The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles #3)

The Beauty of Darkness

The Kiss of Deception (#1)
The Heart of Betrayal (#2)

I have terrible news.

This book is SEVEN. HUNDRED. PAGES. LONG.

But that’s not all. I put it down at page 369.

I cannot remember a trilogy I have attempted to read that has begun so intensely yet left me uncaring enough to leave it unfinished. I don’t even know what to say. I’m so disappointed.

Rafe and his band of merry men have helped Princess Arabella escape from Venda, but they have also escaped with the knowledge that the Komizar has an army 150,000 strong and is planning to march on the other kingdoms. Kaden and Griz catch up to them and are taken prisoner, only to be freed to help them fight off a band of Rahtan sent by the Komizar to kill them all. They escape and make it to a Dalbreck outpost, where Rafe discovers that both his parents have died in his absence, leaving him as the new King.

Lia still needs to press on to Morrighan. She sees it as her duty to save her parents and to uncover the snakes in her father’s cabinet and in the Royal Scholar’s employ. Rafe insists that she not go, to the point that he has her under guard everywhere they go at the outpost. This eats at their relationship until Rafe decides he has no choice but to let her go. So she and Kaden and another person that isn’t important right now end up getting into Civica (the city outside the castle) after a brief stop in Terravin, the city she ran away to in the first book.

We see Rafe fighting battles to maintain his control over Dalbreck and Lia trying to stay alive long enough to uncover the traitors in Morrighan and Kaden continues to pine for her to no avail and…well…I just realized that I don’t care how this ends.

Lia’s character arc ended at the end of the second book. If anything, in this third book she goes past the strong, independent female lead into the bitchy, drunk with her own independence, jerk character. I mean, she’s really shitty to everybody through almost page 400 and part of why I stopped is that I discovered I wasn’t rooting for her anymore. I didn’t care if she lived or died. All the tension surrounding her success was completely gone for me.

I loved Rafe as a character. He had the same misgivings Lia did about their marriage but, under the cover of a false identity, he came to love her for who she was and I wanted to see that love story continue and work through their differences. But I’m not gonna read about them whining at each other for 300 pages and wait another 200 more before they even see each other again. That’s not fair to set up that kind of love story and then just kill it in the third book.

Oh and this gift she has – oh boy do I not care even a little about it. It’s like it’s just her gut talking to her about what she should beware of, a little warning system that’s like an overactive conscience. I was nosey and looked at how the book ends and BARF. No thank you. To give me this turd of a third book and then Deus Ex Machina the battle scene with her up-until-this-point pointless gift? Nah.

Also, for a girl who escaped to find her own destiny, she sure lets holy texts determine her every move, breath, and thought. I did not expect that this would be an independent woman turned religious fanatic trilogy but I am not the one for that nonsense.

I mean, I’m glad I read the first book because it was such a ride, but this would have worked just as well as a duology: make the second book a little longer and detail their escape and return to Dalbreck. They make sure his throne is secure and then move as a united front to defend Morrighan. There’s a kind of Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies moment where kind of enemies come together to fight the larger evil, and then all is well in the end. I don’t know, I don’t usually say how a book should have been written but this third book was just about as unnecessary as that fourth Hobbit movie.

Back to the library it goes. If you’re a completionist then please finish this third book and let me know what you think, but for me it’s a no go. I have other things waiting to be read.

Story Genius

Story Genius

In the process of writing my book I have been working my way through several craft books a.k.a. How-To books meant to help you outline, structure, and write your characters, plot, and overall novel. Stephen King’s On Writing was the first one I read, and it spurred me on to begin what is now 61,000 words strong. The next book I opened was Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, and while very different from King’s how-to, it has been just as useful in helping me craft my story.

Cron focuses on what she calls a third rail – the central idea of the book which is the main character’s big problem or misunderstanding of life. This is the why behind all of his or her actions, and should spark all decisions leading up to the major aha! moment, which is when he or she sees past her misbelief and sees clearly for the first time. Every scene included in the book, Cron writes, should touch this misbelief/resolution in some way to make sure the reader has a clear connection to why everything is happening.

