Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick

"The things I draw: They tend to die."

There are things the people of Winter, Wisconsin, would rather forget. The year the Nazis came to town, for one. That fire, for another. But what they'd really like to forget is Christian Cage.
Seventeen-year-old Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy. Ever since, he's drawn obsessively: his mother's face...her eyes...and what he calls "the sideways place," where he says his parents are trapped. Christian figures if he can just see through his mother's eyes, maybe he can get there somehow and save them.
But Christian also draws other things. Ugly things. Evil things. Dark things. Things like other people's fears and nightmares. Their pasts. Their destiny.
There's one more thing the people of Winter would like to forget: murder.
But Winter won't be able to forget the truth, no matter how hard it tries. Not as long as Christian draws the dark...
Wow.  This was a fantastic read.  Mysterious and intense and creepy, this YA novel is definitely not for younger readers.

Christian is a boy who is troubled and isolated, ostracised by many in town.  But unlike many YA stories, he has the benefit of a loving and very present parental figure in his Uncle Hank.  Hank may not always understand what Christian is going through-- it would take a leap of faith that a logical, law and order type like Hank has trouble making.  But he always loves Christian and struggles with letting go and allowing him to fight his own battles, like many parents do. 

There was a little bit of bait-and-switch in the mystery, however.  The cover copy references Christian's parents, who disappeared separately when he was little.  But most of the book focuses on an unsolved murder from 1945 and other strange events that occurred at that time, and Christian's frightening, unexplained abilities.  The murder and other events are wrapped up through a combination of Christian's talent and the work of a forensics team.  The issue of his parents is raised again at the end of the book as Christian steps out into the unknown.  It's a satisfying resolution overall, and the mysteries that take up most of the book are very involving.  They just aren't the mysteries that the first few chapters suggest.

While not a religious book, religious identity plays a part.  How could it not when the history of a Nazi PW camp is discovered, and a whole Jewish community has disappeared?  Also, Christian's only friend is a PK.  (Preacher's Kid)  It was refreshing to see that both faiths are treated respectfully in the story, with no one coming off as a caricature and no one viewpoint presented as The Truth.

There was one other big thing I loved in this novel-- the descriptions of Christian when he is drawing.  As a writer I really related to how Bick described that all-consuming place you go when you create.  I'm sure that anyone who has a passion, whether it's art or music or writing code or running or a million other things, will recognize it and relate to Christian in those scenes.

I definitely recommend this book.  Engrossing and well written, the author pulls a lot of different ideas into a cohesive, entertaining story.  A-.

And just to keep everything on the up and up, I received this book as a free digital ARC through NetGalley.  No money or other goodies were offered or exchanged for this review.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Temper Tantrum

I'd like to think this isn't a temper tantrum.  More like a frustration flail.  Even if I'm not stomping my feet and generally acting like a 12 year old, I *want* to, which makes me feel just as bad.

Last night Mom and Dad came back from their house hunting trip.  They've put in an offer and everything seems to be going smoothly so far.  They showed me pictures that they took on a second walk through, and a sketch of the layout that my brother did, including dimensions on all the rooms.

Here's where the problem comes in.  I hadn't said much about what I wanted this house to be.  Even though both Mom and Dad keep saying "this is your house, too.  You have a say," I don't feel that way.  It's their money, they're the ones who picked it out, it's their house.  Mom called from the house hunt in a moment of frustration.  Everything they'd looked at was either too small, too expensive, or for some other very practical reason wouldn't work for us.  I told her not to worry about me.  The only thing I really wants was some living space of my own.  A great room, a den, an extra bedroom, whatever.  I just wanted some space other than my bedroom that I could relax in.  Some place I can watch the TV shows that I love and they aren't interested in.  Somewhere I can read or knit or play my Wii.  Some place I can have guests when/if I meet new people and would like to invite them over.

The new house seemed to fit the bill.  There's a living room in the center of the house and a smaller bonus room off the kitchen.  The bonus room has the added benefit of being on the opposite side of the house from the bedrooms, so I won't keep anyone up watching a movie or whatever.  Perfect, right?  Yeah, except they've already decided to put my couch in the living room with their comfy chairs and the new TV.  Mom has been referring to my bonus room as "the keeping room" and is making plans to set it up as some sort of library/sitting room extension of the kitchen.  So that means that my portion of "my" house is a 10x12 corner bedroom.  And by the way, that room will be furnished with all the crap they don't have any other room for, but can't bear to part with.  Yeah.  My room.

