telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘#Thrillers’

So, which child do you like best?

In my own experience, my favorite of my own books is always the one I’m writing now. Having read and enjoyed Olga Werby’s book Harvest (see my review) I was curious how she felt about it in comparison to her latest book Twin Time.  So, I asked her which of these two books of hers was more fun to write.

Yes, I know this is a little bit like asking someone which of their children they like best. “Both” is a good answer. But to author Werby’s credit, she had an interesting and well-thought-out response.

“Harvest” and “Twin Time” couldn’t be more different! One is a sci-fi thriller; the other is a fantastical, historical romance. I’ve spent years researching the science for “Harvest”—the scientific details in that story are all true. But the same is true for “Twin Time”. “Twin Time” is partly based on my grandmother’s childhood. She grew up in post-revolutionary Russia, in a rural village where the political change was slow to arrive. When it finally did, her family had to run in the middle of the night to stay alive. They lived through unspeakable horrors and didn’t survive unscathed. Most died. When and where we are born shapes our lives. When you read “Twin Time”, you will get to experience what it was like to live in another time and place with a different value system and different culture.

I came to America as a refugee; I grew up in Russia and those experiences shaped my life. To write about what it feels like to be there, even if at a different time and place than what I knew, was transformative. I loved doing the research, looking at illustrations and old photographs. It made me remember the fairytales of my youth.

Emotionally, “Twin Time” was more powerful for me, while “Harvest” was more intellectually stimulating. Writing these two books was a very different experience. But I wouldn’t swap my life for the life of my heroines in either of these novels—they had it rough. Spending a few years dreaming the lives of these women is very different from living those lives. I have to say, I’m a girl who likes first-class bathroom accommodations!

About Olga Werby:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master’s degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, “Suddenly Paris,” which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, “The FATOFF Conspiracy,” was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories — homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals — the social underdogs of our world.

Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of “Alien Dimensions Magazine,” “600 second saga,” “Graveyard Girls,” “Kyanite Press’ Fables and Fairy Tales,” “The Carmen Online Theater Group’s Chronicles of Terror,” with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Twin Time.

How Happy is Happy Enough?

So, I’m personally struggling with the question of how happy a happily-ever-after ending has to be to satisfy readers. I suppose my even asking the question makes it clear I think there is some wiggle room, or there ought to be.

I recently featured Doorway to Scorn, a fantasy novel by Dimitrius Jones, on one of my other blogs. I was delighted to get the chance to ask this author what he thought about the infamous HEA ending. I really liked his response.

As someone who’s read his fair share of romance novels, I get it. We love to ship people and see those ships weather a storyline’s challenges and persevere. We want to be rewarded for instilling hope into our favorite pairing with an ending that is adorably predictable.

We escape into these stories because we’re not sure if true love actually exists sometimes. It’s hard to reconcile a belief in soulmates when we can log onto social media and watch a divorce happen in real time at almost any moment. That’s why it’s so tantalizing to find a romance novel that will soothe our concerns with the promise of a happy ending for the featured couple, even if there’s much ground to cover beforehand.

I’m just not here for it, personally. I feel like it’s overdone.

I won’t go so far as to say I prefer depressing, tragic endings and think they should completely replace happy endings. However, I can appreciate a bittersweet ending where not every character gets the exact resolution we think they should. Real life doesn’t work either way. You don’t always get the ending to a relationship that you deserve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a beautiful story out of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t art to be found in a non-happy ending.

I think we could benefit from reading about relationship stories that we can better relate to versus stories where we idealize the couple. Some may say it’s boring, but I think it’s a challenge. As a writer, I’m always seeking new ways to express real life in a fictitious setting. What better way to expand my creative bandwidth than challenging myself to craft a great story without relying on tropes?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any more happy endings. I just believe we shouldn’t fear realistic ones that don’t always make us feel fuzzy inside. It’s okay. There’s still a story there.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Doorway to Scorn.

False Light

Review: False Light

Cover_False LightFalse Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

 

 

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see False Light: An Art History Mystery

The Difficulties of Writing About Time Travel

These is no tougher logical problem for a speculative fiction writer than to send characters forward, or backward through time.

I recently featured author Richard Hacker and his fantasy thriller Vengeance of Grimbald on one of my other blogs and I asked him to share his thoughts about the difficulties of writing about time travel. Here is his response:

VENGEANCE OF GRIMBALD, the second book in the Alchimeia series is a fantasy sci-fi novel with a unique take on time travel and alternate time continuums. Some writers have used the supernatural to transport characters through time, like Scrooge’s encounters with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Another method allowing for time travel, especially in science fiction, involves space and time warps–usually a ship passing through a warp in the space time continuum or characters passing through portals from one time to the next. Stephen King employs the portal in 11.22.63. But the most common method to move characters through time requires a mechanism or machine. From H.G. Wells, THE TIME MACHINE to the much-loved DOCTOR WHO, these stories use some kind of machine to transport from one time to the next.

