Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing the Paranormal Novel

Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements into Your Story by Steven Harper

Paranormal novels (those with ghosts, telepaths, vampires, werewolves, fairies, witches and more) for adult and young-adult readers continue to top bestseller lists, but, until now, no resource exists to help writers craft these stories. This book shows how to successfully introduce supernatural and paranormal elements into your stories, create engaging and relatable characters and craft plots where even the most unusual twists are not only possible, they are believable.

--Writing the Paranormal Novel
by Steven Harper
Copyright ©2011 by Steven Harper Piziks
Published by Writer’s Digest Books

My Review

I enjoy writing and I have more books on how to write than I care to acknowledge. I’ve made it a personal goal this year to start weeding through them and getting rid of those give me no great insight into the craft. (Don’t know if I’ll finish that task this year, but at least I’m starting, right?)

This book will stay on my bookshelf forever.

Not only does it do a great job of explaining how supernatural elements should be woven into a story (vampires, werewolves, magical objects and mystical gateways), it lays out the essential elements of a story, ANY story (plot, theme, voice, language), whether supernatural in nature or not. It contains a trove of useful information, from gathering the elements of your story, to creating characters and the crafting of the story. It even goes into what happens after you’ve finished creating your story (the dreaded query letter, submitting to agents and publishers and how to handle what comes next).

And it’s written with humor. Rather than being a dry, boring textbook-type read, Harper has fun with us, keeping the reader/aspiring writer interested and wanting to keep turning the pages to learn more.

For example, when discussing the “Gary Stu” character (the male counterpart to “Mary Sue”), he writes:

Like Mary, Gary is possessed of breathtaking looks (don’t forget the exotic eye color), has more skills than James Bond, and has a body made for pouring melted chocolate over.

Mmmm, melted chocolate…

Oh…ahem…back to the review.

If you have zero interest in writing paranormal stories, I would not recommend this book. Its main focus is on writing for the paranormal audience and the constant reference to those elements may eventually bore the non-paranormal reader. However, if that is your interest, whether you only want to write paranormal novels, or if your interests lie in both para- and non-paranormal, then give this book a read. You’ll enjoy it and you’ll learn a lot about the craft of writing.

I give this book FIVE STARS.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

X Plagues

X Plagues by Mary Nealy

A crazed killer invades the streets of Chicago, patterning his murders after the Old Testament’s ten plagues. Detective Keren Collins, gifted with the ability to discern good and evil spirits, is on the case, as is ex-cop, now mission pastor Paul Morris. Can they put their differences aside long enough to catch the maniacal murderer?

--X Plauges
by Mary Nealy
Copyright ©October 2011 by Mary Nealy
Published by Barbour Books

My Review

I finished this story a couple weeks ago but just realized I never wrote the review.

Chicago Detective Keren Collins is watching an old brownstone on the city’s South Side, keeping an eye out for Juanita Lopez, a young woman who’s gone missing. A couple of gang members are hanging out on the stairs, keeping her from going inside to look for Juanita. When a man comes running up the sidewalk and gets hauled inside by a couple of the thugs, she wants to help him, but isn’t about to take on a whole gang by herself.

Gifted with the ability to sense good and evil spirits, she can’t help but feel the evil in the air around her. Is it because the man might be meeting with an evil fate inside the brownstone or is it due to something else?

When the building suddenly explodes, she seems to have her answer. She springs into action, hauling out as many survivors as she can. The mysterious runner appears through the smoke, helping several gang members escape the inferno. They’re separated by another explosion, but later, Keren is stunned to find out the mysterious Samaritan is Paul Morris.

Five years ago, Detective Paul Morris almost destroyed her career. Now he’s Pastor Paul Morris of the Lighthouse Mission. As much as Keren doesn’t want his help, Paul is at the heart of the case and without him, and she and her partner, Mick O’Shea, will never find out whose recreating the ten plagues of Egypt in Chicago.

The story starts quickly with strong action and keeps moving straight to the end. Even the calmer, emotional scenes keep the story moving, something that’s not always easy to do. It’s an exciting read, well constructed with strong Christian themes, but isn’t preachy at all. Keren grew up with a gift to discern spirits, both good and evil, and always believed it was a gift given to her by God. Paul found Christ later in life and serves Him by giving to the homeless in his community. Mick is also a believer, but is quieter about his faith. It’s there, but it’s not in your face, so in my opinion, those with faith or without will enjoy this story.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof from NetGalley.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sizzle and Burn

Sizzle and Burn by Jayne Ann Krentz

When Raine Tallentyre made the mistake of revealing her paranormal abilities, her most recent romantic relationship came to a hasty end. Her Aunt Vella, a gifted but troubled soul, had told her years ago to keep her talents a secret. And now that poor Aunt Vella-her last blood relative-has died, Raine has resigned herself to a lonely life.

