The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience

I am a huge fan of online ruffian Chuck Wendig. He is hilarious on social media, his website Terrible Minds (terribleminds.com) is funny and informative, and he has his tentacles in long novels and comic books and everything in between. He’s the fun uncle (funcle?) with the bushy beard that you want to get all your life (and writing advice) from.

I picked up this book recently, figuring it to be a good companion to his very well written and helpful book Damn Fine Story. When I received it, I saw that it was a series of advice in 25 item groups, similar to the #TenThings threads I’ve been following with Delilah S. Dawson, another writing guru and dreamboat. I began reading, figuring that a bunch of lists would be quick work and I would be able to bookmark where the currently relevant information was and come back to it later.

Oh dear reader, I would not recommend this. Not even close. Look at this Table of Contents.

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The Kick-Ass Writer should be viewed as a dictionary or a quick reference guide. If you are writing a book and you need inspiration concerning setting you might pick this up, read the chapter “25 Things You Should Know About Setting,” and then immediately put it down again. It is painfully obvious that these chapters must be sitting on his website somewhere and I could have gotten this advice on the interwebs. I tried to read this like a book and that is not what it is meant for.

Aside from the structure lending itself to reference instead of reading through, there is the subject of Wendig’s humor, which I love but admittedly lost a taste for after about 4 “25 Things” lists of it. I still love it, especially when it pops up on my Twitter feed to give me a giggle, but this as well as other Books From Blogs (TM) tend to lose their flavor when smushed into book format. I’m supposed to have these to enjoy once a week, not necessarily to binge read for motivation.

Chuck is one of my top five authors whom I trust, follow, and look to for advice as I begin my journey in the traditional publishing world. This book will remain on my shelves, but as reference and reminder, not as a read-through novel. If you are an aspiring writer, you should pick it up too and check out his website. You won’t be disappointed.

The Belles (Belles #1)

I bought this book a year ago with the generous funds I received on Patreon. It’s been sitting on my shelf since then. I’ve tried to start it several times, it’s popped onto my ‘currently reading’ list on Goodreads a few times, but then other books always took precedence either due to release date or being on hold at the library. But recently I was granted an advanced copy of its sequel, The Everlasting Rose, via NetGalley and since The Everlasting Rose is releasing on March 5th its the perfect time to read The Belles.

Despite it being a kind of dystopian fantasy novel, the setting and storyline were almost completely brand new to me. The magic is similar to the Corporalki Grisha in Leigh Bardugo’s universe, but there are only six girls in the current generation of Belles who can do what’s necessary to bring beauty and color to the kingdom of Orleans. They perform for the royal family at the Carnaval of Beauty and then the queen picks the Favorite, who will be the Belle of the palace. The rest of the Belles are places at teahouses around the islands of the kingdom.

The narrator Camille wants to be the favorite, but she is reckless in her performance and her sister Amber is picked over her. But something disastrous happens at the palace and Amber is sent away, at which point the queen summons Camille to take her place. Once we get a glimpse in the palace, especially Princess Sophia, it’s obvious that something really sinister is brewing under the surface, and Camille is just too naive to pick up on it. Things become darker and darker until Sophia’s true plan is revealed, which threatens everything that the Belles believe and stand for.

The racial elements being laid out in this novel are obvious. Clayton presents the pursuit of beauty in a sugar coated, shiny way, but you’ll find yourself asking whether this system is sustainable in the long term, especially with the number of Belles dwindling. Finding connections between the novel’s description of Belle-products and procedures to African-American beauty products and procedures is something you should be able to do without much prompting. I imagine any young black person would read this book and feel an immediate connection to the story.

My only real criticism is that while the descriptions of this new world begin as lush and gorgeous, as the story moves forward they become repetitive and unclear. The number of times we hear that “belle-roses” are on display is legion, and belle-buns, belle-products, and on and on. I feel like while some scenes were easy to imagine, many others left too much to my own imagination when this world was new and needed to be built more for me to envision what it looked like.

