Monthly Archives: April 2019

Lie to Me

I’ve seen this book on a lot of displays lately, and had a lot of people asking about it, so I decided to give J.T. Ellison a try. After all, when it’s part of a 50 percent off Book Haul sale, how can you not buy it (and a few others…)?

Ethan and Sutton Montclaire have taken a lot of punches lately, but they thought their love was strong enough to withstand all life was throwing at them. But one morning, Ethan wakes up to a cryptic note from Sutton, saying she needs some time and not to look for her. Knowing how it looks, and how it will look, Ethan finally approaches the police and reports his wife as a missing person.

It seems like Sutton has disappeared without a trace, but everyone is looking at Ethan for answers, and as a suspect. It quickly becomes clear there is more going on than anyone first suspected–and nothing is what it seems.

Written essentially in two parts, from two different points of view, Ellison drops a few breadcrumbs to show you where she’s going while reserving the big surprise for the end. She also does an excellent job of making you suspect all sorts of things throughout the book. Highlighting how just one side of a story can skew perception, things don’t become clear until Ellison has told both parts, and starts picking out the real truths from her characters’ memories.

A domestic thriller all about revenge, Lie to Me is the story of a husband and wife torn apart by their secrets and suspicions. Ellison writes in a fast-paced style with short chapters that move the story along. Occasionally, you’ll want to reach through the book and smack some sense into one character or the other, and you may find that you don’t particularly like any of them, but it’s all worth it when you get to the end and remember the suspicion you had somewhere during the read that turned out to be right, but with more depth than you could have imagined.

The Night Stalker

I often find new books to read by seeing what other people are buying, or by what other customers recommend. I was told I ought to try Robert Bryndza, a British thriller author. So when I saw one of his books as part of a recent 50 percent off sale, I went ahead and snagged one.

The Night Stalker is actually the second Erika Foster novel, but I didn’t know that when I bought it. After a brief debate on whether I ought to get the first one to start, I decided I give it a shot. Often these kinds of series aren’t crucially chronological.

Erika Foster is a British detective still trying to recover from tragedy that took everything from her and put her into a kind of reckless slump. When someone starts targeting and murdering men in her area, Foster isn’t willing to accept the surface answers.

As the body count piles up and the higher ups are anxious for an answer, Foster finds herself being pushed out from her investigation, right as she seems to be on the cusp of answers. But right when she seems removed from the action, the case takes a turn that lands Foster right in the middle of the danger.

Bryndza writes a fast-paced novel steadily leads you on toward the conclusion. While it didn’t have as many breadcrumbs as I like, it did have a neat wrap up without a 360 turn out of nowhere.

He also writes characters that feel very real. Erika Foster is someone you can relate to–adjusting to her new normal, fed up with office politics, and willing to bend or break some rules if it means solving the case. It it also means Foster wanders into gray areas some, and that makes her more relatable.

Bryndza is definitely a thriller author I’ll add to my list of recommendations for anyone looking for detective thrillers.

Waiting and Rediscovering

Well, I managed to get my three pieces finished and submitted just in time for the deadline. Now all that’s left is waiting to see which, if any, get chosen.

When I read back through them, I came to realize that the third piece was the one I liked best (or is it just because it was the most recent?). The first two, despite my initial excitement, I wasn’s as keen on. I think because I didn’t buckle down as much on those, so I see potential, but didn’t give myself time to maximize it. I suppose it’s part of my journalism background, I work better under pressure, with a deadline looming.

One thing I noticed the last few weeks, it was easier for me to write when I’m using pen and paper, versus on typing on my computer. Maybe it was just that I was using my short breaks at work and having a harder time using my free time at home, but either way I found I got into the zone more when using pen and paper (even if I was doing it with the tv on). This poses some interesting decisions for me, moving forward with other projects.

I’ve managed to write every day so far this month, and I plan to keep that up, which means returning to one of my other projects. Do I use pen and paper, or push myself to get back to using the computer? Pen and paper obviously takes up physical space, as well as time transcribing everything I’ve written. But if it keeps me from getting distracted by the internet or other digital temptations, maybe it’s worth it.

