Book review of The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

What the publisher says:

TheFatedSkyMary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission. Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

My thoughts:

The Calculating Stars began with the impact of the meteorite. The Fated Sky kicks things into gear with a hostage-taking.

Dr. Elma York, Lady Astronaut and calculator is returning from the moon, a journey that has become routine, when a problem during re-entry sends them off course and into a crash landing. They have to wait for the retrieval crew to find them, but a group of PoC Earth Firsters discover them before the IAC.

Elma manages to diffuse the situation, but the IAC cannot ignore the opportunity to capitalize on the resulting media coverage and places Elma on the first Mars mission, displacing fellow calculator, Helen, who has been training with the rest of the crew for months already.

The rest of the crew resent the substitution and Elma must face the impact her privilege has on the mission. Though she tries to make amends, becoming an ally is not so simple.

Complicating matters, Elma and her husband Nathaniel have to make a decision about their future. If Elma goes to Mars, a round trip that will take years, the chances that they’ll be able to have children upon her return will be greatly reduced. But Mars is Elma’s dream.

Then there’s the Mission’s commander, Stetson Parker, with whom Elma has a complicated history. His misogyny is legendary as is his hatred of Elma. They’ll be in close quarters for the duration of the mission.

And what about Elma’s anxiety? Can she manage it successfully on the journey?

Once they’re underway, though, and beyond the point of return, it becomes apparent that someone is sabotaging the mission.

Kowal has written a wonderful sequel to The Calculating Stars. Her characters continue to be complex and flawed. Even Stetson Parker is not all that he seems. He’s still a horrible person, but he gains dimension. Nathaniel continues to be Elma’s anchor and touchstone and their relationship is an inspiration.

Elma struggles with her limitations and failings, but ultimately, she and her crewmates come together to work the problem and find a solution. Despite the cover, (spoiler warning) Elma doesn’t get to set foot on Mars, but the denouement is no less satisfying for the disappointment.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

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Book review of River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

I decided to review both of Sarah Gailey’s novellas—currently collected in the volume American Hippo—in one post.

What the publisher says:

River of Teeth:RiverofTeeth

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

TasteofMarrowTaste of Marrow:

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.

Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”

In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

My thoughts:

River of Teeth:

A delightful premise, a diverse cast of characters, and a heckuva lot of interpersonal conflict made this novella an enjoyable read. It’s basically a Mississippian western with hippos. A southern? It’s also a caper plot, something that the characters debate at length, much to the reader’s amusement.

Winslow Houndstooth once had a hippo ranch until it was burned to the ground with his beloved hippos inside and he was forced to leave that idyllic life behind and resume a less reputable one. He’s taken on a commission from the government to blow up the dam that keeps feral hippos trapped in the Mississippi so that the river can be reclaimed for travel and commerce. The owner of a riverboat uses the ferals for his own nefarious ends, however, and he’s not interested in letting Houndstooth and his crew achieve their goal.

And Houndstooth has ulterior motivation: the riverboat owner is also the man responsible for the destruction of his ranch. If he and his crew complete the commission, he can also exact his revenge.

Taste of Marrow:

This novella continues the story of Houndstooth and his crew after the events of River of Teeth. While the dam was destroyed, the chaotic events leading up to that qualified success leave Houndstooth and his crew scattered. Houndstooth is obsessed with finding his lover Hero, denying the possibility that they may be dead. The one crew member with him, Archie, worries for Houndstooth’s sanity.

Meanwhile, Hero travels with Adelia the—retired, she insists—assassin, believing that Houndstooth was blown up along with the dam. With Hero and Adelia is Adelia’s newborn Isabel and when their erstwhile employer kidnaps Isabel to coerce Adelia out of retirement for a very special assassination, it sets Houndstooth and Archie, Hero and Adelia, and the federal Marshall who’s been trying to bring Adelia to justice, on a collision course in Baton Rouge.

My ratings:

Four out of five stars for both!

Book review of What the Wind Brings by Matthew Hughes

What the publisher says:

In the mid 1500s shipwrecked African slaves melded with the indigenous peoples of coastal Ecuador and together they fought the Spanish colonial power to a standstill, to remain independent for centuries.  The story of the people of Esmeraldas is told through the eyes of three characters: Alonso, an escaped slave; Expectation, an a-gender shaman; and Alejandro, a priest on the run from the Inquisition.