But when she journeys to Shelbyville, Washington, to clear out Aunt Vella's house, Raine's highly developed sensitivity leads her to a horrifying discovery: a young woman bound and terrified in a basement storage locker. The victim has survived, but the culprit is still on the loose. Without warning, a new man enters Raine's life-investigator Zack Jones. Surprisingly, Zack isn't repelled by her powers: in fact, he has them himself. While Raine hears voices, Zack sees visions and within hours of their meeting, Raine experiences an intense, thrilling intimacy-mental, emotional, and physical-she never dared to expect.

There's one complication, however: Zack Jones is working for the Arcane Society. This secret organization, dedicated to the study of paranormal phenomena, shattered Raine's family with an act of betrayal long ago, and she's not about to trust them now. But as a killer makes her his target, and a cabal of psychic criminals known as Nightshade operates in the shadows surrounding them, Raine and Zack must rely not only on their powerful abilities but on each other . . .

--Sizzle and Burn (The Arcane Society, Book 3)
by Jayne Ann Krentz
Copyright ©January 2008 by Jayne Ann Krentz
Published by Putnam Books

My Review
Raine has good reason to mistrust the members of the Arcane Society. They ousted her father for his research into the Founder’s Formula and a member of Jones & Jones—an investigative tool of the Society—torched her father’s lab. So when she meets Zachary Jones of Jones & Jones, she is naturally suspicious of him and his motives.

Zack is hunting Nightshade, a secret cabal whose purpose is opposite that of the Arcane Society. He needs Raine’s help because he believes her father’s research holds the key to breaking the back of the cabal. Yes, the lab was destroyed, but he believes it possible something survived that could help him in his mission.

Raine has problems of her own. She’s been targeted by a serial killer and the last thing she needs is a Jones in her life, especially someone related to Wilder Jones, the man who betrayed her family. But there’s an attraction between them, one too strong for them to deny.

They can help each other, and along the way, find out just how far this fiery attraction can take them.

This story is a continuation of Jayne Ann Krentz’s Arcane Society series. It can be read alone because it does go into detail about the history of the Arcane Society, but it helps to have read the previous books in the series (Second Sight and White Lies).

The writing is smooth and easy to read, though there are some bits of dialog that seemed odd and unnatural, almost as if they were inspired by a bad television drama. Still, the chemistry between the main characters is good and the various story lines surrounding them engage the reader’s imagination. The villain of the story, codenamed “January” does a good job of hiding in her anonymity. The fact that she’s a she is the only clue the reader has until she makes herself known.

Some of the actions taken by the characters are almost comical in nature, like the ideas were lifted (again) from a bad television drama, but they’re handled with a lightness and humor that make them fun to read.

A great addition to the series with more to come.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.

Monday, August 22, 2011

White Lies

White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz

As a level 10 para-sensitive, Clare Lancaster can tell for certain when someone is telling the truth. So Clare knows that her half-sister, Elizabeth Glazebrook, isn't lying when she says her husband, Brad McAllister, is trying to kill her. But Brad is murdered instead, and as the first person to find his body, Clare becomes the Stone Canyon Police Department's favorite suspect. With no evidence to tie her to the crime, Clare is allowed to return to her old life in San Francisco. But six months later, her father, Archer, summons her back to Phoenix. Her unique gift tells her not only that there is more to her father's new business "consultant" Jake Salter than he would like her to believe but also that she is in grave danger.

--White Lies (The Arcane Society, Book 2)
by Jayne Ann Krentz
Copyright © 2008 by Jayne Ann Krentz
Published by The Putnam Group

My Review

Jayne Ann Krentz started the Arcane Society series with Second Sight, set in 1800’s London, and written under the pen name Amanda Quick. Book two in the series takes place in contemporary times in the town of Stone Canyon, Arizona.