It was easiest for me to compare this book to Marie Lu’s Legend series. We see a main character who is a prodigy in her field, expects to be a part of the system, and works hard to qualify to be a leader in that system, only to inevitably see the darkness that bolsters the system and therefore become a rebel against it. While this plot fell apart for me when I moved on from Legend to Lu’s second book Prodigy, I am hopeful that Clayton’s The Everlasting Rose (out 3/5/19) will keep my interest piqued. I am very curious about how this re-Belle-ion will work out, especially given how the entire population requires beautification and is almost addicted to the process.

I have a DRC of The Everlasting Rose, and will have that review out to you shortly. As for The Belles, it is an interesting concept and worth reading and exploring if only for a fresh take on fantasy. I enjoyed and finished it. Give it a try.

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Two Dark Reigns (TDC #3)

Three Dark Crowns (#1)

One Dark Throne (#2)

Book 3 of the Three Dark Crowns series has us in three different locations with one central purpose driving everyone: Katherine is wrong for the throne and must be dealt with.

Mirabella and Arsinoe live with Billy, Arsinoe’s suitor, at his estate with his mother and two sisters. None of them know that his father has been killed, and they are all just waiting for him to return. His mom is pushing women on him to marry, but he’s still devoted to Arsinoe. Problem is that Arsinoe has started having strange dreams about the last great Blue Queen (a queen that is a fourth born automatically becomes a Blue Queen, and her other three sisters are killed) and is being shown how the prison mist they fought so hard to escape came to be, and why they must return to the island.

Jules has gone to Bastian City to learn to use her war gift (which when paired with her naturalist gift makes her “legion cursed”) but discovers that the warriors there plan to set her up as a replacement queen to end the triplet queen tradition and forge a new path forward for the island. She does not like this, but apparently rumors are being spread and events are being set in motion to turn the people against Katherine and towards Jules.

Katherine is trying to set up her new Black Council and begin her rule, but dead bodies of regular people that have been killed by the mist that surrounds the island keep washing up on shore, some decayed for longer than they were ever out at sea, implying that the mist isn’t just dangerous, that it might warp time as well. The people are whispering about her Undead Queen nickname, saying she has brought the curse of the mist upon them. When these whispers are added to the Legion Queen rumors spreading from Bastian City, Katherine finds herself dealing with a fair amount of unrest in Volroy as well as unrest from the multitude of dead queen spirits that reside within her own self.

This shit takes so long. I shouldn’t be 66% into book fucking three of this series wondering (1) what the fuck is going on, (2) WHY the fuck are things happening, and (3) what is the point of what is happening?

I loved the first two books, even if the second one was a little flat. This third book feels like someone put ideas on darts and threw them at the wall to see what stuck. There is no tension, no build up, and nothing has any meaningful connection to the mythology of this universe. This third book left me confused and unmoored instead of craving the conclusion. I finished it, but I won’t be reading the fourth.

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The Fog Comes on Little Cat Feet

I’ve started to feel different lately.

I’m not sure if its due to my efforts to have a cleaner, more organized home.

Or perhaps my dedication to leaving work on time and leaving work at work, including my laptop.

Maybe it’s the result of going to the gym on a regular basis.

I mean, I did power wash part of the pool deck this weekend. Maybe that’s it?

Slowly but surely this house is becoming clean, manageable, and little by little I attack the darkness and grime and clutter and my mind becomes clearer every day.

I look around and I’m actually proud of my efforts. I can say, “I did that” and know that I feel better because I did something. Maybe it’s washing the sheets or vacuuming the living room rug, or something as simple as grabbing a Lysol wipe and dusting the tops of everything until the wipe is used up.

Home is starting to feel like home and not just a place where I come to sleep and store my stuff.

My fridge is almost empty and my pantry half full, but only because I don’t have to store extra food to feel safe right now. Washing the inside of the fridge is something that is actually on my radar.

