of the struggles the characters are dealing with and trying to do better at.  If it is not present just because, as a whim or because the character is ignorant, oblivious or just completely insecure, you had better do a really good job writing a story that makes those issues work or the integrity of your characters can fall apart and end up seeming stupid or week.

Trust
Trust ties in closely with honesty.  If your characters can’t be honest with each other, then the trust is going to be really hard to work with.  Absolutely, trust should be earned.  When you don’t take the time to build and develop that in the relationship, then it doesn’t come across as believable.  The characters are either blindly trusting, which can make them seem painfully naive, or they just never trust at all.  When you have a character that is so completely unwilling to build that trust or is unbending in their distrust of their romantic partner, no matter the actions or honesty the other has displayed, then that makes your character seem harsh, cold, uncaring or even something of fool.

Equality/Balance/Compromise
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  All parties in the romantic relationship should have the same rights and expectations of behavior, otherwise there is a huge double standard allowed and things can get really ugly.  If one part of the romantic couple gets upset about the behavior of the other, don’t have that one turn around and do the exact same thing and not allow the same kind of fallout to be addressed or dealt with.  All parties should have to compromise and develop or the relationship isn’t balanced and won’t appear very realistic.  You cannot have only one person expected to or be making all the changes or taking the difficult steps or having to deal with the difficult decisions.  That just isn’t that realistic.  Even though we are buying into the fantasy of the story, it still needs to feel possible.

Growth/Change
Any good story is going to have some conflict, even in a really lighthearted story.  You cannot expect it to all be rainbows and rose petals and utterly, completely perfect.  On the other hand, the flawed characters, have to have growth as well.  In their situations, their personalities, even how they view the world around them or their belief in how relationships should work.  If you get to the end of the book and the characters are still the same as they started, then part of the point of the story got missed.  That goes for all characters, that whole equality/balance/compromise thing.

If the issues and conflicts within the relationship are the exact same ones throughout the entire book with zero progress toward improvement or change, the reader is going to get frustrated really quickly.  In a real relationship, if one or another of those in that relationship continue to keep making the same mistakes over and over, or continue to hurt their partner over and over again, eventually that relationship is going to break.  If it doesn’t, it isn’t a healthy relationship and that kind of defeats the purpose of a good romance.  You also cannot have it be the same throughout the entire book to only have the characters have a miraculous epiphany in the last chapter and all those problems are magically resolved.  It does take a bit of time to deal with and go through those changes.

Strong Characters
Make them flawed.  Make them imperfect.  Allow them to make mistakes, even big ones.  Allow them to feel insecure.  Allow them to be a little broken. Give them great personality.  Allow them to have emotions.  Just don’t make them so much of any one of those things that they are unlikable or that their attitudes and behaviors are just painfully unappealing.

If your character is confident in who they are on page 50, do not make them suddenly, for no reason, feel differently on page 120.  Don’t have your characters hate each other in the beginning, then have absolutely nothing change at all but they suddenly have the hots for each other.  Have motivations and reasons for the personalities you create and make sure they work together.  Back up any changes with specific and clear reasons.  It doesn’t work for someone to be a total badass, but is unable to function without someone holding their hand or cries at the drop of a hat.  A character can be conflicted, that is fine.  Don’t make them seem like they have multiple personalities, unless you are actually writing a multiple personality character.

There are always exceptions.  Different scenarios can allow for these aspects to not necessarily all be prominent in a story or allow for exceptions, but you have to have some hint of them.  Either that or have a great reason to allow for those exceptions to make a story work well.  Sure, you can produce an okay or even a good romantic story without some of those aspects, but chances are you aren’t going to be able to pull off that really great one without them on some levels.  The biggest thing that is going to make the difference between okay and great is believability.  You don’t want your reader laughing at your characters like they are that bad horror movie actor that does that obviously stupid thing that everyone knows is going to get them killed (because, come on!  Everyone knows you don’t look under the bed).

