Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: Life In A Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

My father had to be operated on last October to remove a tumor from his pituitary gland. During that operation, he had a deep brain stroke and over three months later he has a long road toward recovery ahead of him. With that in mind, I think it's safe to say that books about fathers, daughters and medical trauma are on my mind right now. Life In A Fishbowl further grabbed me with the idea of combining this with reality tv. I hate reality tv with a burning, fiery passion, so I figured no good could come of this.

But do you want to know what sold me on reading this book hook, line, and sinker? Glio. That's what--or who?--made this have to be the first book I read in 2017. The idea of a brain tumor actually getting its own POV was such a crazy concept that I simply couldn't resist?

Was Life In A Fishbowl as good as the sum of its parts? Read on and find out!

(Summary From Goodreads)
Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Everything she says and does 24/7 is being taped and broadcast to every television in America. Why? Because her dad is dying of a brain tumor and he has auctioned his life on eBay to the highest bidder: a ruthless TV reality show executive at ATN.

Gone is her mom's attention and cooking and parent-teacher conferences. Gone is her sister's trust ever since she's been dazzled by the cameras and new-found infamy. Gone is her privacy. Gone is the whole family's dignity as ATN twists their words and makes a public mockery of their lives on Life and Death. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day very soon her father will just be . . . gone. Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie is determined to end the show and reclaim all of their lives, even in death.
This book was every bit as unique as I thought it would be. Unfortunately, I mean that in both the best and worst ways possible. Let's start with what I liked:

Glio -- The extremely weird, why-the-heck-is-this-a-thing POV 100% did not disappoint. Despite any flaws this book has, it's not one that I'm going to forget thanks to this 'guy'. Why did he work? Well, the connection between his POV and Jared's allowed the author to continue to express Jared's emotion even as his disease consumed him and essentially stripped away who he was. I don't think this 'character' will be for everyone and it might even set some people off, but I feel his inclusion was for far more than mere shock value.

The way characters were introduced. This book had a ton of narrators and one of the things the author did to help the reader know we were getting another brand new one was to theme the first two lines of each new POV's opening. For example:

The high-grade glioblastoma multiforme tumor liked Jared Stone's brain. It liked it a lot. In fact, it found it delicious.

An intro like this happens for every major and minor character POV throughout the novel, tailored to what is important to that individual. I feel that this helped to solidify a massive cast of POV that could have gotten really confusing or fallen apart otherwise. 

The overall flow of the plot kept things moving and was written interestingly enough that I was never bored with the story. The style had a breezy feel to it that kept me tapping to turn the page of my Kindle with no hesitation at all.

Okay, then. What went wrong?

First and foremost, I don't feel that this book is really YA. I think that it features a few teen characters and that they do get to do some important things in the narrative, but this is the most adult-focused YA novel that I have ever reviewed on this blog. The villain is a TV producer that our heroine has little hope of really taking down. And far more disturbingly, when we get glimpses into his POV some of the things we find out are that he likes to use his secretary as a prostitute and that secret cameras were installed in the Stone family's bathrooms and that the TV crew liked watching the mother and her 13 and 15 year old daughters shower. 

If either of the two examples I just gave had actually really factored into the story in any direct and tangible way, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But no. They are here for shock value, and unlike Glio they do not work. 

Another thing that drove me crazy was that this book, which initially felt like it was written in third person past tense, would occasionally decide that it wanted to switch to omniscient POV without warning. I found this very jarring and it was generally to tell the reader things they would probably have been better off not knowing, like the part about the villain's secretary that I listed above. 

My next issue comes with the fact that at about half way the book gets a split narrative between the teenaged heroine finding a way to stop the TV people filming her family, and her mother finding a way to perform euthenasia on her husband. We end up seeing the final results of both of these situations in full detail. To be clear: my issue has nothing to do with being for or against assisted suicide. My issue is that such a core part of the book, which will undoubtedly make a lot of readers uncomfortable--should have been addressed somewhere in its marketing. That it was not is irresponsible of both the author and the publisher. 