I guess I’ll work it out this week, as I try to sink back into the world I left a month or so ago. Hint to any new-er-ish writers, it’s very hard to leave a project and then come back to it. It’s hard to get back into that world and rediscover the excitement and passion. So that’s my task in writing this week, find the excitement for my project once more, and find a way to make it work.

Hazards of Time Travel

I was wandering through the shelves at work looking for a book to add to our Blind Date with a Book display when I saw this book faced out.

I was instantly interested and added it to my to-read list. I’ve never read anything else by Joyce Carol Oates, but her name is familiar to me.

In Hazards of Time Travel, Adriane Stohl has pushed the limits one too many times, and now she faces the consequences. Set in a dystopian world where the government doesn’t allow questions, Adriane’s valedictorian speech for her high school graduation earns her a one-way ticket to exile– in Wainscotia, Wisconsin, 1959.

Adriane is giving strict instructions not to reveal herself or any future knowledge, nor get involved with anyone else there, or else she will be Deleted. Enrolled in the local college, Adriane must learn to adapt to her new life, and to do it alone. When faced with the choice, will Adriane choose obedience or love? Is she willing to risk everything, her very life and the memory of herself, for the chance at something better?

When I first grabbed this book, I thought it was going to be a little more scientific, or rather science-fictional. But this was definitely more of a coming of age love story.

After my initial disenchantment, I enjoyed the book a lot. Oates writes in the voice of a confused young woman trying to figure out who she ought to be in a foreign world. She longs desperately for someone who can know and understand her, but she’s terrified of making a wrong move. Oates writes a compelling story and characters you can relate to.

She also offers a look at where our world could be going, I think, if we continue down a path of paranoia and technological advancement. Oates’ future is essentially a military state, where you toe the line and keep your head down, being as average as possible.

I’m definitely interested in reading more of Oates’ work, and Hazards of Time Travel is definitely a book I’ll recommend.

Choosing a voice

If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have adamantly said I didn’t like first person stories.

If you asked me now, I’d tell you first person stories require special care. While still not my favorite, I recognize that sometimes that is the best way to tell a story. And sometimes it’s the worst way.

My latest short story is in first person. In the last paragraph, I started to write that first person stories needed a strong reason for being first person. But, I erased that sentence because my reason is that that’s simply how the first lines of the story went, and I ran with it.

It’s a story about a woman who signs up for a one-way trip to a new planet, wanting to escape her life and anxiety, only to find that running away doesn’t solve the problem. In this case, I think it’s easier to express the feelings and emotions, easier to paint a picture of anxiety, by using first person. She can tell the reader exactly what she’s feeling.

One thing I’ve noticed, writing in first person, I’m not quite as obsessive about dialogue. In my first two short stories, I was extremely conscious of how long I was going without dialogue. Dialogue is what keeps most stories moving. But when you’re writing first person, in a way everything is dialogue. The character is speaking to the reader. It makes it easier to move the story along without dialogue. Which is good, because when you use first person dialogue must either be with your character, or take place where they can overhear it. If they aren’t there, you can’t use it.

While I’m still not entirely sold on first person (I’ve read too many books that should have used a different voice), I see that it does make a more intimate story for the writing, too. This story has flowed much faster than the others, even though I haven’t quite finished it yet. Maybe it’s because the whole story is an expression of the things I’ve been dealing with, and an easier description of it. Either way, it’s a little more personal, or maybe differently personal. My characters always contain at least a little piece of myself. But this one is me in a lot more ways. So maybe it flows easier because it is my own story.

Lost Roses

After the success of Lilac Girls (which I’ve still never read), Martha Hall Kelly has been a name I’m familiar with. So, obviously, when an advanced copy of her new book was available at work, I grabbed it to read (I know it sounds like I grab any and all copies of books, but if you only knew how many books I don’t take from work…).

Lost Roses is a prequel to Lilac Girls, focusing on Eliza Ferriday and her dear friend, Sofya Streshnayva. Set during World War I and the Russian Revolution, Eliza is an American woman who throws herself into helping the displaced Russian nobility forced from their homes during the overthrow of the Tsar and the governing class. Despite the pressures of society, Eliza chooses humanity over perceptions.

