Minor Characters

Reblogged from Woman Reading:
Please spread this everywhere. Reblog, reblog!
Please spread this everywhere. Reblog, reblog!
""All first drafts are shit.""

-Ernest Hemingway 




("But the published draft shouldn't be.  Give me good books or give me death.  Or at the very least  give me a book that met with a copy editor first."  -Me)

"When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie."

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Pictures of Girls - Zak Smith Incredible work from Zak Smith, Pictures of Girls contains prints of some of his best. A couple of my notable favorites are missing from this collection and a handful of included pieces don't strike a chord with me, but this is a great overall view. I'll be truthful: I don't know jack shit about art. But I know what I like, and what I like most about Smith's work is the gritty feel inherent in each painting and sketch. The colors, the outlines, the vibrancy, and the honesty is attractive, and I find his art inspiring (hence why I've got a couple print-outs pinned to the wall above my writing desk). Not for everyone, not particularly grandma-friendly, and to be avoided by the faint of heart, I still highly recommend this collection and, as another reviewer suggested, check out his website.
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression - Andrew Solomon After slogging through a large chunk of The Noonday Demon, I've come to accept I just can't see it through to the end. This book is lethal: alternately depressing readers, boring readers, and making readers roll their eyes so hard they pop out of their heads.

First: depression on any level, mild or major, brief or chronic, is a painful, crippling ailment. Anyone who pulls themselves up and fights automatically earns a bit of my respect. I know how hard the attack is and how hopeless it can seem.

Too bad Solomon's battle resulted in this book. Self-absorption is a trademark of the genre; I expect that. But self-absorption is different from (and more tolerable than) self-pity, and Solomon's writing is solidly wallowing in self-pity whenever he's talking about himself. (And try be a little grateful, sir, for your good fortune to be born into privilege. Most of us weren't so damned lucky. Even the self-absorbed know when they've been handed a gift.)

A lot of the science, studies, and numbers discussed in The Noonday Demon are extremely outdated. Solomon used the best information he had at the time, but if you want up-to-date information of that sort, look elsewhere.

While there's nothing wrong with exploring alternative medicine, there's quite a bit of pseudo-science bullshit presented here, mixed in with actual facts, jumbled together in a way that could be downright dangerous. Very concerning.

And beyond all of this? So much of The Noonday Demon is dry and downright boring. The few engaging passages are nice, but a reader has to manage to stay awake first, and even then there's a sense that many of his personal anecdotes are told simply to be shocking, very much in the "Look how fucked up I was! Be amazed!" category. Maybe that works for some readers, but I'm not one of them.

I've learned many things from my own battle with major depression, one of which is appreciating the time I have to experience life. That's why I'm putting Solomon's work to the side: life's too short to waste it on finishing books like this.
Faerie Winter: Book 2 of the Bones of Faerie Trilogy - Janni Lee Simner I feel my ratings for this series are somewhat misleading, as I gave both Faerie Winter and Bones of Faerie a 3-star rating. Faerie Winter, however, is significantly better than its predecessor, and just barely missed out on a 4th star.

First: the writing itself improved in this sequel, a whole level above what Simner demonstrated in the first book. A pleasant surprise.

Second: the story in Faerie Winter is more solid than in Bones of Faerie. Partly due to working from what was already built in the first book, Simner seems to have settled into the world she created, reaching deeper to touch on possibilities she hadn't in the first, all to good effect. Characters are given an arc, not just a purpose for a scene or two, and the plot moves along at a good clip.

Third: I have some problems with the ending, but overall I like it simply for the fact it's not a bright, shiny, "everyone's happy now" ending. In some ways the book wraps up a little too tidy, but in other ways it's bittersweet, there's darkness there even as the characters can finally breathe again. I appreciate the "not-quite-so-happy" happy endings; those are the ones that will stick with you after you've put the book back on the shelf.

So how did this miss a 4-star rating? 1) Plot holes the size of house-eating sinkholes. 2) Liza.

I wrote this is my review of Bones of Faerie: "...if you think too much about it, there are some gaping plot holes, issues with the author's own mythological rules (lack of consistency), and a major imbalance of cause and effect in the first half."