With its slipstream elements this novel carries a flavour of South American magical realism tradition into a grand historical epic.  Both sweeping and intimate, it is a delight to read from beginning to end, and we are honoured that Matt has decided to entrust his grand work to us.

Pulp Literature

WhatTheWindBrings

My thoughts:

Hughes is not shy about calling What the Wind Brings his magnum opus. It’s a novel that’s been over twenty years in the making, the author not wanting to publish the work until he felt it was ready to meet the public. That time is here, and Hughes has produced a novel worthy of his ambitions for it.

My favourite character was Expectation, the nigua shaman. They’re an outsider because of their vocation, but even more so because of their gender and identity. None of the other characters quite know what to do with or about Expectation or even what to call them. Accordingly, some characters identify Expectation as she, some as he, and some identify them by their vocation, or, pejoratively as a witch.

Expectation doesn’t care. They know who they are and what they need to do, and they find a way to persevere despite the antagonism of Anton and the other Africans who have taken positions of power within the new community after the shipwreck.

Expectation has a spirit guide, who counsels them in their work. They heal sickness in the community and they, in turn, counsel the community’s leaders.

They’re pivotal to the melding of the Africans, the nigua, and the other tribes eventually brought into the larger Esmeraldas community. Expectation also plays an important role in Alonso’s story arc when they recover Alonso’s lost spirit guide, and in Alejandro’s arc, when they trepan the Trinitarian monk’s skull after a severe head injury endangers his life.

What the Wind Brings is, in my opinion, Expectation’s story. They’re the character that does the most to bring the community together and ensure its continued harmonious survival. While Expectation’s shamanism is the source of the novel’s speculative elements, they also display a healthy scientific curiosity, thinking about the nature of illness and contagion. These ponderings enable Expectation to adapt to other ways of thinking and healing and help them to remain relevant in the changing political structure of the Esmeraldas community.

Hughes writes with candour and compassion about the African slaves, the Ecuadorian indigenous peoples, and even the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers. His characters are, first and foremost, people with relatable fears and goals, flaws and better qualities. He does not shy away from the harm his characters do to one another, purposeful or inadvertent. There is great violence in the novel, but also great moments of compassion and love.

Highly recommended.

My rating:

Four out of five stars.

Book review of The Calculating Stars

What Amazon says:

TheCalculatingStarsOn a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

My thoughts:

I loved this novel not only for the author’s reimagining of the space program, but for her unflinching examination of gender equality, racism, and mental health, all of which are pivotal to her plot.

Elma York, a calculator and former WASP pilot in the second world war, and her husband, a lead engineer with NACA, witness the meteorite strike that takes out most of the east coast while they are out of town. Their home along with Washington DC and NACA headquarters are destroyed.

The nation’s capital is moved to Kansas where, in the wake of the strike, the first order of business is to convince the newly formed government of the meteorite’s longer-term effects, including rendering Earth inimical to continued human existence. They have to establish colonies off-world to ensure humanity’s survival.

As the new space program, under the oversight of the International Aeronautics Coalition moves forward, forces of opposition in the form of Earth First rise and seek to reallocate all government funding to supporting the meteor refugees and helping to keep Earth sustainable, sometimes violently.

Elma strives to have women included in the space program—the ultimate goal is settlement, is it not?—and inadvertently becomes a celebrity as one of the first “astronettes.” As the Lady Astronaut, she must make public appearances as well as enduring astronaut training while coping with severe social anxiety.

She becomes aware of the discrimination against astronauts of colour and struggles to overcome her embedded prejudices and become an ally for her new friends. The “I” in IAC does stand for international.

Kowal’s characters are complex and flawed, as are the relationships between them. The Yorks are in a committed marriage and their relationship is real and messy and wonderful. The Lindholms have their own different, but no less challenging marriage. Elma’s friendships with the other women astronauts aren’t easy, but they’re stronger for their conflicts. Her relationship with Betty, who is—and always will be—a journalist first, is particularly fraught.

Elma has a complicated history with the lead astronaut, Stetson Parker, who was her CO during the war. He’s misogynist and preyed upon the younger women WASPs. Elma reported him. The fact that he’s once more in a position of authority over her and the rest of the women astronauts causes Elma further problems.

Aside from the initial meteorite hit, there are plane crashes, rocket crashes, natural disasters and action aplenty, just in case you think the above descriptions make The Calculating Stars sound too much like a character study. It’s that, and so much more.

The novel has won the Nebula and Locus awards and tonight, it may win a Hugo.