Besides providing entertainment, romantic stories can also often be a launching platform for how expectations begin to form in younger generations.  It is something of a peeve of mine for a romance novel to set an extremely bad example of what is okay in a relationship.  No, not all romance stories showcase healthy relationships.  The ones that are well written make sure it is pretty clear that the story is about a relationship that isn’t healthy.  Others that aren’t so well written can send the wrong message altogether, allowing impressionable or inexperienced readers to get the idea that some incredibly unhealthy, even harmful behaviors, attitudes and actions are actually okay.  Not much will drop a book onto my Don’t Like list faster than books that don’t make it clear that certain behaviors are unhealthy or worse, promote those ideas and behaviors.

Safe sex falls into that category.  I’ve mentioned it before.  There is zero excuse for an author to not include safe sex practices in their writing, with a very, very few exceptions like authentic representation of a time period and the rare time when a story warrants it.  Most authors are good about making it clear when an unsafe sex situation has occurred that the characters should have been safe/made better choices, but not all authors do this.  I personally respect the author and characters a lot more when they take the time to be responsible.

Oh, and for me?  A real romance has a happy ending.  That can be approached from a lot of different ways.  It doesn’t always mean a traditional Cinderella, happily ever after.  As long as, in the end, the characters are happier in themselves and/or their relationships or better off overall then it qualifies.

 

 

Spider’s Bite: Elemental Assassin, Book 1

Spider's BiteAuthor: Jennifer Estep
Book Name: Spider’s Bite
Series: Elemental Assassin
Order: #1
Rating: Really Good
Genre: Fantasy

Blurb:  My name is Gin, and I kill people.

They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction . . . especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.

Review: I have run across this series several times, but for some reason I just never actually read it and I have no clue why.  For all those times I skipped over it, I’m now wishing I hadn’t because this is a really good book.  I absolutely love how the author builds her story and draws the reader in.  I thoroughly enjoyed her characters and that they were beautifully flawed in such ways as to make them feel more real.  When you can sort of fall into the flow of the story itself without having anything drawing you away or distracting you, then you know that the author is truly an expert in their craft.

While the story is on the darker side, the main character is an assassin afterall, it isn’t so dark and ugly that the story isn’t also balanced out by the more positive, hopeful aspects of life.  I really enjoyed how the darker and lighter aspects of this story played together, especially within the personalities of the main characters.  It is a huge reason as to why they, and their relationships with each other, are so believable and realistic.

From this first book, I can say that this looks like it falls right into the type of series I enjoy reading.  Those that have self contained stories in each book, but holding on to that larger thread that spreads across the series.  So far, I think I’m going to really enjoy this series and these characters.

I think the only reason this didn’t rate the favorite/excellent rating from me is because I wasn’t quite so wrapped in it all that I was not ready to be done reading at the end, though I’m not certain that isn’t so much the lack of desire to leave the story’s world as it is the author’s ability to finish the story well.  I can say that it is a very close margin there, so maybe that will change with future books.

Full Blooded: Jessica McClain, Book 1

Full BloodedAuthor: Amanda Carlson
Book Name: Full Blooded
Series: Jessica McClain
Order: #1
Rating: Really Good
Genre: Fantasy

 Blurb: Born the only female in an all male race, Jessica McClain isn’t just different—she’s feared.

After living under the radar for the last twenty-six years, Jessica is thrust unexpectedly into her first change, a full ten years late. She wakes up and finds she’s in the middle of a storm. Now that she’s become the only female full-blooded werewolf in town, the supernatural world is already clamoring to take a bite out of her and her new Pack must rise up and protect her.

But not everyone is on board. The werewolf Rights of Laws is missing text and the superstitious werewolves think that Jessica means an end to their race. When a mercenary who’s been hired by the vampires shows up to extract information about the newly turned werewolf only days after her change, they find themselves smack in the middle of a war and there’s no choice but to run together. When it’s up to Jessica to negotiate her release against her father’s direct orders, she chooses to take an offer for help instead. In exchange, Jessica must now swear an oath she may end up repaying with her life.