I won't rehash it all again here, just point out that all of those same issues are still present in Faerie Winter despite Simner's improved writing style. Disappointing on that score and, while everything flows while you're reading, the realization later of "Wait, that doesn't make any damn sense!" is pretty jarring. So enjoy it for the fluff that it is and don't think too hard about it.

Even more deadly to the rating: Liza.

Yes, the main character. Simner tries for depth but Liza still falls short; I feel much more for her companions than I do for her. She's kind of a Mary Sue, a little too perfect even in what are supposed to be her imperfections, all her faults seem so very noble and, thus, are not really faults at all. Basically, she annoyed the piss out of me. And while I give points for consistency, since Liza annoyed the piss out of me in the first book as well, I subtract more for it being the wrong kind of consistency. There's a point when another character mocks Liza a bit, saying he's tired of hearing about how she's so brave and awesome, and I laughed out loud. For a brief, shining moment, that guy became my favorite character in the book. Speak truth!

And so there it is. This is a a fun book, definitely deserving of the little time it takes to read (it's short and moves quickly), and a solid contender in the YA fantasy genre. In my review of the first book, I said at the end that I'd be reading the sequel. And I'll say something similar now: yes, I'll be reading the third one.

On a very personal level, I have to give love for the way Simner described the slow death that is unending winter, sucking away life until the gray scale and the cold wears everything down and makes even the most motivated want to give up. At the end, when Liza is dealing directly with that despair as she attempts to push it back, I shuddered with familiarity. I hate the cold; I truly fear the onset of winter every year. Bleak and freezing, very nicely done on that score, Simner.
Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 - Bryan Burrough Packed full of information: what you already knew, what you only thought you knew, and what you never even suspected. A good read but dry, occasionally circular and resembling a laundry list of crimes and the many ways the early FBI made themselves look like idiots. Burrough did his research and lays it all out here in Public Enemies, and it's a solid, informative read.
A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation - Noah Lukeman "In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard." -Russell Baker

Aimed at creative writers (although useful for non-fiction, technical, and business), A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation is an excellent resource, one I highly recommend aspiring writers add to their bookshelves. This is not a manual; this is a guide to considering punctuation before throwing it into work without forethought, using it just because instead of using it as part of an individual style.

Lukeman tackles each punctuation mark in turn, devoting a chapter to each. Sounds boring, I know, but again, this isn't a manual or a grammar school book. Lukeman expects his reader to be more advanced than that; he expects you to already know what each mark is and what it's technically used for. As the title implies, this is a guide to style. And if you're a writer who's investigating tips for developing your own style, then you're most likely advanced enough that you already know punctuation marks and their technical usage. (If you don't, for God's sake start by learning the basics!) You don't need an English teacher assuming you're some kind of idiot, you need a guiding hand beyond the schoolbook definitions that will push you in the direction of better overall writing.

A Dash of Style provides exactly that: guidance towards developing and bettering your writing with the thoughtful use of punctuation. Lukeman emphasizes context: allowing the context to determine which marks to use and where to use them, when one choice would work but another would work better within the text, and when context would render certain ones inappropriate. He also covers things like paragraphs and section and chapter breaks, not technically punctuation but just as crucial to the flow of text. Again, he places much of the focus on context and writing for impact.

A note on the entirety: this is not a boring book. Many excellent grammar and/or style guides can be dry, acting as excellent cures for insomnia, but this isn't one of those. Noah Lukeman keeps the pace quick and to the point, and his writing is engaging. The vibrant text also refreshes, as it never insults the reader's intelligence. God bless him.

A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation is an excellent read and a must-have addition for any writer's collection. And if you read this, I also highly recommend another of his books, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Now go! Read! And then write your little hearts out!
Post Office (Trade Paperback) - Charles Bukowski The book that made Bukowski famous, this is a succinct version of all the work that came after: drink, women, sucky jobs, gritty life. It's quite good, and as an added benefit for the slightly faint of heart, there's less emphasis on the sex and the overwhelming misogynistic viewpoints (although they're definitely still present) that get people so riled up about his other books.

I quite enjoyed this, but I'm already a Bukowski fan. Those with delicate sensibilities should probably skip this one.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - Jennifer E. Smith 3.5 stars, but in this case I'm going to be generous and round up.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is exactly what it says on the tin: girl meets boy, girl and boy get heart eyes for each other over the course of a few hours, girl and boy lose each other, girl and boy find each other, and girl and boy have the beginning of their love story.

