Monday, August 14, 2017

"In a Dark, Dark Wood" by Ruth Ware

I picked this one up spontaneously at Barnes and Noble with a gift card given to me by a friend.  As I've said in the past, I love bare, spindly trees, and that is why this one caught my eye.  I'd never heard of Ruth Ware before, but I have heard of her other book The Woman in Cabin 10, though I have never read it.  I figured I'd get this one, read it, and see how it goes before I read her others.

So, my first impression of this book was that it had an awesome cover, and it looked sinister.  However, when I went to read the little blurb that is typically on the back of a paperback wasn't there! :(

I read it anyway and loved it.  The main character is a hermit and a writer, so of course I identified with her immediately.  Ruth Ware gives us several characters to keep track of, however she provides each of them with unique and defining qualities, so it's really not difficult to remember who they all are.  (This was a difficulty I ran into at first with TheGirl on the Train).

It was thrilling.  It was suspenseful, and it kept me guessing until the very, very end.  Each character has a plausible motive, and it's really interesting to watch the story play out.

The front of the book has a quote from Reese Witherspoon, "Prepared to be scared...really scared!".  I wasn't scared.  I was edge-of-my-seat thrilled, but I wasn't scared.  Sorry, Reese.  

I've started taking notes as I read, and they do contain spoilers, so only keep reading if you're prepared for those, otherwise I'll see you at my next review! :) 

~h.n. Cowley

P.S. I found the blurb not ON the back of the book, but IN the book, near the back, between the teaser chapter for the author's next book, and the book club discussion questions.  Is it just me, or is this a REALLY weird place for a blurb?  I didn't even see it until I had finished the book!  What's the point of having it there?  Are all paperbacks like this now?  Am I really going to have to dig THROUGH every book to find its blurb?  How long have they been structured like this?  Am I the only one that didn't know?  Sheesh!

My Detailed Notes (*SPOILERS!!*)

55 Pages In
By this point, the character's personalities are unfolding.  There are any number of ways this story can play out, and I'll admit that I'm hooked.  Call me cliche, but I like any story with a main character who is a writer.  I love how Ruth Ware gets into the dirty details of each person, and their defining qualities. 

130 Pages In
the plot has kept me guessing.  We know from the beginning that our main character has just escaped narrowly with her life, and that she has life threatening injuries.  It's interesting to see that the guests who DID come to the "hen" party, had all also grudgingly obliged just like our main character.  By now we know that our character is presently in a hospital bed with a police woman stationed outside of her room, and what we read about the party is what she's trying to recall before they start questioning her.

It was really hard to put this one down, and I didn't realize how much progress I'd made.  I disagree with Reese Witherspoon (sorry).  This novel did not scare me, but it was incredibly thrilling.  I was quite literally on the edge of my seat, and even breathless a few times.  The author expertly gives us motive for each and every character, and it's hard to figure how things will end up, before you reach the end.

All that being said, Nina was my favorite character because of her wit, her lovely sarcasm, and her undeniable, although well masked, humanity.

If you have read this book, comment with your thoughts!  Did you feel it was too predictable?  Who was your favorite?  Who did you hate?  Why?

Happy discussing! :)

"Reached" by Ally Condie (#3 of the Matched trilogy)

So, I've started taking notes as I read these books.  Notes about what I like and don't like, and what I'm feeling about the characters and the story.  I stop and take notes whenever the urge hits me.  With Reached it ended up being about every 50-70 pages or so.

My over all feeling  about this book, and the series in general, is that it was worth reading, I'm glad I have the collection on my shelf, and it is definitely age appropriate as far as being young adult.

If you've read up on my previous reviews, you'll know that I fell in love with the series because of the first book, and was sorely disappointed by the second, to the point that I wasn't sure that I'd pick up the third one, but I'm glad I did.

I realized that I disliked the second book so much because it was ALL Cassia and Ky, there was no point of view from Xander, which is kind of cool to keep him mysterious for an entire book, but at the same made the book focus almost SOLELY on the love triangle...which we all know I can't stand. 

This third book, Reached, had Xander's point of view back in it, and he was focused on the Rising and how to survive...and I found myself pretty much skimming Cassia and Ky's sections, catching the important stuff, in order to get to Xander's.

Anyway, if you want to read my more detailed thoughts and notes, continue on, just be aware that there are *SPOILERS*  beyond this point.