A common complaint I have with the books that I ultimately set aside is that I stopped caring about the outcome. You’ll read a review later this week of a book that I set aside not because I was bored, but because I just didn’t care how it ended. Cron explains that a book should not just be a run down of what’s happening, it should also always be evident why those events are important, from something as simple as going to the grocery store to something as complex as a huge multi-army battle. This really spoke to me so I ate up all her advice about making sure I constantly ask why something is happening.

In partnership with the why is the how you communicate the why to the reader. It seems really simple, but something should happen, which causes the character to act, and that action causes something else to happen, which sparks yet another action. Everything should be connected, and if everything is connected then everything will speak back to the why behind the main character’s story. Just because something is well-written doesn’t mean it should be in the book. The reader isn’t reading for beautiful writing, they are reading for a good story that helps their mind escape.

The part of the book that I read quickly through but plan to come back to later were the last 3-4 chapters covering her organizational method for outlining, planning, and keeping track of the internal workings of individual scenes and the novel as a whole. Folders and scene cards and character cards – if I had read this book before I started writing I probably would have gotten caught up in the organization of it all and written very little. I probably would have gotten very frustrated with myself and maybe not have written anything at all, convinced that I’m not smart enough or whatever.

Once this first draft is done, though, this system will be very helpful in revising and rewriting. I can fill these scene cards and character info pages and world rules lists as I reread through my manuscript, and then I can rearrange those details as I need to. I am glad I wrote from my mind first and will organize second. This book will be right next to me once I’m ready (hopefully Halloween, fingers crossed!).

For someone who is just starting out and excited, I’m not sure if I would recommend this book as one of the first ones to read. It’s pretty full of “you musts” and “if you want to write a good story you have tos” and I found that a little…I don’t know, aggressive and discouraging? I mean, if a person hasn’t done a lot of writing in other areas I might, just to make sure they understand how to structure a novel. But if you read a lot and write a lot, you’re probably okay getting started and coming back to this book when you need some motivation or guidance when you get stuck.

It’s got a lot of great advice though, and so as long as you listen to all of it and take what you need, it’s a great book to have on your shelf if you’re plugging away at your own book! Go get you some.

Vicious (Villains #1)

Vicious

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

V.E. Schwab is an absolute delight on Twitter. Following her brings me publishing info, random trivia, and delightful animal pictures and travel anecdotes. I read the first book in one of her other trilogies a while ago and my experience there echoed my experience of Vicious, the first in her Villains series.

Schwab’s style is very much like a cartoon bomb with a very long fuse that is lit from a far distance and the only thing we get to see is the slow progression of the lit end as it eats away at the fuse, moving towards the large explosion at the end. We’re not allowed to see where the explosion will happen or how big it might be. She expects us to be interested in the little things and to follow along, trusting that something huge will come at the end.

I see why steady fans are absolutely rabid for her. She respects the patience and intelligence of her readers and writes for the story and not necessarily for flashy chapters. I found myself having to ration my patience, motivate myself to read just one more chapter, because previous experience has shown me that Schwab doesn’t disappoint, she just makes you wait for it.

This style of writing and my understanding of it kept me reading this book, but it also kept me away from the sequels to A Darker Shade of Magic. When I have more time, maybe over the summer or someday when I can take time away from teaching, I can give more of my patience to smart, slow, fireworks finale books like this. Unfortunately I need a little more than what these books have to give to keep me reading and consistently enjoying what I read. I almost put this book away three times (I bought it on a $2.99 Kindle deal) but I had to continually remind myself to keep going because my time would pay off.

