Blog: Adjunct Thoughts

Book Review: Elysium Girls

If you like weird west stories and chosen one narratives, then read Elysium Girls. The setting and the world are something of a twist on classic western with a vibe that isn’t quite steampunk but something similar. There is even a magic showdown.

While I did enjoy the book, I didn’t find myself as immersed in it as I would have liked, and I’m wondering if it is because I knew a little too much too early on. 

The blurb summarizes a lot of  the story, so I think instead of just engaging with the narrative, I was waiting for the described things to happen. For example, I kept wondering where the scrap metal horses were and when they were going to come into play, and was waiting for them so long that when the finally came, it was anticlimactic. However, that was because of the blurb, not the book. Had they not been mentioned in the blurb, I would’ve had a different reaction. 

I enjoyed the world the author created. I appreciated how small of a role romance played in the story. I was happy to see the lesbian rep, which was subtle, but visible. I liked that it wasn’t a story about being gay, but there were still gay girls being badass outlaw heroes. 

Another thing I liked was how thought provoking the concept was in examining how just trying to flip the power in a society doesn’t always make things equal. A leader can’t just force people to stop being racists and sexist. 

The end was good, but to avoid spoilers, I won’t say why. 

I’d read more from this author.

Book Review: To the Flame

To the FlameTo the Flame by A.E. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: To the Flame

 

When I first heard about To the Flame and realized one of the main characters was nonbinary, I had to read it. I preordered it right away, but then when the author was looking for people to review ARCs, I requested one and read it within a few hours of receiving it. I was so excited to not only read something with #ownvoices nonbinary rep, but one that also had a contemporary setting and a paranormal element.

To the Flame lived up to my hopes and expectations. There are so many things I liked about it .

The prose were beautiful but not to purple. There were some fantastically vivid descriptions that really brought me into the moment without overwhelming me.

The college setting was perfect for the romance between a human and a moth person, and put the characters at just the right age to be navigating the kind of feelings they have for each other.

As far as the plot goes, I didn’t get bored thinking I knew how they were going to get from A to Z, and felt satisfied both when something surprised me and when I felt I had figured it out right. I also really enjoyed Morrie’s emotional arc, and how the narrative wove back and forth between their past and present.

There was a range of queer rep in the story in the “everyone is gay” kind of way. But of course, my favorite was the nonbinary character, and reading something written in third person from the point of view of someone using they/them pronouns.

The characters were easy to like and root for. When the story was over, I wasn’t ready to be done with them. I’d happily read more, longer stories about Emmerson and Morrie.

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Book Review: A Dream So Dark

I received a copy of A Dream So Dark from NetGalley. 

I enjoyed the world, the characters, and the voice in A Dream So Dark as much as I did the first book, A Blade So Black. It wasn’t too hard to fall back into this world, and by the time I was about 30% of the way through, I had to just finish the book. Had there not been so much time between me reading this and me reading the first book, I think this would’ve been a read the whole thing in one sitting type story. 

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the queer rep.

 Alice still has feelings for Hatta, but she also is crushing on a  another dreamwalker, a girl named Haruka. We learn that Hatta was in love with a guy (won’t say his name to avoid spoilers) who has resurfaced after being missing for a long time. 

The  Hatta/Alice relationship definitely got way more interesting in this book. 

All the relationship drama seemed perfectly balanced with plot, which actually surprised me a couple times. I admit, there were a couple places I got a little lost, but it was never so bad that it hurt my ability to enjoy the story. Overall, it was a great romp, dark yet funny, through McKinney’s version of Wonderland. 

My biggest complaint was that at times, Alice’s mom felt more like an obstacle than a fully developed character. 

I liked how the story ended, but there were a lot of loose ends left. At first, I was mad about this because I thought this was the last book in the series. Then I did a little research and realized that it was not the last one, that the author is writing a third book. The end works a lot better for me knowing there is going to be another book. I can’t wait to read it! 

Book Review: Eclipse the Skies

 I received a copy of Eclipse the Skies from NetGalley. I was excited to read this sequel, but it took me a little longer than I expected to really get into it. I was about half way through before I reached a point where I really did not want to put it down. 