The toilets are clean.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say with this post. Only just that over the past month or so I’ve felt like a fog is lifting. A thick, dark cloud that’s been choking me and smothering me for years is lifting. I am not sure which part of my new routines are contributing to it or if it’s just luck or age or hormones or whatever.

All I know is that I like how I’m feeling, and I want it to get even better. So I’m not going to stop. I’m gonna keep going to the gym and cleaning and organizing and writing and reading and living my life in a better way. I just hope it keeps getting better.

King of Scars

 

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Shadow and Bone
Siege and Storm
Ruin and Rising

Six of Crows
Crooked Kingdom

Language of Thorns

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I’m not sure how to make this review non-spoilery but I am going to try. I think it’s fair to say that there might be spoilers from the above books that I’ve already read and reviewed, so if you haven’t read those and you care about remaining unspoiled, maybe go read them first. I will not spoil THIS particular book though.

King of Scars is told through several viewpoints, but from two main locations: Fierda and Ravka. Nina is with a small team of Grisha attempting to infiltrate Fierda and save Grisha who would be willing to join the Second Army and help defend Ravka. She’s also there to return Matthais to the ground after his death in Ketterdam. Nicolai and Zoya along with the Grisha Triumverate are in Ravka building a fleet of submarines for Kerch to make money for the treasury while trying to handle the weird black demon thing that takes over Nicolai’s body and flies him around the countryside.

One of the things I love about Bardugo’s writing is her ability to write political intricacies into the plot. Ravka is facing war from the north and from the south, their financial situation is dire and they are in debt to Kerch (which they are hoping to supplement with the submarines) and they need the support of Novyi Zem to keep their naval defenses strong. In addition to all of the military and financial woes, other men are claiming they are the true Lantsov heir and have been trying to usurp Nicolai’s reign. It’s an understatement that they are in a bit of a pickle.

I enjoyed Nicolai and Zoya’s story more than Nina’s, and for a while there I was actually quite bored with Nina’s mission, her story feeling as gray and barren as the Fierdan tundra. I suppose this was to be expected. A lot of her and her team’s story was waiting, hiding, and being in disguise. If they were real people I’m sure they would have been bored (and cold and hungry) too.

Nicolai and Zoya have to deal with a growing group of people that claim to be loyal to the Starless Saint – The Darkling from the Grisha trilogy with Alina Starkov. They venture out to track ‘miracles’ that see to be popping up and radiating out from the spot on the Unsea where the Darkling fell and died. When they arrive on the Unsea they find a giant black, shiny disc in the sand. When they move toward it they are sucked into an alternate universe, leaving the Grisha Triumverate to tailor a solider and guard at the palace to look like Nicolai and manage a major diplomatic gathering in his stead.

It’s…a lot.

I cried real, gasping sobs in the first part of the book. Nicolai always has me laughing. And in Zoya I finally found a member of this Grishaverse that I could identify with. She’s everything I feel there on the page, walking around furious with everyone, with no fucks to give, and being a badass Grisha general. I love her. She’s one of my favorite characters now. I wish I could transport myself into the world of these books and live there, if only to help these characters that I have come to love.

I trust Leigh Bardugo 100%, and so I preordered this book. Other books I would put on hold at the library (if they were even available at all). Plus the hardcover jacket and book are absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to find out what happens to the whole Ravkan team in the second installment of the duology.

If you haven’t read Bardugo’s work by now I just don’t know what I have to say to get you to start. Her world is amazing and real. Her characters are diverse, interesting, and complex. The magic system is elemental and bone deep. It’s necessary reading for any fantasy lover. So go do it already.

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Sightwitch (Witchlands #2.5)

Truthwitch (Witchlands #1)

Windwitch (Witchlands #2)

Let me start with the most important part of this review.

THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT WHY IS IT EVEN CALLED A TWO POINT FIVE?????

Every other 2.5 novella was kind of an afterthought. You could skip it. The Lunar Chronicles, Throne of Glass, and others had little peeks into lesser characters or prequel type stories, but they weren’t essential.