The story centers around Eli and Victor. They are students who decide to study EOs (ExtraOrdinary people) for their scientific theses. In the process of researching how EOs are created, Eli posits that near death episodes (NDEs) create a situation where the person comes back, but with powers that mirror their final thoughts or desires just before “death.” They decide to try to make each other an EO by overseeing conditions that cause one and then the other to die and then be brought back to life. Their experiments are successful, and the consequences for themselves and the people they love end up being more than they bargained for.

The book leads us through their present day movements and flash backs to their past relationship to illustrate how Eli and Victor become enemies, and their slow progression to a face off fueled by revenge and self-righteousness. Each man has gathered other EOs to their side and are using their abilities to achieve their respective goals, which are to eliminate each other. The clock ticks the hours, then the minutes by leading up to their confrontation. (The grammar of this paragraph is horrid, I know. Just know it’s a race to see who kills who first.)

The follow up to this book, Vengeful, is coming out on September 25th, so you have time to read through Vicious before its release to get caught up. My only suggestion is that you start now because you’ll want to read Vicious in bites – read too long and you will feel bored and want to set it aside – so you make it through the entire thing and get to enjoy the ending. I myself won’t be moving on to Vengeful. I’ve had my fill of these books and don’t want to have to “homework assignment” myself through another one. But they are smart and have great endings, so if you like those kinds of books, definitely go get you some. I think I’ve learned that they just aren’t for me.

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)

The Heart of Betrayal

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)

Middle children are so difficult. We expect so much of them. We want them to keep up the excitement of book 1 while elaborating on deeper themes that were introduced. While they are keeping the intensity up we also want book two to give us MORE NEW INFO AND MORE INTENSITY to continue the climb to the finale.

I wish there was a way I could temper my expectations of middle books in trilogies because I think I would enjoy them more. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this novel. But gosh do all middle books have to be so drab and one-toned?

Lia is in Venda this entire time, and it’s like the only color in this book is gray. I imagine all people get to eat is gray gruel and they all wear gray clothes. Lia literally wears a potato sack for the entire first day she spends there. There are little street urchins running around and the walls are made out of mortar and skulls. I’m not exaggerating this is real.

The Heart of Betrayal gives us a deeper look into the history of Venda and how it relates to the history of Morrighan. Lia manages to translate more of the books that she stole from the Scholar in Morrighan, and discovers that it is a holy text that closely mirrors the one she studied since birth and recites remembrances for. Maybe her ancestors lied. Maybe there are harsher, bleaker truths that exist but have remained hidden because history is written by the victors. Lia discovers these truths through reading and experience. All I could think about is how our real world religions do the same thing that these countries did with their holy texts – when you strip away certain specifics, they are all really about the same basic values.

Now I’m sorry but we need to talk about the dudes. I know that this is a YA book and so the “he had no choice he’s so conflicted so we should root for him as the underdog and hope he gets with the girl who can’t decide between the two dudes because he didn’t have a choice about where he ended up” appeals to the younger women, but honestly I do not have time for this pity party bullshit. Kaden does horrible shit. Just because he discovers that he likes Lia does not excuse all of his nonsense that everyone wants to explain away with his uncontrollable circumstances.

NO. N. O. SPELLS. NO.

I AM TEAM RAFE. IF SHE ENDS UP WITH KADEN I WILL BE SO MAD. DO NOT TELL ME WHO SHE ENDS UP WITH. Honestly I hope she ends up with neither but if I have to choose I choose Rafe and his motley crew who ventured into enemy territory and risked their lives to get Lia back. I love that it’s the prince and 4 other guys who are like HONOR AND JUSTICE AND SUPPORT OUR PRINCE AND FUTURE QUEEN! oh man my heart. Prince Jaxon Flaxon Waxon Rafferty is amazing and I ❤ him.

Aside from the dudes, I always appreciate a lady protagonist who learns to take hold of her own destiny. Lia has the dudes to help her, but no one can help her navigate the Komizar (leader of Venda) and the results of his scheming. She has to be on her toes when he tries to use her and her gift to escalate Vendan fervor ahead of what will be a very lean winter. She decides to explore the Sanctum, finds hidden passageways, and eventually discovers a plot that is deeper than she could have ever imagined, which links Venda back to Morrighan. She sings to the people and tells them stories from the holy texts, and her actions endear her to the clans and people.