What I liked most was the character arcs. Eclipse the Skies seamlessly picked up where Ignite the Stars left off, and I really enjoyed seeing how characters grew and changed as the story continued.  

I got a little annoyed at one point because I thought some kind of a love triangle was forming. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with love triangles, I’m just not a big fan of them. Thankfully, this didn’t really turn into a love triangle, and it did add some depth to the characters. 

Another thing I liked about this novel was how the narrative explored some moral and philosophical questions through plot and character decisions. If I were to ever use this in a class, I would be able to get some interesting discussion prompts out of it. 

The worst thing about this book was the way it ended. I won’t go into detail so I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say this: I kind of understand the author’s choice, but as a reader, it was not what I wanted. 

I like happy endings. I want to know for certain that all the main characters to survived. The end of Eclipse the Skies was hopeful and well executed, but it was not exactly the happy ever after or happy for now type ending I personally enjoy most.

Book Review: Anya and the Dragon

I took a big hiatus from reviewing books here, really from reading in general, but I’m back!

Anya and the Dragon had been sitting in my NetGalley queue for a long time. It is the first novel I have read since August, and it was like getting a nice cold drink of water after being really thirsty on a long hike. I missed reading, and this was a great story to sit down with after a very  stressful semester. 

Anya and the Dragon was a story about a girl, her goat, a new friend, a dragon, and tough choices. I loved most of it, but there was one little thing that bothered me.

I’ll start by telling you what I loved about this book.

I love novels with Slavic folklore, and this one was filled with it. I loved how the Domovoi’s personality.

Speaking of personality, Zvezda the goat was my favorite. He was adorable. He was brave, stubborn, loyal, and always chewing on something. 

I loved how the plot seemed to meander for a little while, letting the readers really get a full taste of the characters and the world before the plot really picked up the pace. Shortly after I reached the half-way mark, the story flew by and I couldn’t put the book down. 

The voice, imagery, and the friendships that developed were beautiful. 

The story felt very grounded in historical context and how in spite of that context, I didn’t feel completely smothered by some of the social issues and prejudices of that time. 

Anya seemed certain she didn’t want to get married, not even when she was older. While adult characters may have seemed a little skeptical when it was mentioned once, no one was telling her she had to get married when she was older. No one was every telling she could or couldn’t do something because she was a girl. I loved that the adults in town didn’t treat her any different than the treat the boy characters her age. Sometimes historical fantasy gets bogged down in alleged period sexism. This story didn’t. 

Sexism may not have been an issue in this story, but it didn’t completely ignore other prejudices of the time. The narrative discussed the antisemitism of the time. One of the antagonists was very anti semitic, but then he  got what deserved in the end…or maybe a kinder fate than he deserved. 

I feel like with historical fiction, addressing some of the prejudices of a time period is necessary, to an extent,  and when done right, it can drive home how bad that kind of hate was. 

The problem comes when it becomes gratuitous and/or the narrative doesn’t criticize the hate.

Which leads me to the one little tiny problem I had with this book. 

There was one scene in Chapter 6  where the narrative hinted that Ivan, the second most prominent human character, isn’t straight, but it came up in the context of his brothers making fun of him for having water-magic, like his mother, and for thinking a boy was cute once. 

Nothing about the narrative voice seemed critical of these bothers. There are much kinder ways to hint that a character is possibly gay or bi. 

I was excited to learn Ivan once thought a boy was cute. I’m always excited to see LGBTQ+ rep in books, especially middle grade books. I just wish the author could’ve found a better way to work it into the narrative. Using this casual homophobia as a way to say “this character isn’t straight” is not cool. 

That is the reason this book has 4 stars and not 5, because honestly, I loved just about everything else about it.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Life Minus Me by Sara Codair

Thank you LGBTQReads for hosting the cover reveal of my novella, Life Minus Me.

LGBTQ Reads

Today on the site, we’re happy to welcome back Sara Codair to reveal the cover for their upcoming new adult contemporary fantasy, Life Minus Me, releasing from NineStar Press on December 23rd, 2019! Here’s a little more about the book:

Mel is half-angel, but despite her ability to heal and read minds, she feels powerless to help anyone. When a prophecy shows a local pet supply store owner driving their car off a bridge, Mel sets out to stop it.

