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.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Losing Steam: Do Book Series Need Mayhem to Survive?

Yah gotta admire Kevin Hearne. The Druid Chronicles, featuring Atticus O'Sullivan, are now in their eighth book, Staked, and still haven't lost steam. Hearne still manages to surprise even though the actual structure of his books is rather simple -- mayhem and more mayhem, with dollops of humor along the way. Though, sorry to say, Oberon, O'Sullivain's wolfhound, only adds a few weak comments on the human condition in this book.

O'Sullivan's foes are legion: vampires, gods, and magic workers of all kinds. The ever-approaching end of the world or the Norse Ragnarok is approaching, fast or slow. Of course, Ranganook has been approaching for centuries. In this book, you can sort of see a possible ending of the series, if not the world. [Hearne published an excerpt from a new series in this book.]

Am wondering how many fantasy thrillers are laugh-out-loud funny. Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series is one the few I've encountered. I can't remember any others. Hearne's most recent book, Staked, is no exception. Where else would a character be harder to find than "a snake's nuts". Still, I miss philosophizing Oberon. In this book, he's shunted off from the action and makes few comments on the human condition, though he gets regular doses of gravy. Owen, the recently found druid, takes over the comedic bleachers.

[Confession: I laughed out loud when my favorite grumpy secondary character, Owen, complained and many other times as I read. Even got my old man interested in Sullivan's troubles with the various human Pantheons.]

All in all, this is one of the weaker books. While entertaining, it mostly went over the same old territority. No new introductions to complicate O'Sullivan's life. No new insights into his character. His side-kicks showed more growth than the main hero did. Worse, the story lacked the tension coming from imminent defeat. It's a problem when you write a stellar series and the latest episode in only good normal.

Hearne wrapped up lots of loose ends in this book. I cringed every time I read one, especially since Hearne is introducing a new series, the sample of which seemed rather pronderous and cliched. I thought through most of the book that this was the last of the Lost Druid Chonicles. Then, I learned there's a ninth one. So, I'm again waiting for the mass paperback.

Take a look at the sample and read the other reviews:
Amazon         Nook        kobo

[Incidentally, I thought I'd complain about the lack of a search function on the iBooks ap. I've got the link to my shortstories and book, but I can't search for the url of other books in their store.]

Other Interesting Reading

With a book like Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, can you guess that Dean Wesley Smith is a rabble-rouser? His recent blog on writer earnings just cements that reputation. Love the way he keeps exposing how the accepted writing paradigms are off kilter and biased by the data collected. It was a lesson for me. I've been bamboozled by putting too much em-PHA-sis on Amazon being the only book seller.

The New York Times [28 January 18] had an important article on bots and fake followers for anyone concerned about keeping their accounts relatively clean. Buying followers, especially among those trying to make a splash or become an influencer on social media is a common practice. A front page article in the New York Times Sunday edition exposes under-the-rock where the media predators play. First, by stealing identities. Second, by selling them. You can read the full article here.

Are you concerned about social media manipulation? One way I often spot fake followers is by their profiles and what they post. 1) the lack of a picture is often a leading indicator.  2) a skimpy profile. 3) an great imbalance between  between followers and who they follow. 4) and probably most important, what do they post. Does it fit your profile and what you want to accomplish with your account?

My Wrting Rut

The light bulb went off in my head. Wasn't even thinking about writing as I sneaked a look at the most recent Lee Child Reacher novel. The organization of his storytelling as he switched viewpoints in the first 10% [?] of the novel hit me over the head. Duh. I think it's given me the push I need to stop spinning my wheels on Rendezvous with Demons. Other than that, I'm mostly spinning my wheels, doing all sorts of stuff except writing.

I also got a chuckle from having traveled through "Moose Crossing" [I'm not going downstairs to see if I remember the name Child gave Tie Siding] many times. Of course, the map calls it something different. But the location is right there on the two-lane road...provided you don't blink.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Crenshaw: A Fascinating Story Grabbed from the Headlines

Imaginary friends are popular among the younger set. I even admit to having had one myself--when I was confined to on the front porch by a gate taller than me. But, Crenshaw by Newbery winner Katherine Applegate is something else. Applegate takes the topic of homelessness and explores its effects on the kids of a working poor family. Crenshaw isn't just a tale torn from the headlines. It's a story of triumph on a small scale.