Oh, and there's some family stuff thrown in there, too.

With a title I'm a little bit jealous that I didn't come up with myself, I was hoping for more from this book. A lot of potential never fully realized; however, I got exactly what I expected, so I don't feel shorted by the story. This is cute and fluffy, even Hadley's family drama didn't weight it down much, although having lost my father suddenly a couple years ago, Oliver's scene at his father's funeral was a beautifully dark spot for me. Overall this is a quick read, one I read in two and a half lunch breaks during work (1.5 hours, to be exact).

A simple, fun story, one of those good summer reads.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman The epilogue, specifically the final page, is what saved The Ocean at the End of the Lane for me and landed a strong three-star rating. For much of the book I worried, because it faltered and hung around two stars despite the beautiful writing and Gaiman's name on the cover.

(Note, as this seems to be an issue I'm seeing in other reviews: I refuse to grant higher ratings just because its a certain popular author whom I generally love. If you think I've rated this too low, read my review of Rowling's The Casual Vacancy and you'll realize Gaiman got off lightly here.)

First, the writing is beautiful. Gaiman's way with words is on full display here, weaving yearning with surreal detachment, moving the story forward in appropriate waves and swells. Dreamlike, overall. (And, on a shallow note, the book's cover is also gorgeous.)

The story is good, well plotted and well paced, creative with the darker twists and turns one expects from a Gaiman work. In some places it feels stretched a little thin, an unfortunate side effect of this having started life as a short story and expanded beyond those bounds, but overall the tale itself is excellent. There are flavors of The Graveyard Book and Coraline here, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is infused with a dark nostalgia that pushes it into the adult realm, which is in many ways a good thing. There's a natural progression there that I like.

Unfortunately, there's none of the engagement of those other works. There was no sense of urgency as I read, nothing pushing me to turn the page, to read just one more chapter, to sneak in as many glimpses as possible when I should've been working. Once upon a time when I worked as a temp in various offices, I hid out in the bathroom with whatever book I was reading in order to finish the chapter I'd started during my lunch break. With The Ocean at the End of the Lane, however, I could put it down and walk away without a twinge of regret or that overwhelming OhmyGodIhavetofinishthisnow feeling. No trouble waiting until the end of the work day to pick it back up again. When I realized this was happening, that I didn't even mind that I couldn't read any more for a few more hours, I knew the book was floundering.

Earlier I wrote that there's a quality of yearning and surreal detachment to the writing, something I suspect Gaiman intended. The effect, however, is an overall detachment from the story itself; another reviewer and friend of mine (hi, Annie!) said it was emotionally flat. And especially in chapters where the tension should have been high and my heart rate even higher, there was only mildly increased interest. When I finished the book, I understood that the tone was appropriate for the story, but realizations at the end are too late, merely hindsight.

But holy God, the end! Again: the epilogue saved this from being a complete bust for me. The gradual shift from the fantasy (that wasn't a fantasy at all) to the reality (that's only half real), the masterful way Gaiman eased the character from the child back to the adult...I loved it. So subtle one almost doesn't notice until the final page, brilliantly done. Beautiful and bittersweet, one of those endings that I'll think about for a long time to come.

(Random note: the cleaners in this story made me think of the reapers from the Doctor Who episode "Father's Day." Different entities altogether, and I'm definitely not implying anything untoward here. I just found it amusing, considering Gaiman's connection with the show. And I like the cleaners better; they're more unsettling, have a better back story, and are far less ridiculous.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a good book, a good read. It's not the best of Gaiman's work, but it's also different in significant ways from a lot of his other offerings, which will affect anyone going in expecting the same old thing with just a different name. Writers should grow and change over time, despite expectations to the contrary. Would I recommend this book? Probably, although on its own merits, not as an introduction to the awesome that is Neil Gaiman. American Gods, Stardust, and Neverwhere are far better choices for that cause. But this? This is a nice addition to the canon.

Has this lowered Gaiman in my esteem? Absolutely not. I'm still a total fangirl, and you can bet money that when his next book is announced, I'll have that pre-ordered weeks in advance, too.
A Writer's Guide to Characterization: Archetypes, Heroic Journeys, and Other Elements of Dynamic Character Development - Victoria Lynn Schmidt This isn't a bad book on writing. A Writer's Guide to Characterization... is, however, a book rendered pointless by other good books on writing.