Baily, owner of Barks and Bits, is barely holding it together. Things keep going wrong, and their depression spirals out of control. Just as they start wondering if they’d be better off dead, a new friend provides a glimmer of hope. But is that enough to keep living?

Mel never thought saving Baily would be easy, but she can’t figure out when, where, or why Baily’s suicide will happen…

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2019 Publications Round-Up

I’m sorry for my silence this fall. It’s been busy with a full course load, conventions, edits, and writing. Actually, this whole year has been super busy, and my list of publications is so much smaller than last years.

My first publication of 2019 was a poem called “Is Listening Visiting.” It was published in Vulture Bones, which is an online publication.

The rest of my publications were reprints.

“The Suitor Sorter” was reprinted in Echoes of the PastThis was Fantasia Divinity’s Best of 2018 anthology.

This story was about a young lady trying to fool a steampunk dating machine and the automaton that ran it.

Content Warning: Homophobia

 

One of my favorite short stories, “Red Tide Rising,” was originally published as a serial in Helios Quarterly. was reprinted in a anthology of weird westerns, Gunsmoke and DragonfireThis anthology was released on March 15, 2019.

“Red Tide Rising” is an outlaws vs sheriffs  western set on Mars, but it is also about an estranged couple finding their way back together.

Content Warning: Violence

 

“Ink and Ash” was originally released as a stand alone ebook in the Society of Misfit Stories series. Now, it is included in their print edition of The Society of Misfit Stories Volume Three.

This story is about two siblings, one who is a magician, and one who isn’t, grappling with whether or not their society should ban the use of wands as weapons for civilians.

Content Warning: Violence, Death

 

 

Book Review: The Time Trap


The middle grade reading spree continues with a digital ARC of The Time Trap that I got from NetGalley. 

The Time Trap did have a good message for kids whose parents are going through a divorce, but it all seemed very cliche. Telling kids that acting out won’t make their parents get back together, and telling them that they have to accept what happens and move on, is fine, is important, but it felt like the message was too loud. It took precedence over everything else. As a result, voice and character development suffered.

I almost stopped reading after the first chapter because of the lack of voice and personality. The sentences tended to be repetitive. However, I can very rarely bring myself to mark a book DNF.

Usually if I DNF, it’s because I am completely lost or because something bad happened to a dog. Neither happened with this book. I was just bored.  A couple nights later, I picked it up again, hoping it got better. It didn’t, but it only took me an hour to finish it. 

One thing I did like was the method the character used for time travel. That seemed a little original. But the rest was a little too cliche for me.

I know I’m not the target audience for this book, but I think as a kid, I would’ve had similar problems with it. I would’ve gotten bored. Back then, I didn’t care about finishing books unless I had to for school, so I would have stopped reading and I wouldn’t have known how to explain why I didn’t like it. 

I can understand adults making things a little more obvious for kids, but this was too heavy handed. It’s a good example of what I want to avoid doing with my own middle grade novel. I think some telling is okay, but characters, their arc, and the actual story have to be more prominent that whatever message the author is trying to send.

Instead of smothering everything with the message, bring the story to life and pick a few relevant moments to have the character really stop and reflect on it.

When you start querying one manuscript, start writing a new one.

I remember reading on websites, forums, and social media that once I started querying a manuscript, I should focus on writing a new one. The advice was that unless I was getting multiple rejections on fulls, or multiple rejections with similar feedback, I should just leave the manuscript alone.

The first three times I queried, I mostly disregarded this advice. I worked on something new for a little, but was constantly going back to the thing I was querying and editing and revising.

This got confusing very quickly.

Which version of the first chapter did I just get a request on? How many other agents did I send that one too?

There were a lot of times I thought things like, “if only I waited longer to query this or that agent!” or “Why didn’t I just keep the opening how it was?”

One of the few benefits was that sometimes, if agents who had already rejected my query requested a query because of a twitter pitch, they were willing to take another look once they realized I had revised. Unfortunately, all of these second chance queries ended in rejection. In the end, it wasn’t much of a benefit.

