Monthly Archives: March 2012

Brave the Blank Page

Blank pageFor a while I’ve felt that I should write about writing: the writing process, writing tips, the dreaded rewrite. I’m hardly an expert. I don’t have a degree in writing (just a BS in biology). But I have been doing this awhile, and along the way I’ve come up with some things that have worked for me. W. Somerset Maugham said “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Following that sage advice, I’m not going to try to come up with rules or even guidelines. I’m just going to talk about the things I’ve learned and you get to listen (lucky you).

The first thing I learned about writing while writing is probably the simplest concept, but it also seems to be the hardest to implement at times. The most important thing to do to improve your writing is….write. Just write. Put words on a page. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet this is what trips most people up. I hear, “I want to write a book, but I don’t know where to start” or “I want to finish my book, but I have writer’s block.”

One of the hardest things about writing is putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) when all you want to do is prance around the room in your granny panties because that’s easier than staring at a blank page. Yeah, I know all about that. I’ve been there. Wait, you don’t do that? Maybe it’s just me. Regardless of how you deal with writerly insanity, blank pages are scary things. I mean, it’s just sitting there waiting for you to fill it. Who wants that kind of responsibility? Well, if you call yourself a writer, then you’ve volunteered for it. So writers, what do we do with a blank page? Anyone? Bueller…Bueller? Well, we fill it with lovely words: poetry that captures the feel of a winter evening, fiction that takes us to new worlds, essays that teach and inspire. What do you want to add to the realm of literature?

“But I don’t know where to start,” you say. Don’t worry. No one else does either. Start with a sentence. I’m serious. At the top of that terrifyingly blank page, write one sentence.

The dog runs.

Look at that. There are words on that page. You’ve started. What next? How about another sentence?

The dog runs. But the dinosaur runs faster.

I don’t know about you, but that looks like the start of a story to me.

Pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants) probably have less trouble with this step than planners (people who plan everything before they write). I’m a tried and true pantser. I only outline if I figure out what happens next faster than I can get it on paper. But it’s easy to get stuck no matter what your method. I know planners who get bogged down in the outline, wanting to plan out every detail. And they never write a word of the actual novel. Pantsers have problems too. I’ll get halfway through a first draft and realize I have no clue what comes next. Or there are people like my sister, Arielle, who get words on the page, even a whole chapter, but they won’t move on until what they’ve written is perfect.

My advice to all of them is to just write. Planners, if it never makes it onto a page, then it’s never actually a novel. It’s just an idea. Pantsers, do what you do best and just see what happens. Add an agoraphobic assassin, sink the pirate’s ship. Run with it. Arielles of the world, write the next part. One chapter of a novel will never be perfect, only incomplete.

Once you’re past that first hurdle – when the first sentence is written, and the second sentence, a whole page, a chapter, a book – you’re still not done. Yes, there should be editing and revising, but I’m not going to talk about those here. What I mean is that you should still be writing. Hey, don’t complain to me, you were the one who wanted to be a writer.

I finished my first novel when I was nineteen. 200,000 words (yikes), and I was so proud of my first draft, I packed it up and sent it to an editor. Here’s a healthy tip: don’t do this… ever. I also didn’t write much for a while after that. Don’t do this either. Remember when your piano teacher told you practice makes perfect? Same thing. The only way to get better at writing is to keep writing. So write. All the time. Every day if you can. Need help fitting it into a busy schedule? There are plenty of books to help. Writer Mama by Christina Katz and Pen on fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett are two I’m going to look up myself. A friend of mine writes a blog Writing While the Rice Boils. Trouble finding ideas? Use prompts and exercises (Writer’s Digest has lots). Do research. Write another novel. Make it better. One of my critique partners likes to say, you can’t edit what doesn’t exist. I’ve written five novels over twelve years and all of them have taught me something. Things like don’t send a first draft to an editor, aMy story starts herend sinking the pirate ship can actually work out. Another big one was trust your readers (little sisters played a part in this one). So brave the blank page. Set off into the unknown armed with only your pen. Almost everyone wants to write a book, but only you writers will actually do it.

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Who Let the Dogs Out?

Today I want to highlight a really incredible organization, and I can’t do that without waxing poetic on my favorite subject: my dog. But don’t worry, it’s completely relevant because Jonas is a service dog who was trained by Freedom Service Dogs. He is considered a Skilled Companion, which means that he helps me out at home doing things like picking stuff up that I can’t reach, carrying my phone around, and fetching my crutch when I’ve left it in another room.

