ROW80 Check-In – 3.1: Sunday Best

It’s the end of Week #27 and the first week of ROW80 Round 3. I don’t know how it happened, but the last four days have been…challenging. Yes, we’ll go with challenging. Intuition led me to believe that a two-day work week would be a breeze and then bam! Another weekend. Woohoo! Right? It wasn’t a breeze and the weekend has seen me working more than relaxing. My to-do list still has a lot of items on it, and it’s getting closer and closer to that time when I accept that not everything is going to get done. Here’s my final rundown for the week.

Write 7000 words each week.  13490/7000.  One thing has gone right this week (yes, one thing among many and I really am grateful for all of them).  I didn’t make it to 1000 words on Thursday or Friday, but I wrote just a little over 3K on Saturday and about 1200 today.  I am moving closer to the idea of posting the prequel novella I’m working on here on the website as well as on Wattpad.  Has anyone experimented with Wattpad?  What are your thoughts? I also abandoned one of my WIPs (again) and it could finally be dead this time.  For CampNaNo I’m thisclose to being halfway to my goal and we’re not even a third of the way through July.  Currently sitting at 17944/36000.  Truthfully, all is good in my writing world.

Journal everyday.  7/7.  My journaling streak remains unbroken! 28 days and counting.

Read one book a week.  Well, I haven’t read anything new in the last four days.  I’m exactly where I was on my previous check-in.

  1. The Sisters Brothers – Patrick DeWitt
  2. This Side of the Grave – Jeaniene Frost
  3. Turn Coat – Jim Butcher
  4. Surrender – Lisa Renee Jones
  5. The Return of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. Ride Rough – Laura Kaye
  7. Entice Me – J. Kenner
  8. Anchor Me – J. Kenner
  9. Ripley Under Ground – Patricia Highsmith
  10. Demon from the Dark – Kresley Cole
  11. Just One Touch – Maya Banks
  12. Hard As Steel – Laura Kaye
  13. Hard Ever After – Laura Kaye
  14. The Iscariot Sanction – Mark A. Latham
  15. Random – Craig Robertson

Write one book review for my blog each week.  I’ve missed this goal for the week.  This will be a priority for Week #28.  Ideally, I would like to post book reviews every Friday.

Walk/Run twelve miles each week.  Seriously? I’m still standing behind the starting line on this goal.  When is the starter finally going to begin this race?

On this Sunday I’m doing my best to get through those items on my to-do list that feel like they are hanging over my head like a hangman’s axe.  It means making some trade-offs, but if I feel a bit more in control at the start of the work week, they are trade-offs worth making.

Do something today to get one step closer to achieving your Dream Goals.  Have a great week!

review: demand

Note: Demand is the second book in the Careless Whispers trilogy.  If you have not read the first book in the series, please stop reading this post.  Spoilers are ahead and I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you.

Demand by Lisa Renee Jones (2016)

In the second book of her Careless Whispers trilogy, Lisa Renee Jones returns us to Italy and the world of Ella and Kayden at the exact point where she left off at the end of the first book, Denial.  In fact, Jones does something at the start of the book that I have never encountered before.  She devotes the first pages to a kind of “previously on Careless Whispers” intro that you would expect from your favorite television series, and you know what, it totally works.  She follows it with a list of characters, one that reminds me of what I would expect to find in a detective mystery novel, but that works, too.  Both reminded me of where I was in the story, of the characters I had met and would meet, and made me ready to take on the second book even though it’s been months since I read Denial.  I loved this device, and though there may be people who frown at it, as someone who reads a lot of serial fiction and sometimes installments are several months (or a year or two) apart, this was an excellent way to reacquaint me with the story and the characters.  Well played.

Like Denial, Demand is told completely from Ella’s first-person point of view.  One of the reasons this continues to be the most effective narrative style is that more and more, Ella is getting her memory back.  She remembers more about David, the man who was her fiance, about the mystery man that rescued her after she lost her passport and all of her money but also abused her sexually, and about her life before she travelled to Europe.  Having her as our narrator makes everything she is remembering, feeling and experiencing much more immediate, especially since a lot of what is revealed is happening in her own mind (as opposed through spoken dialogue) and also because with the exception of Kayden, there really is no one that she trusts enough to reveal all that she is remembering. The other reason this works is because, at least for me, I like Ella as a character and I’m invested in her story.  She is frequently just as clueless about what is happening as we are as readers, and thus we’re in the same boat, trying to navigate the confusing labyrinth together.