THIS BOOK IS SO FUCKING ESSENTIAL DON’T SKIP IT HOLY CRAP.

I’m furious that this isn’t Book 3. Is it just the length? Why isn’t it a full book?

Sightwitch is the story of Ryber Fortiza, one of the shipmates of Merik and Kullen from Truthwitch and Windwitch. She’s Kullen’s Heart-Thread, but up until this point she’s been mysterious at best. Her existence at the home of the Sightwitches, which is within the boundaries of Nubrevna hid under a glamour (think Wakanda hidden), is described as tedious. She is waiting for her eyes to turn silver, the sign that she’s been called to become a full Sightwitch, able to remember everything, see the future, and read the memories of the dead. Sisters who are called journey into the mountain to commune with Sirmaya, the Goddess at the center of all magic, and then return to the convent to serve until they are called back to sleep with the Goddess herself.

The problem is that while Ryber is waiting to be summoned, her Thread-Sister is called. Then two more, then four more, until all the sisters have been summoned into the mountain and none have returned. Ryber is the last Sightwitch sister. Partnered only with The Rook, a strange crow that lives in the convent, she has to unravel the mystery at the heart of the mountain and somehow save her sisters.

Told alongside Ryber’s story is the history of Eridysi, a similar Sightwitch from about a thousand years earlier, who left a diary of prophecies and statements that collectively are referred to as Eridysi’s Lament in both Truthwitch and Windwitch. Knowing the history of the Paladins and their war is so essential to understanding the Twenty-Year Truce and what is happening with cleaving in the current time that I honestly don’t know how you could skip this book for that information alone.

Dennard put so many pieces in play with this story that connected to so many others that were already on the board that I raced through hungry for answers or leads forward in the universe. There is such a sense of urgency that Sightwitch adds to the series that wasn’t present in either Truthwitch or Windwitch, and I cannot wait for Bloodwitch to load to my Kindle next week so I can find out what happens next!

I think I can officially call myself a #Witchlander now! I’m a huge fan of this series and I strongly recommend all of the books. The magic is interesting, the politics are complex, and the world is vast and new. Please go grab Truthwitch and get started on an enjoyable journey.

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More Than Words

More Than Words by Jill Santopolo was provided to me by G.P. Putnam’s Sons vi Edelweiss+ as a digital advanced reader copy in return for an honest review. Expected publication is February 5, 2019.

When I started reading More Than Words, I should have stopped right away. If I’ve learned anything in the past three years it’s that I don’t have a lot of patience for books that center around super rich main characters. It is difficult for me to muster sympathy for a hotel heiress in 2019.

The central struggle for Nina is whether to stay with her current boyfriend, lifelong friend Tim, or pursue the feelings she seems to be cultivating towards New York mayoral candidate Rafael for whose campaign she is a speechwriter. Her best friend Leslie helps her think through these choices, and the fuel that fans this fire is the decline and death of her father due to cancer.

She has to decide whether to stay on with the campaign, which just won the primary and is preparing for the general, or take over the hotel operations in her father’s place as they had planned before his death. Nina talks a lot about wanting people who can “stand in the darkness” with her. Rafael and Leslie both lost their fathers, and so she feels like she can talk about her situation with them, while Tim doesn’t seem to take it seriously or understand how she is feeling. Her relationships with the former two come easily, while she seems to need to convince herself that Tim is the right man for her future.

I need to add these kinds of books to my do not read list. I just have no sympathy for anyone labeled an heiress. The only thing I sympathized with was when she was losing her dad at the beginning, but then it became a “will she or won’t she” with her personal life and honestly, I have better things to do. I have better things to read. I made it to 38% finished on the DRC, and I feel comfortable putting it down.

If you like escaping into the lives of people richer than you and living vicariously through them, then this is the book for you. If you, like me, find yourself a little short on attention or patience for rich people at the moment, then I would skip More Than Words.

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