The 49th Mystic

It feels good to dive back into Ted Dekker’s Circle world, even if it does make me want to go back and reread all of them (and I truthfully don’t even know how many there are, I got distracted somewhere around the fourth Lost Book, I think…).

In the 49th Mystic, Decker returns to the circle world through Rachelle, a blind young woman who is terrified by nightmares that she will finally gain her sight, only to have it taken from her again. When she wakes up alone in a strange world, she finds herself miraculously healed, and also charged with saving not only her town and her world, but also the future world she is in.

She must find all four be Seals of Truth before the appointed time in order to be successful, but she has no idea where to look, forced to trust that the clues to point her toward the truths will appear to her at the right time. And it’s only through embracing her true self and setting aside fear that she will even stand a chance at success.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything from Dekker’s Circle world, not since Green came out in, what, 2011? So I was uncertain of how easy it would be to slip back in, but Dekker’s lays out everything you must know, and the story flows easily, as an add-on series, and as a stand-alone, if necessary.

It’s also nice to get back into a Christian fantasy series that still deals with relevant issues to now (fear, perception, distinguishing truth from the lies and misinterpretations). I’d been reading more of his thrillers, and I forgot a little bit just how much I enjoyed his other writing. Dekker is a master at fast-paced action stories, and the 49th Mystic is no different.

If you’ve read the Circle Trilogy, you won’t want to miss the 49th Mystic. And if you want something akin to The Chronicles of Narnia but with more obvious Christian parallels and messages, dive in, whether you start with the 49th Mystic or at the beginning with Black. You won’t be disappointed.

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Under my Skin

While I’m growing a little tired of thrillers focused on women with unreliable narrative, Lisa Unger’s upcoming book, Under My Skin, was just enough different to be enjoyable.

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband Jack was murdered during an early morning run, and Poppy is still drowning in grief. The case was never solved, and despite therapy, Poppy is missing memories from the days immediately surrounding the murder.

Using a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs to cope, Poppy quickly loses the ability to differentiate between what’s real and what are dreams. But Poppy is convinced that clues to her husband’s death are hidden in her missing memories, and she’s determined to find out what she knows, even if she won’t like the answers.

Unger writes this story to be fast-paced, and to keep readers guessing, trying, along side Poppy, to recognize what is real in the story, and which pieces are dreams. Frankly, it can be a little challenging to keep track (which I think is the point), so if you’re someone who is obsessive about clear lines, this book may be hard. Additionally, if you have trauma of losing someone you love, this book might be hard too. I definitely held my husband a little tighter after reading it.

While everything seems pretty clear on the surface, we learn fairly quickly that our characters aren’t all what they seem, yet another layer of trying to determine with Poppy, is she a bad judge of character? Who’s side of the story is unjustly biased? And just how much can people change?

What makes this book a little different than some of the others that I’ve read is that Poppy comes out in the end as a strong character who doesn’t let other people tell her what is going on inside her own head. Sure, she questions, and recognizes her bad decisions, but she works through it all on her own, instead of believing those who love her, only to find out they were wrong or misguided. In her fragile state, Poppy hangs on to herself, instead of allowing those around her to remake her into someone else. And I like that about her.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, even if it did make my heart hurt to read it. And if you’re waiting breathlessly for your next thriller, you’ll have to wait until October, for this one to hit shelves. But it’s worth it.

The Dutch Wife

Historical fiction is always interesting to read, and there’s something about World War II that’s just really extra interesting. Ellen Keith’s The Dutch Wife, however, was a hard book to get in to.

It focuses mainly on Marijke de Graaf, a Dutch woman who is arrested with her husband, but separated when she is sent to Ravensbruck and her husband to Buchenwald. Marijke is given a tough decision: she can either remain in the prison camp, starving, freezing and likely to die, or, she can join a select group of women being sent to Buchenwald to staff the prisoners’ brothel.

Motivated by the chance to find her husband, Marijke decides to go, and crosses paths with SS Officer Karl Muller, who wants to be both a tender lover, and a hardened military man.

Meanwhile, more than 30 years in the future, one Luciano Wagner is abducted from his home in Argentina, and finds his own will to survive sorely tested.

I didn’t pay close enough attention to the dates, so I didn’t realize Luciano’s part of the story was taking place in the ’70s, instead of during WWII. But even knowing that, and despite the tie-in at the ending, Luciano’s story doesn’t really fit in, and Keith provides no context for what is going on in Argentina at the time, I had to do research after the fact to understand what was going on and why Luciano would have been taken. His story wants to be its own book, and despite her intentions, Keith didn’t do it justice, though I do see why she put it in this book (an attempt at a wow-factor ending).

As for the main story, while it was interesting enough, Marijke kind of comes across as weak and lacking in character, falling into a spoiled, pampered life without fear once Muller falls in love with her.

And Muller is so lukewarm, it’s almost worse than a cliche story of a man who turns his back on everything he was raised to believe in for the sake of love. He wants to love Marijke, but he acknowledges it’s wrong. When she calls him out on some of his behavior, he is angry with her and defends it, spouting off Nazi rhetoric.