Review: While I did like this book and the general storyline behind it, there were several things that bugged me about it and kept it from being a much better book for me.  For one, the blurb itself, which is what you need to read to figure out if you want to read the book or not, is actually a pretty big spoiler to the plot.  If you are going to write a teaser, please don’t give away one of the big surprises of the story in that teaser.

Every book needs background basics for the reader to understand the current situation/world/character history, especially books that are the first in the series.  What they don’t need, at least not if you don’t want to bore your readers, is dry, essay like descriptions that get dropped into the story just to get it out of the way.  I felt like the first couple of chapters were so fluffed full of this level of background that it took away from a lot of what was going on in the plot and made it a whole lot less interesting.  There are ways to introduce that information and keep the flow going and make it interesting for the reader to discover along the way.  This book dropped the ball in that regard.

The last, big issue for me is more a personal taste thing.  I much prefer stories that are either self contained or are the type that have small stories that fall along a much larger story arc across a series.  I am so not a fan of books with huge cliff hangers.  That is exactly what this book is.  It opened up several different plot lines and none of them were resolved by the end of the book.  I find that hugely frustrating.  When you get to the end of a story, it should feel like a reward, even if it is a little one.  You want to feel as though you have accomplished something or resolved something by the time you get to the last page, even if it is minor and I didn’t get that at all with this.

As I said before, I did like the general storyline despite the things that annoyed or frustrated me and, because of that, I’ve rated this as Really Good, but it is borderline.  I do have the next book in the series on my reading list, so I’ll see if I still feel the same with the next installment.

Dead Heat: Alpha and Omega, Book 3

Dead HeatAuthor: Patricia Briggs
Book Name: Dead Heat
Series: Alpha and Omega (in the Mercy Thompson World)
Order: #4
Rating: Really Good
Genre: Fantasy

 Blurb: For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way…

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.

Review:  I really kind of wish that in my theme of re-reading books this year, I’d taken the time to re-read the rest of the books in this series before I’d read this one.  It has been too long since I read the last one that it took me a bit here and there to remember some of the things that had happened in previous books.

For me, even though I really did enjoy this book, it felt a bit slow starting out.  I really kind of think that is on me rather than the book, though.  I had to stop a couple of times to either try to remember an incident from previous books, or go and read the burbs to refresh my memory here and there.  Finding the right balance in too much or too little previous history in a book can be a hard line to find.  I don’t think that is an issue here, it is more that I just really, really need to understand what is in front of me whether it is critical to the story or not.  I don’t think that most readers would find this as slow to start as I did.

As with all the rest of the books in this series and in the Mercy Thompson series, this is another great story.  I have loved the dynamics in the relationship between the main characters, Charles and Anna, and this book continues to keep those dynamics interesting in the process of still giving the reader a great story outside of that relationship.  For a lot of authors, that is something that is really difficult to accomplish.  Most can pull off one or the other, but rarely both.  That is not a difficulty Patricia Briggs has, not by a long shot.

I love that the story resolves the immediate issue that arises with the missing children (I hate full on cliff hangers), but gives the reader some great insights into what is going to be happening next in this world, both the Alpha and Omega series and the Mercy Thompson series.

As of right now, the next book in this world is in the Mercy Thompson side and isn’t due out until 2016.

 

Phoenix Club Series (in part) Review

Author: C.J. Bishop
Book Name: It Can’t Be You; Hearts in Chaos; Shattered (Abel Trilogy?)
Series: Phoenix Club
Order: #1-3
Rating: Mediocre/Didn’t Like
Genre: LGBT Romance

I have to say that I really struggled with this review as to where it fell.  The only reason it did not fall into the garbage realm is because this book actually seems to have a small level of thought put into the overall story and time was taken to actually clean it up enough to be presentable.  Those are pretty much the only positives I can offer.