Not wanting to go through all that stress again, I took a different approach to querying my fourth manuscript. As soon as my first batch of queries was out, I decided to focus on other projects. I started writing a sequel for Power Surge, but I wasn’t ready yet. I wrote prequel novella, Life Minus Me, which will be published this winter. I worked on revising a space opera, but got bogged down in the revisions and put it aside. Then I went back to the sequel, finished it, and worked on short stories while I let it rest between drafts. I wrote the first draft of a middle grade novel and started revising.

I have to say, this was the least stressful bout of querying I’ve had so far. I did make some changes to my opening chapters after a slew of rejections, but I haven’t read through the entire manuscript since I sent out my first full.

I was more productive in the past year than I was in the year or two I queried my first three books, and spent a lot less time stressing and obsessing over my query.

If I look at this in terms of success? The answer isn’t as clear cut. I am still unagented.

Queries from both batches resulted in offers from small publishers.


Power Surge, the second novel I finished and the first I queried, ended up with two offers from small publishers, and ultimately, I signed with NineStar Press. It was published last year. The prequel novella and sequel are both under contract with NineStar and scheduled to be released Dec 2019 and Feb 2020.

Song of the Forest, the first book I finished and second I queried, did get an offer, which I turned down because the contract was bad. I did not get any other offers and shelved this book. Honestly? I’m glad it didn’t get published. It has some potentially problematic content that would need to be revised and then looked at by a sensitivity reader and revised again. However, back when I wrote it and started querying it, I hadn’t really looked far enough outside my white, privileged bubble to realize. I know better now. I hope.

I have open R & Rs on this from small publishers. One day I might try to fix the problematic content I think is there, and the world building issues mentioned in several rejections. But right now? It’s low on my priority list.

The third one I queried, Like Birds Under the City Sky, got no offers. It was a strange little book where I experimented with form, and ultimately, it just didn’t work. Its currently shelved.

My fourth book, Earth Reclaimed, was the one I left alone while querying, and in 2021, it will be published by Aurelia Leo.

Revising while querying versus leaving the manuscript alone didn’t have an impact on how successful the query was, but the level of stress and anxiety was much lower when I focused on writing new things.

The new projects not only distracted me from worrying about the querying, but they assured me that even if this round of querying failed, there would most definitely be a next time, another chance at getting an agent or a contract from a small publisher.

My recommendation is to be working on a new book while your querying.

However, I understand that what works for me might not work for someone else, and in the end, it is important for writers to do what is best for themselves.

IWSG Day: Rebellious Character Surprises!

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

August’s Question is:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

For me, writing is full of surprises, mostly because my characters tend to take on a life of their own.

For example, with my current WIP, I told myself the mc was a girl because that story would be easier to sell than one with a non-binary main character. However, before I realized what I was doing, the character was telling someone that they use “they/them/their” as pronouns and thinking about being neither boy nor girl.

I thought I could control the gender of my main character, but that character decided they were non-binary (like me) whether I liked it or not.

The idea of characters I’m creating doing unexpected things always seems odd to me, even though it is something many writers have experienced. 

I often find myself wondering why things like this happen. Why do my creations surprise me? Am I really surprising myself? How come I feel like I am not in control of these characters as I create them and make them do things? Shouldn’t I be more deliberate? What is the point of craft advice if my characters are just running around doing their own things with me putting zero thought into how that affects the story on some technical level?

I can maybe  answer one of those questions.

Craft advice is for revision, not first drafts. At least, that is how it is for me. Other writers might be able to think about plot and scene and characterization while they draft. I can’t. I can only think of the characters as living entities and the story as something unfolding as it happens. If I outline, it’s because the story is unfolding in my head much faster than I can really write, and even then, when I start writing, I don’t usually stick to exactly what I outlined.

I think I get surprised because a lot of what I’m doing is not happening on a conscious level. It’s like dreaming. When I draft, my subconscious does the heavy lifting, so it feels like my creations have more agency in the creation of the story than I do.

When I was younger, part of me wanted to believe there was something supernatural about writing. I don’t think that now, but I do love writing about supernatural things.

I always surprise my self when I’m drafting.

My revisions, on the other hand, are far more deliberate and conscious. The biggest surprises there are how patient I am. In real life, I’m not known for my patience.

What kind of surprises do you find when writing?

 

Photo Credit: The back ground photo on the header was taken from Simone Scarano on Unsplash. 

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