Lastly, there was a violent and unnecessary dog death about half way through the book. Unlike my other complaints, this is a personal pet peeve. If I felt it had served an actual purpose I wouldn't be as annoyed, but as it stands I'll stick to my reaction when I read it: "Really? You're gonna kill the dog?". *eyeroll*

So, should you buy Life In A Fishbowl? My feelings on this are very mixed. There is a good book among all of the flaws that I have listed, but this is definitely not a read to go into blindly. If books were roads, this one would be full of pot holes. Watch your step. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#CampNaNoWriMo : Staying Motivated!

So, last week I wrote about my supplies for Camp NaNoWriMo. This week, I want to talk about some of the tools I use to get myself to write and to keep myself writing.

1. Scrivener

You know how a TV takes tiny pieces and puts them together for you to view on a screen? Well, Scrivener does that for the stories that are locked inside my head. I've never used a writing program I liked more, and I couldn't imagine writing The Sealer Saga any other way.

Let's break it down:

On the far left we have my Chapter List and my Research which are (I think?) call the "Binder". I can click on any of these at any time and get to specific parts of my story. By writing my story piece by piece, I keep from getting overwhelmed and when I go to edit--or need to make a note for something happening later--I can hop to the part of the story I need in one click.

In the middle of the screen, we have the space where I actually write the chapter. I tend to brainstorm my outlines in Word and then bring them into Scrivener and fill in gaps, move scenes around, etc. since each of my chapters on the left have an index card. But there's another reason I like bringing my outline in from Word. My favorite font for writing is Calibri, and when I bring in my outline it carries its formatting. That saves me having to switch it in each separate chapter. I type "chapter" once, copy / paste that into each file and I'm good to go.

On the right we have two really handy tools. The one at the top is the chapter's index card. This is a snapshot of what's suppose to go on. (Pay no heed to what's there right now; I did my outlining differently this time.) I've been too lazy to correct that here, but normally it would have a two sentence summary of the main gist of that chapter's purpose.

Below that we have what I like to cal the "idea pad". This is where I jot down ideas I get as I am writing. If I figure out that I need something in chapter eight while I am in chapter three, I can click chapter eight's idea pad (each chapter has one) and fill it in. Or if I think up a great piece of dialogue to use later in a scene I'm writing, I can stick it there until I am ready.

These are only the absolute basics of Scrivener, but they serve my purpose well. Oh! And I really like how anything I put into tabs under "research" does not effect my word count. For Camp, that's very helpful.

2. Sealed With A Kiss iTunes Playlist! 

Music is a huge part of my creative process. It effects my mood, it helps me to project the current moods I want my characters in, it can change the rhythm and tone of my writing... It's absolutely essential. I listen to a wide variety of music when I write, sometimes letting it free play and sometimes going to certain playlists for certain types of scenes. But I also always have a soundtrack for my books that tries to capture their overall themes. Shall we go through this one quickly?

1. Just One Little Kiss -- This is about the push and pull between Lucian and Carita during the first half of the novel. It's essentially their opening 'couple song'.

2. Enchanted -- This is their 'meet cute'. Neither of them wanted to be where they were that night, but both are better for having met the other. They have no idea how much this one moment in time is going to change their lives.

3. Dark Horse -- This is my villain, Ruby's, theme. She wants to start her life over by hosting this contest (as absurd as it is) and yet she is destined to repeat--completely against her will--the very things that made her miserable to begin with. I like the overtone of compassion and righteousness mixed with the dark undercurrent of potential vengeance here.

4. Beautiful Girl -- This is Lucian's theme. He's potentially the most dangerous being in the universe and he knows it. He's on a mission that is vital but also destructive. And then the woman of his dreams just falls into his life at the absolute worst time ever. Is there any way she'll stay?

5. Put The Gun Down -- This is our climax to part one. Lucian is the only man left, Carita has fallen for him completely, the prophecy must be fulfilled and Ruby is the only woman who can make that happen. Things are about to get very painful and very complicated.

6. Bring Him Home -- I've never seen the musical this is from, but Stages (the Album Josh Groban released that had this on it) came out as I was outlining Sealed With A Kiss and the moment I heard this I knew it was going to be one of the most important pieces of music I would use while drafting. There is a point in the second half where Carita makes a life changing decision and this song really echoes her reasoning and emotions while doing that.