Sofya is part of the Russian nobility, cousin to the Tsar’s family. But by choosing to return to Russia during the unrest, Sofya and her family find themselves in mortal danger. The danger only gets worse when Sofya hires a local girl, Varinka, to help out with her son, Max. Suddenly taken captive and separated from Max, Sofya is determined to escape and be reunited with her stolen son. But as time passes, Sofya realizes she’s going to need some help. Hard work doesn’t seem to be enough–she needs Eliza.

Lost Roses is told in from three points of view, Eliza’s, Sofya’s, and Varinka’s. Because of this, it’s a little slow to start, as the author must establish three different characters before diving into the meat of the story. Personally, I think it might have worked better to tell the story from third person, instead of jumping back and forth between varying first person viewpoints.

Otherwise, it was an enjoyable historical fiction story about several strong women overcoming tragedy and trial to build themselves a new life. Varinka’s character is different than Eliza and Sofya, and not just in the obvious ways of age and social position. Her character is very much living in gray areas. Does she purposefully bring danger to Sofya’s family, or is it a naive accident? And what about the choices she makes afterward, keeping Sofya’s son and trying to be his mother? Is that a normal course of events, or was she really trying to steal Sofya’s son? Varinka is young, just 14 when we first meet her in the story, and even then she’s been through a lot, so like Eliza and Sofya, she is also just trying to build a better life for herself, even if she does it by taking advantage of other people’s tragedy. Her character gives readers a lot to think about. As I read her parts of the story, I was torn between wanting the best for her, and disliking her because she was obviously in opposition to our heroes.

It’s clear that Kelley did her research, bringing both the characters and the places to life. Kelly draws from real people and events to create her stories, which makes them that much more compelling.

I’m interested now to read Lilac girls and see if Kelley is one of those historical fiction authors that creates a compelling saga across vast sweeps of time. I’m always in need of another good historical fiction series.

Working through the pain

I missed last week’s post because, surprise surprise, I didn’t get a lot of writing done. It’s hard to write when you’ve got family visiting.

But I’ve put myself to it the last few days of this week (it’s cathartic, writing about the things I’m feeling), and I’ve wrapped up my second piece for submission.

With the deadline coming up quickly, April 15, I now have to decide if I want to try for a third piece, along with naming my first two. I definitely need to read over them and check for spelling errors and any changes I want to make, but that’s the easy part. A third piece would mean buckling down this week and really carving out some time to write–not impossible, but difficult for me when I’ve got books and documentaries calling my name.

Not to mention I never fully fleshed out the third idea I had. But, maybe that’s something I could do quickly. And maybe that’s what will decide me.

In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt from my second piece, the main character explaining to a young boy how she ended up being the lighthouse keeper.

“When I was younger, my heart was hurt very badly. So I came here to be alone. I’ve been here ever since.”

“Don’t you get lonely?” he asked. “There aren’t many people around.”

She smiled. “Well, that’s why I came, at first. I was sad and people hurt me. Being alone wasn’t lonely, it’s what I wanted.”

“But now? Do you get lonely now?”

“I suppose I do sometimes,” she said. “But I’ve been here so long, it’s all I know how to do anymore. And no one else steps forward to do it. We can’t let the light go out.”

“Oh,” he said, screwing up his face in thought. “When I’m scared of trying something different, I think of how good it might be, and that helps me feel brave enough to try.”

“That’s a very good thought,” she said. “But I don’t stay because I’m afraid. What about all the people who come for help? Shouldn’t someone be here to take care of them?”

The boy shrugged. “Shouldn’t someone take care of you? My parents love each other lots, but my mom still complains if my dad doesn’t help out and take care of her sometimes,” he explained. “It makes sense to me. When I’m sad or scared, sometimes all I need is a hug from my mom, or a snack. But I never get better if I just stay by myself.”

That’s what I’ve been struggling with lately, isolating myself when I’m hurt. And it doesn’t get better, not truly better, if I just stay by myself. In the end, I have to open up and let someone come along side to help me heal. It’s hard and scary, especially when you’ve been hurt before. But, as Emmalyn is finding out, life is about more than finding a tolerable pain threshold.