You don’t have to take my word for it, but I give The Calculating Stars my highest recommendation.

My rating:

Five out of five stars.

Book review of Putting the Science in Fiction

Another overdue review.

What Amazon says:

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:

  • Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
  • Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
  • Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.

Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction (http://dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi/). Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

PuttingTheScienceInFiction

My thoughts:

I subscribe to Dan Koboldt’s newsletter and refer to his site as a resource for research. When I learned that he was putting some of the essays from his site into a book, I had to buy it. Now I have a great reference on my shelf which is a starting point for research.

The book is divided into sections that cover biomedical topics, including death, genetics (Koboldt’s specialization), neuroscience, wildlife biology, artificial intelligence and other computer-based technology, Earth and the planets of our solar system, astronomy and space flight, and, finally, the future of space travel and exoplanets.

Chuck Wendig writes the foreword, on the advice to write what you know and what it really means (do your research). In his signature playful tone, Wendig clarifies the advice and demonstrates how he’s applied it in his own writing life, finishing by calling Putting the Science in Fiction a great launching pad for essential research.

The contributors themselves write with humour—find out why, as a woman working in a lab, you should never wear thong underwear—and draw on their personal expertise for an enjoyable read. In the chapters addressing space travel, they reveal their geek roots, honouring the books, television shows, and movies that inspired them while at the same time pointing out the technical misconceptions such media promote.

Putting the Science in Fiction is a great reference for any writer’s shelf.

My rating:

Four stars out of five.

Review of The Sorrow Stone by J.A. McLachlan

I’ve been a fan of Jane Ann’s for some time and when I saw that she was launching her latest historical fiction novel at 2018’s Ad Astra, I had to pick up a copy. Jane Ann is an excellent storyteller and The Sorrow Stone did not disappoint. I have been lax in my commitment to write reviews for my author friends. I read The Sorrow Stone some time ago and I’m only now rectifying my tardiness in writing my review.

TheSorrowStone

What Amazon says:

Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for Historical Fiction.

What if you could pay someone to take away your sorrow?
In the middle ages people believed a mother mourning her child could “sell her sorrow” by selling a nail from her child’s coffin to a traveling peddler.

Lady Celeste is overwhelmed with grief when her son dies. Desperate for relief, she begs a passing peddler to buy her sorrow. Jean, the cynical peddler she meets, is nobody’s fool; he insists she include her ruby ring along with the nail in return for his coin.

A strange but welcome forgetfulness comes over Celeste when the transaction is completed – until she learns that without her wedding ring her husband may set her aside, leaving her ruined. She embarks on an urgent journey to retrieve it. But how will she find the peddler and convince him to give up the precious ruby ring?

Pretending to be on pilgrimage, Lady Celeste secretly hunts for the peddler. In dreams and brief flashes her memory begins to return, slowly revealing a dangerous secret buried in her past. Will she learn what she needs to know in time to save herself, or will the knowledge destroy her?

If you like realistic, well-researched historical fiction with evocative prose, complex characters and a unique story, you’ll love The Sorrow Stone. Travel to 12th Century France with this compelling story based on an actual medieval superstition.

“J. A. McLachlan is a terrific writer — wry and witty, with a keen eye for detail.”
~ Hugo award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer
“Strong, character-driven fiction — McLachlan makes you both care and think. You can’t ask for more.”
~ Aurora award-winning author Tanya Huff

My thoughts:

While this novel is somewhat of a departure from her adult and young adult science fiction publications, the inspiration for the story is a superstition and fantastic elements infuse the novel.

In the wake of the transaction that forms the inciting incident, Celeste is not only forgetful, but she’s also lost her capacity to feel compassion in any form, making her alien to her lady’s maid, the nuns of the convent she’s been sent to for her recovery, and the clergy and pilgrims she meets on her journey.

The only thing she’s certain of, at first, is that something terrible happened that sent her to the convent and, because she can no longer feel the love she once did for her dead child or her husband, while she knows the something terrible involves her infant’s death, she can only assume that her life had been one of cruelty and pain to have resulted in her current state of health. Celeste uses her mind and sense of logic, skewed because of her lack of feeling, to try to unravel the mystery.

She’s afraid of revealing her compromised state to anyone and engages is some radical behaviour to achieve this end. She travels with only her maid as a companion, she seeks the means to become independent, and she tries to track down the merchant to whom she traded her sorrow and her wedding ring with the intent of reclaiming only the ring and not her emotion, now viewing it as a weakness. Her actions in pursuit of these goals verge on cruel.

