There Are No Rules

Whenever a fellow writer tells you there are specific rules to follow, and that under no circumstances can you break them, or you will be banned forever from the writing world, and forced to join a religious cult to keep your alienated existence on life support, you can rest assured that they are full of shit. Writers break rules all the time. It’s as much a part of our existence as eating, sleeping, and breathing. You don’t need quotation marks if you’re Cormac McCarthy; you don’t even need to be a particularly good writer if you can pull Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight out of your bunghole and wholeheartedly connect with your intended audience; you don’t need to adhere to Point of View (POV) if you’re J.K. Rowling; you don’t need stellar character development if you’re John Grisham…and I could go on, but you get the general idea.

What you do need, though, is an unprecedented passion for the craft, and a strong willingness to write every day, or if not daily, at least regularly. Wait, you don’t need a regular writing routine either, if you’re Thomas Harris or Wally Lamb or George R.R. Martin. Crap! But you do need to read often and regularly and across multiple genres, since reading the voices of others helps you find and perfect your own voice. It’s also a great way to start the karma train moving in your direction, so it doesn’t pass you by, and move on to the next stop or town. And it’s not really stealing if you pull bits and pieces from yourself, those around you, and little snippets from everywhere you go. Eavesdropping on conversations is no longer frowned upon. In fact, it’s highly encouraged, and when the questionable looks float your way, your response is simple: “I’m a writer.” And the person will nod in solemn solidarity, understanding with absolute certainty your struggle and strife to eke out a living in a world filled with books and attention spans that often resemble the insect community.

Chocolate Covered In Chili Pepper

18924329Fade To Blonde by Max Phillips
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Dammit, blondes should definitely not be forced to fade away. Instead, the little vixens filled with honey and curves and dimpled noses should prance around from town to town just for the hell of it. I have no idea why, but I continue to be fascinated by women with honey-colored hair. If I’m being truly honest, though, I don’t discriminate if she’s brunette, or raven-haired, or a redhead, but for whatever reason blondes pack a little extra wallop when I step in the ring.

So, yes, I liked Rebecca LaFontaine even I couldn’t trust even six words out of a sixty word monologue that she might spout off to me between the sheets. FADE TO BLONDE felt like a true icon in the midst of my two star slump fest. But it had more bite to it than a piece of chocolate covered in chili pepper. Ray Corson had an attitude that just wouldn’t quit, and the pages clipped along faster than a pair of scissors through tissue paper. So I did what seemed appropriate: I gripped my chair with both hands and held on tight. The dialogue had more firepower than a machine gun; there wasn’t a spineless character to be found; the race was over in record time and it was nearly a photo finish.

The ending was a blow to the gut and a jammed toe, but in a good way, and I may have lost a tooth before the ride ended. But I did manage to keep myself apprised of the situation, even if I had to blow my nose on more than one occasion. If you like your cases hard and your women loose, then find yourself a video camera and saddle up my friend, because this is one ride where you might want to hold on tight.

Prose That Peppers Your Nose

For Names - 09names - The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. (Handout)The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

If you prefer prose that peppers your nose and wows you with wonder and awe, then you might find yourself having a grand time while reading about the Deep South, where the tea is always sweet, an afternoon rain happens daily, and the humidity is so thick you have to keep your head down and plow forward through the mist. With the opening line I was caught in time and found myself veering ahead with what might have been excitement mixed with hope. But alas she was a fairer lass than Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton who changed her mind at the drop of a dime, and I found myself rather chagrined with the story I was about to begin. It ended there this love affair, and I slogged through the rain in my poncho and galoshes, the rain splashing my face and assaulting my senses. I sneezed, and then sneezed again.

The story could have been much more and something I could adore, but alas twas not meant to be, and so it shall go down in history as another two star read. What might have been much better in this little endeavor is if the plot and the ending matched the rest of the prose, instead of just taking me on a journey with atmosphere and vocabulary. What I discovered was a killer who spouted off a little too long in the mouth, and bequeathed our fair heroine with more than a few antidotes. If sugar cane and acid rain had mixed on the page and devoured this journey, tearing and ripping its way toward salvation, and extending the plot with more than a few thoughts, I might have found myself in the middle of THE CUTTING SEASON and happy to be placed out in the fields of labor.

Instead, I feel I am the one who missed out on the fun, and now I must end this little simulation with a dance imitation and shuffle and grand production where the tourists with the t-shirts and flip-flops and backpacks shall endeavor to visit my plantation.

Not Your Typical Novel

8191574The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

To say Jenna Fox is different might be the understatement of the year. She has five times the brain capacity of every other human being on the planet; she can quote entire passages of Thoreau without even blinking an eyelash; and her limbs move a bit out of sync with reality. But like every other teenager known to man, all she wants to do is fit in and to live a normal life.

