Monthly Archives: April 2017

After She’s Gone

After that last awful “thriller” that I read, I confess I was a little uncertain about Lisa Jackson’s After She’s Gone. After all, this one really is classified as a romance novel. But After She’s Gone was just about everything I wanted The Killing Game to be.

The story begins on the set of a thriller movie. It’s the last day of filming, and they are redoing a scene, but the prop gun is replaced by a real gun, and a stunt double is shot and nearly killed. The actress who was supposed to be in the scene didn’t show up for filming, and no one has seen her since.

Cassie Kramer and her sister Allie (the one who disappeared) are both actresses and they have had a love-hate relationship their whole lives. After Allie disappears, Cassie checks herself into a mental hospital. But a midnight visitor convinces her she is the only one who can find her sister, and Cassie checks herself out.

But as things progress, Cassie is marked as a primary suspect. And when more people in connection with the film end up dead, left with masks of Cassie’s family members, Cassie is afraid for her sanity and her life.

Lisa Jackson did a great job of leading readers on, guiding them toward the conclusion she had in store. I guessed at the who behind the whole thing, but I didn’t know the who behind the who (that doesn’t make sense on its own, but if you read the book it probably will). Though you can tell where the story is going, Jackson has several threads that you follow, each with its own set of mysteries to solve, which keeps the book moving. It allows you to formulate a picture of the ending (may or may not be the right picture), but still keep you guessing on the details, which is the kind of read I like.

As for the romance bit, that wasn’t even an issue. It was obvious from the beginning of the story that the romance part of it was going to be Cassie reigniting the flame with her estranged husband, against her better judgment. Although she did check herself into a psych ward, so her better judgment may not have been so great.

Overall, it was the kind of thriller I actually enjoy reading, not a romance book masquerading as a thriller. I’m very interested in reading more of Jackson’s work, including and especially Deep Freeze, one of her older books wherein the Kramer sisters, as well as their movie star mother, make their debut appearances in Jackson’s writing.

Here’s to hoping some day I get around to it!

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The final days

I’ve finished week three and I’m down to the final days of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m proud to say I’m still caught up, and almost every day this month I have been writing. I count that as a victory.

I never did name my main character, I guess that will have to wait until May.

I’m quite excited for the ending. I think it will be interesting, and fun to write. That being said, per the usual, now that I’m down to the last 10,000ish words, it’s a long slow slog to the finish line. I’m not sure why my steam runs out right around this time, but it does. Part of it is that I know exactly how it needs to go to end, but part of me thinks I still need more.

Whatever the reason is, every day is a new chance to write, and I’m going to make the most of each day I have left this month. And then I’ll start again in May doing something else. Maybe I’ll try my hand at editing this story (I know, I always say that, but maybe this time I actually will). I think I will set myself a goal, between now and November, to get some substantial editing done on a project. Maybe this one, maybe another one, or maybe I’ll get really in to it and get a couple done (ha! But, maybe).

As challenging as it is to balance reading a book a week for blogging, writing, full-time work and being an adult, it’s been worth it. It has felt very good to set myself a task and work toward it, a task that I’m doing only for me.

Here’s to finishing strong, and doing a few more things just for myself.

The Stars are Fire

Sometimes, it’s just nice to sit down with a book and know within the first few pages or chapters that it will be a quick read.

That’s how it was with The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve.

The story follows Grace Holland, a woman in her mid-20s who is married with two children. Her life has settled into a predictable and respectable routine when it’s upset by fire. In October 1947, fire breaks out on the coast of Maine, where Grace and her family lives. In its aftermath, she must find her inner strength, not just once, but day after day.

Based on true events, Shreve weaves a story of deep emotion. With Grace, we experience sadness and joy. We can understand how trapped she feels, and how scared. And we can understand the freedom she gets when she discovers there is more to her than she knew.

The story is written in present tense, but in third person, a unique style that, at first, I wasn’t sold on. But the way Shreve writes, almost as though you’re sharing consciousness with Grace, makes the writing style really work. We’re not just observing everything that happens, we’re experiencing it with Grace, but with the liberty to form our own opinions.