The ending to this book made me want to rip the hearts out of every Vendan soldier, governor, and Rahtan and paint the walls with their blood. I don’t want to give away what happens but Lia may have taken on a role that she definitely doesn’t want and the ramifications of that action will almost definitely echo into the third book. The Beauty of Darkness just came in from my holds so I’ll be picking it up on my way home from work and smashing through it over the weekend.

(Psst – Team Rafe. I’m not messing around Mary. Kaden is a joker, Lia deserves the heat and passion and dedication she has with Rafe.)

I mean, it’s a middle book so it’s not as exciting, but it’s worth it to bridge from the amazing first book to what I am sure will be an exciting conclusion. Go get you some.

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)

The Kiss of Deception

I would like an explanation for why no one prepared me for how fucking awesome this book would be. I demand to speak to a manager. From the very first chapter Mary E. Fucking Pearson had her claws in my soul and was dragging me through this story at a breakneck pace.

The book is YA Fantasy, but it’s that YA that I love when yes, the characters are in their late teens, early adulthood, but it’s mentioned so rarely that you can read this and imagine them older too. The main character, Princess Arabella a.k.a. Lia, runs away with her maidservant Pauline on her wedding day, escaping an arranged marriage meant to forge an alliance between two neighboring kingdoms. They take refuge in an inn run by Pauline’s aunt in an oceanside town. They work to earn their keep and see a future for themselves there.

Problem is that in her rush to escape, she was tracked by her betrothed from Dalbreck and an assassin from the barbarian realm of Venda. Both these men (boys) are referred to as The Prince and The Assassin when we hear the story from their point of view, and when Lia interacts with the both of them when they both find her at the same time in her hidey-hole they are referred to as Kaden and Rafe and we don’t have any fucking idea which is which as we watch their interactions. 

MARY. WHY DID YOU PLAY WITH ME LIKE THIS MARY. I need to know whether she was into the prince or the assassin to know whether to be filled with hope or dread and you gave me naught a clue so I was nervous THE WHOLE TIME.

BITCH I NEED TO KNOW WHO I’M ROOTING FOR.

Aside from the character drama that I am still fucking salty over (MARY YOU MUST MEET ME AT DAWN CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON) the fantasy elements are set up so slowly and sneakily that by the end I’m like omg there is a prophecy and what does it imply is gonna happen? Who is the Dragon? Venda has magic? WHAT IS THE GIFT WHAT IS HAPPENING I NEED TO KNOW MORE MARY.

Do you want to know how fast I went to the library for the next book in the series? I finished this book Wednesday night, and when I went by the library on my way home on Thursday to return it I picked up The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2) while I was there and if you don’t think I went to bed early so I could get through the first 100 pages before I passed out from exhaustion then you must be new to Angry Angel Books. 

(By the way, I just finished day 9 of the new school year and I think I’m sleep-teaching at this point because I am so exhausted I’m either sleep-walking or dead or maybe I’m dreaming but I AM SO TIRED SOMEONE SEND HELP.)

I don’t even want to spoil this experience for you. You need to suffer as I have suffered. YOU WANT THIS SUFFERING EMBRACE IT READ THIS BOOK ARE YOU READING IT YET WHY NOT HURRY UP HOW ABOUT NOW NO WHY NOT BITCH GO GET THIS BOOK DON’T WALK AWAY FROM ME I’M TALKING TO YOU.

***

Side story: When I was at the library checking out this book a girl walked in with one of those rolling backpacks and she was still in her school uniform and she was 12 if she was a day and she made a direct beeline from the door to the children’s section in the most businesslike way that I was absolutely struck with a fit of laughter and when the librarian asked what I was laughing at I said “nobody better get in that little girl’s way because she is here for books and she is not messing around” and I hope that little girl gets all the books she came there for because I totally respect her attitude.