The Alchimeia series uses alchemy, a precursor to empirical chemistry, as the mechanism for movement through time. Combining an ink and an alloy in the nib, a fountain pen becomes the catalyst as inkers write themselves into past lives, leaving their bodies in the present. Unlike conventional time travel scenarios, the characters leave their bodies in the present—only their consciousness moves through time to inhabit a host. However, once an Inker is in a host’s body, time is not on their side. They are in danger of losing themselves to the mind of their host, becoming psychotic and then melding completely with the host, lost in time forever. In order to avoid such a fate, upon completion of the mission, they must die in order to break the link and return home.

Die Back allows me to blend genres of fantasy, science fiction, historical, and speculative fiction to tell a fast-paced, action filled story of characters struggling to save the time continuum and reality itself. As you might imagine, this mechanism for moving back through time also has its challenges. In a conventional time travel story, a character travels back in time. It’s fairly straight-forward keeping the character distinct from others in the scene. In the Alchimeia series, since the characters leave their bodies in the present and only their conscious minds go into the past, the most significant challenge is having a physical character, such as Franciso Pissaro but with the conscious mind of Addison Shaw. Rather than visiting the past as a foreign entity, the character becomes the past. You’ll notice the inking scenes shift to first person which I’ve done to make a distinction with the present and to create an immediacy. The reader experiences the inking scenes within the perspective of the inker.

I think technically one of the more difficult scenes involved a German soldier in a fox hole at the Battle of the Bulge. There were essentially two characters inside the mind of a third character. The German soldier, Grimbald, and Addision’s mother, Rebecca, who has been held captive by Grimbald. The dialogue needed to distinguish between the internal voices of Grimbald and Rebecca in the German soldiers head, as well as dialogue with the American soldier external to them. Here’s a little excerpt to give you a sense of what I’m talking about. We begin in Rebecca’s perspective.

I look to the boy soldier and our guard, but of course, they cannot hear our thoughts. “How could you force me to act against my son, Grimbald?” His real name is Cuthbert Grimbald, using the alias Kairos to keep him clear of League Inkers. “You promised if I helped you–”

I promised I wouldn’t take his consciousness. For all the good it did me.

“I could have killed him. My own son. Please, I’ll do anything you want, but please don’t ask me to hurt Addison.”

You sabotage me at every turn, Rebecca. If I didn’t need your knowledge of the League I would scatter your consciousness across time. By God, I’ll do it anyway!

“No! Please. I’m sorry. It’s just that when I saw him…it’s been so long. I–”

Think about it, Rebecca. Didn’t you see his eyes when he squeezed the trigger? The boy, knowing you were in Maya, blew out your brains! Trust me, you no longer hold a place in his heart.

“No! He still loves me, uh…. “

My mind…compresses…a fist closing around me to darkness.

“Please…stop.”

You continue to defy me?

“Please.”

I cannot breathe, I cannot think.

“Please…no…”

My mind goes to some dark corner. A desolate loneliness enfolds me. All senses closed off, no space, no time, no sensation. Nothing. Nothing. Noth…

He releases me. The world expands from a small, black hole, back to the Ardenne Forest. The boy still sits beside me in an almost fetal position. The icy cold air smells of pine and death.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Vengeance of Grimbald.

Researching a Terrorist Plot

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know very much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

I recently featured author Bill Blodgett’s novel Love, Lies, and Bad Guys on one of my other blogs. His main characters are dealing with some serious terrorist threats to NYC and it got me curious. When he began writing his book, I suspected Mr. Blodgett didn’t know much more about how to blow up a subway system than I did about how to blow up a plane. How did he get his information?

Read on for his fascinating answer.

We’re you apprehensive when you did the research to write about terrorist threats?

At first I wasn’t. It seemed like researching any other book. I found out about the Native Americans, who were labeled Downwinders because they were exposed to nuclear fallout that was carried downwind after the tests of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s through the early 1960’s in Nevada. Many Downwinders developed various kinds of cancer due to the exposure. Then I contacted several leaders in the Native American community and asked for their input and they were very willing to share what information they had, especially after I told them my wife was part Native American. It was all very natural and a great learning experience.