All in all, the best way I can think to describe it is surfacey. The characters don’t feel like they have a lot of depth, despite the time Keith dedicated to internal reflection. It’s an interesting premise with interesting stories, but I think by giving it three perspectives, she lost what chance she had at creating one compelling story. As far as historical fiction goes, it won’t be a go-to recommendation when it hits the shelves in September.

Reigniting dead habits

While I didn’t do as much creating as I wanted to this week, three days is better than no days.

I swear, every time I had time for myself, I got the inevitable text from my brother: “COD?” Video games have consumed my free time, because it’s just so easy to agree to one more match. Then, four hours later, it’s time for bed. The struggle is real.

I did do a couple exercises from my writing book, which we nice to get me back into the creative spirit. And I did pick a project to start editing, I even read the first four chapters! I’ve decided to revisit the children’s book I wrote last year. (Was it really only last year? Or two years ago? I’m not sure…)

If you’ll recall, it deals with childhood cancer and death, so some tough stuff, but also lots of imagination, so it’s a lot of fun, too. I think so, anyway. I think a big challenge, as I read through and work on it, will be reminding myself that it is aimed toward children, and the intrigue that I might use for an adult novel might be too much for a kid’s book. I don’t have to layer on the mystery in the same way. And yet, I want to make sure that I’m not writing something boring or underestimating kids’ abilities. It might be a fine line, but one I look forward to walking.

Lying in Wait

Liz Nugent picked an excellent first line for her second novel. “My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” With an opener like that, how can you not keep reading?

Lying in Wait is a different kind of thriller than the ones I’ve been reading.

It follows the Fitzsimon family, Lydia and her husband Andrew, a prominent judge, and their beloved son Laurence. Obviously we know from the get-go that Andrew kills Annie, it’s in the first sentence. Lydia helps her husband hide the body, and they attempt to go on with life as normal, because who would miss a drug-addicted prostitute? Naturally, her sister would. Karen won’t accept that her sister is dead, because there’s no evidence for it. When her path crosses with Laurence’s, it becomes hard for the Fitzsimon house to keep a lid on its dark secrets–and there’s more than just Annie lying in wait for discovery.

Instead of being engaged try to figure out what’s happened in the story or how it ends, this story engages you in considering motives, how far someone will go in the name of self-preservation, and what will happen when it all hits the fan.

The characters are compelling, and Nugent does an excellent job in giving insight into each character, letting readers see what makes them tick and giving valid reasons for their behaviors.

All in all, Lying in Wait was a good novel. Keep an eye out for it when it hits the shelves in June, you won’t be disappointed.

A motivating opportunity

I’ve really let this half of my blog go, since December. Naturally, I wanted a little time off after NaNo, but what I did was let myself get out of the habit of writing and let my motivation and my creativity fall by the wayside.

But, that changed last week when I received an unexpected email.

I was contacted by a gal who works for a small publishing company that’s putting together an anthology of up and coming writer’s (they are doing a volume for each state). She had seen my blog (part of me feels a little embarrassed by that), and invited me to be submit some work for consideration. This isn’t vanity press, I’m not paying for my work to be taken, but it’s not quite traditional either, as I’m not actually getting paid (unless my work is selected, then I can get commission sales from the book, but that’s down the road). But what it is, after doing some research, is a chance to get some of my work out there, seen by others, and a chance to maybe network and see what might come of it.

So I spent the weekend whipping up a few short stories to offer up, and we’ll see where it goes. It’s not like it will be a big break for me, but, it might be a foot in the door to start something. And, it’s always nice to have someone think your work would make money.

It felt good to get back into writing. It’s one of those things that you don’t miss til you come back to it. So, I think this opportunity may also just be what I needed to dip my toes back into creativity. I’m going to pick one of my drafts to start some editing on again, and start thinking maybe about something new.

I guess even with recreating habits, it’s better late than never. And maybe this will finally be the year I make it a solid habit that sticks. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Unbury Carol

When I read the synopsis of Josh Malerman’s latest book, I was excited. Unbury Carol sounded really interesting.

Carol is in a coma. It’s not the first time, she has a condition that makes her appear dead, but she’s really deep in a coma. Her husband, who knows this, decides to use this latest episode as his escape, announcing her death and moving quickly to have her buried.

The only other person who knows about Carol’s condition is a long-lost lover, who receives word and rides as fast as he can to save her.

The reality of this western tale is that the story moved incredibly slowly. More than anything, it was a story of several people fighting their inner demons on their own. Each character in this book is made out to be unreliable, one step away from a mental breakdown, it seems.

I suppose if you enjoy books with lots of description and individual thinking, you may enjoy it, but for me, it dragged on. It was like reading The Hateful Eight (and that was bad enough trying to watch).

While this story might appeal to a more artsy readership (if that’s the right word), I personally prefer a faster-paced novel. I think this story had potential, but it’s execution didn’t sell me on it.