Though it is a quick, relatively short read, the amount of growth we see in Grace is a testament to Shreve’s writing and character development. In the beginning, Grace is a meek housewife, focused on pleasing her husband and rearing her children. By the end of the story, we find a strong, independent woman who, though scared, has the courage to do what she must, for herself and for her children.

A heartwarming book with bits of romance, suspense, adventure and comedy, The Stars are Fire is great for anyone who just wants a good book to read. Be sure to watch for it, hitting bookshelves everywhere this May.

The beginning of week three

I’m caught up on my word count, and I’m going to chalk that up to miracle.

This week was a little rough. For the most part, I kept up each day (I only have to write like 1,200 words a day, so, if I put my head down, I can get that done within a half hour), but this weekend was definitely much harder. Not only was I working during the middle of the day, which makes it harder to carve out time, but some anxiety and depression decided to tag team me. Normally I would just take it out on my characters and kill someone, but unfortunately, my story doesn’t lend itself to that. It just wouldn’t make sense. And even though they say sometimes doing something unexpected moves your story along, I don’t think it’s the right option at this juncture.

But! I’m caught up, and that counts for something. I’m making it so.

Other things about my story are a little more embarrassing, including the fact that any time I write my main character’s name it is literally “MAN.” I really ought to give him a name, but, I have a hard time spending a half hour looking at baby name websites when could be using it to get ahead. So, I’m currently taking name suggestions.

My goal now is to get to 30,000 words by the end of this third week (despite my goal of 35,000 words, once I got started I decided I was going to shoot for 10,000 words a week. I didn’t make that this week, but if I get a day off or a quiet evening, I can make up some ground. After all, it’s just a matter of time (and a few thousand words, I think) before I get to rip MAN’s heart out, and that will probably make me feel a little bit better, at least for a little bit.

 

The Killing Game

It sounded like it was going to be so good. The synopsis painted a picture of a psychological thriller where the serial killer chooses a victim, plans the murder and leaves clues to connect it all together. We know who the victim is and I was expecting a book full of twists and turns as the character and police try to figure out who the killer is before he kills again.

What The Killing Game, by Nancy Bush, turned out to be was not quite that.

The story meets Andi Wren following her husband’s tragic death, as she tries to take her place as the majority shareholder in the family company. She is trying to hold her ground while her brother-in-law tries convince her and his sister to do business with a pair of bully brother developers. When Andi finds a creepy note with a play on her last name, she hires ex-cop gone PI Luke Denton to do some investigating for her. Meanwhile, in town, the local police are investigating the discovery of various skeletons found in the basement of a local home. All these threads, though seeming unrelated (kind of, but not really), come together in the end.

My first issue was that by the second chapter or so, it was obvious that Andi Wren and Luke Denton were going to hook up. And it was equally obvious that they were going to wait at least half the book before doing it, even though it was full of the typical, “her thoughts involuntarily flitted to Luke” and “he found himself thinking of her, but after his last relationship, he knew it wasn’t a good idea to get involved.” (Not actual quotes, but, you get the gist of it.) So already in the very early stages of the book, I felt it belonged more in the category of romance, not fiction, regardless of the themes of murder.

Second, I would probably have passed up on reading the book had I known the killer wasn’t nearly as complex as I would have believed. What he really turned out to be was a whiny boy who discovered he got sexual satisfaction from killing (and from sex with dying women. Eww.). So instead of a smart, calculating killer, it was just gross. Sure, the final chapters revealed a plot that was much bigger than the first few chapters suggested, it was not that surprising of a revelation, and, frankly, made the most interesting part, the clues and plays on words, seem like a tacked on after thought to the whole scheme. It was supposed to be a psychological game, but it really was just one guy killing people while waiting for the right moment to go after his true victim.