For his part, the pragmatic merchant Jean finds his life plagued by unwanted compassion. He wants to rid himself of Celeste’s ring and the sorrow attached to it, but his every attempt to do so ends in failure or worse. After he recovers from a robbery and assault that nearly results in his death, Jean returns home to find his bad luck extends to his family. His daughter is seriously ill and may die if he doesn’t find the means to set things right.

The outcome of these intertwined journeys involves a mystery, betrayal, and greed on multiple levels. As Celeste’s husband pursues her, thriller elements come into play. Can Celeste reclaim her ring before her husband catches up to her and finds out what she’s done?

The Sorrow Stone is a complex story about how important it is to achieve a balance between logic and emotion, the destruction that greed engenders, and the revelatory and healing powers of love.

My rating:

Four out of five stars.

I really liked it 🙂

I’m going to try to catch up on my review obligations over the next weeks, so you can look forward to more reviews on writerly goodness.

 

Book review: K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs

What Amazon says:

Have you written a story with an exciting concept and interesting characters—but it justcreatingcharacterarcs isn’t grabbing the attention of readers or agents? It’s time to look deeper into the story beats that create realistic and compelling character arcs. Internationally published, award-winning novelist K.M. Weiland shares her acclaimed method for achieving memorable and moving character arcs in every book you write.

By applying the foundation of the Three-Act Story Structure and then delving even deeper into the psychology of realistic and dynamic human change, Weiland offers a beat-by-beat checklist of character arc guidelines that flexes to fit any type of story.

This comprehensive book will teach you:

  • How to determine which arc—positive, negative, or flat—is right for your character.
  • Why you should NEVER pit plot against character. Instead, learn how to blend story structure and character development.
  • How to recognize and avoid the worst pitfalls of writing novels without character arcs.
  • How to hack the secret to using overarching character arcs to create amazing trilogies and series.
  • And much more!

Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

My thoughts:

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development is a fabulous writing craft book.

K.M. Weiland digs deep into the three types of character arcs and how they work with and influence story structure.

Then, she offers a few ideas on how to use character arcs in your main and supporting characters (and whether it’s worth making the assay with the latter instance), layering character arcs, how to use character arcs over series, and whether or not it’s possible to write a story without a character arc (*spoiler alert,* it is, but there are specific considerations the writer must address).

At the end of each chapter, Kate has a slew of helpful questions that will focus your new understanding of character arc and apply it to your current work in progress. As she has with Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Creating Character Arcs Workbook is in development 🙂

As with Kate’s other writing craft books, Creating Character Arcs emerged from a blog series on the same topic. Even if you’ve read/listened to the entire series, there’s something about having the reference at your fingertips.

This book works well in conjunction with the other Helping Writers Become Authors books and each builds on the others to form a rich body of writing craft knowledge.

For me, every story begins with the characters and they inform everything else. Creating Character Arcs will help you to connect the dots between your characters, their arcs, and your plot. Using Kate’s method, you can craft a tight, compelling story that works on multiple levels.

Every writer should own a copy.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the author:

kmweilandK.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

Book review: K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel

So I lied. Again.

I thought I was going to proceed with my WorldCon reportage, but I realized I have a book review due (not this one, it’s yet to come). So I’ve decided to write two book reviews today, both for K.M. Weiland books 🙂

The reason for this is that I read Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs together. I would recommend the practice to anyone, because character arcs and story structure work with each other to deepen the writer’s understanding of story overall.

First up: Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story

What Amazon says:

structuringyournovel

Is Structure the Hidden Foundation of All Successful Stories?

Why do some stories work and others don’t? The answer is structure. In this IPPY and NIEA Award-winning guide from the author of the bestselling Outlining Your Novel, you will learn the universal underpinnings that guarantee powerful plot and character arcs. An understanding of proper story and scene structure will show you how to perfectly time your story’s major events and will provide you with an unerring standard against which to evaluate your novel’s pacing and progression.

Structuring Your Novel will show you:

  • How to determine the best techniques for empowering your unique and personal vision for your story.
  • How to identify common structural weaknesses and flip them around into stunning strengths.
  • How to eliminate saggy middles by discovering your “centerpiece.”
  • Why you should NEVER include conflict in every scene.
  • How to discover the questions you don’t want readers asking about your plot—and then how to get them to ask the right questions.

