Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 23 | Currently Reading

Oy vey, it has been quite some time since I've posted an update on the blog. Mostly it's because I've been on a long hiatus from fiction. Not counting the books I've been reading to my kids, I've only been reading nonfiction books. I've read some really amazing books, but I've never really shared any opinions on nonfiction books on the blog before. It gave me a nice excuse to step away from blogging after all of the hacking and whatnot and regroup. I finally found the time to play with a few things behind the scenes on my blog, too.

I'm slowly getting back into reading fiction. I'm hoping blogging will fall in line along with it. I'm seriously out of touch in so many ways.

Revival by Stephen King
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A Soprano on Her Head by Eloise Ristad (More nonfiction. I did say slowly.)

I'm not sure what I will read next. Station Eleven was the perfect read for the mood I'm in. Maybe I'll check out the next book in the Silo series.

What are you reading this week? Have you read anything really fantastic lately? Let me know in the comments or leave me a link!

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Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27 | Currently Reading

With Halloween fast approaching, my reading and blogging just has not been happening! We had our annual Halloween party Saturday night which is where most of my time has been devoted. Then a neighbor had a pumpkin carving party yesterday:

In case you missed it, I'm giving away a copy of Jamie Schultz's Premonitions. Go read his great guest post on flawed characters and enter to win a print copy.

My week wasn't totally without reading. I did finish Girl of Nightmares. There were a few really great scenes in that one.

I started reading Lord Dunsany's The Curse of the Wise Woman. The beginning was so good. I'm hoping I will be able to devote just a little bit of time to it this week.

I hope you guys have an awesome Halloween week! We are planning to have all of the kids over for a hayride/trick-or-treating party on Friday. Then it will be November, and I will cry.

Let me know what you are reading this week! Leave me a comment or post a link.

This post is being shared as part of Book Journey's It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway | Flawed Characters and the Arc of Redemption

Flawed Characters and the Arc of Redemption by Jamie Schultz

I like my fictional characters flawed. And by “flawed,” I don’t mean they’re a little clumsy, or a little socially inept in some humorous but harmless way, or that they have any of a dozen other cute, quirky flaws that ultimately have no bearing on the outcome of a story—I mean flawed in almost a Greek tragedy sense. They have a single, pervasive, possibly catastrophic flaw that they struggle with throughout the story, a flaw that will ultimately prove their undoing if they don’t address it.

When I say “flawed,” what I mean is that they make bad decisions, almost always as a result of some single, specific character problem. Caul Shivers, in Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold is one of my favorite examples. He can’t stay away from violence, even when he wants to try to be a better man, and as a result he signs on as muscle for somebody else’s revenge trip, even though he knows better. Unsurprisingly, he ends up paying a heavy price for it. Jack Torrance in The Shining is another good example—his ego and his focus on himself ends up opening the door to all kinds of badness, ultimately turning him into a puppet operated by the Overlook Hotel. Another great example is Walter White, from TV’s Breaking Bad. “I am in the empire-building business,” he says, his chest all puffed out, and, well—look how that worked out for him.

Those are all interesting stories to me, but you’ll notice one common thread: All these characters are destroyed, or nearly so, as a result of their flaw. That’s a valid, interesting, and often heartbreaking arc, and I get a lot from those stories. However, there’s a propensity for them to turn very cynical, and while I don’t mind a little cynicism from time to time, I don’t want to wallow in it.

The flipside of those stories is the story in which the character overcomes his or her flaw. Going back to Stephen King, I was always partial to Larry Underwood from The Stand, who chronically uses up everybody around him and then throws them away when he gets what he needs. Through the course of the story, he makes a conscious decision to move away from that, partly as a result of some pretty traumatic failures in that department early on. I’ve read the book maybe a dozen times, and still, every time I get to the part where he turns away from Nadine, I breathe a sigh of relief.

Those are the stories that really resonate with me. Let’s face it, we all fuck up. We do things we wish we hadn’t, and often we do them knowing at the time that we’re making a bad decision, but we go ahead and do them anyway (anybody who’s had regrettable post-breakup sex with an ex can now hang their heads in shame with me). These stories give me a little hope that people really can change, that I can become a better person, and I feel a little swell in my heart, a sense of triumph at humanity’s better side when I can vicariously live that experience through a great character.

When I wrote Premonitions (arguably, when I write anything), I had that very much in mind. The characters in the story are virtually all criminals, some with better reasons than others, but there are a lot of flaws to go around. The main protagonist, Karyn Ames, struggles with a bizarre condition in which she hallucinates the future—handy in a pinch, but when dozens of possibilities, some presented metaphorically, start crowding her perception, the real world can get swamped in a hurry. The only control over it is an expensive black market drug, and Karyn has gone into a life of crime, basically shoveling money down the hole of her treatment as fast as she can make it.

At the story’s outset, Karyn and her crew are offered a ludicrous sum of money to steal an object of occult significance for a notorious crime lord. For Karyn, who has lived in desperation for all of her adult life, it looks like a way out. That desperation, understandable as it may be, leads her to turn a blind eye to some very ominous developments—and, as we all know, no heist story would be complete if everything went according to plan.

Other characters in the story struggle with their own demons—sometimes in a very literal sense—and most of them are working toward either redemption or simply escaping the consequences.

I can’t say that all the characters find happy endings, and I can’t promise that all of them find the resolution—or escape—they seek, but I can say that I tried hard not to let the story become cynical. It’s a dark story, make no mistake, but redemption (or at least the possibility) is there, and I find that that holds the door open enough to let some light in.

You can find out more information about Jamie at his website:

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Jamie is offering one lucky Book Den reader a print copy of Premonitions. US only.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On My Wishlist {6}

This was another light wishlist week for me. These are the two books (both ghost stories!) that made it on the list this week:

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce

Critically acclaimed author Graham Joyce returns with a sexy, suspenseful,and slightly supernatural novel set 1976 England during the hottest summer in living memory, in a seaside resort where the past still haunts the present.

David, a college student, takes a summer job at a run-down family resort in a dying English resort town. This is against the wishes of his family…because it was at this resort where David's biological father disappeared fifteen years earlier. But something undeniable has called David there.

A deeper otherworldliness lies beneath the surface of what we see. The characters have a suspicious edge to them…David is haunted by eerie visions of a mysterious man carrying a rope, walking hand-in-hand with a small child…and the resort is under siege by a plague of ladybugs. Something different is happening in this town.

When David gets embroiled in a fiercely torrid love triangle, the stakes turn more and more menacing. And through it all, David feels as though he is getting closer to the secrets of his own past.

This is a darkly magic and sexy book that has a strong suspense line running through it. It's destined to continue to pull in a wider circle of readers for the exceptionally talented Graham Joyce.

The Year of the Ladybird was added to my wishlist as a direct result of Mark West's review. It sounds like a book I would really love.

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

A dark, distinctive and addictively compelling novel set in fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna and Nazi Germany—with a dizzying final twist.

Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer—celebrated psychoanalyst—is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings—to be, in fact, not even human. Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

Years later, in Germany, we meet Krysta. Krysta’s Papa is busy working in the infirmary with the ‘animal people,’ so little Krysta plays alone, lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and more. And when everything changes and the world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed. . . .

Eliza Granville has had a life-long fascination with the enduring quality of fairytales and their symbolism, and the idea for Gretel and the Dark was sparked when she became interested in the emphasis placed on these stories during the Third Reich.

If you tell me a book has creepy ghosts, I will want to read it.

Are any of these books on your wishlist? Have you read them? I'd love to hear your thoughts and/or recommendations.

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