I know I need to stop fuming like a teenager and sit down and talk to them about all this.  And I know this move is hard for them.  Between two floors of living space, an attic, and the basement, they have approximately 4,000 square feet of junk.  The new house is 1,800 square feet with no attic or basement.  Everyone acknowledges that they need to let go of a ton of stuff, but no one is doing anything about it yet.  I just went through this myself.  I had to be brutal.  And believe me, at this moment I'm glad I was, because there really is no room for me in this house they're buying for all of us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Alien Revealed by Lilly Cain

I'm not calling this a review because it's really more of a recommendation.  Alien Revealed is hot, sexy fun.  The scifi world that Cain has created is interesting, and I'm hoping this is the beginning of a series.  I liked Alinna and I really like David.  There's some bondage, not super intense, but just a heads up.  I know it's not everyone's thing.  My only gripe is that it starts a wee bit slow-- Alinna and David don't start interacting together until page 18, which is pretty far in when the story is only 112 pages long.

This is a Carina Press title and can be purchased from all the usual vendors.  But I recommend if your reader can handle epub that you hightail it over to Kobo Books by the end of the day today.  They've got a $2 coupon running this weekend, which makes this an absolute steal.  The coupon code is "twodollars".  Enjoy!

And just so we're clear, I don't work for Harlequin or Kobo, and I don't know Lilly Cain or any other Carina Press authors, as far as I know.  I just enjoyed a good book and a good deal, and I thought you would, too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Soundtrack

I spent the week working on my Discovery homework- creating a soundtrack for your novel.  This is what I have so far:

Need You Now- Lady Antebellum
Evil (Is Going On)- Jace Everett and CC Adcock
The House Rules- Christian Kane
It's All Been Done- Barenaked Ladies
Everywhere- Fleetwood Mac
Your Man- Josh Turner
Por Un Amor- Linda Ronstadt
Down in the Valley- Pete Seeger
The Forgotten People- Thievery Corporation
I Want to Be Evil- Chiwetel Ejiofor
Guantanamera- Havana Mambo
Somebody to Love- KT Tunstall
The Yellow Rose of Texas- The Cattlemen
Skyline- Court Yard Hounds
The Coast- Court Yard Hounds
Ain't No Son- Court Yard Hounds
Freedom! '90- George Michael

The process has been an interesting combination of logic and instincts.  I started off knowing I wanted to use It's All Been Done (there is time travel in my story and that just seemed to fit) and Need You Now.  Vampire Diaries started up again Thursday a week ago, and although I was a little meh about most of last season, I've found myself obsessed the last two weeks.  So even though there are no vampires in my story, I looked up vampire soundtracks.  Which lead me to the True Blood season 2 soundtrack and Evil (Is Going On) by Jace Everett.  Things progressed from there.  I'd search a song and find a bunch of different versions.  Maybe a particular interpretation of a song didn't work for me, but I'd like the singer or group, and off I'd shoot to check out their stuff.  I just about wore out Amazon, following links and listening to samples.

I wore myself out, too.  Lani was right, this Discovery stuff may look like play, but it's really work.  Overall I'm happy with this list.  I think I'll keep working on it, expanding it, as I move through the class in the next 5 weeks, although not at the same furious pace.

Is there anything you think I should add to the playlist?  I'm open to suggestions.  The story takes place in Texas in the 1800s.  It has time travel, steampunk elements, and a slow growing m/m romance.  I think it could use more folk music, including Spanish and German folk music.  (There was a surge of German immigration to Texas in the mid-1800s, and I think one of my heroes was a German immigrant.)  But as you can see, there's a lot of variety here, so I'm open to a lot of different styles.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's In The Cards

Discovery class starts on Sunday, and to prepare I've been doing things to top up the creativity tank.  The last few weeks have sucked a lot out of me, and I rather desperately need the refill.  I've been reading everything I can get my hands on, particularly stuff I've been looking forward to but haven't read yet for one reason or another.  I've been listening to my mp3 player and song samples on Amazon.  (The first lesson is on creating a soundtrack for your book, and I'm really looking forward to that.)  And yesterday I did something I haven't done in way too long-- I pulled out my tarot deck.

I have an on again/off again relationship with the tarot.  It's an interesting study, but it is a study, a discipline.  It takes work to master reading the cards, and work is something I haven't done much of in the last few years.  (I'm trying really hard to purge the word "lazy" from my vocabulary.  I am not lazy.  I have chronic, involuntary health problems that suck up energy and brain power.  There's a world of difference.  Maybe if I keep telling myself that I'll believe it some day.) 