Jackson, named for his father's guitar, is a practical kid growing up in an artsy family of former muscians. His parents had put their music group aside to join the mainstream economy, but layoffs and MS [musclar dystrophy] knocked them out of the middle class once and is about to make them homeless again. Being working poor in the US isn't a comfortable lifestyle...unless you can develop a side gig that brings in more assets than low-wage jobs.

Jackson can see the signs and fumes that his parents aren't confiding in him. He wants the truth about their situation, not his parents sugar-coatings. Then, Crenshaw, a seven-foot invisable cat who was his imaginary friend the last time his family lived out of the family minivan, returns. It's touch and go whether Crenshaw will be a help or a hinderance. Creshaw's antics, such as surfing and taking bubble baths, supply the humor that leavens the book.

Crenshaw presents a child's perspective on homelessness with insights readers of all ages can appreciate. Suspensefully written, the book doesn't bore the reader, in spite of a long flashback. 

The first person POV seems particularly appropriate for telling Jackson's misery as he fears his family is going homeless again and his parents won't give him a straight answer. In fact, from the way they are characterized, I doubt if the parents are truthful with themselves. Appegate aptly depicts the problem of being practical in an artsy family by making the characters feel real. [Yeah, the opposite would also be a problem, but it's not the subject of this book.]

The book has lots of reviews, some interesting and some saying people liked the book. You can read a sample of some engrossing writing on 
Amazon      Nook

[Incidently, I can't remember the imaginary friend--just the gate and people telling me what I told them about Jerome. Seems like a surprising number of people listened to a three-year-old. Who knows why?]

Other Interesting Reading

The Passive Voice guy is one of my favorite blogsters. This week's book had me feeling defensive--like why would a self-respecting adult read a kid's book. I'd have argued that the book told an interesting story. Then, my guru came to my rescue. You can read why he reads kid's lit. It all boils down to an interesting, fast moving story that doesn't bore you. Read his whys here. Anyway, I'm not going to apologize for reading a kid's book.

Another topic of interest to readers is bookstores, especially since there are all sorts of doomsday stories about their eminent demise. Kristine Kathryn Rusch begs to differ in her recent blog: Business Musings: Bookstores (2017 in Review) Since I hardly ever read fiction on a computer screen, I found the blog held my attention and good wishes.

My Writing Rut

On the Run is off to the editor. Added about a thousand words to the book, but it's still shorter than There Be Demons. Wonder what excuse I'll find "not to write" next.

Thought I'd run an experiment. My free short stories about demons and mayhem are available on kobo. Click here to see. You'll have to scroll down and there won't be any reviews but it gives an alternative to Amazon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Who Knows What Secrets Lurk in the Heart of Sangamon?

Pat Stoltey knows, and she reveals them in the historical thriller, Wishing Caswell Dead.

It's easy to forget that the US Midwest was once the great western frontier where fierce Indian Wars were waged. Stoltey sets her tale in the 1830s when that frontier was only partly tamed.

In those days before the Civil War, Philadelphia debutante Mary Proud goes west with her soldier husband, but she is left destitute after his death. She leads a poverty-stricken life, with her two children, sadistic Caswell and victim Jo Mae. Caswell is found dead in the opening chapter, and the reader gets to amble through the minds of various Sangamon inhabitants, learning all the reasons why people in the small hamlet wished Caswell dead.

Jo Mae's attempts to gain control of her life after years of abuse is the thread that stiches the tale together. Sounds dreary, but the fate of Jo Mae provides a hook to pull the reader through the narrative. I found her the most powerful of the several raconteurs in the story. The others characters are well-drawn, with quirks, faults, and strengths, but it is Jo Mae that shines.