My detailed notes (*SPOILERS!!*)

28 Pages In
Ky and Cassia are a couple of whiny teenage babies.  When they aren't actually kicking ass for the Rising, they're both thinking about each other.  She's always wanting to get back to him, even after he tries to destroy her map, and EVEN THEN after she learns that he put his own face, for that brief second, on Xander's microcard.  He's a manipulative, insecure douche.  I dated one of those in high school so I know how they are.  He's always worried and afraid that Cassia is going to go back to Xander...blech...grow some balls, man.

Cassia's weak spot (papers and poems and other artifacts difficult to come by), makes sense for the world that Ally Condie has created, and most of the time it is endearing...but that spot is TOO weak.  She's super quick to forgive the unforgivable actions by another because of it, and I don't like seeing that in a female protagonist.  Whether or not the author meant for Cassia to come across like that, I don't know.  Maybe I'm the only one that sees her this way.

That being said, Ky and Cassia deserve each other, and I want to stop hearing about it.  Tell me 99% Society/Rising infiltration, and 1% Xander/Cassia/Ky love story.  By book three and 28 pages in, I'm sick of it already.

Sick of it, but completely and utterly drawn in by how intricate a plan the Rising has to bring down the Society.  So...I keep reading. 

By the way, Xander...buddy, you seem like a stand up guy and I think you can do better.

102 Pages In
I finished part one, and I've decided that I mostly dislike Cassia and Ky.  I know they are the good guys, the "strong" Lead characters...but I really just don't like them.  Ky can only think about Cassia even in the midst of turmoil like getting the cure to dying patients...unless he's looking at Indie and then he's noticing her beauty and there are a couple time that make me strongly suspect that he has feelings for her.  Indie is the ONLY thing that can make him stop thinking about Cassia.  This infuriates me because he was selfish enough to put himself on Xander's microcard, and manipulate Cassia into doubting if Xander really should be her match (even after growing up together and being best friends for years, and not even daring to hope that she would be matched with him...and then being overjoyed when she was, before she watched his microcard.)  The first hundred pages make me feel like Ky is a selfish jerk who can't keep his feelings focused on one girl.

Now...Cassia came across as an easily manipulated little girl.  I understand she is vulnerable because the red pill works on her...but the whole thing with falling undeniably in love with Ky is not boding well.  Anyway, she did redeem herself just a little when she heard the Pilot's voice for the first time, and it did not sound right to her.  Good girl.

From Xander and even Ky's point of views, the Pilot seems to be everything they expected, and then some.  But there is something about the long, drawn-out speeches by the Pilot, and the way he phrases somethings, that make me, as a reader,  uneasy.  So when Cassia doesn't like his voice either...that re-kindled a little hope for her. 

Anyway...reading on.

155 Pages and 12 Chapters In
Now Xander is falling for someone.  Though it makes sense, because Cassia is so obviously wrapped up in Ky, I'm still a little disappointed.  Will this brief moment with Lei blossom into something more?  Especially since they're both so lonely....  Will he be there for Cassia when she inevitably needs him?  Does she deserve for him to be there for her?

Unfortunately, I could not read this whole book in one sitting, so I will pick up tomorrow where I left off.

166 Pages In, End of Part Two
Cassia is starting her own thing outside of the boundaries created for her by both the Society and the Rising.  I think maybe she's the real Pilot, and this other long-winded guy is a hoax, or the "anti-pilot" as I like to call him in my own head.

209 Pages In and the End of Part Three
Ky is a total douche, and Indie is a home wrecker.  Cassia is the dumb-dumb that chose Ky over Xander, but Ky doesn't care.  Sure, he says he loves Cassia, but he's still giving in to the temptation that is Indie.

Xander and Lei.  That makes sense.  I know Xander wants to love Cassia and do right by her, but she obviously doesn't care and he needs to move on.

Meanwhile...I want to hear more about what the rising is going to do about this mutation. 

In the end, this story is really about the freedom of choice, speech, and independent thinking.  Thank you, Ally Condie, for including Xander's point of view in this novel.  He had more of an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of almost every aspect of each faction.  He is strong, endures much, makes selfless sacrifices for his loved ones, even if they can't or won't do the same for him.  He is another strong male antagonist who does not get the first girl he loves, the one he wants.  But unlike other strong male antagonists who would rather live out the rest of their lives alone than with someone other than this girl, Xander moves on and ends up with someone who suits him, and understands him better.

All in all, this series is amazing.  If you like the love triangle...or hexagon in this case by book three, you will hang on to every word until the end of the trilogy.  If you are like me, and the back and forth indecision about who to love doesn't interest you that much, the second book is going to be a drag.  There are several, important key moments in Crossed that make it worth reading, but for me is was incredibly slow.  