Overall, I was just really disappointed in the story. I expected so much more out of it. Instead, I was reading wondering why I even bothered to finish it, since it wasn’t anything I truly wanted to read: the protagonist was a weepy female who needed a strong man to save her life and couldn’t feel safe alone, the antagonist was an extremely creepy guy who, had I known about before would have been a deal breaker for starting the book, and the whole point of the book was for Andi and Luke to get together.

I prefer romance to be a secondary theme element, which is why I generally avoid reading romance. And especially when you’ve got so much more potential, this book could have stood more solidly on the grounds of psychological thriller. I’ve gotta say, I would not recommend this book to many people, if any. It’s not trashy or wholesome enough for romance readers (or at least what I imagine to be romance readers), but it falls short on the suspense scale to be worth reading for people who enjoy mystery and mind games.

All in a week’s work

Camp NaNoWriMo started a little over a week ago, and while I was a little slow out of the gate, I’m on track (even ahead a little bit), and motivated to get this thing done.

This year my writing process has felt different than last year, which I guess isn’t really surprising. Working full-time with an ever-changing schedule means I have to be very purposeful in setting aside time to write. Last year I slotted my time for breaks at work, giving me nearly an hour of writing time throughout my day. This year, I haven’t been doing that.

However, my goal is only 35,000 words, less than 1,200 a day to hit my goal. Which means that even when I get behind (though I’ve been pretty good the last week), it still is only an hour or two of writing to get back on track and give myself a little cushion for the next day.

Being on track is good, because it allows me to keep reading this month too. Even though I’ve got two book review blogs written and scheduled for posting (secret: I don’t actually write my blog posts the day they go up), I don’t want to get behind, nor do I want to give up reading for writing. I think the more I read, the better writer I become, picking up things by osmosis, if you will, and noticing different techniques and styles from other writers that end up being relevant to my own project.

I am behind on my planning and chapter outlines, but I haven’t caught up to where my planning ends yet, so I guess I’m still OK on that front, for now. As always, the chapters are more fluid than I first expect, and things are already changing a little.

It’s the changing that keeps me from getting too much further ahead in my planning. Even though I can obviously keep changing things, or disregard things that I thought worked but don’t anymore, it’s also kind of fun to wait and see where the story has gone so far, then jot down the plan for the next few chapters. It allows me to think with my story, and I like that kind of planning better than a full outline, I think.

My ending idea started out as nine words and a question mark. However, I knew as soon as I wrote it that the question mark was unnecessary, that’s definitely the direction it’s been heading the whole time. I’d share it, but I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Here’s to another good week of writing, making dreams come true (or achieving goals, anyway).

Inferno

Growing up, some of Dan Brown’s books were a little controversial in some circles (my circles, I guess. Specifically, The DaVinci Code, which I’ve still never read). None the less, after seeing the movie, Inferno, I immediately knew the book would be so much better, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Brown returns to what I understand to be a regular character, Robert Langdon, an American art history teacher who finds himself caught up in mystery and intrigue surrounding ancient art. In Inferno, Langdon wakes up in Florence, Italy, with a head wound and no memory of the last two days. But within hours, Langdon is on the run for his life, trying to solve a riddle. If he fails, it will mean the end of the world–at least for some.

Langdon’s antagonist is a radical genius, a scientist obsessed with solving the problem of overpopulation. Brown tackles the issue in an interesting way, instead of painting the issue as black and white, Brown deals in shades of gray (that turn of phrase will never sit quite the same again), and even the end leaves readers to determine for themselves what is right.

Compared to the movie, the book is so very much different, with more twists, turns, and, as I said, ambiguities for the reader to engage with. If you saw and enjoyed the movie, do read the book, it so much better.

Even though I saw the movie first, the book was still an engaging read. With a variety of characters of varying depths and motivations, Brown weaves in some red herrings to keep readers wondering just exactly who is who and who to root for.

Having finally had a taste of Dan Brown’s writing, I’m anxious for more (though, as always, my ever-growing, never-shrinking reading list makes it unlikely that I’ll get to it any time soon). The symbolism, the intrigue and hints of Sherlockian deduction, it’s a book that your brain will thank you for.