Freedom Service Dogs is a non-profit organization here in Denver that trains dogs and places them with clients who have various disabilities. Their dogs can help with any number of things from bracing and balancing to pushing hard to reach buttons. Unlike a lot of service dog organizations, FSD rescues their dogs from local shelters. Trainers visit the shelters regularly, testing strays for the intelligence and temperament they need for such a rigorous job. It costs FSD $25-30,000 to send one dog all the way from the rescue shelter, through the training, and finally pair them up with a deserving client. While they are very conscientious about who their dogs go to, making sure clients are well equipped to handle the animals, Jonas and I are kind of a special case. When I went to FSD, I wasn’t looking for a service dog. I was looking for a pet.

Josh and I had joked about getting a service dog, but I’d never felt right about it. I’m very good about doing things for myself, and I have a big, brawny husband to manage the things I can’t. Like running me up several hundred temple steps in Indonesia. Or cleaning out the shower drain. (Stand back, girls, he’s mine.) So I didn’t want to snatch a service dog from someone who might need one more than me. I just wanted a pet. But with my balance and strength limitations, I needed a well-behaved pet. Our first dog, Hero, was great, but I was terrified to walk her since she had a tendency to take off after squirrels, rabbits, and small children. I’m sure it was hilarious to see me dragged along behind her, but I wasn’t impressed with the Marmaduke impersonation.

Several FSD volunteers and staff members Jonas and I during trainingattend our church, and from them, I learned that they adopt out the dogs that don’t make it through the program. This sounded like a dream come true to me. These dogs already have basic obedience training, with either temperament or health issues that make them less than ideal for service work. When I got on FSD’s website, I saw Jonas. [Cue dramatic light from the sky and heavenly choir music.] Jonas was fully trained and placed with a client as a full public-access Service Dog. But due to unforeseen anxiety issues, he was not doing well. He was back at FSD and up for adoption when I found him.

Josh and I went to meet him and everything clicked. Jonas was perfect for me, being very mellow and already trained to walk nicely next to a person with a disability. And I was perfect for him. I don’t need him to come with me to scary places like the grocery store or (heaven forbid) Walmart. But with me, he still has a job, a purpose, and more importantly, someone who cuddles with him on the couch. He’s my service dog, and I’m his service person. Since our needs matched up so perfectly, FSD “placed” him with me as my Skilled Companion. That means that we didn’t have to pay for him (normally they ask for a $300-500 donation for adopted dogs), and we have the support of his trainer for the rest of his life.

Also, I got to go through my own training, learning the secret words that make Jonas do awesome things. I made friends with Bug, Pan, Doppler, Mansfield, Triton and Stryker and the men and women that go with them. Bug, Mansfield and Stryker belonged to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. FSD has an amazing program called Operation Freedom to help pair veterans with service dogs.

Jonas still has some anxiety issues, but he does come with me to church where he gets lots of love and affection, which is his favorite thing in the world… besides squeaky toys. But mostly his job is to stay at home and pick stuff up off the floor and get hair all over my carpet.

Jonas and I at graduationSo if you’re looking for a dog to adopt, or an organization to donate to, or maybe you could use a service dog yourself, check out Freedom Service Dogs. These amazing people have made a big difference in my life.

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Riyria Review

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Royce and Hadrian can steal anything. Want the crown jewels from the capital? They’ll get them for you. How about incriminating letters from a locked tower? Consider it done. So when the two men are contracted to steal a sword the night before a duel, they think it’s just another job; an easy one at that. But instead of a sword, they find the King. Dead. Framed for the murder, Royce and Hadrian must discover the truth before they’re executed for a crime they weren’t even paid to commit. Their journey takes them to a secret prison and a mysterious, powerful man who has been locked away for a thousand years. What they learn from him shakes the very foundation of their beliefs and starts them on a path to thwart a conspiracy that began centuries before at the fall of the empire.

 

I loved this book (or books, since Theft of Swords actually combines the first two books Sullivan self-published, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha). Sullivan’s style is simple and easy to read, while his characters and plots are wonderfully complex. This is epic fantasy at its best. Large sweeping themes, villains with hidden agendas, and characters that have you running to Barnes and Noble for the next installment (actually, running is out for me, so I sat on my couch and rushed it from Amazon).

Michael Sullivan is not Brent Weeks (author of The Night Angel trilogy). The themes he deals with are not nearly as gritty or dark. Royce and Hadrian are thieves, but their story focuses on the bonds of friendship and the overall goodness of their characters, rather than their illegal capers. The darkness in Royce’s past creeps up behind him, threatening to pull him back, but again and again we see him choose friendship and the possibility of love.

Sullivan weaves his characters delicately yet deftly, laying down a framework and adding details as they are relevant. He respects his readers, trusting them to pick up the clues that reveal Hadrian and Royce as realistic, heroic, and flawed men. When we meet them in the first scene, they are being waylaid by a band of highwaymen. We know nothing about these two men, but by the end of the scene, it’s obvious that they are thieves and they are very good at what they do. Sullivan hasn’t told us any of this in words, but we see it in the way they turn the robbery around, giving the amateur bandits advice on how to do it better next time. We see it when they reveal their name, Riyria, and the bandits react with awe and respect, letting them go on their way with their purses and weapons intact.

Royce and Hadrian’s individual characters are revealed the same way. At first glance, the brawny swordsman and slinky thief may seem like stereotypical archetypes, but through their actions and their painstakingly unveiled histories, you find they are so much more than what they appear to be on the surface.

There were several sections of description that I skimmed. This was my second read-through, and I remember being bogged down by them the first time as well. That isn’t to say other people wouldn’t find them fascinating or beautifully written. The places described really are incredible. But I’m the kind of reader that’s more interested in characters and how they move through the plot. Lengthy paragraphs that paint pictures of the setting just don’t to it for me. Call me a Philistine, but I’d rather be watching Hadrian’s superior sword-work or listening for Royce’s well-timed comments.

I like to talk about characters with disabilities and there is a really interesting one in Theft of Swords. Unfortunately, all I can say about him is that I’m breathlessly waiting to see more of him in later books. He is a secondary character without a lot of time in the spotlight. And most of the reason he is so interesting is because we know so little about him. The point of his character is to be mysterious. I don’t think I can even reveal his disability since it’s kind of a spoiler, and Sullivan does it so much better in just a few lines. This makes it hard to analyze him or his disability. Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk more about him after I’ve finished the series.

If you’re interested, Sullivan also writes a great blog where he talks about his rise through the author ranks and gives tips for aspiring writers. All in all, I think he has created a masterpiece, joining other names like Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks on my favorites shelf. Rise of Empire and Heir of Novron conclude The Riyria Revelations. Speaking of which, my brand, spanking new copy of Rise of Empire is sitting next to me right now, calling my name. “Kendra! Read me, Kendra!”My "to-read" stack

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Sidonie and Madame Guillotine

Sidonie de Villeduval is Yann Margoza’s love interest in the historical fantasy The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. When she was very young, Sido was in a carriage accident which killed her mother and left her with a badly broken leg. Ever since she has walked with a limp. She is treated terribly by her father, mostly because she is a girl and is crippled, but also for mysterious reasons the reader learns toward the end of the book.

At first it seems like Gardner commits the cardinal sin of having a character who does nothing through the whole book: Sido lets the story happen to her as if she were no more than an observer. This can almost be overlooked since Sido is not the main protagonist, but a significant reason to read fiction is to read about characters that see, do, and think things that we never will. Even if a character is quiet or shy, they should still bring something unique, surprising, or larger than life to the story. If those qualities are only found in their thoughts, that still says something interesting about the character.

It’s so easy to let a disabled character just sit on the sidelines, lending nothing but their presence to the story, and I was worried that this was Sido’s destiny. She takes very little action throughout the novel. Mostly she sits in her room like she’s told, she says what she is expected to say, and because of the distant point of view, we don’t really see what she is thinking.

I relate to characters that are vibrant and swashbuckling, the ones that wear a sword on their hip and wield magic. They call to me, probably because I’ll never wield anything more deadly than a butter knife. However, this meek and mild girl grew on me, and toward the end, I realized that her quiet strength and resilience were the crowning points of her character. She lives through some of the bloodiest days of the French Revolution, as all other nobles are hunted and killed. Her survival is a coincidence, but to me, Sido is heroic simply for facing her imprisonment, trial, and truncated execution with dignity and courage. When the streets of Paris run with blood and madness, Sido walks out with her head still on her shoulders.

Perhaps it is her disability that gives her the strength to press on through the howling mob. She’s certainly had to live with the pain and humiliation of her father’s censure for her whole life. Now, I’ve never had someone hate me for the way I walk, but in my own past experiences I can see the seed of these reactions. And like Sido, these experiences have strengthened me.

There are other things about Sido’s disability that struck a cord with me. Things like how she tries to hide her limp, walking as slowly and smoothly as she can. Or how she loses that highly prized grace when she’s nervous. I can relate to that. I once put my crutch down on a rolling chair while in a lab practical and ended up on my butt on the floor. I sustained nothing more than a couple bruises, but my pride took a huge blow that day.

Something that I thought was missing from the book was Yann’s reaction to Sido’s disability. He never mentions it. Ever. It seems like he doesn’t even notice it, which may be the point, but I wanted to see some honest conversation about how Yann felt about it. I feel the least disabled around my husband. He makes me feel like I can do anything and it seems like he hardly even notices my disability anymore. However, I know that it affects him and it’s not healthy to ignore it. I got the impression that Yann was supposed to be looking past Sido’s disability, and that’s sweet. But the fact that he didn’t mention it at all seems unrealistic.

I have plenty more to say about this book so check out the full review.

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In the Shadow of the Guillotine

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

Life has been straightforward for 14-year-old Yann Margoza. As a gypsy, he has the ability to read minds and throw his voice, and he uses these talents to put on magic shows with his mentor, Têtu. But when they encounter the sinister Count Kalliovski, Yann is caught up in events beyond his control and understanding. Têtu is shot and Sido, a nobleman’s daughter, helps Yann escape. He and Sido meet for only a moment, but a connection is formed that will cross borders and span years. Yann manages to leave France just as the revolution begins to take its bloody toll, but he can’t forget the beautiful girl he left behind. Years later, he is still thinking about her, and when he finds out that Count Kalliovski is using Sido for some nefarious purpose, Yann decides he must return to France to save her. As both the revolution and the past threaten to swallow him, Yann perseveres, knowing that he is Sido’s only hope for freedom.

 

It was the cover of this book that caught my eye, but it was the premise that compelled me to take it home. I was intrigued and wanted to see how Gardner would weave magic into the horrors of the French Revolution and how her characters would navigate that bloody time in history.

The beginning was exciting with the introduction to Yann’s character and the distant grumblings of revolution, and the end had a nice rising motion to it- I especially liked seeing Sido facing her own challenges. But what really kept me reading were several compelling mysteries that were introduced. I wanted to know more about Yann’s origins, Sido’s mother’s death, and how Count Kalliovski fit into it all.

I thought this was a very interesting way to look at a certain period in history. The Red Necklace takes place at the beginning of the French Revolution and the facts are accurate, but this was definitely not a history book. The storming of the Bastille and the arrest of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were present, but we saw them as Sido saw them: distant events that only affected her superficially. The Revolution was an important piece of the story and a particularly striking setting, but it was not constantly in the spotlight. It was only brought to the reader’s mind in small pieces as it brushed the lives of the characters and at the very end, where it played a significant part in the climax.

Several problems with this book kept me from really enjoying it. I had a really hard time getting into it. I wanted to like it, but it’s written in a distant third person point of view that I found hard to relate to. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I had any connection to the characters. And even though the beginning and end were exciting, the middle sagged. Years sped by between two paragraphs. Yann passed several milestones as a character, but they all happened offstage with just a bit of exposition to explain them. This made the book drag while I lost interest in both the characters and the story. However, I was surprised to find a lot that I related to in Sido’s character. More on that here.

Also, Yann’s fascination with Sido is what drives most of his decisions, yet I had no idea what he saw in her. They barely spoke a few words to each other through the entire book, but the reader is supposed to believe in this strange compelling love between them that smacks of Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the fact that their attraction is described as ‘strange’ should explain away all doubt, but it just wasn’t enough for me.

Overall, it seemed like a good book, but I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. I felt like it never lived up to its full potential. The Red Necklace is followed by The Silver Blade, but I’m not sure I’ll bother reading the sequel.

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When’s Your Baby Due?

I encourage questions about my disability, not just from children, but from adults, too. Anyone who’s curious can ask “What happened to you?” without fear of reprisal. I won’t be insulted. I’d rather answer the question openly and honestly than have people stare and wonder. But in the five years since my injury I’ve noticed similar questions that spark a response in me that is not nearly so positive. Sometimes I get a really sympathetic look and they’ll say “Did you hurt yourself?” or “When will you get better?” or “How long do you have to use crutches?”. There is a fine line between “What happened to you?” and “Did you hurt yourself?”. They sound like they’re asking the same thing but there is a critical difference.