Clare Lancaster is the illegitimate daughter of Archer Glazebrook, a wealthy real estate developer, the product of a one-night stand. Archer never knew about Clare, but Clare knew about Archer and chose not to interfere with his family. However, when she fears for the life of her half-sister, Elizabeth, she gets involved and Elizabeth’s husband winds up dead.

Six months later, Archer summons Clare back to Stone Canyon, unintentionally opening up a can of worms. Although Clare was cleared of suspicion in Brad’s death, there are many in town who believe she is guilty. Her presence in town is making a lot of people—people with secrets to keep—very nervous.

Jake Salter, Archer’s new business consultant, meets Clare and his assignment (as a Jones & Jones undercover operative) just got more interesting. He’s investigating the possibility that there’s a new organization counter to the Arcane Society, of which he, Clare and the Glazebrooks are all members. Very quickly, as several attempts are made on Clare’s life, it becomes obvious that these attempts, the murder of Elizabeth’s husband, and the formation of the new cabal are all tied together somehow. And if Jake’s going to get to the bottom of things, he’ll need to keep Clare safe. To do that, he’ll need to keep her close…very close, a position neither of them seem to have a problem with.

As the investigation progresses, the can of worms becomes a snake pit, and each viper they pull out is more dangerous than the one before. Can they survive long enough to uncover the whole truth or will they be the next victims of the cabal’s deadly conspiracy?

Growing up with a psychic ability that helps her discern lies from truth, Clare has a hard time trusting people because people lie all the time. That’s understandable, but sometimes, I just wanted to give her a shake and tell her it’s okay to trust some people even if you think they’re lying to you. It’s the degree of the lie that’s important, not the fact of the lie.

There was a lot of “info dumping” in this story, where the telling of the story was interrupted for narrative on the history of the Arcane Society and where each character fit in the Society. While important to give the reader a better understanding of the Society and its purpose, it did get boring and a little frustrating to have the narrative stopped so many times. I think the previous book in this series (Second Sight) did a much better job handling the history of the Arcane Society than this second book.

I liked the banter between Jake and Clare. They’re both very strong-willed people determined to get their own way, but at the same time, they work well together and they get results. Elizabeth strikes me as a bit of a wimp, Archer is a bit of a jerk and Myra (Archer’s wife) is a real bitch to Clare until the mystery is finally wrapped up (I understand Myra’s resentment of Clare, but really, you don’t blame the product of the affair, you blame the ones involved in the affair…and Myra already made Archer pay for his indiscretion, so get over it, woman!). These personality traits bothered me a little, but as they’re all secondary characters, I tried not to let them get to me.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and I’m looking forward to the next in the series, Sizzle and Burn.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Second Son

Second Son by Lee Child

Okinawa, 1974. Even at thirteen, Jack Reacher knows how to outwit and overpower anyone who stands in his way. And as the new kid in town, that’s pretty much everyone. His family has come to the Pacific with his father, who’s preparing for a top-secret Marine Corps operation. After receiving a rude welcome from the local military brats, Reacher and his older brother, Joe, intend to teach them a lesson they won’t forget. But it’s soon clear that there’s more at stake than pride. When his family’s future appears to come crumbling down, it’s the youngest Reacher who rises to the occasion with all the decisive cunning and bravura that will one day be his deadly trademark.

--Second Son
by Lee Child
Copyright ©August 15, 2011 by Lee Child
Published by Delacorte Press

My Review

So now we know the roots of Jack Reacher’s genius. He learned early how to think, how to observe, how to plan and how to act. He learned how to file away the smallest details and how to use that information later to his advantage.

Got a problem? Turn Jack Reacher loose and it’ll be taken care of. You may not like his methods, but they get results and that’s what matters, right?

I give this story FIVE STARS.

Second Son is available only as an e-book through (see link below), Barnes &, and

Second Son also includes an excerpt from Lee Child’s forthcoming novel, The Affair, due out September 27, 2011.

Although I told myself not to, I started to read this Chapter 1 excerpt. I managed to stop myself at the end of the first scene. I don't want to get myself hooked on to this new story because one chapter isn't enough and I don't know if I can wait another six weeks to find out why Reacher would go into the Pentagon, anticipating an arrest, wearing a Class A uniform and five days of beard growth on his face. Come on! If you've got the time to prepare and put on Class As, you've got time to shave, so why didn't he shave? This is going to drive me crazy! Why did I start reading it??? Aaugh!!!