Then I researched nuclear power plants near New York City, and it was again very natural. It’s then the research began to get serious. I researched the subway system of NYC looking for easy points of access. Then I looked into dirty bombs and what they were made from and how to make them. After that I researched how Homeland Security and other agencies monitored for possible terrorists. I had to create a world that would be believable to the reader, whether they were techno savvy or not. That led to the dark web and dark web browsers that would hide these would be terrorist’s identity and location. Then, of course, the research demanded that I look into Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s. VPN’s also hide your identity by masking where you are logged in from.

They say that curiosity killed the cat and I was beginning to be concerned that I was on that slippery slope, but I felt I needed to continue. I guessed the searches I was conduction on Google contained certain words that would be flagged by law enforcement and I was just waiting for Homeland Security to be at my doorstep any day! In a way it was kind of scary, even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but I would have to explain and they’d probably seize my computer, freeze my bank accounts and put me on the “No Fly” list until the matter got settled in maybe five to ten years!!

I downloaded TOR, the most popular dark web browser, but didn’t bother to purchase a VPN from any of the popular venders that can be found online these days. The TOR browser is a dark web search engine much like Google, but it hides your identity and location by jumping for one “node” or location to another all around the world. This was all new to me. Interesting, but a little weird.

So after researching the use of TOR I went online and searched for random things and the lists of providers was immense and most were selling something illegal, from drugs to chat rooms about any subject you could ever dream of. At that point I figured that maybe I was in a gray area of legality and consorting with questionable characters from around the world. Yes, I was just lurking in those chatrooms, but I was still there! I knew I had enough knowledge about the Dark Web to write about it so I uninstalled TOR. Then I began to write Love, Lies, and Bad Guys!

For the full post about Love, Lies, and Bad Guys, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Love, Lies, and Bad Guys.

Review: Sleuth on Safari

My Review:

In Sleuth on Safari, A.R. Kennedy has written a fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver, all while enjoying the excitement of a safari.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a trip similar to the one in the book* (without the murder, of course) and I can assure you Kennedy does a fine job of capturing the wild beauty of nature in sub-Sahara Africa as well as some of the less story-book aspects of such a trip.

She does it while presenting a likable sleuth, an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending.

My most significant complaints all occurred early on, when the two sisters in questions seemed more like they were squabbling preteens, not young women in their twenties. As other characters were introduced they came across as stereotypes. However, Kennedy was just getting started. Most of the safari guests became more complex as the trip went on, and the protagonist Naomi and her sister began to act their age after the first few chapters.

One the things I enjoyed most was the ongoing humor regarding the lack of internet access. Her description of other little things like the ubiquitous safari-themed decor, lavish meals and five a.m. game rides were all right on the mark, too. And anyone who has ever spent a night alone in the wilderness (yes, I have) will love reading about Naomi’s night alone in the tree house.

I recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries, and to all who enjoy travel, whether they’ve been to Africa or not. This novel is a fine way to take a memorable armchair trip.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Sleuth on Safari.

I Know When You’re Going To Die

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see I Know When You’re Going To Die.

 

You Kill Me

My Review:

In You Kill Me, Holly LeRoy has written an exciting thriller with a wonderful protagonist, unexpected characters, and a page turner of an ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

What I liked best:

1. The writing is quite good. The pacing is flawless. The plot is exciting. I know that should be three different things, but I don’t want this list to get too long.

2. In particular, LeRoy takes several characters out of Central Casting and uses them in ways I didn’t expect (and you probably won’t either.) The annoying boss. The sleazy ex-partner. His stripper girlfriend. And more. The whole story is a wonderful reminder of how surprising people can be.

3. I often struggle with stories that mix a first person tale with additional third-person POVs. LeRoy not only makes it work, he makes it seem natural. Part way into the story, I stopped noticing it.

4. Ditto for his descriptions of people and surroundings. Over and over he gives just enough details to put you in the scene and never so much that you start to skip over it. Well done.

What I liked least:

1. It’s obvious I liked a lot about this book. However, I prefer to read on my Kindle and when the author didn’t offer Kindle formatted copies for review, I bought the book and was surprised by the number and kind of typos in the copy for sale. Every book has a few, but this not only had more than its share, many of them were things any good proofreader (or even spell check program) would have caught. This book is too good for those kinds of mistakes.

2. I like my endings (that is, the part after everyone is finally safe) to be longer than a page or two. I’ve come to care about these people and I want to know more after many of them barely make it out alive. Perhaps there is more tying up of loose ends in the next novel?

Well, whether there is or not, I’ll be seeking out more by Holly LeRoy, and wishing him and his detective Lt. Sharpe both long and healthy careers,

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see You Kill Me.

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