Thursday, April 25, 2013

Taken by Erin Bowman

There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone.
They call it the Heist.
Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate–until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets. The Heist itself. And what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot–a structure that no one can cross and survive.
Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken–or risk everything on the hope of the other side?

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book. It's dystopia with a male protagonist, and the summary practically screams of nefarious plots. The beginning started out well, and I was hooked because I just had to find out what had happened to all those Heisted boys. The author struck a good balance between giving us information vs. giving us more questions. I was ready to follow Gray to the end.

I liked his character in the beginning. He's emotional and impulsive, traits that sometimes irritate me, but I liked this about him. He has a well-developed sense of justice, and no compunction about doing what's necessary to make things right. This aspect of his character is both a strength and a flaw at the same time, and I loved it.

After he discovers what's really going on, things aren't as compelling. The insertion of the love triangle felt forced, I didn't much like Bree, and I thought Emma was far too forgiving of how Gray treated her. Actually, none of the character relationships felt real as the story progressed. That really bummed me out because I wanted to see Gray interact with more people. That didn't really happen.

The truth behind Frank was obvious immediately, though the author thankfully didn't dwell long on that. The resolution at the end felt a bit anticlimactic, and convenient considering the big ol' bag on Gray's back that no one seems to notice. And then the setup for the next book was too heavy-handed for my taste. I'm guessing the love triangle is going to be front and center, which isn't my thing. So I'm not sure I'll be reading the next book.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Time Management

A writer's life is a busy one. Even if you're published, most writer's don't make enough to quit their day jobs. Plus, we still want to see our family and friends now and then, and, if we have kids, that takes up even more time. So, how does one squeeze writing time into an already busy day?

Honestly, this is a very personal question, and it's going to have a personal answer. It all depends on what's going on in your life. That said, regardless of what's going on, in order to fit writing into your life, you need to plan ahead. This might not sit well with you pantsers out there, but I don't see any other way of doing it.

To get started, sit down and write out your typical week. When do you work? When is family time? When is regular household maintenance time (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc)? When are you free? How much time do you spend watching TV?

Once you have a handle on all this, you can begin to carve out your writing time. Do you have a couple days a week when you can write during your lunch hour? What about while you're waiting on laundry? Is there an evening or two that you can set aside for writing? Or what about getting up early a couple days a week? If you're home with kids, definitely make use of nap times as much as possible, or while the kids are away at school.

The best thing I ever did was to create a writing schedule, put it in my calendar, and then not let anything other than emergencies take it over. I sometimes had trouble doing this, so I started meeting up with another writer. We sit together and write, and, since we've made a commitment to each other, we don't let other things get in the way. I've been doing this for the past six or so years, and it has served me well.

Once you get used to this process, you can use it for many things. Like reading. As writers, we need to read anything and everything. I think reading is as important as writing, so I read every night before going to bed--that's where I get the bulk of my reading done. I will also allot some of my writing time to reading, especially if I've just completed a draft. Basically, during my allotted writing time, I am either reading or writing. It's the best way I've found to get so much done.

What do you do to fit writing into your day? When do you usually read?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Prompts

I had planned to post an article on time management today. Ironically, I did not get the time to finish it. :) So, I have a great article for you instead. It's a bunch of great writing prompts when writer's block comes to visit.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Infatuate by Aimee Agresti

Haven Terra is still recovering from an internship that brought her literally to the brink of hell when a trip to New Orleans leads to more trouble. Graduating early from high school leaves the spring semester free, so Haven and her friends Dante and Lance head to the Big Easy to volunteer with community service projects. But their true mission becomes clear when they run across an enclave of devils known as the Krewe. New Orleans is a free-for-all for these shape-shifting devils, who are more reckless and vicious than any Haven, Lance, and Dante have encountered. And they soon discover their French Quarter housemates are also angels-in-training, and together they must face off with the Krewe in their quest for wings. But Haven’s resolve is tested when Lucian, the repentant devil with whom she was infatuated, resurfaces and asks her for help escaping the underworld. Can he be trusted? Or will aiding him cost Haven her angel wings—and her life?

I really enjoyed Agresti’s first book, Illuminate. I found it intriguing with the Chicago history and really liked the characters. I wasn’t as enthralled with Infatuate, though, which really bums me out. When the first book ended, I was so curious as to what was going to happen next, and how they were going to be tested. I had really high hopes for this book, but it didn’t quite deliver.

Lance and Haven came together nicely in the last book, and I was looking forward to seeing their relationship grow. But they don’t. Instead, they grow apart for no clear reason. I get that their relationship was supposed to be tested in this book, but I didn’t quite buy it because the strain could have been avoided by a simple conversation. If they had talked and still couldn’t work things out, that would have been more satisfying.

