Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson: A Review

In Sun Storm, Rebecka Martinsson is a tax attorney in Stockholm, Sweden. She’s made good her escape from small town Kiruna, in northern Sweden. That is, until the gruesome murder of a local celebrity pulls her back in.

I chose this book for my 2018 Reading Challenge as book #5, Nordic noir. At first, I was stumped by this category. I had no idea what Nordic noir was. So I went searching, and found it’s only a fancy way of saying dark, murder mysteries set in Scandinavia.

As a tax attorney, Rebecka seems an unlikely heroine for a crime novel. But it turned out, I kind of liked her. As the story develops, the author includes little flash back scenes, Rebecka’s memories from her past that begin to tie the pieces of the story together.

The story isn’t written entirely from Rebecka’s point of view, however. There are passages from the detective, the prosecutor, and even the bad guy. Larsson has woven these perspectives into the story is such a way to drive suspense and compel the reader forward.

The language and descriptions in the story are often stunningly beautiful. I read the English edition translated by Marlaine Delargy. While I can’t speak for the original Swedish version, Delargy’s translation is wonderful. Considering the novel won Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel award, I’m confident the original is just as good.

While it was a truly beautiful and compelling book, it did feel as though the villain was revealed too early in the story. The entire scope of the evil plot wasn’t revealed all at once, but it seems to me that the suspense would have only increased by not knowing the killer’s identity quite so soon.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Unlock the Muse – January 3, 2018

It’s the first week of 2018. What are your writing goals for this year? For myself, I have three main goals. One, finish a novel. Second, to organize my research and background materials for my two middle grade series. And finally, to improve my writing.

To this last end, I’m sharing with you this new and improved weekly writing exercise. If practice makes perfect, then let’s practice.

Welcome to 2018! To help spur you on to complete your writing goals this year, here is your first weekly writing exercise for the year:

Think about the last time you laughed so hard you cried. Who was with you? What provoked the outburst? Journal about how a good laugh can be just what you need.

Have fun with this. Savor the details and let the memory take you where it will.

Next, take it one step further. Use the imagery from your memory to write a poem, or write a laughter scene into your novel. Let your characters enjoy the same level of mirth you once did.

I am nearly always reading a book on the craft of writing. Currently, it is This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. Somehow that seems like an especially appropriate place to start at the beginning of a new year. Chapter One of this book is titled: The General Disciplines That Every Writing Needs. It opens with classic writing advice that, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard over and over again: to be a writer, you must write.

Mosley insists that you should write every day.

The first thing you have to know about writing is that is it something you must do every day.

As the basic principle of his book is to write a novel in a year’s time, this advice certainly makes sense. Though it may seem like tired, overused advice, it’s still important. The consistency of habit will allow your unconscious mind to continue to dwell on and dream about your story even while you’re not actively working on it. Habit and routine are the first keys to unlocking the muse.

So, go on. Write. Every day.

Q: What’s the big deal about passive voice?

A: Passive voice is weaker and less direct than active voice. Using active voice whenever possible will strengthen your fiction. From The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White:

The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible writing. … Many a tame sentence or description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as ‘there is’ or ‘could be heard.’

So here’s to a new year filled with successful 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:

Unlocking the Muse – Introducing a New Weekly Inspiration & Resource for Writers

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last couple of months to my weekly writing prompt post. I have never been truly happy with the name Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge. It doesn’t really convey what I hope this challenge will be for myself and other writers. And the tag #WWPChallenge sounds more like some sort of wrestling event.

The purpose of these writing prompts is two-fold. First, it should be fun. Writing is hard work, but there should always be the element of fun, or it no longer feels worth doing. Second, it is to inspire ideas. Sometimes the idea well runs slow, and prompts and exercises such as these are designed to prime the pump. It may not turn into anything. Or it could be your next big thing. It might be the key you were looking for to fill a hole in your plot. It just might be the very thing you need to unlock your muse.