Second Sight

Second Sight (The Arcane Society, Book 1) by Amanda Quick

Financially straitened and on the path to spinsterhood, Venetia Milton thought her stay at the remote, ramshackle Arcane House would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engineer her own ravishment. She was there to photograph the artifacts collected by a highly secretive organization, founded two centuries earlier by an alchemist. And the alchemist's descendant-her employer, Gabriel Jones-has the eyes of a sorcerer.

But despite Venetia's intent to seduce Mr. Jones and move on, she is shattered upon her return home to read in the press of his violent demise. Using the sizable fee Mr. Jones paid her, Venetia establishes a new life, opening a gallery in London. Of course, posing as a respectable widow makes it easier to do business, so-in a private tribute to her lost, only lover-she assumes the identity of "Mrs. Jones."

Her romantic whim, however, will cause unexpected trouble. For one thing, Mr. Jones is about to stride, living and breathing, back into Venetia's life. And the two share more than a passionate memory-indeed, they are bonded by a highly unusual sort of vision, one that goes far beyond Venetia's abilities as a photographer. They also share a terrible threat-for someone has stolen a centuries-old notebook from Arcane House that contains a formula believed to enhance psychic powers of the kind Gabriel and Venetia possess. And the thief wants to know more-even if he must kill the keeper of the Arcane Society's treasures, or the photographer who catalogued them, to obtain such knowledge.

--Second Sight (The Arcane Society, Book 1)
by Amanda Quick
Copyright © 2006 by Jayne Ann Krentz
Published by The Putnam Group

My Review

Though I try, sometimes I simply cannot improve on the synopsis provided by the publisher. The above is taken from’s “Product Description” of the book and it seems quite lengthy for a “back-of-the-book” blurb, but sometimes Amazon is all I can draw from, so there you go.

Venetia Milton is not your typical Victorian-era heroine. She’s strong-minded, willful and determined to do things her way. She has to in order to support her family, which consists of herself, her younger brother and sister and her aunt.

Gabriel Jones is also not your typical Victorian-era hero. He’s open-minded about women establishing businesses for themselves and encourages Venetia in her work, except, of course, when her life is potentially in danger, he puts his foot down, and she very neatly trods over it. Which, of course, both infuriates him and makes him admire her even more. Truly a modern thinker.

Amanda Quick captures the era very nicely, and her historical knowledge of Victorian-era photography is excellent. Throw in the supernatural elements that she is quite adept at weaving into her stories and you have a well-constructed, entertaining story that’s a good kick-off to the Arcane Society series.

For those who don’t already know, Jayne Ann Krentz writes under two pseudonyms, Amanda Quick for historicals, Jayne Castle for futuristics and uses her own name for contemporaries. The Arcane Society series crosses all three of these genres, though each book can be read on its own. I’ll be reading/re-reading the series but not back-to-back, as I have so many books to read. I foresee the consumption of this series taking me well into next year…but I’m no psychic, so we’ll see!

I give the story THREE stars.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Seers by Heather Frost

David Baldacci
For Kate Bennet, surviving the car wreck that killed her parents means big changes and even bigger problems. As she begins to see auras and invisible people, Kate must learn to trust Patrick O'Donnell, a handsome Guardian, or risk her life being overrun with Demons. She soon realizes that both she and her heart are in big-time trouble.

by Heather Frost
Copyright ©October 2011 by Heather Frost
Published by Bonneville Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.

My Review

Kate Bennet’s life changed the summer before her senior year in high school. Her parents were killed in a car accident and her grandparents move in to help raise her and her two younger siblings. The accident also left Kate with an unusual gift: she can see auras. She adapts easily to this new gift, but tells no one about it except her best friend Lee.

Things change, however, on the first day of school when she meets the new guy, Patrick O’Donnell. He intrigues her, but not just because he’s handsome and has a cute Irish accent. He has a silver aura where everyone else has colors. Plus, he has every single class with her. Plus he seems to turn up everywhere she goes. What’s going on with this guy?

Eventually, Patrick tells her the truth. He’s a Guardian, and because she can see auras, he needs her help to find Demons. At first, she’s skeptical, but when she spies her first black-auraed Demon, she immediately runs to Patrick for help.

As Kate, Patrick and his partner, Toni, work to piece together just who this demon is, they need to move fast, because this demon won’t stop until he gets what he wants. And he wants Kate.

This is not my usual genre (young adult), but as I’m interested in reading new authors to find those gems I never knew existed, I decided to take a chance with both a new author and a different genre.