I also didn’t believe that Haven was attracted to Lucian again because she had so clearly dealt with her feelings for him at the end of the first book, so it felt like a plot rehash. I would have preferred if she saw him in a new light or something. But, considering the relationship issues, it still would have felt like a contrived way to create tension. I wish he'd been cast in a different role this time around.

I couldn’t stand Sabine and felt she deserved everything she got. Her role in the end was predictable, resolved too easily. I thought that the author went too easy on her characters this time around. After the wringer she put them through in the first book, I was hoping for more of the same, taken up a notch. Instead, it went down. I’m hoping that will change in the next book. Considering the cliffhanger ending, it shows promise. :)

All that said, I still liked this story and am looking forward to the final book. I think Agresti has a vivid writing style and I could see much of what was in the story. I also liked the New Orleans history and flavor of the city, which rang true to me. I’m curious where the story will be set in the final book. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Reading Like A Writer

Honesty. What does it mean to you? I don’t mean the dictionary’s definition. What does it mean to you?

I’ll tell you what it means to me: an open mind, balance, objectivity, and exploration. Basically, it means I need to take a step back and look in places I don’t ordinarily look. It’s very eye-opening, and I apply this concept every time I sit down to read.

When you pick up a book, what are you intending to get out of it? Just enjoyment or entertainment? Or do you want to see how published authors manage their craft? For me, I like to read for entertainment, but it always come second to craft. So, I tend to view reading as a learning experience with the added bonus of good entertainment value. :)

But how do you turn reading into a learning experience?

It’s not easy. But, since nothing about writing is easy, that should come as no surprise. :) In order to get the most out of a reading experience, I have to embrace every aspect of honesty. This manifests in a few ways.

Put yourself in the author’s shoes.
Since writers do this kind of thing all the time, that shouldn’t be too difficult. :) Putting yourself in the author’s shoes helps you to be in the right place so you can better understand the story. In order to get the most out of this exercise, two things must happen. 1) Figure out what the author intended to accomplish with his story. 2) Look at the story itself and figure out what it actually accomplished. Yeah, it’s hard, but there are always little clues that help us along. When you first start out, it might require a re-read or two. Once you’ve done this, though, you can move on to the next point…

Put on your critiquing hat.
I firmly believe that critiquing can teach us as much about writing as actually writing, so I try to critique as much as I can. When I read a book, I basically treat it like I’m reading my critique partner’s work. I start out with the assumption that there’s going to be both good and not so good stuff, and make mental notes accordingly. Reading a published book is different from critiquing because the author can’t take the book back and make changes. BUT, he can improve his writing going forward. So, if you review books, you can write an honest review in the vein of a constructive critique, and learn something in the process. :)

Be objective about what works and what doesn’t.
There are two aspects to this. 1) Strong reactions, either positive or negative. Take a good look at why the story evoked such a strong reaction from you and explore it. If you loved it, or if you hated it, figure out why. There are likely several aspects to this. 2) Don’t let the weaker reaction slip away. Even if you hated the book, what did it do right? If you loved the book, what could have been better? There are always two sides to the coin, and we need to be objective and honest with ourselves by looking at both of them, because that’s the key to maximizing our learning experience.

To be the best writers we can possibly be, I think we need to read widely and analyze everything. What did we love, and why? What would we have done differently? Be honest with yourself, and with the books you read, and you’re on your way toward creating a good learning experience, which will ultimately make you a better writer.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

I read Grave Mercy not long ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dark Triumph is the second book in the trilogy, and picks up right where Grave Mercy lets off. Instead of following Ismae, though, we follow Sybella. The two could not be more different, and I loved seeing the world through Sybella's eyes.

Even though we weren't with Sybella in her life before the convent, we can guess just how horrific it was based on the kind of people she grew up with. I thought LaFevers did an excellent job of  slowly revealing her history to us, and by the end I felt I knew her well and could understand why she came to the convent half-mad.

The romance was well done, slowly building in a believable way. I loved watching the relationship build between Sybella and Beast, but the transition from friendship to love happened a little too suddenly. I can see the signs that they like each other, and are even attracted to each other, but the leap to 'love' was a bit too quick. Still, I like them as a couple, and think they are good for each other.

I also enjoyed seeing the abbess through Sybella's perspective. She's so different with her than she is with Ismae, and it's clear her reasons are personal. I have a pretty good guess as to why, but I won't spoil that for you. :)

My favorite part of the story is watching Sybella come to terms with Mortain, the god of Death. Unlike Ismae, she has doubts as to his existence. With the childhood she had, I think this is quite normal. She comes into her faith in a roundabout way, which I found realistic and believable.

I'm really looking forward to the last book in the trilogy, which will follow Annith. The only bad thing is I have to wait until next year...