There's nothing here that can't be found in a dozen other writing guides, other books with depth and analysis that put this one to shame. Schmidt's extreme repetition feels like a lazy attempt to flesh out pages without really saying anything new, and her suggestions for "twists" and new approaches fall flat, themselves being overused and no longer unexpected by even casual readers. The author does a good job of touching on different character archetypes and how they interact, but the interpretations presented are shallow, just barely touching on the subject before moving on.

Handy for reference on the animal archetypes, there's not much else to recommend this as more than something to flip through once, and writers looking for groundbreaking guidance on character development would do well to look elsewhere. Everything in this book can be found for free with a 30 second Google search.
Fiend - Peter Stenson Holy shit.

Being a fan of zombies and living in a small farming town with a notorious meth problem (we seem to be a big supplier between Indianapolis and Chicago), I couldn't resist Fiend. I admit, I read this for the novelty aspect of it.

What did I get? A fine book full of zombies, meth-heads, dark humor, human interaction during social breakdown, and full-fledged literary merit. Well done, Stenson.

The entire novel moves at breakneck speed, appropriate both for the druggie POV and the doomsday zombie scenario. I love how Stenson didn't screw around with a long build-up to where the story really starts, he simply cut to the chase and BOOM! Zombie girls eats rottweiler! The story starts at a dead run and never really lets up, the lulls being just long enough to take a breath before they're off again. Brilliant pacing.

There were some hiccups in the latter half of the book, certain situations felt derivative, an unfortunate occurrence that is nigh on impossible to avoid, considering how popular the zombie genre has become. However, the cleverness of Stenson's setup and original premise of the meth-using main character kept this fresh even in those few moments where you might experience a bit of deja vu.

And that ending! A sucker punch to the gut, the kind that sticks in the back of your brain after you've finished reading, the kind that is perfect and awful and writers like to shy away from.

While I can't comment on all the Walking Dead meets Breaking Bad comparisons (I only watch Walking Dead religiously, have only seen a partial episode of Breaking Bad), I can say that this is an excellent read, highly recommended. Stenson has definite skill for characters and story-telling, can't wait to see more from him.

Fiend is a breath of fresh air in a genre that's been flooded with crap the last couple years. Well done!
Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl - Stacy Pershall Loud in the House of Myself didn't click with me, didn't ring quite true. There's a focus on shock value here; the book is basically a laundry list of the most awful scenes from her life. Normally I wouldn't fault Pershall for that, considering the genre and the mental health issues involved, but she uses the book like a spotlight on her very worst moments, illuminating them in a way that seems like she's perversely proud of them, and uses only a couple pages at the end to skim over the recovery process. And by "process" I mean she gives a basic outline of drug and DBT therapy but little on her experience going through it, aside from complaining about side effects. She states she's only been recovering for the last couple years, which makes me think she's not recovered much at all. She's stabilized, and there's a difference. (It's the same vibe I got from Hornbacher's Wasted, and the crash and burn her life took after that proved she wasn't recovered nearly enough at that time to be writing a book based on her experiences.)

In short, I think the focus of the book was skewed toward shock value and that the author may not be recovered to the point of being ready to write this. I wish Pershall had waited a few more years before sitting down at the computer. She's a good writer, and I think Loud in the House of Myself would've strongly benefited from additional brewing time. Pershall wasn't ready, so the book wasn't ready.
Faelorehn (Otherworld Trilogy, #1) - Jenna Elizabeth Johnson An intriguing premise ruined by bad writing, terrible pacing, a lack of tension, weak characters, and an absence of both focus and follow through.

I can't. I just can't.

I really wanted to like Faelorehn. That's why I got this anyway after losing the GoodReads giveaway. A story about fae and mystery? Yes, please! The idea is great, the story I think Johnson wanted to tell has so much potential, but the actual execution has so many problems that even the idea is ruined.

As another 1-star reviewer said, when cleaning the bathroom is preferable to reading this book, then something is very, very wrong. (Not with my bathroom, however. It's sparkling now!)