To say THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX isn’t your typical novel doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of where this novel actually takes the reader. It bounces back and forth between the present and the videotapes of the past, moving out of sync and not really linear; it doesn’t have chapters so much as it has sections or breaks; and it combines genres making classification a difficult task to say the least.

But I like different about as much as teenagers like fitting in, and I found this novel to be a surprisingly pleasurable read. The voice certainly enraptured me and managed to capture my attention from the get-go, as I started out of the gate at a trot and kept up the pace all the way to the end. As for the end, it wasn’t what I expected, and I certainly won’t spoil it for you here, but I will say it fit rather well with the rest of this adorable, enjoyable read.

Trashy Mystery Romp

12012294Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure by Diane Kelly
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

From the first page to the last this was pure white trash. Not the kind that involves lawn implements, although a pink flamingo made a cameo appearance, but the kind that involves Kid Rock concerts, sucking on Buds, with half-naked women prancing around on stage and gyrating in cages with red thongs protecting the merchandise. Well, maybe not that extreme, but it felt pretty darn close, with red thongs and polka-dotted panties receiving more than just a cursory mention.

Tara and Christina would make any redneck proud with sprayed hair at its fizziest max, derriere showing shorts, tube tops, spandex, and enough makeup for the stage. Both come with enough spunk and junk-in-the-trunk to chase away scam artists and pencil-thin drug dealers. The antics left zany in Pinky’s rearview mirror, the ice cream was always plentiful, and even the ones with money ended up being whores and miscreants.

Britney and Chelsea proved to be the kind of women that made other trophy wives look good, with their ample, enhanced assets, bottled-blond hair, tight miniskirts, and enough drunken antics to rival certain childhood actresses, crotch flashing and yelling at the gardeners in nothing more than a pair of panties, after sleeping one off, notwithstanding.

But the voice was what really made DEATH, TAXES, AND A FRENCH MANICURE work for me. The following is how the character first learns about sex (at the age of nine):

I knew a little more about sex than most girls, what with growing up in the country and all. The first time I saw our neighbor’s Black Angus bull mount an unsuspecting heifer, my two older brothers explained it all to me.

“He’s getting him some,” they’d said.

“Some what?” I’d asked.


The mystery may have been a bit underdeveloped, the characters totally off-the-wall, and the frolics tipped my believability factor a bit over the edge, but Tara’s voice was friggin’ fantastic, and that’s most certainly why I kept reading. If you like your mystery romps trashy and larger than life (this is Texas after all), you may just find yourself enjoying this screwy read.

Points For Style

19547767The City: A Novel by Dean Koontz
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

If points were awarded for style and having his way with the English language, then Dean Koontz deserves a solid 8.5 for THE CITY, where the prose sings soprano, and hits all of the high notes. But if you want to award an author for his plot and filling a novel with substance, instead of flowery language comprised of mums and daffodils and rhododendrons and roses, then he gets -7 in this arena, and that may even be a tad generous. I mean, this is the same man who takes the mundane and turns it into one machete-wielding bastard. Forget Freddy and Jason, and all the other hacks, this man takes a father figure, stuffs him full of crazy, and sets him loose on society. If that shit doesn’t freak you out, then you’re probably not thinking hard enough.

If names were any indication of a person’s destiny, then it’s no surprise that Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk is a musical prodigy and can recreate a song after listening to it. Sure, he’s one brilliant son of a gun, and this novel shows plenty of brilliance, but it gets caught up in the mundane. And I found myself asking the question about when the train might pull up to the station and take me away from this universe with verse left to spare on some unsuspecting ne’er-do-well.

There’s a cutting fiend who takes up residence on the sixth floor, just above our nine year-old hero in Apartment 5-C who wields a knife at his throat, and leaves a few trinkets behind for the residents to remember her by. But it seemed like more of an artificial way to ratchet up suspense, instead of grounded in a more concrete foundation. Where this story really failed, though, is it never went anywhere. Similar to a hitchhiker who gallivants across the country, stopping in Nashville and Columbus and Chicago and Denver and Albuquerque and LA and then Las Vegas before finally settling in Lincoln, it just seemed all over the place.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

No Middle Ground

11472297Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I like it when authors take chances. I’d rather see an author grab a surfboard, paddle out to the middle of the ocean, find the biggest wave, execute a wipe-out, and belly flop on the board. Tahereh Mafi certainly took chances with her debut novel, but she didn’t wipe-out or execute an unladylike belly flop. For a slew of reasons, I shouldn’t have enjoyed SHATTER ME—the recurrent strikethroughs, the sparse details about this science fiction/dystopian world, the not-yet-strong-but-not-completely-weak main character Juliette, the repeated words and phrases, a novel sprinkled with redundancies— and yet I did enjoy it.