Reached was much better because it had chapters from Xander's point of view, and Xander doesn't pine for Cassia for long.  He gets right down to business saving lives and the human race, and moves on from her.  It's his chapters that I looked forward to the most because they gave more detail about what was going on with the Society and the Rising.

There IS a lot of kissing that goes on, so I wonder if the first wave of the plague wasn't Mono.  Just saying.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"The Emotional Craft of Fiction" by Donald Maass


I'm seriously only fifty pages in, and I couldn't wait to share this with the world.  This book is incredibly insightful, structured well, and easy to follow.

I'm not usually a huge fan of self-help books, even when it comes to my writing, but I'm SO glad that the cover caught my eye at Barns and Noble.  This book was an impulse buy, and it was just one of those things that, when you see it, your soul says "yes, you need this."  It called to me.  I did judge it at first by its cover.  I love trees with spindly branches, so that was what made me look at it first.
And then the title.  The characters in my works-in-progress feel a lot of different, powerful emotions, but lately (thanks to my wonderful editor), it's been pointed out that I'm having issues showing vs. telling.

In addition to useful examples from popular literary works, the author goes into detail about what is important to the reader and why, and then at the end of each section, has a bullet point list of suggestions to improve your writing.  This is important to me, and really when it comes right down to it, this book has the trifecta of learning tools.
(1) What is important and why (2) Examples (3) Suggestions

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to write fiction, regardless of what level you are, or feel you are at.  Even the most experienced writers can benefit from this book because the author's goal here is to help you structure your entire novel after the classic greats like Ray Bradbury and Earnest Hemingway.

Happy writing!

UPDATE 08/14/2017

I finished this book several weeks ago, and I still stand steadfastly by the raving review I gave it, but my favorite part of the entire book, is the list of "Acknowledgments" in the back.  It is a list of every book that Mr. Donald Maass referenced throughout The Emotional Craft of Fiction. 

This is just a reading list!!  I can't wait to hit the library and get started on it!  Of this list, I've read maybe five, and of those I'd re-read two or three.

Happy reading!

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Perfect Ruin" by Lauren DeStefano

I picked this book up randomly at Barns and Noble because I liked the cover.  I bought it because I had a gift card.

I also finished reading this book last year some time, and for some reason just never posted a review.

I love it.  Love it love it...LOVE the idea of everything in it.  There is a peaceful society that lives in the sky when a series of arson takes place.  This is terrifying for these people, because they are peaceful.  Who, in their little bubble, would dare to hurt a fellow peaceful sky society member?

It focuses on the same thing that every young adult dystopian/Utopian novel does now days: a young woman.  She helps care for her older brother, who has PTSD and brain damage from trying to escape the society in the sky, and this first book in the series kind of outlines what this society is all about, their morals and a little bit of history.

I love the details and dynamics of the characters in this one, and the end is thrilling.  The best part: there is no love triangle!  Not yet anyway.  

I really wanted to go out and get the second book right away, but unfortunately at about the same time I finished this one, I was going through my divorce, and decided that the money was better spent elsewhere.  

When I went back to Barns and Noble recently in search of this was no where to be found!  It was a sad day for me, but I'm determined to get the second book.

I would really recommend this to any reader who wants a book with a unique plot, a good adventure, and a little bit of emotion.

Happy Reading!

"Crossed" by Ally Condie

This is the second book in the "Matched" series (find my review by clicking HERE).  I bought this book with a gift card I received for Barns and Noble, and my feelings about this one are a little mixed.

I stand by what I said about Matched with the unique story line that has threads of other well-known fiction out there.  I also still don't like the love triangle, but that's how this series was advertised so I really can't knock it for that.

Other than the love triangle, this one is all about Cassie and Ky's adventures on their search for each other and the rebellion.

I don't know.  Maybe it was because I picked up the second book a year after finishing the first one, I just felt kind of lost when I began this.  I remembered major points from "Matched", but it felt like "Crossed" began in a really weird spot.

I struggled for probably the first four chapters and felt like I was playing catch up with the story.  After that it was pretty fast-moving and exciting. 

Be prepared for violence and tragedy.  It's really well done, obviously, but the first violent scene shocked me a little bit because the first book hadn't had any (that I can remember.)

Finishing the book made me feel a little empty, and not in the good way that some novels should.  Since this is the second in a trilogy, it should've left me wanting more, but I'm not even sure if I want to read the third one.  