Seven or eight years ago I took a tarot class, and periodically I pick up a book again and try to drum the meanings of the cards into my head.  They don't stick.  Probably because I need to stop reading the book and start looking at the cards.  There's intuition in there somewhere, after all I'm a Scorpio.  I just need to find a way to trust it.

Anyway, last night I picked up my cards and shuffled through them to see if anything jumped out at me.  Two did:

Nine of Wands

Eight of Cups

The Nine is from the deck I use, Hanson-Roberts, and is the card that made me want to buy the deck years ago.  I couldn't find a Google image of the Eight from Hanson-Roberts, so this is the Rider-Waite image.  They are very similar.  Choosing the Eight was instinctive, but after thinking about it for a minute it totally makes sense.  This card is about walking away, starting over, which is where I am right now.  What didn't dawn on me right away is that the Nine has almost the exact opposite meaning: persevering, staying the course.  I think the Nine might be the card of my life overall.  My health is something that I will have to deal with every day for the rest of my life, and unless there's a major change in treatment options, I don't see it getting significantly better.  But the way I was attempting so soldier on just wasn't working for me.  I had to walk away and start over.  So in a weird way, these two contradictory cards really express where I am in my life. 

I appreciate the insight, but I'm hoping that if I look through the cards again in a few days that they'll tell me a little bit about my characters this time!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Settling In

The move went well, and the cat and I are settling in.  After what feels like months and months of one disaster after another, things are finally peaceful.  Relatively speaking.  The cat is, surprisingly, really digging having three laps to sit on and three sets of hands to love on him and feed him.  (He's asleep at the end of the bed right now.  He's dreaming and his little toes are twitching.  It's nauseatingly adorable.)  We were all expecting him to hide for a while, but he's been running around like he owns the place from the minute we got here.

I'm... OK.  It's been years since I've lived with anyone else, and so far I'm coping.  Mom and Dad had doctor's appointments this morning, so I'm home alone.  I think I really needed this quiet time.  I'm just not used to having other people around 24/7.  Also, I think I'm going to have to start wearing ear plugs while watching TV with them, or I'm going to rupture an ear drum.

In the good news for them, bad news for me department, it looks like they've sold the house.  Later today or maybe tomorrow we'll probably start working on the packing.  (Oh, goody!  I haven't done that for ages.)  Next week they fly to Indianapolis to look for a house.  If all goes according to plan (does anything, ever?), we should be in a new house by Halloween.  Mom's already scheming to get my brother, his wife, and his in-laws to the new house for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's driven her nuts that she hasn't had all of us together for holidays the last few years, and if she has to invite my SIL's entire family to do it, she will.  Not that she doesn't like the in-laws.  She does.  But having my brother and I both there is the most important part to her.

I just hope the new place has some space where I can have some semi-privacy, decent internet, and cable service with a DVR option.  I've only been here for four nights, and we've already watched the same episodes of As Time Goes By and Keeping Up Appearances twice.  Please, please let the cable be cheap enough to put a connection in my room, too!  Do I sound like a teenager yet?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Review: Dark and Disorderly by Bernita Harris

"I was standing there naked when my dead husband walked into my bathroom..."

Lillie St. Claire is a Talent, one of the rare few who can permanently dispatch the spirits of the dead that walk the earth. Her skills are in demand in a haunted country, where a plague of ghosts is becoming a civic nuisance.
Those skills bring her into conflict with frightened citizens who view Talents as near-demons. Her husband comes to see her as a Freak; so when Nathan dies after a car crash, she is relieved to be free of his increasingly vicious presence. Lillie expects to be haunted by Nathan's ghost, but not to become Suspect #1 for her husband's murder and reanimation.

But what's most surprising of all is the growing attraction between her and psi-crime detective John Thresher. He thinks that Lillie killed Nathan--and Nathan must agree, because his zombie is seeking revenge. Now she and Thresher must work together to solve her husband's murder--before his corpse kills her...

I have some very mixed feelings about this book.  I loved the concept, and the first line is a real attention-getter.  (And the cover is beautiful, but as we've previously established, I'm shallow like that.  Show me a pretty cover and I'm half way to buying the book.)  This one has been on my list of Carina Press titles to read since I spotted it just before it was released, and I was so excited when I was able to grab it for 99 cents from Kobo last week.


The reading experience just didn't live up to my excitement.  There was something a little off about the writing.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite right, either.  In some places the phrasing or expressions used were distracting and left me wondering if the author was British and hadn't quite nailed the Americanisms.  (I checked-- she's Canadian.)  Then, as I was writing this, I started to wonder if it really was set in the US or if that was just my assumption.  I've been skimming the book again, looking for clues, and as of page 75 I'm still not sure.  This may seem like a dumb thing to nit pick about, but clearly it's still bugging me two days after finishing the book.  Where does this story take place?

