Cinder, by Marissa Meyer: A Review

I read Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, for the 2018 Reading Challenge #42, a cyberpunk book. I’m not entirely sure if this book is “punk” enough to fit the category, but I don’t really care. I’ve been excited to read it for quite some time, and I was really glad to find a place for it on my reading list this year.

From the title, it’s not hard to figure out this is a Cinderella retelling. Cinder is a human/cyborg hybrid, adopted into a family with two other young girls. The father has already died before the book opens, leaving Cinder at the mercies of a stepmother and stepsisters who don’t really want her around. But Cinder just might have the key to finding a cure to a plague decimating the people of Earth. And maybe she can help prevent the people of Earth from being enslaved by those of Luna.

I loved this book beginning to end. Cinder is wonderful. Despite all the obstacles before her, she knows what she wants out of life, she’s realistic in her goals, and isn’t afraid to do what’s necessary to achieve them, even if it means running away. Cinder moves this story forward. Yes, there are things that happen that are outside her control, but she responds to them in her own way. She decides which direction to turn when life interferes.

This isn’t to say it’s a perfect book without a single flaw. I does have flaws. The most glaring one for me was Prince Kai’s somewhat naive tendency to trust others rather quickly, and his emotions run a little too close to the surface. Though he is young, he is still the heir to one of Earth’s greatest empire. One would think he’d have been better trained from birth to have greater control over himself, especially when his actions could have significant political ramifications.

Cinder was a lot of fun to read. I will definitely be seeking out the rest of this series as well as other books by Marissa Meyer. I’m delighted that I’ve found a new favorite author.


Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini: A Review

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini joined my 2018 Reading Challenge list as #28, a book with song lyrics in the title. I had to do a bit of digging to find this one. This book has been on my shelf for a little while and I thought surely, the word star-crossed appears in song lyrics somewhere. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I managed to find a way to work a book into the list that I already had on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

This is the story of a girl and a boy, destined to be together, or rip each other apart. Maybe both. Based on Greek mythology in general, and more specifically on the story of Helen of Troy, it is a story doomed to be repeated again and again.

It’s the story of Helen Hamilton, a high school student who lives with her father on the isolated island of Nantucket. And yes, she’s connected to that Helen – the face that launched a thousand ships. Helen knows she is different and works hard to hide it. But when a new boy and his family arrive on the island, things only get stranger.

Though it may be little more than a hasty teenage romance written over the backdrop of myth and fated tragedy, I nevertheless found myself enjoying this book. It written in such a way that I was compelled forward. It’s a quick read and fun. I liked the characters, especially Helen’s best friend Claire.

I think I knew going into this book that it is part of a larger series. Still, I was unprepared for the ending. Or lack of an ending, really. I had hoped that more might be resolved by the end, but I think I’ve come away from this book with more questions than at the beginning. Will I read more? Probably. I’d like to know how the story plays out.

Unlock the Muse – February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day! May the romance of this special day add a bit of passion to your writing!

Your writing exercise for this week is:

Rewrite the ending to your favorite book.

In honor of the holiday, make it your favorite romance novel. Or, give your favorite suspense novel a new romantic twist.

The last writing craft book I read is The Joy of Writing Sex, by Elizabeth Benedict. Somehow, it seems an appropriate conversation for today. Personally, I write a lot of middle grade and young adult fiction, where sex scenes aren’t necessarily appropriate. Even in my work intended for adults, I don’t often write about sex. Still, when the story calls for it, I want to be able to write it well.

Above all, writing fiction is writing about relationships between people. And what is sex but an intimate encounter between people. More than anything else, what I have taken away from this book is that a sex scene, like any other scene, needs to be about the writing. It shouldn’t be just about the sex, but rather should in some way advance the plot or reveal character.

This week’s grammar tip – That vs. Which. From Strunk & White’s Elements of Style:

That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.

The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one.)

The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)

The use of which for that is common in written and spoken language. Occasionally which seems preferable to that. But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining whiches, and by so doing improve their work.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule: A Review

The 2018 Reading Challenge calls for me to read a book of true crime. I’ve never been interested in this particular genre, so it wasn’t easy to decide on what to read. I was looking for a woman author as well, and my sister – an avid reader of true crime books – recommended Ann Rule. So when someone in the Goodreads group I belong to suggested a group read and discussion of Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, I decided that was the book for me.

This is the story of Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. Ultimately convicted and executed for three murders, Bundy confessed to even more and is suspected of still others.

Before writing this book, Ann Rule wrote for detective magazines. A former police officer, she had a good working relationship with the officers in the Seattle area where she lived and worked. Rule met Bundy while they both volunteered at a crisis hotline center. They worked side by side to save the lives of desperate people.