Unfortunately, because I did like the first one, and bought both of the first two, I do feel obligated to buy and read the third one.  I do have another gift card to use, so maybe that's what I'll use it for.  If I do end up reading it, I'll definitely review it here.

So I guess, over all, this book started off, and ended, with the feeling of just...BLAH.  Like..whatever.  I could've gone my life without reading it and I wouldn't have felt a loss.

I'm sure there are different opinions out there, so if you REALLY liked this book, please come talk to me because I'd love to hear all about it from a lover of this series :)

Happy Reading (hopefully)!

"Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson

Audio CD

I read this book several months ago, back when it was still cold outside.  I had gone to Happy Lucky's tea house in old town Fort Collins, and Firehouse Books is connected.  I went to have tea with several lovely ladies from work one day, and we decided to browse the books.

I came home with this one.

I know it's not a new book, and I'm sure everyone has read it, but I'm going to post my review anyway.

It's good.  It's really good, but I don't need to tell you that.  The writing is simple and focuses more on the emotions and struggle of this girl than anything else.

Basically, this girl did not consent to have sex with a boy she liked, but he did it anyway, and the whole story is about her trying to cope with it, without burdening her parents.  She's also afraid no one at school will believe her side of the story because, due to the petty high school rumor mill, they've all drawn their own conclusions.

I like it because the moral is that even though speaking up is terrifying for ones self, silence can be devastating for others.

This story also shows that it can happen to anyone by anyone.  It can be a friend, a significant other, a crush, an acquaintance, a stranger...the point of it all is to say something so the cycle is ended and no one else is hurt.

It was worth the few hours it took to read, and I'm really glad I have it on my shelf.


"Blood Red" book 1 by Jason Bovberg

Audio Book
Mp3 CD

Hello everyone!  It's been a while, and I have a few things to catch you up on.  First of all, meet my boyfriend's cat, Ginger, and her orange ear.  I could NOT get her out of the frame for this one, so whatever.

Buckle up, ladies and gents, because this is going to be a long one. 

I've been trying to get through Jason Bovberg's "Blood Red" book one, and like a sucker I bought it spontaneously at Barns and Noble for sixteen-ish bucks instead of on amazon for less than three.

I was on my lunch break at Barns and Noble one day, buying a book for a friend's new baby, and I happened to pass by the young adult section.  The way this book was displayed, and the reviews around it made me panic.  I thought to myself "Oh my God, I didn't write my own novel fast enough and now someone else has had the same idea, and I'm going to have to start all over!"  So I grabbed it, paid the sixteen-ish bucks, and began reading.

If you want to see a condensed version click HERE to go to my goodreads review.

The bad stuff.

Just within the first couple pages I was mortified.  The editing job in this book is horrendous.  I've never heard of "Permuted Press", but I will never EVER use them, and I strongly suggest no one else does either.

Let me be clear: the story its self is not bad.  It could actually be a best seller with the right editing and marketing team, so there is nothing wrong with the author or his story.

The editing though.  Oh Lord, the editing.  Where do I even start?  I actually wrote in the book, and circled things I didn't like, connected repetitive adjectives, and boxed things that I actually liked.  So let's start with the bad stuff.

I understand that a writer's job is to get the story down.  Get the idea down, and don't worry about spelling, or grammar, or punctuation.  Editing is further along in the process, and if you're paying someone to do it for you, they need to catch certain things.  Things like using the same adjective twice in one sentence.  Here is an excerpt from Blood Red, page 10, by Jason Bovberg.

"What at first seems the glint of a rolling eye becomes the lazy, reflected glint of silverware under the indistinct glow coming from the curtained front window."

Now, maybe this doesn't bother some people, but it bothers me.  As a reader, this moment would have a much bigger impact if he'd used "gleam", "glimmer", or "flash" in place of one of those "glint"s.

Another thing that has bothered me recently, thanks to my own editor pointing it out to me, is when an author uses words like "seems" or "almost" in a description.  There ARE exceptions, but very few, and Jason uses different forms of the word "seem" far too often.  As a reader, it makes me feel like he is unsure of what he's telling us.  It's one thing if the character is unsure, it's another if the author is.  Here is an example from page 13.

"And yet everything seems in its place; nothing seems to be missing."

The first "seems" is 100% fine.  As a reader, it makes me feel like the character is observing the scene and realizing that nothing is out of place.  The second "seems" is on the writer.  Nothing seems to be out of place?  But Rachael just said that she thinks everything is in its obviously nothing is missing.  
Try reading it this way.