My thoughts:

I’ve been following K.M. Weiland’s blog and podcast for a number of years, since, in fact, she started her series on story structure.

Yes. Everything you will read in this book was originally on Kate’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, and you can easily access the whole series (because she’s so organized and so focused on her audience), but it’s so much more convenient to have a condensed, edited, and physical copy of the book, accessible to you at any time, so you can refer to it as you work on your story.

Kate has cracked the code of story structure for me. I’ve read a lot (a freaking lot) of writing craft books and methodologies and Kate’s is the only one that has enabled me to get inside my stories, even those that are already written.

Using Kate’s method, I can dissect my novel structurally and reassemble it in a better, more compelling form. I also use it when preparing for my annual #NaNoWriMo challenge, and when I think about outlining a new work in progress.

I’ve also read a number of her other books, both fiction and writing craft. Each work builds on the others and, because they’re all written in the same voice (excepting the fiction), it helps to form a cohesive body of knowledge that can be accessed and utilized as you need.

With respect to her fiction, you can see that she practices what she preaches. Kate doesn’t instruct from a “do as I say, not as I do” position. She’s field tested everything she presents. You can trust her. I do. Implicitly.

Kate is very much a writerly friend and mentor and this comes across in her authorial voice. She’s all about building writers up, not tearing them down.

Suffice it to say, I loved Structuring Your Novel, and I would recommend it to any writer at any stage of development.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the author:

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary frienkmweilandds, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

 

Review of D.G. Valdron’s The Mermaid’s Tale

About the book:

themermaidstaleIn a city of majesty and brutality, of warring races and fragile alliances, a sacred mermaid has been brutally murdered. An abomination, a soulless Arukh is summoned to hunt the killer. As the world around the Arukh drifts into war and madness, her search for justice leads her on a journey to discover redemption and even beauty in the midst of chaos.

Published by Five Rivers Publishing.

My thoughts:

The Mermaid’s Tale is a fable of personhood wrapped in a murder mystery framed by a fantasy setting, peopled by familiar races that are presented in subtly original ways.

Valdron’s protagonist has no name. Most Arukh (orcs) don’t. The few that have been so graced have earned their names by distinguishing themselves from their mad and murderous brethren. Each race has its own name for the Arukh, but all of them translate to either abomination, or abortion.

The Arukh are the sterile offspring of vampires and goblins and considered to be soulless. They are housed in lodges and governed by trolls, dwarves, or vampires and are largely used as expendable troops in warfare, which the various races engage in frequently with one another.

Something horrible has happened, though. A mermaid, one of a race considered sacred, has been brutally murdered. The selk call upon the Arukh to investigate and find the killer. It is implied that this particular Arukh is known for her skill in this area, but not why.

As she investigates, the trail of the killer leads the Arukh to each of the races in turn and the world is eventually fleshed out very cleverly in the form of told tales and legends. The mystery is what first draws readers in, but the world and its stories are what compel readers to continue turning pages.

Valdron’s world is a young one of unmitigated violence and the Arukh’s life is one of degradation. She fails repeatedly in her quest and makes many wrong assumptions, but for all that, the story itself is one of hope and redemption and the climax and denouement are both satisfying and bittersweet.

Readers will be left wanting more (moar!) of Valdron’s world and more of his surprisingly complex protagonist.

I lurved The Mermaid’s Tale.

My rating:

Five out of five stars. I did say lurve, didn’t I?

About the author:DGValdron

Den Valdron, is a reclusive writer, originally from New Brunswick, currently living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Over the years, he has published in print and online a variety of short stories of speculative fiction, and articles on obscure pop culture topics.

Like many writers, his previous occupations have included mechanic, carpenter, schoolteacher, journalist and ditch-digger. He is currently an aboriginal rights lawyer.

He loves B-movies and tries to be nice to people. The Mermaid’s Tale is his first published novel.

You can connect with Den on Facebook.

Review of DIYMFA by Gabriela Pereira: What it should have been but never was

What Amazon says:

DIYMFACoverGet the Knowledge Without the College!

You are a writer. You dream of sharing your words with the world, and you’re willing to put in the hard work to achieve success. You may have even considered earning your MFA, but for whatever reason–tuition costs, the time commitment, or other responsibilities–you’ve never been able to do it. Or maybe you’ve been looking for a self-guided approach so you don’t have to go back to school.

This book is for you.