Therefore, I am reinventing this weekly post. It has a new name: Unlock the Muse. A new cover photo (courtesy of Pixabay). And a new format designed to inspire, encourage and equip your writing.

This weekly Unlock the Muse post will have three parts. First, the usual writing prompt you’ve come to expect each week. As always, this will be a random writing exercise designed to get ideas flowing and put words on the page. Whenever possible, I’ll include some ideas on how the exercise might be valuable. Writing exercises aren’t the same for everyone, but they’re only intended to be a spark.

The second part of the post will include either a nugget of writing inspiration from a favorite author, or a snippet of wisdom gleaned from whatever writing craft book I’m reading at the time. I’m always reading one in hopes I might learn something worthwhile from those who’ve been in the business of writing much longer than I have. Currently, I am working on This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. It seems an appropriate book to start the new year.

I’ll conclude each post with a question and answer. I invite you to ask me a writing-related question, and I will do my best to find an answer. For now, questions should be about my specific writing process or questions about grammar and language usage (English language only, please). Keep in mind, unless the question is about a specific rule of grammar, the answer will be my opinion, and should not be taken as the absolute and only right answer.

It’s your turn now. What sort of writing exercises work best for you? Who are your favorite writers and writing craft books? Do you have a question about a tricky grammar issue, or just want to know my writing process? Leave a comment below!

Or send me your question(s) by email here:


2018 Reading Challenge – The Year of the Woman

It’s time once again to announce my book choices for the coming year. Sometime during this past year I began looking at my TBR pile and noticed a certain disparity. More than half of my books are by men authors. Nearly all of my favorite authors are men. Now there isn’t anything wrong with this necessarily, but I thought I should try reading more women authors.

Consequently, I’ve declared 2018 to be The Year of the Woman. For my reading list then, I’ve deliberately tipped the scale in the other direction and chosen books only by women. I may or may not be able to keep to this plan, however, as many of the books I’ve been anxious to read aren’t by women.

For my 2018 reading list, I decided to go with the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I’ve run across this challenge before, but never felt I was capable of taking on a challenge of this size. Fifty books is a lot to commit to. It’s more than I ever thought I could possibly read in a year, nearly double what I set out to read in 2017.

Here then, is my 2018 Reading Challenge list:

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen – How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
True crime – The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story, by Ann Rule
The next book in a series you started – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
A book involving a heist – Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Nordic noir – Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson
A novel based on a real person – Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
A book set in a country that fascinates you – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
A book with a time of day in the title – The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
A book about a villain or antihero – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
A book about death or grief – The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr.
A book with a LGBTQ+ protagonist – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A book that is also a stage play or musical – The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou or The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
A book about feminism – Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
A book about mental health – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
A book you borrowed or was given to you as a gift – City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare
A book by two authors – Havemercy, by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett
A book about or involving a sport – Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand
A book by a local author – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
A book with your favorite color in the title – Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
A book with alliteration in the title – Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman
A book about time travel – The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
A book with a weather element in the title – Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
A book set at sea – Circle of Bones, by Christine Kling
A book with an animal in the title – Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
A book set on a different planet – Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff
A book with song lyrics in the title – Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
A book about or set on Halloween – Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn
A book with characters who are twins – Anne of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery
A book mentioned in another book – To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book from a celebrity book club – Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts
A childhood classic you’ve never read – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume
A book that’s published in 2018 – Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard
A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner – City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
A book set in the decade you were born – Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to – Boys Should Be Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker
A book with an ugly cover – Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
A book that involves a bookstore or library – Voices, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Favorite prompt from Popsugar 2015, 2016 or 2017 challenge: a book based on a fairytale – Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, by J. M. Sullivan
A bestseller from the year you graduated high school – The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
A cyberpunk book – Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place – City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare, or Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor
A book tied to your ancestry – House of Day, House of Night, by Olga Tokarczuk
A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
An allegory – The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz
A book by an author with the same first or last name as you – Grace and Fury, by Tracy Banghart
A microhistory – Breaking Into the Current, by Louise Teal
A book about a problem facing society today – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas