Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds – Gwenda Bond [Books]

Suspicious_Minds_Cover.jpg

Suspicious Minds is the first Stranger Things tie-in novel, and as such, I was really excited to read it. I love the Netflix series, adore the characters, and was eager to find out more about the Stranger Things universe, prior to the events of the TV show. Especially as this novel focuses on Terry, Eleven’s mother.

And boy, was I disappointed.

[MILD SPOILERS AHEAD]

I read this book prior to the release of season 3, and it honestly managed to drain my excitement for the upcoming season. (Luckily, excitement was full-blown shortly into the first episode)

It is so difficult to write a novel. It’s even more difficult when it is a novel based off an existing property, where fans are already going to have their own ideas about events, especially in a prequel book.

The writing wasn’t bad. But the way the events of the novel pan out just really did nothing for me. The characters surrounding Terry felt flat, including her boyfriend, especially her sister, and even the others going into the lab. The doctor is supposed to be the big bad, but he doesn’t feel anywhere near as scary as he did in the series. And Kali…

God, Kali was so badly used in the novel.

There are references literally every page, either to 60s events or, repeatedly, LOTR. I get that LOTR is important to Stranger Things, as much as D&D is, but almost every character in here references, persistently, and it just feels forced. I could have a checklist of 60s events next to me, and have ticked them all off within the first few pages. Moon Landing. Manson Murders. Woodstock. Vietnam. Etc etc etc.

It just got a bit boring. And the ‘Fellowship of the Laboratory’ all come up with different ways to try to stop Dr Brenner, but way too often their schemes come down to

-Use Kali

-Hope she doesn’t tell

And, oops, she’s a kid! A kid who gets punished for lying to Brenner, yet these ‘adults’ put it on her over and over again.

I wanted to find out more about Brenner, and Terry, and the experiments conducted at the lab and maybe some of the other kids involved. Instead, we get very little of that. Just Terry and friends running around like the Scooby Doo gang, peeking behind doors and DETERMINED to bring down the lab. There’s no tension with this, because having seen season one of Stranger Things, we know this doesn’t happen. We know the experiments continue and Brenner takes Terry’s child and Jane becomes Eleven. It’s the same problem many sequels have – trying to build tension from events where we already know the outcome.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

I think, even for diehard Stranger Things fans, it might be worth passing over this book. Nothing gets added to the wider world of the series, and personally, it left me feeling a little cold. Hopefully the other tie-in novels will be better.

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Why My Current Favourite Book Is A Twitter Thread

I love Twitter, I really do. Some of my favourite books in recent years were ones I picked up because people were raving about them, or I followed the author on Twitter and became interested in their writing. If you’re looking for a community, guarantee you’ll find one on there, just by looking at hashtags like #amreading, #amwriting, #WritingCommunity, etc. Twitter, I think, can be one of the most useful tools for an author who wants to connect with their audience, and Susan Dennard has done this in a really interesting, unique way.

For those unfamiliar, Susan Dennard is the author of two series, Witchlands and Something Strange and Deadly, and of course more information can be found on her website. Recently, she posted something intriguing on Twitter, something that read like the opening to a novel told in second person, including a poll at the end, indicating it would be down to followers to choose what the MC did next.

Choices were made and the story has advanced. With every step, the options get more difficult, with consequences becoming more, well, dire, and potentially disastrous. But take a quick look at the replies and it’s easy to see how invested people – including me – have become in Winnie’s story, and the world of The Luminaries.

And a whole fandom has built up around this. Susan does an excellent job of drip-feeding information to people hungry to find out more, leaving people speculating. What is the locket? Which family would I belong to? Why did this thing happen?

What choice is least likely to get me killed?

There is a fandom and community, people sharing theories and trying to persuade others to pick the right choice, lest we end up dead. And avoiding death seems to grow more and more difficult.

Thanks to the brilliant Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style thread, there is now a hungry, waiting audience, ready for when Susan Dennard decides to release a book about these characters. There are teams, there is speculation, there is a love interest that has a fanbase completely divided. To me, seeing this story unfold feels like being part of e-mail groups as the Harry Potter books were being released, but even better thanks to us, the fans, being able to control the story. And I think many people are going to feel worse now about screaming at characters for making ‘stupid choices’, after seeing what sort of trouble a character can get into when a collective group is making the decisions.

Overall, I am thoroughly loving The Luminaries, and eagerly await every daily installment (usually when I’ve just finished work – it feels like a reward for a hard day!), wondering what sort of mess we’ll be in now, hoping it’s something we can recover from. And if you haven’t joined us yet, it’s not too late! Go check out the thread, catch up, and cast your vote.

We could seriously do with all the help we could get.

The Wicker King – K. Ancrum [Books]

wicker kingReceived this as a gift from my lovely boyfriend, because he heard me raving about The Wicked King  (which he got me for Valentine’s Day) and got confused. But this was on my wishlist, so I still really wanted to read it.

And, you know what? I loved it.

August and Jack have been best friends for years, and remain so, despite their vastly different friendship groups. Jack’s memories aren’t always real, and he relies on August to confirm events, but it soon becomes apparent that Jack is seeing something else, experiencing hallucinations that are now intruding on his day to day life. He enlists August’s help, in order to fulfil the prophecy of The Wicker King, and the two try to prevent Jack’s ‘other world’ from being destroyed. But August is torn, unsure if what Jack is seeing is real or not, only knowing that what they are doing is dangerous.

I read this book in two days.

Even for shorter books, that’s unusual for me. But the book itself was easy to read, flowed really well, with chapters broken by images, letters, notes, or mixtape lists.  They all added in some way to the plot, or gave deeper understandings of the characters. I read this book so quick because it was, in some ways, an absolute joy to read, with the relationship between August and Jack, and the people around them. In others, I was desperate to find out what would happen next, if they would be okay, if something was about to happen to disrupt their world/s.

The book focuses on these two characters, but there’s a lot of people around them, too, fully fleshed, fully realised people who pop in and out of both August and Jack’s lives, including absent adults, and well meaning teens who don’t really know what they’re doing.

The question of whether Jack’s visions are real is present, subtly, throughout, and handled really well. I found myself honestly wondering about them, even when August didn’t, and at some points, I had as much faith in Jack as August did, though I also kept hoping both sought extra help, outside of each other.

Overall, this is a really well written, fast paced book that explores mental health and relationships in an engaging way, drawing you completely into the world Jack and August inhabit. Strongly recommended by me.

Any books you’ve enjoyed recently, that explore similar themes? Or have you read The Wicker King? I’m always happy to see what other people thought!

Down the TBR hole #3

This is such a great idea – who hasn’t fallen into the trap of adding hundreds and hundreds of books to their GR to-read shelves?

Becky's Book Blog!

I’ve been really happy with how these have turned out so far. Though I haven’t managed to get rid of too many books off my TBR, it has given me the kick I needed to start picking some books up that I’ve had on there for far too long. What book has been on your TBR for the longest? Let me know in the comments.

Rules

Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.

Order on ascending date added.

Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.

Read the synopsesof the books

  Decide: keep it or should it go?

The Emperors Edge – Lindsay Buroker

Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an…

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In Lieu of Underwear, A Vampire Story: Chapter 1

I was on edge. Well worth a read!

Vampire Fiction and Dark Fantasy

Finally, some fiction from me! This begins the first chapter of a serial novel I’m going to be winging. I don’t know how often I will actually update it, but at this point, I hope to do so once a month.

Contents: Mature language, cigarettes, nudity, blood, violence.

Chapter 1

Jess showed up at my apartment wearing nothing but a long white t-shirt and some high heels. I couldn’t tell if her eyes were all glassy from weed or from crying.

Fuck.

“Just a sec, all right?” I said through the tiny space I’d opened up to talk to her. I shut the door again after she gave me a quiet nod.

I turned back to the bedroom, but stopped short and turned to go into the bathroom. I’d made a mess. Looking at myself in the mirror, I found I’d managed to spill blood down my chin and neck…

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Damn Fine Story – Chuck Wendig [Books]

damn fine storyI love books about writing. I love reading about the craft, seeing different ways of doing the same thing, taking notes so I can look back over them later. Stephen King’s On Writing is probably the most well known, with good reason. It should have pride of place on any writer’s bookshelf. But so should Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story.

There’s a definite wit and charm to this,  with asides and jokes guaranteed to make you smile. Concepts are explained easily, with examples mainly from film, including Die Hard, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games. The book isn’t a massive tome detailing the technical aspects of writing. It’s fairly small (my copy is 226 pages), but goes more into the actual storytelling side, as indicated by the title and subtitle.

The ideas explored in the book focus on plot and character, examining how a writer can make things more exciting for the reader, less boring, while also giving them time to breathe between scenes. Wendig is honest with the reader, outlining exactly what we, as writers, need to keep in mind as we work on a project. And the tips inside aren’t just relevant to prose, but to scripts, comics, and any other story-driven medium one can think of.

If I find myself struggling with my WIP, I’m definitely going to refer to this book. It’s a great collection of advice, written in a friendly, easy-going style, and I’d highly suggest anyone interested in writing picks this up. It will, without a doubt, help next time you’re struck by the dreaded Writer’s Block.

You can find out more about Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

Are there any particular books about writing you enjoy, you’ve liked, that you’ve referred to over and over again?

The Doll Factory – Elizabeth Macneal [Books]

the doll factoryThe Doll Factory is author Elizabeth Macneal’s debut novel, telling the story of Iris, a young woman who earns to escape the doll shop she is trapped in, and who wants to paint. A meeting with a pre-Raphaelite painter changes her whole life, but there are other dangers, lurking in the shadows.

The novel is told from three different point of views. Iris, Albie, a loveable street urchin with no teeth, and Silas, a creepy, strange man who runs a shop of ‘curiosities’. In parts, the story reads like Dickens (in a good way), completely plunging the reader into the underbelly of Victorian-era London, allowing us to see the dregs of society alongside the fairly well-off painters, as the site for the Great Exhibition is built, and the PRB try to gain some small measure of critical acclaim.

Honestly, this book is beautiful. The language is gorgeous and an absolute pleasure to read. I have to admit, I don’t often read Historical fiction. Not because I don’t like it, I just don’t seek it out, and I tend to lean more towards books with elements of fantasy or horror. But I am so glad I read this one. There are some very small horror elements in there, combined with aspects of thriller, and they all come together to create a rich atmosphere, really bringing the setting to life.

Although the characters are Victorian, and very much rooted in that era, they have a relevance to the present, as well. Iris is constantly holding back parts of herself, scared of what people will think, fretting about being alone with men, and Silas…Silas will be all too recognisable to anyone who’s ever had an unwanted ‘admirer’.

I would seriously recommend picking this up. Vibrant characters and settings in an atmospheric world, London on the cusp of change as much as Iris is, and an absolute pleasure to read.

Find out more about the author and book on Elizabeth Macneal’s website, including links as to where to buy in the book in the UK & USA.

The Boys, Volume One: The Name of the Game – Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson [Graphic Novels]

250px-The-Boys_Volume_OneWARNING: There is likely to be swearing in this review, as personally I think it might be hard to talk about The Boys without a little bit of swearing.

The Boys is a small group of people, four men, one woman, who have one job: to keep the superheroes in line. Superheroes who the public adores, who have fantastic public images, but who, in reality, are little more than ambitious, power-hungry sociopaths who think everyone else is there for their bidding only.

Our way in is through Wee Hughie, a young man from Scotland, who gets roped into The Boys after something horrific happens to him. But throughout the book, we also get glimpses of the superhero groups, of which there are various kinds in North America alone. The Young Americans, Teenage Kix, and The Seven, who are essentially the JL, but with less morals.

Admittedly, this is not going to be for everyone. It’s graphic in nature, both with sex and violence, and it strips away the clean-cut image of the hero to something much dirtier. These heroes aren’t in it to help people. They’re not Captain America, Superman, Iron Man, Captain Marvel or any of the others we’ve seen on the big screen. They are, unfortunately, a more realistic view of what happens when the wrong people get powers.

But they’re not all like that, and in Volume 1, we glimpse a young woman who achieves her dream and gets to play in the big leagues, only to find it’s not exactly what she was hoping for.

My literal reaction, just a few short pages in, was ‘HOLY SHIT’. Throughout, there are moments that make you want to weep, that stick in your throat, combined with a few instances of humour.

It seems like an odd word to use for such a graphic, err, graphic novel, but I did really enjoy reading The Boys, and I’m eager to pick up Volume Two, to find out what happens next. If you like comics with twists on the whole superhero thing, I would definitely suggest checking this out. And hopefully we’ll have the TV series to enjoy one day, too.

The Queen of The Tearling – Erika Johansen [Books]

queen of the tearling.jpgDear friends,

One thing I want you to understand, is I will never disguise my feelings about a book on this blog. I will, however, always try to find the good in something. But if I say I liked a book, I liked it. If I gush about how great it is, I absolutely loved it. If I disliked it, it’s going to be clear. And if you felt differently about a book than I did, I would love to hear from you – I’m always open to discussion.

That said, if you passionately love this book and cannot hear a bad word said against it, it might be a good idea to turn away now.

I did not like this book.

I struggled with this book, and it is one of those rare times I considered rethinking my do not DNF policy.

The Queen of the Tearling is about Kelsea, a young woman in the Tearling, who due to her heritage, has grown up isolated with no one around but her foster parents. One day, a group of men come to whisk her away to the capital and crown her queen. But they are being pursued by the Caden, a group of assassins hired by her uncle, who wants her dead before she can be crowned.

So far, so yeah this sounds interesting, right?