DIY MFA is the do-it-yourself alternative to a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. By combining the three main components of a traditional MFA–writing, reading, and community–it teaches you how to craft compelling stories, engage your readers, and publish your work.

Inside you’ll learn how to:

  • Set customized goals for writing and learning.
  • Generate ideas on demand.
  • Outline your book from beginning to end.
  • Breathe life into your characters.
  • Master point of view, voice, dialogue, and more.
  • Read with a “writer’s eye” to emulate the techniques of others.
  • Network like a pro, get the most out of writing workshops, and submit your work successfully.

Writing belongs to everyone–not only those who earn a degree. With DIY MFA, you can take charge of your writing, produce high-quality work, get published, and build a writing career.

My thoughts:

Gabriela Pereira was compelled to create DIYMFA, the website, community, course, podcast, and now book, after her disappointing experience with her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program.

Like Gabriela, I went the route of the Master’s degree, believing that I needed the validation. It was the lie I believed, and it almost ended my writing career before it began.

DIYMFA is what the MFA program should be (or should aspire to be) but never was.

Most MFA programs centre on critique—without teaching the students what it takes to offer and receive constructive feedback—and coaching/mentorship by someone who may or may not even understand their own creative process, let alone be able to articulate it, or guide their mentee to their process and best mode of creative expression without imposing some ideal of “how things should be done.”

Admittedly, MFA programs have matured and improved, but rather than focus what should be a review of an amazing guide to the writing life on an indictment of the graduate institution, I’m going to, in grand rhetorical style, return to the matter at hand (see? Academia has ruined me—ruined!).

Gabriela divides her guide into three sections: write with focus; read with purpose; and build your community.

In the first, she offers a brief, but engaging, examination of all the essential points of craft that writers must master. There is no one way to reach the destination, but a multitude of paths from which writers can choose based on their personal goals and aptitudes. Self-knowledge and self-confidence are the foundations upon which craft is built.

While the reading with purpose section is shorter than the other two, it is no less important. Gabriela emphasizes a balanced approach throughout DIYMFA. All three aspects, writing, reading, and community, are essential to creative development.

Learning to read and analyze the text, not like an academic, but like a writer, is what this second section is all about. We have to learn about craft first and begin to apply it before we can learn to recognize it in the writing of others and extract lessons from that purposeful reading that we can take back to the page.

Finally, in this brave new world of social media, how do we tackle the task of finding our audiences, reaching out to them, and building a community of writerly friends, readers, and fans?

In all aspects of DIYMFA, Gabriela has studied and learned from the best in the industry, and she unpacks these lessons in an accessible and engaging way.

One of the things I enjoyed most about DIYMFA is that Gabriela draws on her statistics background and mathematical bent to offer charts, matrices, and unique visualizations that will help readers and learners find a way into the material she presents.

And, as a self-confessed word nerd, she exercises her talent for acronyms and initialisms, creating fun mnemonics to encapsulate concepts and principles for her writerly audience.

Having sung the praises of DIYMFA as an alternative to a traditional MFA program, I must point out that Gabriela never disparages academia, in fact, traditional programs are pointed out as viable options for the aspiring writer.

What if that writer has economic, domestic, or temporal limitations, though? It is for those writers-in-progress that DIYMFA has been crafted.

DIYMFA earns my highest recommendation.

My rating:

FIVE STARS!

About the author:GabrielaPereira

Gabriela Pereira is the Instigator of DIYMFA.com, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. While undercover as an MFA student, she invented a slew of writing tools of her own and developed a new, more effective way for writers to learn their craft. She dubbed it DIY MFA and now her mission is to share it with the world. Teaching at conferences and online, Gabriela has helped hundreds of writers get the MFA experience without going to school. She also hosts DIY MFA Radio, where she recreates the MFA speaker series in podcast form.

Before becoming a writer, Gabriela has done lots of wild and nerdy things like: playing violin at Carnegie Hall, singing madrigals in full Renaissance garb, designing toys for kids ages toddler to tween, and taking applied topology and number theory “just for kicks.” Despite her varied interests, Gabriela’s main passions have always been teaching and design. Now at DIY MFA she can bring these two elements together. Her favorite thing to do is come up with new dastardly plans and innovative resources for writers.

When she’s not teaching or developing new courses, Gabriela loves to write middle grade and teen fiction, with short stories for “grown-ups” thrown in for good measure. A New Yorker born and raised, she lives in NYC with Lawyer-Hubby, Little Man, Lady Bug, and Office Cat.