7. America's Sweetheart -- This is Carita's theme. She does not follow the conventions or rules of her society, she's brutally honest, and she is very "okay" with who she is. She also won't accept people who refuse to take her "as is".

8. Building A Mystery -- This is about Lucian, the Underworld, and Carita's discovery that everything she has been told her entire life is a lie and completely false. It is only by allowing the lies to fall away and embracing the truth she is discovering that she will be able to survive the situation she has been thrust into.

9. Masterpiece -- This is the climax of the book, where Carita must finally, fully face up to what has happened to her and either succeed or fail. I love the idea that even though she will succeed here, she (and Lucian) are aware that this will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. I also love the extremely tense pace of this song. It suits what has to happen really well.

10. Queen of Hearts -- So far I've mostly talked about the changes and sacrifices that Carita has made, but this song is important because it represents Lucian's ability to finally understand all that has happened and that he has to meet her half way. I also love the idea that after thousands of years he finally has someone with him whom he truly loves.

3. the Came NaNoWriMo Website

I've decided to post this for two reasons. First, because I love getting daily inspiration throughout the month. Second, because I believe this is one of the most powerful forms of motivation that can be used. There's one that trumps it for me, but maybe we'll talk about that next week? We'll see.

Writing is a solitary activity, but I'm an extremely social person. I want to share the things I care about with others. One thing I've said for years is that if I'm hanging out at Absolute Write I'm probably writing, and if I've been absent I'm probably not. But for Camp, I've been spending a lot of time writing back and forth with my cabin mates and on the "Campfire Circle" subform of the NaNoWriMo boards. It's very much like how I will stalk tech forms if I'm trying to save for / build a new PC, or how I joined health communities when I had to figure out how to deal with needle phobia. If you treat something like it's real, like you've already got it, you put yourself on step to making what you desire become reality.

I do not like competition where I have to face an opponent directly. I find that it reduces my performance in whatever I'm doing. (I always felt I'd sang my worst in competitions--even those I won.) But a graph like this, which is just as much about beating myself as it is keeping up with or exceeding what others are doing, is surprisingly effective at keeping me focused.

4. Facebook (a.k.a. Calling Home)

I don't believe in fear as a motivator. I do believe in telling people you are going to do something, and then bringing them with you along the way. It takes me a few minutes each day to update facebook with what I have accomplished, and in doing so I have a permanent reminder of what I have made happen. I've done this with every novel or novella I've written and it works (for me) every time.

Do you have any tools, tips or techniques that help you with NaNoWriMo? Feel free to share in the comments. :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Road To #CampNaNoWriMo : My Camp Supplies!

If there is a line of fiction I do not want associated with my preparation for next month's Camp session, it would definitely be the infamous "You are not prepared!" from the Burning Crusade expansin pack for World of Warcraft. With that in mind, I've spent the last week or so getting everything settled around so I'll have the best chance possible of completing SEALED WITH A KISS (or at least reaching my 50,000 word goal.)

Does anyone remember my review of BZRK? One of the big things talked about in that book was the idea of two different worlds, the "Macro" and the "Micro". I feel the same in a lot of ways about the logic I've been using to get ready for camp. For me, though, the Macro is of course anything that's gonna make me more comfortable here in the real world. The Micro, on the other hand, is anything that's going to directly effect my story where it's sitting on my PC. Today let's take a look at some of the things that will be helping me ensure that I will be able to tell Lucian and Carita's story.

Planning for #CampNaNoWriMo: The Macro

My Writing Books

It all starts here. If writing a novel were a feat worthy of  super hero, this would be my "Bat Cave". I am quite addicted to collecting books on writing and I have some real gems (and admittedly a couple duds) here. Among the ones I figure I'll need most this July are Book In A Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson, and The Art of Romance Writing by Valerie Parv.

While we're on the subject, please let me know if you'd like to hear my thoughts on these or any of the other writing books in my collection. I don't normally review non-fiction here, but I'd be happy to make an exception for this.