There are very, very few scenarios when an author can get away with presenting the reader with unsafe sex scenes.  Even fewer options when the subject of the book isn’t restricted because of cultural or historical accuracy needed for the scene.  There is absolutely zero reason why in this day and age, any author should allow their characters to be having unsafe sex, unless there is a specific reason for it in the basis of the story.

These books do not even allow the reader the possibility of any of the characters having safe sex.  Not only are we talking totally unprotected sex, but we are talking sex with multiple partners over an incredibly short period of time.  The only attempt at a mention at all was early on in the first book, ONE of the many characters having sex mentions a clean bill of health requirement to be able to work in his job.  With the reality of the time it takes for anything to show on tests and how long it takes to get tests back, there is no way any of the characters in this book are practicing safe sex.

Another major issue I have with these books is the entire premise that the books are based on.  One part of that is the fact that the two major characters supposedly fall in love pretty much on sight.  I’ve read a lot of books where authors can pull this off well and it works.  In this case, not at all.  For one, this at first sight love is supposed to be so all powerful and consuming as to over come severe past trauma, including rape, yet the main character has no problem immediately having sex with several other people the second there is any kind of drama between him and the love of his life.

Part of the issue with that is the timing of it all.  Again, no problem with at first sight thing, but the whole, fall in love, cry, have issues, cry, have sex with other people, cry, have more issues after having sex again, cry some more, more drama and issues, cry, then in the last 10% of the last book, everything is perfect and, after a round of sex (no actual real discussion of the issues and how to resolve those issues ever occur in any of the books, it is just lets have sex and the world is rosy and fixed, no matter the years of nightmares and trauma and fear), the couple lives happily ever after, all in about 3 weeks.

Not only is the overall timeline of the story totally unbelievable, but the issues,  how they are dealt with and resolved, are so far outside of the realm of possibility and contradict the personality of the characters that it is offensive to the reader, making them ignorant and gullible to believe any of it.

If your main character is so devoted to his sister, he is willing to prostitute himself to pay for her needed medical care (did I mention she has been diagnosed with HIV, yet not a single character practices safe sex?), then why in the hell would he abandon her the second his feelings get dinged and is gone the entire time she is in the hospital, which is all in that same short time span?

Between every character’s deep moments ending, not in a real conversation to address those moments, but rather with them having sex and then every single person dissolving into tears at the drop of the hat, I’m surprised I made it through to the end of these 3 books that dealt with this couple of main characters.

While, in theory, the general idea behind the book could have worked with actual conversations between the characters and a longer timeline, I don’t think anything could have really made me believe this story in any way, let alone enjoy it.  I wouldn’t even complain about the lack of conversation so much if I could have classified this as an erotic romance, but even the sex scenes were so off and wrong for me there is no way it would even fit into that genre.

So, in the end, I can’t say that this is worth the time unless you just like to read really poorly written and thought out stories.  I definitely won’t be wasting my time on any of the others in the rest of the series.

Peeves: Cover Art

They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we totally do.  The cover of a book is a reader’s very first impression of the book.  It gives the reader a first taste of what may be inside those pages and an indication of the writer’s style and personality.  As an author, I would think that you’d want your cover to be either interesting enough to grab a reader’s attention and draw them in or, at the very least, be generic enough to not matter.  Either approach will work.

In a lot of  cases, the cover isn’t going to make or break a book.  BUT… if your cover is done in such a way that it strikes a bad first impression, you are going to have a very hard time getting a reader, especially a reader that is new to you as an author, to actually get past whatever it is about the cover that bugs them enough to pick up that book and take a chance on reading it.  There are several things that bug me when it comes to cover art on books, enough so that I will often not even bother to read what the book is about and completely pass it up unless I’m just desperate for something to read.  A lot of times, I still won’t even look at it no matter how desperate I am.

Copycatting:  When a cover is, or contains, the exact same or very closely the same photo/image/design of another cover by another author.  This is something that I’ve noticed an awful lot recently and it annoys the crap out of me.  Not always so much that I won’t read a book because of it, but enough that I struggle to view the authors as more serious or professional.