Also, I wasn't completely in love with the main character, Lillie.  Most of the time I liked her, but there were one or two spots where she came perilously close to TSTL territory.  At one point in the story, she and Johnny are trying to make their way through a riot.  He tells her to run, and she decides to wade into the fight instead, because she doesn't want to be a coward and leave the others to fight.  The idea might be nice, but someone with no training, whom the crowd is actively trying to harm, is a liability not an asset in a situation like that.  If the professionals tell you to run, run baby run.  There was a scene late in the novel that really redeemed her risk taking for me, though.  (I won't give any specifics because I don't want to spoil anything.)  The fact that she took this risk when Johnny didn't want her to, and was able to give reasonable, clear headed reasons for putting herself in danger, really showed that she wasn't reckless.  She cared more about others than her own personal safety, which helped me like her as a character.

There were some things I really liked about the book, too.  The supernatural entities that we meet are interesting and grounded in existing myths.  Harris's concept of Talents and how the general public might accept them, or not, was different from a lot of other books in the genre, and I found that refreshing and probably pretty accurate considering human nature.  And this is a small thing, but I really like Dumbarton the spectral dog!

Johnny Thresher, and his relationship with Lillie, is something else I have some mixed feelings about.  Johnny is an enigma, and I definitely like the fact that there is much more to learn about him.  I love a romance that develops slowly over the course of several books, when well executed, so I had no problem with this plot element still being up in the air at the end of the book.  I didn't quite buy the chemistry between Johnny and Lillie, though.  I really wanted to, but I didn't.  The transitions between the mystery/supernatural storylines and the romance storyline were too abrupt and didn't feel natural.  Johnny seemed to blow hot and cold throughout the book, and Lillie's sometimes overreaction to him got annoying after a while.

That said, I think this book showed potential.  There were storylines that weren't resolved, not enough to be annoying but definitely enough to make you want to see what happens next.  And I'm hopeful that as the series progresses the romance will be worked more seamlessly into the narrative.  Overall, I'd give this a C-.  I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to, but I'm interested enough to give the next book in the series a try.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Light Me Up!

It's getting down to the end, which is a good thing since I think I ran out of rope yesterday.  I need thoughts or prayers or vibes or whatever you happen to do.  This moving business isn't pretty.  I shipped a bunch of boxes this morning and then this afternoon I sold the car.  I was expecting to cry on the way back to the apartment, but nothing so far.  Then again, I got some excellent financial news earlier this week (not the Social Security yet-- looks like that's going to take some more fighting), and I think my response was, "OK."  I'm just so overwhelmed, so tired, in so much physical pain, that there's no room for anything else.

Also this morning, I drove a 12 ft moving truck for the first time.  Yay me!  I felt very grown up for getting it from the rental place to my apartment about 2 miles away without causing any property damage or killing anyone.  If I never have to do that ever again it will be perfectly all right with me.  But now that I've done it once, I know I can do it again if I have to.  Good knowledge to have.

Tomorrow morning first thing the movers come to put all the stuff in the truck.  Then I have a handful of minor errands to run, and then in the afternoon I can check in at the hotel.  Keep your fingers crossed that I make it that long.  I want to get to the hotel, take a shower (the shower thing is particularly important to me at this moment, because I'm sweaty and grubby and I know I will be again by then), and then I want to just chill out and maybe take a nap for a while.  Tomorrow evening I pick up my brother and his friend at the airport.  Get a good night's sleep (I hope).  And Saturday morning I get up, pick up the cat at the vet's, and head to the airport for my own flight.  I'm fantasizing about the moment when I get through security and I can buy myself a bottled water and take a pain pill.  That sounds bad.  But right now I hurt.  And I can't take a pain pill because they make me too fuzzy to drive safely.  So I just keep slogging and thinking about that pill.  I'm going to sit on that airplane-- first class, of course, because that's how I roll-- open my copy of Maybe This Time that I've been saving for the flight, and then probably fall fast asleep.

As long as I can make it that far.

Edit: Starting at midnight tonight I'll be going radio silent for about 48 hours or so.  It's the move-- no internet access.  But I'll be back in a few days to tell you how it all went and how many chapters of MTT I managed to read before the drooling and snoring started.  (That's not a slam on Jenny's books.  If they were dull I wouldn't read them.  It's just a measure of how completely exhausted I am.)  So anyway, back in a few, with less boring moving stories and maybe even a review or two!