Though the story is told through Ella’s first person narrative, Kayden does not feel distant from us or an impenetrable mystery.  As this book unfolds, we find him being much more forthright and open with Ella than he was in the first book.  Kayden is the prototypical male protagonist you would expect to find in a book firmly placed in the erotic romantic suspense genre, but he’s not a carbon copy.  He, too, is likeable even though there is a definite edge to him and it’s clear that he does not always operate on the lawful side of the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys.  He isn’t so dark that it is hard to understand why the female protagonist would want to be with him, and if you like alpha male characters he delivers and compels you to want to keep reading and see how the romance between him and Ella will play out.

The plot of the story becomes more intricate in this book even as certain questions are answered.  Jones reveals the identity of the man that Ella can remember mistreating her but whose face she has been unable to recall.  There is forward progress on the plotline involving Gallo and his relentless pursuit to destroy Kayden, and at the end of the story we are left wondering how that will play out.  Niccolo makes an entrance into the story, and there is more revelation about why the butterfly necklace is significant and what Kayden’s relationship to its discovery is.  And yet there are new characters that we are not yet sure we can trust, and there’s also the recurring implication that the tower of the castle where Ella and Kayden live is under some kind of surveillance.  This feels like it is leading up to a betrayal from someone close to them that neither Ella nor Kayden will see coming.

While the Careless Whispers trilogy is a spin-off of Jones’ Inside Out series, you don’t have to have read the latter to enjoy this trilogy.  I would recommend this series to anyone who has enjoys the work of Julie Kenner (the Stark novels), Sylvia Day (the Crossfire novels), Meredith Wild (the Hacker novels), Lorelei James (the Mastered series) and Jones’ Amy Bensen series.  Lisa Renee Jones is solidly on my list of authors whose books I will automatically add to my to-read list.  I consumed this book in one day and had a hard time putting it down.  In my opinion, it’s not easy to find good books in the romantic suspense genre, but this trilogy definitely stands out and shines.  I’m looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Surrender.

review: the long goodbye

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1953)

The Long Goodbye is the sixth novel in Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled detective fiction series featuring the iconic Philip Marlowe.  This book has been on my to-read list for a long time.  It’s been nearly three years since I read the previous book in this series, The Little Sister, and this has been one of those books that I started, got about 100 pages into, and put down for a long while before starting again and finishing it.  I previously wrote in a review that I thought The Little Sister was the “odd” one in the series; The Long Goodbye doesn’t deserve that description, but it has a different feel to it than the others.

Although Marlowe is recognizable as the character we’ve come to know up to this point in the series, he’s also different.  Older, yes.  He is thirty-three in the first book, The Big Sleep, and now it is nine years later. He is still the man who wants to do the right thing, but doing the right thing doesn’t mean being the knight (as was the metaphor in The Big Sleep).  Like in The Big Sleep, doing the right thing comes at a personal cost to Marlowe, but even more than that, by the end of the novel, that gray space between black and white in which he operates is an even darker shade of gray.  It took me a while to understand how the title came about and what was its significance.  Near the end, Marlowe makes a reference to a French saying–each time you say goodbye you die a little.  Marlowe’s actions in the novel represent his way of saying goodbye to a man he considered to be a friend.  It is, indeed, a long goodbye, and yet in the last pages of the book I got the sense that it wasn’t just his friend Marlowe was saying goodbye to, but an actual piece of himself, a part of him that has died in the effort to do what he felt was right.  Marlowe isn’t lost, he just isn’t the same and never will be.