 

Everything is Awful: And Other Observations

Everything is Awful

Matt Bellassai is one of my favorite internet personalities. From his weekly, angry videos about a topic to his podcast Unhappy Hour where he talks about infuriating things int he news and pop culture, he provides me with an important infusion of anger and dissatisfaction. My favorite topics that he covers are the ones that we all put up with but secretly hate, and it’s nice to hear him take that topic head on so we can nod in agreement while maintaining a facade necessary for work or family relationships. He’s the no-filter existence I wish I could have. So much of his ranting sounds like freedom to me. The freedom to be absolutely fucking done with everything.

But this isn’t a people review blog, it’s a book review blog, and I’ll say this about his memoir(?) – it’s not funny. Matt is funny when he screams about something stupid for like 5-10 minutes. He’s funny on his podcast because he has other people to break up his screaming and bounce his hate off of. This is 247 pages of stories about his life that I just didn’t need. Stories about peeing his pants and getting picked on in gym are just…uh…I don’t know, boring? They aren’t new. Any angry nerd that is a fan will relate to these stories, but they aren’t really enough.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for angst or suffering – I’ve written before about how some memoirs seem to bleed for you to get you to keep reading and that they aren’t for me. The stories in a memoir have to be similar enough to my experience that I can relate, but different enough that I’m interested. The kind of story isn’t important, but those elements are. I got through a few more chapters – the horrors and embarrassments of having braces and other dental procedures and how he can identify the type of ball he’s being hit with with his eyes closed (i.e. more gym stories, kickball, dodgeball, etc.) – and then I set the book aside. I can’t imagine how difficult the audiobook would be to get through.

Matt Bellassai is in the same category as Louis Black for me. Hilarious in small doses or mixed in with others, but surviving an entire stand up show (or book) just becomes an exercise in surviving monotony.  Their only level is loud and angry, so there’s no fluctuation or building of tension. I’ll keep him in video and podcast form, but the book is a no from me.

The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date

I don’t read a lot of romance novels. I’m not sure why that is, or why the entirety of my romance experience is Nora Roberts trilogies, but The Wedding Date was a new experience for me which has widened my view on what a romance novel is and can be.

The main characters get trapped in a elevator when the power goes out in their hotel, and in the time they have to meet cute and get to know each other he has nervously asked her to join him at the wedding he is in town for as his plus one. She agrees and pretends to be his girlfriend for both the rehearsal dinner and the reception. They discover that they are very attracted to each other throughout the course of the two outings and when they go back to his hotel room after the reception (that’s where she got ready for the wedding to help add to the girlfriend lie) they have sex.

The rest of the book is them having as much sex as humanly possible while working in two completely different cities that require them to fly to see each other on weekends. I enjoyed how Guillory also incorporated ideas about weight, race, and the tenuous situation of communicating via text. The number of times they almost break up because one of them assumes the worst over an emotionless text (or an intended joke) adds a bit of tension to their love fest.

I appreciated that Guillory gave me what I usually complain about missing in other romance series: the passage of time. Crazy, immediate attraction and constant sexing is a lot easier to believe when it isn’t followed up by being in love and getting married within a three month span. This book was believable. Even their stumbling blocks of texting and the distance were believable. It was a stumbly-bumbly beginning of a relationship that would feel familiar to anyone that’s ever suffered through those first few months.

My only critique is that after the initial anticipation of the rehearsal dinner and reception, there isn’t a lot of build up to the actual sex. The first time they have sex you’ll be like “YES THAT’S RIGHT” and then ever other time it’s just BAM THEY ARE TOGETHER SEX which I get because that’s what the honeymoon phase is but, I mean, romance me a little. They’re supposedly texting constantly, lemme see some of those sexy exchanges. This is a small critique though, because this book was really good.

You learn some things about how the world works AND you get a hot steamy romance. Learning and licking (LOL). Go get you some.