"And yet, everything seems in its place; nothing is missing."

Maybe I'm the only one that feels this way, but we don't need the writer to be unsure of himself.

There are other nit-picky things I can get into, more specific to one or two incidences rather than the book as a whole.

As you're reading this book, expect to often see the word "warbles" as a description for several character's voices.  He uses it for both main and minor characters.  There is also a lot of whimpering.

One more thing that REALLY got to me; he used the word "roiling" several times.  The first time I saw it, I thought, "Whoops, must be a typo for 'rolling'.  It happens."  But then he used it several more times, so I looked up the word to see if it was even being used correctly.  Here is the excerpt from Chapter Two, page 19.

"In the near distance, off in the direction of Old Town, a great plume of roiling smoke is billowing into the sky, the result of some kind of massive explosion."

Beautiful description, but you can see how I thought it might be a typo, and the author meant "rolling", right?  Here is another excerpt from the same chapter, page 26.

"It's an organic flutter, a fleshy roiling sound, and it's coming directly from Tony's mouth."

Another beautiful description, but this is the one that caught my attention because #1, I'd never seen that word before in my life and it'd been used now twice, and #2, "rolling" doesn't fit here quite as well so I can't excuse it as a typo.

Here is the definition of "roiling" from webster online.  

Transitive Verb.
1. a: to make turbid by stirring up the sediment or dregs of
    b: to stir up: disturb, disorder

2. Rile

Intransitive Verb.
: to move turbulently : be in a state of turbulence or agitation - conflicting emotions roiling inside her.

Based on these definitions, and the quotes from the book, can you imagine what a "roiling" sound must be?  Maybe I'm being too critical, and not imaginative enough, but I believe this is the wrong word to use in these instances.

One last thing that may actually be on the author and not the editor.  The protagonist, Rachel, still lives at home, and the relationship that the author portrays between Rachel and her father comes across, at first, like a very close one.  They helped each other through a very sad and traumatic time in their lives.  Rachel still lives at home at nineteen years old and loves her dad etc etc.

When Rachel realizes that she's surrounded by a horror flick, one of her very first instincts is "where is my dad?"  The author even repeats several times throughout the first several chapters that Rachel feels a push, or a need, to find her father.  But instead of finding her father, she does several other things first.  Things that, if I were 19 and surrounded by everything going on, wouldn't matter to me.
I even closed my eyes at one point and put myself in Rachel's shoes.  19 wasn't too long ago for me, so I can still relate a little to that age.  After finding my step mom in bed, my next priority would've been my dad, and the first thing I would've done was go straight to his office.
Then I would've worried about my boyfriend.

As a reader, it was really frustrating to see Rachel want to find her dad, but then stop and do something else.  Then realize she still needs to find her dad, then stop and do something else.  It was really infuriating.

The good stuff.

There is plenty more to be said about the horrendous editing of this fine author's hard work, but let's focus a little more on the positive.

There are several times in the few short chapters I've read so far, that the author's descriptions give me hope that maybe the rest of the book (and series for that matter) isn't as terrible.  Here are a few of those descriptions (without spoilers!)

"Her mind feels clouded by the remnants of some kind of twitchy nightmare." page 10.

"The rest of the house lies in humid shadow, awaiting the day." page 10.

"...sees sunlight from the bedroom windows pinlighting her cheek with a faint, glowing redness." page 10-11.

"Rachel remembers occasionally wandering into the room from the garage to find her mom dozing in the purple light of sunset angling in from the foothills." page 12.

Let me just stop right there and say that the last one, as a native to Fort Collins where this story is set, is beautiful and accurate.  Totally vivid scene and I love love love it!

All in all.

Descriptions like those listed above mixed with the fact that this could turn out to be a unique story, make it very intriguing.  It's the editing that I can't get over, and it's taken me three or four months to read six chapter and 70 pages. 

Needless to say, I don't know if I'll finish this book.  I'm going to try, but I'm not going to force it upon myself, and it may take several more months to finish off.  I have no doubt that the rest of the series is through the same  publishing company, and they probably used the same editor...and if this is the case, I will not be purchasing, or even reading the other two sequels. 

Whether or not you want to give this series a try, that's up to you, but I would highly suggest seeing if your local library has it first.  If they don't, and you really really want to read it, I would then suggest purchasing it from amazon, because even with shipping, it'll still be cheaper than buying from Barns and Noble.