The pacing of the story is slow but it does pick up about half-way through and once it does, it really takes off. It’s nice to read a story that touches on some of the other aspects of the paranormal and not just the usual vampires and werewolves. Kate’s aura-seeing ability quickly turns from an unusual quirk to something that can take her on a grand adventure and save her life at the same time. Patrick is wonderful as her Guardian and potential love interest and Toni…well, I couldn’t quite get a handle on Toni, but I guess that was kind of the point. He’s a loose cannon, but he’s loyal and will stay with you to the end.

And finding out Grandpa was…well, he was certainly hiding his light under a bushel, but I’m so glad he came out as Kate’s ally (in more than one way). He definitely added the right seasoning to this story. And Jack? I’d love to see more of him!

Great characters, good plot, terrific action sequences and a touch of romance. All in all, I found Seers to be a fun, light (light for me, that is) read by an author whom I definitely want to see more of in the future. The story is very well written for such a young author and I wish her all the best and lots more success in her future. Good job, Heather, and keep writing!

I give this story FOUR STARS.

I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof from NetGalley.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

61 Hours

61 Hours by Lee Child

A bus crashes in a savage snowstorm and lands Jack Reacher in the middle of a deadly confrontation. In nearby Bolton, South Dakota, one brave woman is standing up for justice in a small town threatened by sinister forces. If she’s going to live long enough to testify, she’ll need help. Because a killer is coming to Bolton, a coldly proficient assassin who never misses.

Reacher’s original plan was to keep on moving. But the next 61 hours will change everything. The secrets are deadlier and his enemies are stronger than he could have guessed—but so is the woman he’ll risk his life to save.

--61 Hours
by Lee Child
Copyright ©2009 by Lee Child
Published by Jove Books

My Review
61 Hours is the 14th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.

Jack Reacher is in South Dakota on a tour bus heading toward Mount Rushmore. Seeing the monument isn’t his plan, he just needs to head toward it to catch the main highway heading south. After all, South Dakota in winter is not the place for a vagabond such as himself. But when the bus crashes in the middle of a blizzard, he springs into action and helps get the passengers settled in the nearby town of Bolton.

While there, he becomes curious about the behavior of the police department’s top two men, Chief Holland and his second-in-command, Deputy Chief Peterson. They’re expecting something bad, more than just another blizzard and Reacher being Reacher, he gets involved. He really would rather just move on, but since he’s stuck in Bolton until the roads clear, he might as well give the town the benefits of his experience.

One of Bolton’s main problems is the large group of bikers camping out at an abandoned Army facility just outside of town. The police believe the bikers have a meth lab in their camp, but so far, have no authority to search. When one of the bikers is busted for dealing—with a highly regarded local woman as witness—their ability to drive out the bikers is greatly improved. The witness, Janet Salter, just needs to survive through to trial. That tells Reacher what Holland and Peterson are expecting…a killer with his sights on the witness.

Reacher agrees to help guard Mrs. Salter. He also offers to help Holland and Peterson sort through they mystery of the abandoned Army facility so they can get a grip on what exactly the bikers are doing out there. Along the way, they discover a connection to a powerful drug lord from Mexico called Plato. Plato is a man who gets what he wants and there are two things he wants: he wants what the bikers are guarding, and he wants Janet Salter dead. Plato will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.

And there’s only one man who can stop Plato from getting what he wants.

The author, Lee Child, started this story with the idea that the telling of it would cover a 61 hour period, and so at appropriate intervals, he inserts a countdown, letting the reader know just how many hours are left. You’d expect a lot to happen in those 61 hours, but much of it passes pretty calmly with only a few spikes of action. It’s actually a little bit boring, but because you know the clock is ticking, the tension inside you increases until you’ve got only the last six hours to go and that’s when everything happens.

Reacher isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes in judgment and his assumptions, while based on experience, don’t always prove to be right. But just because he makes mistakes, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t learn from them. He adjusts as necessary so he can achieve the desired outcome. I like that he isn’t always right, that he makes mistakes and has to rethink his strategies. It makes him human, not perfect, and I think that adds to his appeal as a literary hero.

As to the exciting cliff-hanger ending, I had the comfort of knowing there was a 15th Jack Reacher novel, so I know he survived the ending of this adventure…but in what shape I won’t know until I start Worth Dying For.

I give this story FOUR and a HALF STARS.