I usually don’t always notice until I’ve read one book and then later see another book by a totally different author with a nearly identical image or a design that is so close, I think it is another book by the first author.  A lot of authors will use a similar design style throughout a series and that helps the reader to quickly identify it as being in that same series.  When you run across a situation where that isn’t the case, it feels deceptive and unoriginal.  I have no idea why this is so prevalent at the moment, but I am wondering if those books are being produced by the same publisher, one that isn’t willing to invest in unique cover art for their different authors, or if they fall more in line with self published works where the author has to provide their own cover art and they are getting images from free or low cost image services.

If you cannot get a full design work up with unique graphic images and/or photos for whatever reason, be it cost or lack of creativity, I would much rather see a generic design with a little color and just a title and author.  If you aren’t creative enough to show an original cover image, then how am I as a reader to believe that the story inside is going to be any more special or interesting than that cover, or even better, worth my time?

Cartooning:  Cartoon/childlike drawings.  This is definitely a peeve of mine.  If you are a mature, professional author writing mature stories for adults, why are you putting out books with covers on them that make them look like children’s’ books?  I will admit that not all covers that have cartoonish images on the cover come across as childlike, but most of them do.

I don’t read kids books unless it is something for my kids for some reason.  I also very rarely read a young adult book unless it is by an author that I already love their adult books.  This is because those just aren’t the kinds of books I usually want to read.  If your book cover appears that your book belongs in those genres, I’m not even going to take the time to read what the book is supposed to be about let alone take the time to read the book itself.

Cheap/Poor Computer Graphic:  Images or designs that look like my high school-er put together in his first graphic design class.  Sadly, in a lot of these cases, my high school-er could have done a better job.  Seriously, if it is going to look like completely amateur work, there is no way I am ever going to look past that cover.  Never.  Why even bother with a cover if that is what you are going to put on there?

Back to the point about a generic cover.  You will get a crap ton more looks and interest if you have even a very simple, basic, clean cover with zero images over something that is bad.  The goal is to generate interest, not turn it away.  I have a feeling (though I haven’t taken the time to research this for any kind of actual evidence), that books with covers like that are very poor cousins within the self published realm.  Even if it isn’t, that is the impression that those covers give.  I seriously doubt a publisher with a very good reputation is going to put out a book with a cover that isn’t at least partially well thought out, let alone so utterly terrible that it does the opposite of the job it is supposed to do which is get a reader wanting more of what it sees.

A book cover, when it has anything other than that simple, generic design, is suppose to tease and tantalize its readers into wanting to pick it up and explore what is beyond that cover.  It is supposed to draw you in, not cause you to go running and screaming in the opposite direction.

Vision in Silver: The Courtyard of the Others, Book 3

Vision in SilverAuthor: Anne Bishop
Book Name: Vision in Silver
Series: The Courtyard of the Others
Order: #3
Rating: Excellent/Favorite
Genre: Fantasy

Yet again, Anne Bishop has managed to bring us another stunningly rich book so full of character that you cannot help but be sucked in.  I cannot say enough good things about this new addition to the series.

Vision in Silver continues the story of the Others.  We get to see all our favorite characters along with meeting a few new ones, which is always fun because of how packed full of personality Ms. Bishop creates her characters.

For one of the main characters, Meg, we get to see her continue to learn how to interact and function in the world around her, emphasizing that even though she is extraordinary because she is a blood profit, she is also exceptionally ordinary and makes mistakes just like everyone else.  One of the things that I love about her is that while what she does and who she is has major impacts on the world around her, it is in a way that is indirect.  She isn’t out there fighting or killing the bad guys with her super awesome powers like you see in so many other books.  She does it by being an example to everyone around her of how to be a better person just by being who she is and what she does.  That aspect of her character really stands out in this book.