Like the best examples of the genre, the storyline of The Long Goodbye is complex and layered.  On the top layer is Marlowe’s initial meeting of Terry Lennox.  Lennox is married to Sylvia Potter,, the daughter of a wealthy newspaperman, and her murder is the catalyst that sets everything in motion.  Lennox, of course, is suspected of the murder, and for reasons entirely his own Marlowe makes a choice that bring him to the attention of the police, who want to charge him as an accessory after the fact.  The world that Chandler has created in this series stays true to form, presenting the police force as being rife with corruption and more concerned with closing cases and building careers than pursuing justice and capturing the person actually responsible for the crime.  The police in this book are depicted as being even more brutal (and inept) than previous novels, as Marlowe himself is the target for their brutality and and what he has always seen as a systemic coercion of suspects to implicate themselves in order to stop further abuse and forced into making false confessions and statements.  Marlowe does not comply, and though it would be easy to say that this is the reason for my sense that we have a “colder” Marlowe in this book, that’s not the reason.  He brushes off the time he spends in jail and the police brutality as part of the normal, the everyday.  Others have been treated this way and now it is simply his turn for the same treatment. Eventually, though, this part of the storyline ends–or seems to–and Marlowe moves on and we get a second, deeper layer to the story.  Marlowe takes on a case that involves a popular writer, Roger Wade, who has gone on a drunken binge and disappeared.  Marlowe takes the case from Roger’s wife, Eileen Wade, who is the book’s femme fatale and whose beauty draws Marlowe’s attention instantly.  She is temptation throughout the story.  Like Marlowe’s endeavor to say goodbye to a man he called a friend, his struggle to resist the temptation of Eileen Wade as well as the part he plays in the lives of the Wades wears on him and claims another piece of him.  His methods for bringing justice to those who have committed a crime are merciless and without sympathy.  One character says to Marlowe that he isn’t very sympathetic.  His response is “Why should I be?”.   Marlowe has always been drawn as a man who gives sympathy where it is deserved.  The character is right, he isn’t sympathetic in that particular moment, but he doesn’t lack sympathy.  I also don’t think he is incapable of mercy.  I think this is important because it would be easy for Marlowe to lose those two qualities in the world in which he lives and works, and in so doing he would be no better than the law enforcement he despises.  He doesn’t cross the line in this book, but there is the sense that he has been pushed closer and closer to it, using methods at this point in his life that maybe he wouldn’t have resorted to when we first met him in The Big Sleep.

The Long Goodbye isn’t an easy, simple read.  I’ve lived in the world of academia and heard a lot of dismissals of hardboiled detective fiction as a “popular” genre with little to no “literary” value.  I’m not saying that The Long Goodbye is an “important” book, but it is thought-provoking and presents a protagonist who is not only at odds with the world in which he lives but is also at odds within himself.  It definitely has the feel of a book that is trying to hold up a mirror to society and critique what it sees reflected back.  There are times when the critique is heavy-handed and for a 21st century reader it is at times misogynistic.  It is also at times a little fatalist and maybe even a little nihilistic.  It is a good read, however, a good read and it gives further depth to Marlowe, making him just a little bit more complex, a little bit more isolated, a little bit farther from the traditional image of the knight but accepting that the modern version of a knight–his version at least–is simply just doing the best he can.

review: one foot in the grave

One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2008)

One Foot in the Grave is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series.  It’s official. Catherine “Cat” Crawfield is now part of my favorite first-person narrators in an urban fantasy series (if you haven’t been paying attention, she joins Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan in that club).  If you haven’t read the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave, you might want to stop reading and go and find that book at your favorite bookstore. The book starts about four years after the end of the events in Halfway to the Grave. I have to admit that one of the reasons the first book didn’t get a review here is that I was a little unhappy with the ending.  Not unsatisfied or upset, just unhappy with how things all played out with Cat and Bones, the vampire who loves her.  As it turns out, I needn’t have worried because by the end of this book all is well with Cat and Bones.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  It’s four years later, and Cat is still working for Don and his secret “Homeland Security” group that’s part of the FBI.  Tate returns from the first book and he’s now Cat’s second in command.  Frost wastes no time in getting to the catalyst for the plot–Don has sent Cat to kill a vampire named Liam Flannery.  Cat goes in alone, and she soon discovers that Liam is actually Ian–the man who turned Bones into a vampire more than two hundred years ago.  Knowing this, Cat lets Ian go but tells Don and her team of vampire hunters that he got away.  Well, the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished” is appropriate here, since Ian becomes the primary antagonist of the novel.  At the end of the first book, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the plot development of Cat becoming a vampire hunter with a badge and the structure of the secret government organization in which she finds herself.  It’s still not my favorite part of the series, but it serves its purpose, and I see why Frost chose it.  It allows her to build a supporting cast around Cat and Bones and offers another way to build dramatic tension.  Cat finds herself not only at odds with Don but also Tate in this novel, and her relationship with each man helps to further develop her character.  Still, I have to say that if the time ever comes when Cat is an independent again, I’ll only be too happy.  Although she’s become the part of this organization, she has retained her independence and she doesn’t let the fact that Don is her boss dictate her actions or her choices.  There are several moments in the book where Frost delves into gender stereotypes, roles and dynamics and it helps to further define Cat as a strong female character while also illuminating that these issues continue to be pervasive in society.  Cat makes mistakes, but Frost doesn’t ever really take away her ability to make her own choices, and I love that.