The second set of questions assumes that my condition is temporary. This is like asking a stranger “When’s your baby due?”. These are assumptions that should never ever be made. Implying that I should be getting better is painful. It hurts. It’s a reminder of what I can’t do. No matter how long it’s been since my injury, no matter how well I’ve moved on, this strikes an emotional nerve. Zing. Like that spot in your elbow that manages to catch the edge of the table every single time. I think I’m justified in resenting the idea that I’m sick or that there’s something wrong with me. I know that some parts of me don’t work like they do for everyone else, but that doesn’t mean that I’m less of a person.

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. I realize that it’s not their intention to hurt me. I know that their questions come from a place of deep sympathy and human caring. Also, the concept of permanent disability is not a comfortable subject. No one wants to believe that it can happen to someone they know, or even themselves. And I’m young. I think this more than anything shocks people: the fact that I wasn’t born this way and yet I will live most of my life having to use assistive devices to get around. I’m aware of all this, but I want to make sure people understand where I’m coming from. Word choice and phrasing can be subtly offensive and everyone should be aware of the nuances of their speech.

I don’t want anyone to be scared or uncomfortable talking to people with disabilities. We’re not unapproachable. That’s why I’m doing this. Like most people, I just want to be understood.

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Mastering Magic and Murder

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

The street rat Azoth wants nothing more than to live free from fear. He will never get that as a thief with an oppressive gang leader. So he seeks an apprenticeship with the most fearless man he knows of, the legendary assassin, Durzo Blint. But Blint isn’t just a common assassin. He is a wetboy, a killer so deadly that even the underground leaders of the city aren’t certain they can control him. He can teach Azoth to be just as fearless, just as deadly, but is the knowledge worth the price? Azoth thinks it is.

And so Azoth becomes Kylar Stern. He must master magic and murder, leaving behind everything he ever cared for, forsaking those who loved him. If he fails, he knows there is only one punishment. To stay alive he must kill. But no matter how good Kylar is at dealing out death, he can never be as heartless as a wetboy is supposed to be. When political intrigue endangers those Kylar secretly loves, he is forced to choose. He must choose between being the perfect wetboy and losing the respect of a loyal friend. Choose between killing his own master and saving the woman he has loved his entire life.

 

This book kept me up at night. Not only did I not want to put it down, but once I did I couldn’t get the characters out of my head. The cast was incredibly compelling, with depths and twists that revealed startlingly realistic motivations.

The hero of the story is an aspiring assassin, and let’s make this very clear: he kills people for a living. Yet there is never any doubt that Kylar is the “good” guy. We know him, we’ve grown up with him, and when his heart aches, ours ache with him. He faces choices that are both heart-wrenching and believable. And while Brent Weeks throws us for a loop every few pages, he is always true to his characters. I may not see a twist coming, but once it’s there, I can’t imagine it happening any other way. And I have a pretty good imagination.

Brent Weeks bravely slogs through poverty and prostitution, betrayal and assassination. Some may even say he goes too far, but for every gritty theme he weaves into his work, there is an answering call to light and honor. This story is about the darkness and violence that runs deep in humanity. It delves into the inherent evil of rape and murder. But above all it is a story of hope, of redemption, and finally of love. Weeks’ surprising, yet appropriate, humor lights the way through some of the darker twists of the criminal mind.

Though the story is cohesive, I did have to reread bits in order to make sense of some of the convoluted politics. I thoroughly enjoy it when an author drops the reader into the middle of their world and expects them to be intelligent enough to pick up the clues that have been left, but I felt as though I was missing something for the first half of this book. Some of the early clues provided were a little too mysterious and the context to explain them came a little too late.

Overall this book was an incredible read, with a good amount of action as well as compelling relationships that developed over time. Brent Weeks used the darker themes of despair and murder to balance and highlight his message of hope. I flew through the last three hundred pages, breathlessly waiting for the hero’s redemption, and I wasn’t disappointed. I, personally, can’t wait to get my hands on the next installment of the Night Angel Trilogy, Shadow’s Edge.

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Writing Promptly

Every month I go to a writer’s group at my local library where we talk about books, publishing, and all the things that writers specifically like to grumble about. Recently we’ve had some fun with prompts. I got a kick out of the one I did last month so I thought I’d share the results. The prompt was: “You’ve been asked to buy ingredients and prepare a meal for another family. Write about the experience”.

“Sue-Ellen resettled the casserole dish in the crook of her elbow, the rich smell of barbecue floating up to remind her of home. Her barbecue was world famous…well, only if you counted the small town of Cut-n-Shoot, Texas as the world and only if famous meant winning the cook-off at the county fair. Still, she was proud of that barbecue and rightly so. It could lay Jim flat for an entire afternoon- knock him out on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, proudly displaying the hole in his sock, his mouth open in an odorous, sonorous snore which drowned out the football game playing on the TV. Lord, she loved that man and how he ate her barbecue.”