It didn’t take me long into the book to discover I probably wouldn’t like Kelsea. She feels really bland, and makes massive judgements about the people she sees. Speaking of which, the book is very, very focused on appearances. All the men in the guard are handsome and young, despite the fact most of them have been in the guard since Kelsea was a child. People seem to age really slowly in the Tearling, for some reason – actually, almost every man (except the bad guys or slightly-bad-guys) are described as handsome. Kelsa herself keeps moaning about how plain she is, but I really don’t understand how one would think themselves plain if they’ve never seen anyone else? Also she has no mirrors, just sees herself reflected in water, and that’s not really a great one to judge appearance?

I’m not saying Kelsea has to be beautiful, or even ugly. But it just reads a bit odd, and honestly, the plain female hero obsessed with books…it’s been done. A lot. And Kelsea doesn’t really add anything to it at all.

Oh! And one of the men in her guard happens to be black. We know this, because Kelsea seems him and IS SHOCKED. She has (gasp!) never seen a black man before. But…she’s never seen ANYONE before? Like, again, her whole life has been lived in complete isolation. Oh, except in history books. She remembers that.  She has definitely seen black people in history books about…the slave trade.

And (I might be misremembering) I can;t recall anyone else’s race being mentioned again. So either he gets a special mention for being the first, or…no one else in the Tearling is black? I don’t know, but considering it’s the future, and people are descended from the Brits and Americans, it would be REALLY BLOODY WEIRD not to have anyone else who isn’t white. Speaking of which, why British-American? What happened to the other countries? Oh, except Europe. Because they came separately and have a completely different country right next door. Coincidently, all the doctors and medical supplies were on the same ship, which sank. So medicine is poor.

Which brings me to some other points. They made a crossing, from somewhere, but to WHERE, EXACTLY? Is this a different planet? Or did they find some other continent, and kill whoever lived there? None of this is explained or hinted at, and there’s really not a lot of indication as to why things have regressed so much. Don’t get me wrong – I love when worldbuilding makes you think you’re somewhere else, but it turns out (GASP) it’s the future! The problem is, this doesn’t do that. There is literally no reason to not explain these events, or where they are. It’s outright stated – not even hinted at – that this is in our future. There’s mention of Harry Potter and The Hobbit. Revealing that this was another planet would have made it more interesting, I think, but maybe that was revealed and I missed something? I dunno.

And why do people live for so long?

The book builds up the mysteries of who is Kelsea’s father and who is The Fetch but there is literally no pay off to these. To any of these! Three huge questions and by the end of the novel none of them were answered. If one of them was, I’d have found that mildly satisfying, but them all being left makes me feel like it’s a ploy just to get people to read the next one.

Honestly I could rant about this so much more, but I’m not going to. I wanted to like this book. I really, really did, but I struggled so much and as you can probably tell from the above, there were a lot of things that just nagged at me.

I would definitely not recommend this book, unfortunately. But that’s just me, and looking on reviews, it seems to be a book you either love or hate, and of course this is all just completely and utterly my own opinion.

Still, if you have read this book, I would absolutely love to know what you thought. And I promise my next review will be less ranty.

To Plot or To Pants [Writing]

plot or pantsFor a long time, writers have referred to themselves in one of two ways. As a plotter, or a pantser. The discussion around both appears in interviews, articles, on social media…anywhere you get writers talking, the question comes up.

Are you a plotter, or are you a pantser?

Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser (the term comes from ‘flying by the seat of your pants’). I rarely plan things out, though I do ruminate on a current WIP, picture scenes and work through the story in my mind (usually before going to sleep). But as for fully plotting it? Nah, not for me.

See, I tried plotting. A long time ago, when I was still in secondary (high) school. It was coming up to NaNoWriMo, and I had an amazing fantasy idea that was going to blow everyone’s minds. Because I was 17 and of course it was. I plotted and planned and wrote up character sketches and when November hit I just…lost…interest.

It was like, because I knew the story, I no longer wanted to discover it. That was the excuse I told myself at 17, anyway, and ever since. I don’t plot. I just write. And sometimes it works. But more recently, I’ve started plotting a little more. I still pants, for short stories mainly, but even then, I at least have some idea of how I want it to start and end.

But the ideas I’ve had recently require more. They require more research, more careful consideration, more solid ideas of where and when A, B, C and D are going to happen.

In doing this, however, I will also give the story – and characters – room to breathe. I might have a particular scene planned for a certain chapter, but I know sometimes the story takes a turn even I might not expect. Ideas arrive in the shower, characters whispering in your ear, and sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

So maybe I’m moving away from pantsing? At least a little. The WIP is currently in research stages, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m interested in how this turns out, if plotting will work properly, or if it’ll end up in the air, and I’ll return to pantsing. Though maybe for me, the trick is to find the sweet spot between the two. We’ll see.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a bit of both?

 

Images

Rose & Book -Image by Daria Głodowska from Pixabay

Pencil & Notebook – Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Post It Notes -Image by Pexels from Pixabay