Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Do Cliches Interrupt Your Reading?

    Seem to be getting pickier in my old age. Start reading a book because the characters intrigued me. Or, the plot line caught my interest. But had trouble getting beyond page 100 because of the cliches became tedious.

   Result: my "trade pile" was growing faster than my read pages. Newer books by some of my favorite authors got tossed as well at new-to-me ones. Victoria Thompson's Murder at Murray Hill almost landed on the pile without me finishing it because it was just too cozy and filled with sweetness and light. Then, the plot took a turn for the gruesome and hooked me.
 
   When I started reading Murder in Murray Hill, I figured it would get bounced quickly in spite of its many strengths. The book's sixteenth in the Gaslight Mystery series, and I haven't really been following the series ... though I remembered the characters from a couple years ago. I soon found myself immersed in Frank Mallory and Sarah Brandt's lives as if I had never left them. More important, Thompson gave enough clues as to what was going on, the the series book rates as a stand-alone, even though it's sixteenth in the series.

   First there're the twists and turns of the mystery. A girl has gone missing, and it soon becomes obvious there's more than one victim of a lonely hearts predator, ala 1890s style.The mystery really takes off when the first suspects are killed, and the book delves into the perks of the 1890s privileged class. This has been a constant theme in Thompson's books.

   Second, there's the milieu. Thompson has a clear grasp of 1890s New York City and the social mores of the times. She shows how people live comfortably, but not without anxieties at several income levels. These problems still echo down the decades, but Malloy and Brandt come up with solutions which work for them, even if breaking the conventions of the time. I found the silliest expectation was that a rich man shouldn't work. But then, I think the reason Malloy is rich is even sillier--Brandt wasn't considered savvy enough to manage her daughters inheritance by her former husband.

   Third, there're the characters. They are well-rounded enough that even the kids have personalities of their own. The victims also show their own differing coping skills that make them feel real. As for the main protagonists, they continue to grow with marriage looming in their future. Though the contrarian in me wonders --  what if Malloy took off with the daughter's inheritance and left Brandt in the lurch. It was a common phenomena when men control women's inheritances.

   Fourth, there's the pace. Thompson doesn't lollygag with unnecessary detail. You know enough to understand what's going on. But the reader doesn't get bogged in a quagmire of explanations of what happened before.

   Thompson has hit four bases, and that's enough for me to rate the book highly recommended.  Wish all the authors I buy did the same. This is a book, and maybe series, that writer's should study for how Thompson combines character development with plot twists to create a satisfying read.

Find excerpts and more reviews of Murder in Murray Hill at

~~~#~~~
My Writing Rut

   Slow seems to be my operative adjective at the moment. Is it a dip into the SAD malaise? 

   Part of the problem is that I keep adding chapters to On the Run. This time because I needed to do a little foreshadowing for the demon fight that throws Pillar back on the road. Fortunately, I had a chapter in my files that I had deleted because it was repetitive where it was. Now it deepens the alliances with some additions -- which included more character development.

   Did get a new snippit up of On the Run.

   Figured out why I wasn't getting far with my outlined story for Trapper Tremaine. I didn't know very much about his in his back ground. It wasn't just about not knowing enough about guns. Think I have to go the the first scene when I saw him trudging through the snow towards a winter camp in the wilds.

   Now I'm wondering where I'm going to find time to write another story. My desktop is getting crowded with story files.

   Am beginning to think that one of the reasons why writers come up with blocks is that they don't know the people they are writing about. Or, maybe the ramifications of their problems.










Monday, September 21, 2015

Is the "Son of Satan" a Turn-off? Or, a Hook? -- Darynda Jones Review

    Found an interesting author during last week's "reading derby". After dumping a couple books for inane characters, I discovered Darynda Jones. Her Seventh Grave and No Body is as you might guess the seventh in a series featuring a grim reaper, aka  Charley  Davidson.

   The big surprise? The book is a "stand alone". The reader can appreciate and follow the plot without loads of info dumps. Jones manages to introduced new characters and past plot points in a few sentences so the current work flows on.

   What hooked me after the "Son of Satan" bit almost made me dump the book on the trade pile? Would you believe a "bun in the oven"? Yeah, a paranormal, chick-lit, kick-ass hero who's preggers. More important the "bun" is an important plot point. There's a prophecy that the child will end up the Satan slayer, creating the major story arc: Charley's fight to keep the bun and herself alive--especially when Satan sends twelve hell hounds to off them.

   Add some snappy dialog. Seventh Grave and No Body is written in first person. But the character revealed by it is a unique individual of the type I don't remember encountering before.  Charley Davidson is not another, dime-a-dozen kick-ass chick. Snark is almost a synonym for Davidson,. but it's creative snark.

   Warning. If you hate puns with a passion, this isn't the book for you. Example: "the bun". Davidson starts to call it "Black-eyed Pea" which is quickly shortened to "Beep".  Yeah. the hero is struggling to keep herself and Beep alive while maintaining her independence in spite of an over-protective significant other, the son of Satan who has escaped from hell.

   The story line breaks gorpy romantic cliches too. Not only is the love interest a super-alpha male, but he's sweet too. The reader gets it that Charley has become a crucial part of him. Yeah, they pant, but the dialog makes it feel like a real relationship.

   And then, there's the humor which is more than the word play that dances through Davidson's narration. The secondary characters, that add the seasonings to the story line, are creative and unpredictable. Well-rounded doesn't satisfy Jones. She creates unexpected people who are almost interesting enough to support their own books on the information she gives about them.

    Highly recommended. I have smiled so much while reading what is essentially a scary book. I won't say anymore positive things because the above already sounds like a rave.

You can read more reviews and excerpts on Amazon and B&N Nook.

~~#~~
Then, There's My Writing Rut

   A war-for-time's starting in front of my computer-- among stories set in my world of Andor and a couple set among the half elves of the Far Isles. This has nothing to do with the books I have festering in my computer. Maybe it does. While I don't relish shopping them in this publishing world, I still want to fix my previous creations.

    Oh, I continue to plod away with On the Run. The demons would've caught Pillar long ago if she ran at the pace I write. Still, going back and revising the middle of the book before I proceeded to the ending was a good choice. I know so much more about my characters and the world they live in. Really have to go back and rewrite There Be Demons, which happened before On The Run. The new story features the demons left behind when the portals were closed by the Angeli in TBD. But I'll wait until I get the ending tied onto On The Run  before I play wiih it.

    Renna, who's my favorite character, is beating me over the head with her staff. Once, when I was posting short Half-Elven tales on a separate blog, I completed a couple short story equivalents in addition to The Foiling of Gorsfeld which is free on Smashwords and Nook. Need to rewrite the old blogs and write the draft of a new story. There also the second part of  Black Tail's War which I have to decide whether or not I'll combine or self-publish in two parts. Decisions. Decisions.

    Andor stuff? Trapper Tremaine is languishing because I don't know enough about guns. Problems with creating a world. Everything's interrelated. If a society has cell phones, the technology make guns inevitable even if a significant portion of the people can work magic. Of course, my writing focus is biased--pro-magic.

   Then, there's marketing. Most of the stuff I have up for public consumption lands in the quick read category. Great entertainment on a trip or wait, but like my reviewers to often say, leave the reader wanting more. But, boy will I be glad to drop the marketing squirrel-wheel I got caught on when There Be Demons snagged a contract from a now defunct publisher.

   If you've been following them, I've put up the eighth snippet from On the Run. It's active on my author website now. The previous ones are collected on their own page.