While we see a heightened degree of bitterness, ignorance and hatred from some humans towards the terre indigene and the humans that try to keep the balance and peace in this book, we also get to see the friendship between Meg and Simon continue to grow and evolve.  We are definitely left on something of a high note by the end of the story, but that high note is balanced on the edge of what is promising to be really ugly times ahead.

As is typical with an Anne Bishop book, I was so not ready for it to end by the time I’d finished reading.  I wasn’t ready to leave that carefully and beautifully crafted world.  I am beyond anxious to get to the next one, even though I don’t think there is even a title listed for it yet, so that I can sink back into it again.  This one most definitely is on my favorites shelf!

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Jason: Anita Blake Series, Book 23

JasonAuthor: Laurell K. Hamilton
Book Name: Jason
Series: Anita Blake
Order: #23
Rating: Mediocre/Didn’t Like
Genre: Fantasy/Romance

I really debated on whether or not I actually wanted to write this review.  I dislike saying or writing negative things, especially when it comes to something I normally would be raving about.  In this case, I just couldn’t help but say something.

I really didn’t like this book.  For so many reasons.  It was a huge disappointment.  It just did not live up to the existing standards set by the rest of this series. While we got to see some familiar and well loved characters, there just wasn’t a story in there at all.

I’m all for hot and steamy love scenes, no matter what combination of men and women, no matter how many are involved and in most cases, not even the level of kinky, when it is wrapped inside a great story.  Sometimes I’m even good to read something that is nothing but those steamy love scenes, story or not, but please, do them well.  Don’t make them fumbling and awkward.  I get that in real life, steamy doesn’t always come across as smooth, but come on.  When I read a book, a big part of the reason to do so is to live a bit in the fantasy that the author creates.  If you aren’t going to make it so that a reader can get sucked into what you are writing without being thrown out of whatever mood you are trying to create, then what is the point?  I’m pretty sure that in some ways, awkward was the tone that was trying to be set, but it was so wrong and so didn’t work, that for the first time ever reading an Anita novel, I was really tempted to put it down and not finish.  When I finally did finish, I was still wondering why I even bothered.  If you have to force yourself to finish a book, then why even consider reading the next one?

As a whole, I have really enjoyed the series thus far, but with this addition and a couple of the other more recent shorts and additions that I’ve read, I’m wondering how long I’ll continue reading the Anita Blake series as what I’m seeing lately just isn’t all that entertaining.  Like I said, I’m all for steamy, no matter what my own personal preference is.  It is like any other kind of art, while I may not like it personally, I can totally appreciate what goes into it and how someone else might enjoy it and can enjoy it from that perspective. But apparently, even in my reading and enjoying the fantasy from that other perspective, I do have limits to what I can find sexy, even peripherally.  Up until this, and I have read more than my fair share of all kinds of steamy, I hadn’t found that boundary.  Apparently I have been pushed past that and just couldn’t find what I’ve been reading sexy or interesting or entertaining in any way.

The only reason I didn’t rate this book as garbage was because I have liked this series and the characters so far and am hoping that this isn’t an indication of where the series is going from here.  I will be waiting until the next book is in the library rather than spending money on something I’m not sure will be any better than this one.  I am glad that is how I read this one because I do feel like it would have been a waste of money.  I’m sad to say, that if the next isn’t any better, it may just be the last.

 

Lady Luck: Colorado Mountain Series, Book 3

Lady LuckAuthor: Kristen Ashley
Book Name: Lady Luck
Series: Colorado Mountain Series
Order: #3
Rating: Excellent/Favorite
Genre: Romance

This wasn’t actually a new read for me.  I read it last year for the first time, but it is absolutely one of those that demands more than one read.

I first ran across Kristen Ashley last year when my library added parts of the Colorado Mountain series to their digital library.  While the series and author quickly became one of my favorites, this book in particular hit the top of the list.