Nothing earth-shattering, but I have to admit I fell in love with Jim a little bit. I know, I know. I got kind of derailed and somewhere out there that poor family is still waiting for their dinner.

We’ve had some discussion in our group about the helpfulness of prompts. Some people felt that prompts were only for those beginners who needed help with their writing. Prompts were below Advanced writers.

I think that’s a bunch of hooey. Now, to be fair, I never used to like prompts. I hate being told when and what to write. I also really suck at short fiction (flash fiction isn’t even on my radar). Ideas that start off as short stories somehow gain the momentum of a runaway truck and end up 60 or 70,000 words long.

But I’ve started to see the beauty of prompts. They make me stretch and grow as a writer. Just like rehab, the process can be painful. Sometimes tears are involved. I definitely get that look my therapists recognized as extreme concentration: eyebrows lowered, tongue sticking out, and sweat pooling in places where girls like to pretend they don’t sweat. Having to write something so specific and not in my genre is scary, but it’s not pointless. The only way to get better at what I do is to practice. I write young adult fantasy. As you can see, the prompt above does not scream fantasy, but I learned something from writing it. And no matter where you are in your writing career, you can always learn something new.

So, stretch yourself a bit. If what you write is totally stupid and you just want to crumple it up in a melodramatic gesture common to writers throughout the ages- but you can’t because it’s on a computer screen- then you never have to look at it again. But who knows? It might spark a greater work. Or breathe life into something you’ve been slaving over for a while. Writing’s hard. Admit it, suck it up, and put in the time.

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Dodging Monsters with the Leandros Brothers

Nightlife by Rob Thurman

The world is full of monsters. Cal Leandros knows that intimately, seeing as he is half Grendel himself, and his less-than-human father has been chasing him for years. Cal has no idea what his dear old dad wants from him, but he sure as hell isn’t sticking around to find out. He and his half-brother Niko are determined to stay free and one step ahead of all the nasties that are hunting them, even if it means running for the rest of their lives.

Now it seems like they haven’t been running fast enough because the enemy is on their doorstep, ready to make Cal into an unwilling tool in their bloody world-domination. With Cal’s own dual-nature making things difficult and all his monstrous relatives arrayed against them, the fate of the world seems bleak. Niko may be one bad-ass big brother, but these odds might make even him pause, and hesitation at this point would be deadly for everyone.

 

This book was so much fun to read with its snarky main character and his monster-butt-kicking older brother. Breathtaking fight scenes are liberally interspersed with snappy dialogue and even snappier internal monologue.

Kudos to Rob Thurman, who is a woman by the way, for coming out with such an authentically male voice in a genre filled with female protagonists. Nightlife is not a paranormal romance, not anywhere close. It is a dark, action-packed, urban fantasy. But the jewel that shines through this darkness is the narrator. Compelling just isn’t a big enough word for Cal’s gritty voice and the attitude that drips from every one of his lines. He’s the kind of character that doesn’t just leap off the page, he rummages through your fridge and settles himself on your couch with his feet on the coffee table.

Cal by himself is great, but Cal’s interaction with Niko, and eventually with Robin Goodfellow, just brings the characterization in this book to a whole new level. Robin, who is the original, lusty Puck from Shakespearean legend, provides a comical foil to the two brothers, and the dynamic between them had me laughing frequently. In contrast, the very real, very intense relationship between Cal and Niko made their love and their pain bittersweet and tangible.

While the characters were the ones to really carry this book- heck, they hefted it over their shoulders and ran with it- the plot was nothing to scoff at either. Hilarious and heart-wrenching in turns, it kept me reading long past my bedtime. And it shines consistently through multiple readings. The second time around, I knew what was going to happen, I knew where the twists were, and I still found myself holding my breath.

One of those twists was even more poignant for the extra scrutiny. It isn’t unusual in fantasy to see possessions or brainwashings, but generally the reader gets to sit outside with the loved ones of the affected, watching the results with omnipotent anguish. Without giving anything away, I think I can safely say that it was a unique and chilling experience being inside Cal’s head for the last half of this book.

Some confusing sentence structure and tricky paragraphing did have me re-reading sections for clarity. My only other complaint about this book was that it wasn’t long enough, and I was left wanting more. And lucky for me there is more. Nightlife is followed by Moonshine and it doesn’t look like the Leandros brothers are calling it quits anytime soon.

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