The flowery language and overly descriptive nature of the main character didn’t toss me out of the story. Because in the end, I’ve met people (as I know you have) who use 20 words when two would do, tried to expand their vocabulary by tossing around words the way some folks might hand out Twinkies, and have trouble with basic human interaction. Mathematicians, scientists, and engineers come to mind, those folks who aren’t even on the same planet as the rest of us. So the fact that Juliette tossed digits around like she was tossing a salad didn’t affect me in the least. Like mathematicians, I like numbers and have a natural ability to memorize them, and so pages plastered with numerals added a level of enjoyment to my overall reading experience.

Sure, it’s easy to make the argument that this is romance disguised as dystopian or dystopian disguised as romance, and that this might even be dumbing down the dystopian genre, but if we live in a world without romance, I’d rather find a new universe, thank you very much. And the action was certainly a bit more internal than external, but this was first person, and for better or worse, we’re stuck inside Juliette’s head.

As for the arguments that Ms. Mafi has no talent or the book has no plot, that’s like saying a book isn’t popular just because you haven’t heard of it or read it. If the book has a storyline, the author has a definite plan, and the pages continue to build on one another to some definitive conclusion, then the story has a plot. To say otherwise is to say you read 338 pages of jumbled words and phrases. And if that’s the case, I’d wonder why you didn’t stop with page 2, I know I would have.

After reading several reviews, I’ve discovered you’ll pretty much either love this book or hate it. You’ll either applaud this author for what she did with SHATTER ME or you’ll want to throttle her. There is no middle ground.

Dirty Pair Of Drawers

18672509The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

There’s something about an athletic woman wielding a long bow that really helps me find my stride on the highway. What proved most interesting were the pieces about the Amazons and their sparse history, as THE LOST SISTERHOOD overflowed with Greek mythology. But that was where this tale and I parted ways on the positive side, as many of the negatives pressed into my flesh.

First, this novel splayed itself across a few too many pages, and then it managed to develop an ambitiousness best reserved for politicians and CEOs. It may have been historical, or women’s fiction, or action & adventure, or literary, or possibly even fantasy. Had the fantasy only been in my head, I would have been perfectly fine with the outcome. Instead, the fantasy spread itself across over 600 pages of stilted prose, as I held my nose with one hand and flipped each page of my Kindle with the other.

The characters proved a bit hard to swallow—like thumbtacks as I asked for my life back—and the ending felt like it was sprung upon me, like a dirty pair of drawers. Had this novel discovered the pace and precision of The Da Vinci Code, I would have gladly hung on for the ride. Instead, though, I gripped this story with two fingers held firmly away from my face, and waited for the ride to end. The end, though, didn’t come soon enough.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Storytelling Ability

8131443All The Pretty Girls by J.T. Ellison
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Like a songwriter who writes his chorus before he discovers his verse, I rarely ever start a mystery/thriller series at the beginning. ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS is no exception to this rule; however, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed J.T. Ellison‘s debut novel. Sure, it’s easy to make the argument that this book was a bit formulaic at times, but unless you write literary fiction, what book isn’t? With only 20 plots (or 3 or 7 or 36, depending on whom you ask) to work with, it’s not like authors have an abundance of choices out there. What it really boils down to is character and storytelling ability. And I’d say Ms. Ellison has both in spades.

Lieutenant Taylor Jackson and Dr. John Baldwin made the story interesting for me, even if they weren’t quite fully-formed, and I gathered pages the way a squirrel might gather nuts. I was suspended and dangling, although I still had a firm grip on reality.

Even as I reached the end, I found myself wanting more, of these characters and of this city. But I didn’t find myself craving more dead bodies. All in all I’ll be interested to see where this series goes next.

Promptly Forgot It

17795589The First Rule of Swimming: A Novel by Courtney Angela Brkic
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

THE FIRST RULE OF SWIMMING: stay afloat. Easier said than done when I hovered beneath the depths of prose, and searched for my bubbles on my way toward the surface, popping above the water and gasping for air. More often than not, I drowned, swallowing seawater, my lungs filling, my eyes popping out of my head, my clothes drenched, as I ended up entrenched with the sharks and a stingray. But I did see a blowfish explode, and I tried to blow my nose underwater—it didn’t work—and I coughed my way to the surface, barely making it to the top.

What kept me treading water was the writing. But what smacked me over the head was elongated prose, a world filled with bastard characters, loose threads, and strangled sensations that had me traipsing through time.

Needless to say, this book probably came at the wrong time, along with being more than a tad too ambitious in 337 pages. Instead, of punching through my psyche, it ripped me in about six different pieces, none of which seemed to lead the charge. How would you like to phrase the answer, Alex? Maybe we’ll call it a historical, psychological, literary, contemporary women, domestic thriller. And if you figure out what the frick that is, please let me know, because I honestly don’t have a clue.

What might have been this book’s greatest sin of all, though, was once I finished it, I promptly forgot it. And not just a slight memory lapse either. By the time I reached the end, the whole damn book might have been nothing more than a figment of my imagination.