The story Rule tells is terrifying and horribly fascinating. This is the first book I’ve read in this genre, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I think it is well done. Rule doesn’t go into a lot of graphic details about the crimes. She writes with a great deal of compassion for the victims and their families. At the same time, her personal anguish comes through vividly as she tries to reconcile the man she once knew to the killer he really was.

Rule clearly did a lot of research before writing this book. And she never comes across as if she is trying to present the horrible events for the sake of sensationalism. I felt she wrote with integrity, presenting facts as facts, and clearly indicating her own personal thoughts and opinions as such.

I don’t know if I’ll read more true crime, but I have to admit, I’m curious about Rule’s other books. I can’t help wondering how the feel of the book might be different without the personal connection she had to Bundy. So who knows. Maybe I’ll read another Ann Rule book one day.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou: A Review

#14 on my 2018 Reading Challenge is a book by an author of a different ethnicity than myself. There are several books on my list that would meet this prompt, but I ultimately chose I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. I’ve been wanting to read her poetry for some time, and while this book is a memoir rather than poetry, it’s a well-known title about which there has been much conversation.

I’ve had some difficulty finding the right words for what I think and feel about this book. I liked it. It is well written. But it isn’t an easy read. Angelou writes openly about difficult and unpleasant subjects such as child rape, racism and teenage motherhood.

I enjoyed Angelou’s depictions of her early childhood. Her descriptions are often beautiful and poetic. I was fascinated by her stories of growing up as a black girl in the south. I laughed out loud at some of them. Others made me want to weep. She makes some interesting comments about racism. Particularly fascinating was her description of her time in San Francisco during the second world war.

I chose to listen to this book on audio rather than read a physical copy. If I had it to do over, I would choose the physical book instead. First, with a physical book, I could have better noted the passages I found particularly moving. I was also slightly disappointed in the narration. The version I chose was narrated by Maya Angelou herself, and I thought that would lend it an even greater authenticity. At times, it did just that. Especially when she would break out into song. However, the reading felt stilted and unnatural at times which was really unfortunate, as it’s a beautifully written book.

This is a great book, well-deserving of all the acclaim it has received. I’m glad I chose to read it. Please note, if you haven’t read it before, Angelou’s depiction of the abuse she endured as a child is quite graphic, and could prove traumatic to some.

Unlock the Muse – February 7, 2018

Welcome to February! A new month, a new chance to try something new. Be bold, be adventurous. Write with abandon!

Your writing exercise for this week is:

Write another person’s epitaph, but make it rhyme.

Not sure who’s epitaph to write? How about your neighbor? The governor? The queen’s dog? Maybe try going more fictional. Write the epitaph for any characters in your novel who have died, fictionally, that is.

Some of the oldest, most common advice in writing is show, don’t tell. It’s clearly important in that it is repeated so often. This is about getting the reader to experience the novel rather than simply read it. Explore sensations and emotions, use metaphor and simile. Walter Mosley in This Year You Write Your Novel writes:

What you must always remember is that the novel is more experiential than it is informational. Your reader might learn something, but most of what they learn is gained through what they are shown about the lives and circumstances of the characters therein.”

February is the month of Valentine’s Day, the month of romantic love. Therefore, the question of the month is how do you write about romantic relationships in your fiction?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise in the comments below. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, by J. M. Sullivan: A Review

I “met” J. M. Sullivan through Twitter, particularly through her monthly hashtag game #authorconfession. When she began tweeting about the upcoming release of her debut novel, Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, I was intrigued, but not especially drawn to it. It isn’t the kind of book I typically enjoy. In recent months, however, I have tried to make a concerted effort to support more small press and indie authors. The enthusiastic conversations surrounding Sullivan’s book brought it to the forefront, and I decided to take a chance on it. I’m glad I did.

When I decided to make this the year I focus on books by women authors, I knew this was one of the books I needed to be sure made my 2018 Reading Challenge list. I had to work a little bit to make it fit, but I decided to read this for prompt #40, favorite prompt from the 2015, 2016 or 2017 Popsugar challenge. It may be a bit of a stretch, but it works for the 2016 prompt – a book based on a fairytale.

Alice is unapologetically a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Sullivan has set her story in a post-apocalyptic Arizona. A plague has struck humanity turning people into zombie-like monsters known as momeraths.

Shortly after the story opens, Alice’s adoptive sister contracts this virus. Alice then goes in pursuit of a rumor she’s heard of a possible cure. So begins her journey though “Wanderland,” which is how locals now refer to an all but abandoned Phoenix, Arizona. Along the way she meets others who help – or not – to varying degrees.

This book is very well written. The suspense is great. And despite being a retelling of a classic tale, it is filled with surprises. Though I’m not particularly a fan of zombie fiction, I loved this book. The references to Lewis’s original might seem rather obvious and heavy-handed, but I found them to be rather fun. I’m looking forward to more from J. M. Sullivan.