While Lady Luck contains all the hallmarks that makes the series excellent… super hot badass dude, quirky, smartass sassy chick, steamy love and intense drama… for me this book really did hit all of that perfectly.  From the first book, I have fallen in love with the men Kristen Ashley creates and how they become so very real I cannot seem to get enough of them.  In this one, for some intangible reason, I was totally sucked in, more so than any of the others in this series.

Not sure exactly where on the scale this would land, but it is definitely up there in my all time favorites of all the books I’ve ever read.

Broken Soul: Jane Yellowrock, Book 8

Broken SoulAuthor: Faith Hunter
Book Name: Broken Soul
Series: Jane Yellowrock
Order: #8
Rating: Excellent/Favorite
Genre: Fantasy

This was another excellent addition to a favorite series of mine.  Since I’m kind of an instant gratification kinda gal, I don’t always like cliff hanger types of books.  While the Jane Yellowrock series doesn’t exactly do that, it does somewhat continue a larger story arch across the whole series while at least resolving the most current drama in each book.  Broken Soul continues this pattern.  It also added some interesting layers to the main characters while giving insight into a few that had been more peripheral in other books.

I love the main character in this series and am glad to see something going her way relationship wise in this book.  I do hope it continues into the next one.  I don’t like seeing characters constantly battling and never getting a break or finding any level of happiness or heck, even a few seconds to just breathe.  So far, Faith Hunter has played with that a bit in previous relationships in this series, but has still kept it on the positive side.  I’m absolutely looking forward to the next book!

Dark Heir, book 9, looks to be due out in April of this year.

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How I Rate Books

There are several things that I believe will either make or break a book with tiny variations along the way being the only difference between a good book and one that is awesome.  Or… along the other spectrum, awful.

I categorize books based mainly on whether or not I’d be willing to spend the money on the book, or as is most often the case as I read the majority of books from the library, if it is worth re-reading (which that list has become incredibly narrow as of late). This type of book is one that I will read multiple times, has such great content that I find myself so absorbed in the story that I’m so disappointed when the book is over because I want more.  These are the books that are in my all time favorites list.  There is a big divide between this level and the next because there just aren’t many at all that will land in the top.

The next level is where a book is really good; excellent story/characters/world, but isn’t quite unique or special enough for me to want to take the time out of reading new material to want to read it again.  It would definitely be something I’d recommend to others if asked.

Editing is something of a peeve of mine and can actually make the difference between a good/mid-level book and a great book.  For me, if the story is excellent and I’m reading along and there is a glaring editing mistake, it trips me up.  I have to stop, usually re-read to try and figure out what was actually meant before I can move on.  This disrupts the flow of a book and bugs me to no end.  I don’t always know if those great books are just exceptionally well edited or if the story is just so amazing my mind skims over whatever mistakes are there, but the times it is noticeable can really effect where I place a book on my good/bad scale.

There will always be that mid-level book that is okay, but to me seems like a replay of every other storyline out there.  It may have mostly decent writing, but often one major aspect seems weak or not well thought out or fully developed.  I wouldn’t consider them a waste of time, but are right there on the border.  Cookie cutter writers eventually fall into this category, no matter how much I may have liked the first book or so.  There are only so many times you can read the same story with only slightly different characters/scenarios before it gets really old.  This level also covers books that just weren’t for me, now matter how well written they may have been.

The last group of books are those that I seriously question every single person involved in the process because that book was BAD.  Bad story, horrid characters, no way was there any editing involved, or any combination of those things.  An awful lot of times, these are the books that I may get a few chapters into and cannot force myself to attempt to plow through another sentence and are absolute and total garbage.

It may seem that there is a huge gap between those last two, but there really isn’t.  Most books that I’m not a huge fan of will fall in that second to last group.  Just because I don’t necessarily like or enjoy it doesn’t make it a bad book.

I guess if I had to put a label or name on those levels, they would be Excellent/Favorite, Really Good, Mediocre/Didn’t Like, Garbage.  Though I really hate using the last term for that label as I don’t like to slam anyone, but there really just isn’t a nice way of saying it when a book is actually that bad.