Sweet Treats and Sweet Stationary

I do about 98% of my writing on the computer, because the only thing I hate more then revision is coming stuff onto the computer that I originally wrote by hand. To try and make up for any pain that may cause me, we have good quality "bold" black pens and the cutest notebook in the history of ever. It says: "Give a Pug A Hug". <3

All of the sweets here are new or relatively new to me. The Laffy Taffy is what remains of two bags Jay brought when he visited the other week, while the Sweet Crisps are a discovery my mother and I made at WalMart. I still haven't decided whether I love the chocolate or the caramel more, but I know I love how well these compliment a cup of tea.

And here we have a completely new member to the Kat's Snacks family: Bear Paw Dipped cookies. These are pretty good, but I'm pretty sure I'll be switching back to my usual Quaker Dips granola bars in week 2, as these don't seem to pack enough of a punch in the "they make hunger disappear" category. They are quite tasty, though!

The crackers are both old favorites. I don't want to hazard a guess how many boxes of Original Wheat Thins I'll go through while writing SEALED WITH A KISS, but I'm pretty sure it'll be "a lot". The Ritz Bitz with Cheese are another personal favorite, although I must admit that I was bummed I didn't see the S'Mores flavor at No Frills this trip as I had my heart set on them since this writing project has the whole camp theme going on. Hmm... Maybe I'll have to get the ingredients and make real S'Mores later in the month as one of my writing rewards? We shall see. :)

And last we have an old favorite and a new addiction. I've had a love affair with Peanut M&Ms for months, so I'm not surprised that I decided to get them at all. But this kick I'm on buying Lindt's Dark Chocolate With Caramel and Sea Salt is something I wouldn't have seen coming in my wildest dreams until, bored one weekend, I decided to try it.

Lastly, here's one for my fellow Canadians! 

We all know that #NaNoWriMo involves massive amounts of caffeine, and if I'm going to get a coffee fix, chances are it's going to be from Tim Hortons. (Though if I want specialty drinks I prefer Mac's Milk--bigger selection, better prices.) I'm also a huge fan of all the non-chocolate Tim Bits. (I know..A Form of chocolate Kat doesn't care about. Blasphemous!) Either way, I'll be counting on family and friends to be feeding my Coffee and Tim Bit needs during the course of the event. Keep me motivated, people! <3

What are your must have items when writing? Did you put together a #NaNoWriMo Survival Kit? Feel free to share! :)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Road To #CampNaNoWriMo : What I'm Writing!

I'm thrilled to announce that I plan to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo this July. I just finished the final chapters of my latest story, TO GRANT A DARK GIFT last weekend and now I am absolutely dying to get started with my next book, SEALED WITH A KISS. This book is very important to the Sealer Saga, as I have come to realize that it (not SEALER'S PROMISE) is actually the first book in the series. Want to know what it's about?
(This synopsis may yet be changed. This is not the final cover.)
Some Kisses Are Worth Dying For...

Chosen as a Champion, Carita of Bel Auryn thought she would spend her days fighting demons. Instead, she is drawn into the latest scheme of the Moon Goddess, Ruby: a ridiculous contest to choose the man who will have the "honor" of fathering her child. When Ruby encourages Carita to choose a competitor, she picks the man she is most drawn to--and immediately regrets it.

That man is Lucian Veradayne, the Lord of Death. He knows he must win Ruby's game at any cost. It doesn't matter that he has avoided her for over two thousand years. It doesn't matter that she hated him enough to maim their first son. And it definitely doesn't matter that he would much rather woo her endearing but brash Champion, Carita. The Soul Well, the source of all creation, has given Lucian a vision that he and Ruby must have another child. A child who will save the world.

But winning Ruby's affection and resisting Carita will prove to be the least of Lucian's problems. He and Carita are not the only ones who have been drawn into Ruby's game. Someone else wants to get close to her, and they are willing to kill to make that happen. Will Carita and Lucian be able to protect Ruby long enough for a victor to be named? And if so, will they be able to walk away from each other to ensure the Soul Well's prophecy comes true?
There are definitely things that I am really excited for as I prepare to write this. Are few of those are:
  • I get to explore what Kesyl was like as a little boy.
  • I get to experience how Carita and Lucian fell in love.
  • I get to see how Zakariah was before he started opening up to people.
  • I have a chance to (hopefully) understand Ruby better. 
There are definitely some challenges that I will be facing in writing this, though:
  • I need to research how to authentically capture the voice of a little boy.
  • I'm writing about a woman who is raising a son; not exactly normal NA stuff there.
  • I'm working the contents of two novellas into a collective story arc. That's...interesting.
  • I face the challenge of ensuring my world can be understood in this context from first time readers, since I am hoping this will be book one of my series. 
So, yeah. July is going to be insane. My goal is to write 50,000 words but I'd honestly like to finish the whole rough draft for this story. As long as I hit the word goal I'll be happy. If completing the whole thing takes me to the end of August I still wouldn't be overly upset. 