Can I take a minute to talk about Bones? I love his character, which is one of the reasons I was so unhappy with the ending of Halfway to the Grove, because I just can’t imagine this series without him or without him and Cat being together.  How do I love him, let me count the ways. Bones is a master vampire, and one of the things we learn about him in this book is that he can fly (a la Eric Northman), he’s a strategic thinker, he’s supportive of Cat’s choices even when he doesn’t necessarily agree with them, and he will always do what he has to do to keep Cat safe and happy. And he has a sense of humor (indeed, in many ways he’s also the source of comic relief in this series).  He’s a great example of an alpha male character that is totally likable while at the same time being practically invincible–his weakness, of course, being Cat.  I highlight his character because so many male protagonists in paranormal romance novels fall flat because they are derivative and conventional.  Bones stands out, and he’s the perfect complementary character for Cat and the two of them are one of the reasons this series is worth reading.

The final showdown of the novel is surprising if not a little anti-climactic.  Although the antagonist is foiled in the end, achieving the goal that Cat has pursued for half of the novel ends up slipping through her grasp at the moment when she is sure to be victorious. Again, this is because she makes a conscious choice to let go of the pursuit in favor of something she wants more.  It’s a part of the book that I admire because as someone who likes to write, it highlights the need to identify what your protagonist wants most.  Cat has to decide what she wants most, and though there is a resolution to this part of the story, it’s definitely open-ended and promises to come back up again in future books in this series.  I can’t help wondering if there will be a time jump to start book three, At Grave’s End, or if it will pick up relatively soon after book two ends, because a lot of things happen at the end of the book that will have far-reaching consequences.

If you haven’t tried the Night Huntress series, I highly recommend it, and I’m definitely going to go and find book three in my favorite bookstore.

 

review: “devil in the dollhouse”

“Devil in the Dollhouse” by Richard Kadrey (2012)

In the timeline of the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey, this is designated as number 3.5 since it comes after the third book in the series, Aloha From Hell and before Devil Said Bang, the fourth book. The story happens three days after the end of Aloha From Hell, and finds Stark trying to, literally, survive his first days as the new Lucifer and King of Hell.

Stark refers to his predecessor as Lucifer 1.0 so I’ll continue with that to keep it simple. There Stark is, sitting in Lucifer 1.0’s office, when two spies appear and tell him that in order to solidify his position as the new Lucifer, Stark needs to complete a quest that Lucifer was about to begin before he managed to return to Heaven.  Though he has no real desire to pursue the quest, he agrees, and “Devil in the Dollhouse” becomes a kind of quest tale and eventually presents with a figure that maybe is supposed to resemble the Fisher King, or at least Hell’s version of it.  Stark’s mission is to make his way to Henoch Breach, a kind of waste land fraught with perilous trials that he must overcome to reach his destination–which is to destroy the monsters who live there and exist as nightmares for Hellions.  As he moves toward his destination, Stark must go through a series of “rings”–one of fire, one of regret–and then he must also successfully survive the monsters and reach the fortress where the father of the horrible monsters the Hellions fear resides.  On his quest he is given a guide, Geryon, who is a scholar and is able to tell Stark the myths and origins of Henoch Breach.

The witty, snarky and sarcastic tone of Stark’s first person narration is very much present, though there does seem to be something missing–maybe that’s because this is a short story and there’s not enough “space” to give everything more depth.  Though, I love the way the Stark starts to tell his story.  “Hi. I’m the Devil. No, Seriously.” I also really like the way the story ends, which I won’t spoil here but it definitely makes you wonder how or if this little episode will affect Stark in the novels that follow.  Ultimately, I think this short story is an interesting glimpse into what Stark’s new life as “Lucifer 2.0” will be like, what struggles he’ll have to deal with if he ever intends to make it back topside and how he was finally accepted as the new Lucifer and not just a pretender to the King of Hell’s throne.  It’s worth your time if you like this series.