Stoltey weaves a tightly contstructed narrative which keeps the reader engaged even though the book is more about revealing its characters' inner lives than creating surprising plot twists. She also captures the period and speech patterns well. An enjoyable and intriguing read with a wonderful depiction of a historical time which isn't often seen.

Sample a few chapters and see the other reviews of this newly published book on
Amazon          Nook


Other Interesting Reading

Was recently asked to do a guest blog on someone else's blog, like write a short essay or op-ed piece. "About what?" I asked. While I got very little direction, I did manage to bumble through. Margaret McGaffey Fisk has some great ideas about writing blogs. A lot pertains to writers, but it applies to many different endeavers. Take a look.

Do you like reading blogs about of books? Found a link to the 100 most influential, often read book blogs. Probably something for everyone in this list, so says the pipsqueak.

Perhaps the most interesting blog I read came via the Books Go Social author support group. Jonathn Vars, a Christian fiction writer, did a guest blog on plots, specifically HOW TO CREATE A PLOT FROM NOTHING IN 5 STEPS. Many writers might think the steps simplistic. I think their very simplicity makes them easier to understand and implement.

My Writing Rut

Still working on On the Run. My editor has told me she's available earlier than she first thought. Not like getting your tail feathers lit to get you moving. Fortunately, I was more than half-way done when she told me. Below is an excerpt from the opening scene set in a bus station:

As she took another bite of her gooey sandwich, the station’s energy shifted gears, became so intense even Pillar’s weak talent felt the rising pulse. A chill crawled over Pillar’s shoulders and down her back. She dropped her sandwich to turn around again.
 “Look at all the people coming through the platform doors,” said Mari. Her eyes gleamed.
Pillar groused to herself. Nothing like being addicted to danger. She enjoyed adventures, too, but didn’t care to play with fire. Some amusements aren’t worth the heat.
Mari’s voice squeaked with excitement. “Hey, Tally, a girl just came in. She looks like she’s been traveling a reeeaaaally long time, just like a roamer. Do you think her family tossed her out?”

Must apologize. Had this written by Sunday. Yesterday, I waltzed around with my daily stuff, including getting a temporary bridge put in my mouth... Didn't get this published, but here it is today.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Memories, bad and good, Can Propel Your Story

One of my joys this last Christmas was a copy of E. C. Tubb's last Dumarest book, Child of Earth. My son searched high and low for the last two [missing from my book shelves] only to find that the next to the last one was totally expensive. He couldn't find a "cheapie", and I told him to give up. I'm satisfied to know how Tubb depicted parts of earth once Dumarest finally arrived after some 33 books.

I started out liking the books because they were an interesting, easy to follow books after I was exhausted chasing kids. I've continued to re-read them over the years because they are well written and filled with action, however unbelievable.

The more important fact I learned:
Tubb has become something of a cult figure.

That isn't surprising to me because Dumarest is a space opera version of Jack Reacher, a good guy who's always one step ahead of the bad guys. The chase is always depicted in fast paced action scenes with interesting characters and villains. 

People still collect Tubb's books even though he's an obscure British writer who published Dumarest novels between 1967 and 2008. It's sort of weird that the long line of books on my bottom shelf are collector's items, almost a complete set except for the super-expensive next to the end book.

Child of Earth isn't a novel in the usual sense of the word. More of a novella padded with memories of important past events mentioned in the series. None of the solving a big problem after several adventures. The book is more of an escape story--without any of the imaginative world creation. Just a bleak, killing snowy environment and a limited number of characters. A nice read. But a novel, no. More of a guilty pleasure for Tubb fans.

If you want to learn more about E. C. Tubb's Dumerast, check out Amazon. Some of the reviews are really interesting, and I learned a lot. Since he died in 2010, it was surprising to see how many of Tubb's Dumarest books are ebooks and still being sold.

Other Interesting Reading

It's the time of year when "my best ten books" lists sprout like leaves, in spite of the snow. Somehow, I doubt if many self-published books appear on them. Not many traditionally published books do, either. The Passive Guy has an interest take on publishing and books, arguing that there are way too many books being published. You might find it interesting, too.

Found another interesting blog about writing and New Year's Resolutions: Pat Stoltey's Blood Red Pencil blog about Colleen M. Story’s
 Overwhelmed Writer Rescue: Boost Productivity, Improve Time Management, and Replenish the Creator Within, There's a lot in the book that applies to everyone, not only writers.

Stoltey comments: The author also tells us a little flexibility and a lot of grit are the writer’s best tools for pulling us out of the quicksand and getting our feet on solid writing ground. I think the advice applies to everyone. Not giving up is one of the keys.

My Writing Rut

Was going to get back into writing new stuff this month. *pause while looking sheepish* But had a problem. I was trying to write Rendezvous with Demons which is a continuation of On the Run. Only I couldn't remember details from the manuscript. So, I'm editing it again. I was only going to skim it, but I found lots of typos and passive "to-be" forms. 

Think it's a good idea. My copy editor charges by the hour so I get a double benefit. I refresh my memory and I save myself some money. A nice way to start the new year, all in all.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Thief Eyes: Brooding and Scary, Even When It's Not Horror

Jannie Lee Simner captures the brooding atmosphere that haunts Iceland, even in the summer time, in her YA book Thief Eyes. [Yeah, I've spent serveral tourist days in Iceland.] More important, scary things happen in the book, from rapidly descending fogs, to threatening magic, to disappearing memories. But the scariest thing in the book: Haley's mother has disappeared without a trace. 

Determined to solve the mystery of her mother's disappearance, Haley has insisted her geologist father take her to Iceland the summer where Haley learns her father is responsible. She immediately collides with magic and the rougher mores of the Icelandic Sagas. Was nice to encounter a different mythology than the usual Celtic cosmology.

I also liked the touch where the villain, Hallgerd, is an direct ancestor of Haley. The descriptions of how the magical connenction works is effective and believable, even if you're a skeptic or unable to desengage your mind from the real world.

Character developement is a strong point in the Thief Eyes. The reader quickly learns about about the well-rounded life Haley left behind in the states. More important, that life directly impacts the the storyline of the book to make it richer and adding plot twists. Ari, the next most important character of the book is just as well-rounded as Haley with his own growth decisions. The villain sorceror who causes all the problems comes across as a real person even though lifted from the Sagas. Simner's judicious addition of fiction to legend works well.

In a universe filled with fey, werewolves and vampires, Simner's raven, fox and shape-shifting bear are refreshing. The mystery is quickly solved, but the adventure to save the world [preventing a massive earthquake in Iceland] grabs your attention and seldom lets up. All in all, a well written book with a nice clean style.

If you'd like to read samples and other reviews, click the following:
Amazon           Nook


Other Interesting Reading

First: Have a Good 2018 filled with lots of fun.

New York Times Book Reviews gave me some thoughts to chew on over Christmas in a review of Eric Metaxas"' book Martin Luther The Man who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.  Reviewer Carlos Eire said, among other things, "He [Luther] is a champion of personal freedom and of the rights of the common folk."

I like the idea of Luther being a major rebel in the fight to overthrow autocracy and reintroduce a form of hunter and gatherer democracy, aka concensus decision-making. [How that for an oversimplication???]

Another book on religion caught my interest: a commentary on the Qur'an. The reviewer, also a Qur'an scholar, said: having read the Qur'an cover to cover, there was no mention of 72 virgins waiting for jihadists' in Paradise. Had me thinking about rude awakenings.


Just a reminder if you live in the US. The GoodReads Giveaway for There Be Demons in hardcover is still open for entries until 7 January 2018. If you live outside the US, I'll be doing a giveaway through Amazon sometime in February of the ebook.


My Writing Rut

The rut was abandoned over the holidays. Spent the time with friends and family. Did do some mop-up work, like deleting emails, but mostly I ate too much, just like everyone else. Biggest vice? See's chocolates. That tells you I'm a California gal still, even though I live in Colorado.