So, is anyone else doing Camp NaNoWriMo? What are you writing about? I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review: Take Them By Storm by Marie Landry

*This book is New Adult

As with any review I do for Marie's books, I will start with the necessary disclaimer: Marie Landry is a long-time blogger friend whom I have known for several years. I do not say this to discredit the integrity of my review, but rather to ensure that all cards are laid on the table when you read it.

That said, what were my thoughts going into Take Them By Storm? First and foremost that I know I'm late to the party. This released a while ago and I was not actively blogging or reading much at that time. Second, that I was pretty sure going in that this book would be a safe bet for me. I've enjoyed everything Marie has written, so I was fairly certain Take Them By Storm would be the literary equivalent of catching up with old friends.

Was I right? Read on and find out...
(Summary from GoodReads)
This book is a standalone companion novel to Waiting for the Storm and After the Storm.

Sadie Fitzgerald has always been different, and not just because she makes her own clothes and would rather stay home watching Doctor Who than party with kids her age. When it’s time to leave Angel Island for college, Sadie is eager to put her old life behind her. Small-minded people and rumors have plagued her for years, but with the love of her adoptive family, the O’Dells, Sadie has learned to embrace who she is. Now she’s not afraid to admit the rumors about her are true: she’s gay.

For the first time in her life, Sadie feels free to be herself. She dives into college life and begins volunteering at the local LGBT center, where she discovers her small-town upbringing left holes in her education about life outside Angel Island.

The world is a bigger and more accepting place than Sadie ever imagined. She’s finally found where she belongs, but with the reappearance of someone from her past, an unexpected new friendship, and a chance at love, Sadie soon realizes she still has a lot to learn about life, friendship, and love.
The first thing I can say about Take Them By Storm is that it covered all the things I expect (at this point) from a Marie Landry novel. Relatable characters? Check. Beautiful writing with a natural flow? Absolutely. Gorgeous, descriptive prose complete with a setting so vibrantly realized that it seems like its own character? Without question. I had tried samples of three other books on my June reading list and failed to connect with them. I definitely did not have that problem here. 

It was beautiful going back to this story world. (I view all stories as their own worlds, even if they are set in ours.) It was great being reunited with Charlotte, Ella, River and Ezra. It was also wonderful getting to know Sadie better. I had hoped she would get her own story and now that I have read it I feel that hope was definitely justified. 

The shift from YA to NA was handled well and felt organic for the characters. The characters from previous books were also consistent with who I knew them to be, while still carrying enough growth and depth for me to believe that a year had passed and they were all headed to work / university / college. 

Just as vital as the growth I see in the characters is the growth I see in Marie's writing. She used a plot device that drove me slightly batty in one of her earlier books and then turned it completely on its head. She also managed to have me convinced that was not going to happen until the last minute, which made for some very tense, fidgety, nail-biting reading that I usually don't get from contemporary books. 

She also did something extremely clever with the romance here, which was definitely a bold move considering that she was already expanding her horizons by writing a romance with two ladies. I don't want to say much more about what goes on in the romance, as I feel that the way it turns out and is developed over the course of the book is one of Take Them By Storm's most intriguing and memorable aspects. Especially from a writing point of view. 

Last, I think it's clever how Marie is tying various places she has set up within her re-imagining of Ontario together. Getting to see Melody and Oliva from The Game Changer was a fun surprise. 

Do you even need to ask? Take Them By Storm is a great novel in its own right, as well as a continuation of the excellent storytelling and gorgeous writing I have come to expect and enjoy in every Marie Landry novel that I read. If you have not read any of Marie's books and you're a fan of contemporary fiction, do yourself a favor and try one. 

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