The writing itself is not that good, overly simplistic and meandering, poor word choice and poor grammar, lacking the punch that carries a reader through a story. As I read, I felt a very basic writing class on construction and structure would've immeasurably helped the work. Too much extraneous information thrown in, much of it description of things that don't matter and add nothing to the story or do anything to push forward the plot (and oh! How that plot needed pushed forward!). Unimportant things are repeated while what should be major plot points are just flat out dropped, forgotten and never referred to again. The pacing is terrible: for the first third or so of the book, nothing freakin' happens. That's not acceptable, especially since when something does finally happen, the scenes are so flat and are more like descriptions of something we missed "seeing" rather than scenes we're witnessing unfold.

The characters. Honestly...what characters? There aren't fully formed characters here, only the equivalent of paper dolls. No depth, no personality, no flow of true action and reaction; they don't even interact with each other in a way that isn't stunted! After a while I felt as if Johnson started writing without fully fleshing out any of her characters, using cardboard [Insert Character Here] placeholders along the way and never bothering to insert the actual living, breathing, well-developed characters.

Boring. Cardinal rule of writing: don't be boring. Faelorehn is excruciating, so boring I actually forgot I was reading it: I would decide to go read, try to remember where I put my book, and then have a moment where I couldn't remember what book I was in the middle of reading. Unforgivable.

Skip this one. Ignore the free ARC reviews or at least take them for what they are: reviews "purchased" with the gift of a free book. Although reviewers claim (and often genuinely try) to lack bias, there's often a very real danger that the ratings are skewed far more toward the positive side, out of some combination of gratitude for a free book, an affinity with the author for giving said book, and some subconscious desire not to upset said author. This doesn't apply to all, certainly, but in cases like this where there are so damn many that they take up much of the review page, take them with a grain of salt. I've never seen so many ARC reviews on a book before, traditional or self-published, and that should've sent up a red flag. How many copies did she have to give away just to get people to read?

Go read something else. I've heard rumors that the dictionary is more interesting.
Fuck Valentine's Day (A Short Story) - C.M. Stunich So it seems that in some ways (by which I mean profanity), Stunich writes like I talk. (Yep, I have a dirty mouth. I'd toss in a "Sorry, Mom!" here, but she's already well aware.) And I admit to being pleased by anyone who uses "Fuck" in the title and has the balls not to censor it on the cover.

Also, a story title with the first word being "Fuck"...fuck yeah.

Moving on from that, the actual story is one of those fun reads, complete brain candy with a simple plot (sex), a simple theme (sex), and a simple inner monologue for the main character (say it with me now: sex). Stunich's humor is on display, quite a bit of deadpan wit and smart ass quips, and while some jokes fall flat on their faces, there are a handful of laugh out loud passages. Fuck Valentine's Day is a perfect summer read for those who want something naughty and aren't easily offended--and if you're seriously offended by dirty sex scenes or jokes made at the expense of the Twilight series, I have doubts that you're mature enough to read this. Or why you would even pick it up in the first place.

I don't think the author meant this, but the book feels vaguely like a spoof of the YA classic plot: good girl, bad boy, good boy, love/lust triangle, sexual tension. (See: Twilight, The Vincent Boys, Lament, Alice in Zombieland, or a thousand other series.) She just cut out all the bullshit and got straight to the point: that sexual tension bit. Good for her, and good for us.

Now, is this going to go down as classic (or even good) lit? Absolutely not. This book makes no attempts at being "classy". The writing itself is solid but certainly not impressive, and the manuscript itself needs to spend some time with a good copy editor. We're talking glaring, wince-worthy typos here, people. Fortunately these aren't as jarring as I usually find them, mainly because the writing isn't strong enough to make you not expect those. Sad but true.

But if you take Fuck Valentine's Day for what it is, that being a steamy, fun, quick summer read, than you should be satisfied. Is it going to change your life or stick with you much past the time you finish and put the book down? Nope. It's not going to take more than an hour or so to read this in one go, but it's an hour you won't regret, although perhaps not the most productive hour you'll ever have in your life.

But who can resist handcuffs? And random sexual acts performed in public? And sex swings and dirty talk? Okay, probably a lot of people can resist those, perhaps they even find them unpleasant, but screw it: if you've chosen this book, the "warning" makes it all perfectly clear. You know what you're getting into, and damn it, you like it.

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