Category: book review

Book review: Snow by Ronald Malfi

book review, Uncategorized February 21, 2011

The weather here in Western PA is fickle. Last week we had a couple 60 degree days when it got just muddy enough for my low-rider dogs to make a serious mess of my house. Today we’re under a winter weather advisory calling for 2-5 inches of snow.

Last February we had what I not-so-fondly refer to as Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon. In just a few days we got several feet of snow and in a week we had close to four feet. The city could not keep up with it and we were snowed in for the better part of a week. They eventually resorted to bringing dump trucks into the city areas to haul the snow to the rivers.

Anyway, I don’t think I’d ever experienced the kind of cabin fever I experienced last February. The sprogs were off school for the WHOLE WEEK. They broke the brand-new iMac. It was…. something I never want to experience again. I swear I still experience PTSD symptoms.

I was taking a horror class during that time. And it wasn’t too long after Snowpocalypse that I had to read Ronald Malfi’s Snow. The timing was uncanny. Here’s my review (with a short recap of Snowmageddon):

SPOILER ALERT! There are a few spoilers in this review!

I still have post-traumatic stress disorder from February’s Snowpocalypse. Reading this book wasn’t funny. In a detached kind of way, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Malfi’s snow creatures had taken up residence in my front yard.

For those of you who don’t what I’m talking about, several feet of snow fell on Pittsburgh (and lots of other places) within just a few days. There was more expected (we got something like 4 feet total in about a week), so the city didn’t bother with clean-up and we were literally paralyzed. The roads were impassable, buildings collapsed from the weight on the roofs, we had to dig channels in the snow for my dog. It was hard to open doors. My kids were off school for an entire week, and it was too cold for them to be outside a whole lot. They shattered the monitor of our 6 week old iMac. Yeah.

Snow is an overpowering force. Even here in Western Pennsylvania, where snow is usually seen merely as an inconvenience, the kind of snowfall that Malfi describes in Snow is paralyzing. Cars don’t go, at least not safely, and even if they did, it’s not a good idea to go out and potentially get stranded in what could be fatal conditions. Snow is heavy, it muffles all sound and brings the world to a standstill. It’s frustrating and creates isolation that leads to further frustration.

I could totally relate to Todd. I hate snow.

So, here we have Todd, who is desperately trying to get to his son for the holidays (I hate the holidays, too, so this book was a double whammy of panic disorder for me). His flight is canceled because of a freak snowstorm that blankets the Midwest. He and a new acquaintance, Kate Jansen, decide to brave the weather, and along with another stranded couple, rent a Jeep and head out. It doesn’t seem to take long for the Jeep to break down. Naturally, it dies in a small town that has some strange inhabitants.

Malfi’s bad guys are snow creatures. I didn’t really get the feeling they were made of snow themselves, but rather some sort of delicate, mostly translucent material. They came in with the snow, though, and with the aid of snow, can be seen. They take over bodies, not in a classic possession, but more like puppeteers, in order to feed and wreak havoc.

And wreak havoc they do. They’ve somehow used an electromagnetic pulse to disable all electronics in the town and make calling for help impossible. They’ve taken over the bodies of most of the townspeople and terrorize the rest. Kate and Todd eventually team up with part of the town’s police force and have to recover a computer to send for help. It’s not easy.

Todd and Kate struggle to survive long enough to bring in the military. No one’s sure what to make of their story, but since similar reports are coming in from all over the country, we assume that something will be done about the snow creatures.

I had a few issues with the book, of course.

One, I think the temperature required for a snowfall like this is not given enough thought. I know that Todd and Kate talk about being cold, and there’s always the issue of finding shelter, but during the Snowpocalypse it was painful to stand on my patio for more than a few minutes without total protective gear. It seemed like the characters in this book weren’t always wearing heavy clothes, and while the cold was mentioned, it wasn’t enough. It’s a big part of snow: that biting, bitter cold.

Two, I never got a clear sense of the snow creatures. Usually this works for me, the only partial vision of the monsters, but it didn’t here. I think it’s because with the descriptions we got of them physically, I could imagine something, but it wasn’t scary enough.

Three, there was a lot of stomach trouble in this book. It started on page 12: “Todd felt something cold and wet turn over in his stomach. When his scotch arrived, he gulped down a hefty swallow in hopes of stilling whatever angst was squirming around down there.” And it continued throughout the book. On page 77, “[s]omething wet rolled over in his stomach.” Page 120, “ [s]omething was roiling around in his guts– a warning.” And this is by no means an exhaustive list.

There are also some other inconsistencies, like with Kate’s eyes. They went from green to aquamarine in the bar scene, which are two different colors in my estimation. There were also several instances of being able to see the moon– which shouldn’t be if it’s snowing as hard as Malfi says. When Shawna woke up in chapter 17, she put her hand in vomit still warm from the night before (p. 181). Not possible. I also noted a few instances where Malfi dropped from third person POV into omniscient.

The book was enjoyable. The many inconsistencies and bowel issues were distracting for me. To be truly scared, I have to be able to lose myself in a world, and I just couldn’t here. But the thought of creatures emerging from snow? After what I’d been through, yeah, that was awful.

Work cited:
Malfi, Ronald. Snow. Dorchester Publishing Co: New York, NY. 2010.

Book Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

book review February 7, 2011

The plague descended upon my house.

I have two sprogs (kids, for those of you not accustomed to my varied ways of referring to them). Usually when one gets sick, the other has the decency to get sick right away, so they’re both sick at the same time.

Not this time.

Sprog the Younger fell ill on 1/25 and stayed that way until 1/29. He missed four days of school thanks to a fever that wouldn’t quit. The doctors saw him and deemed it a virus, therefore nothing could be done. It just had to run its course.

Since Sprog the Elder didn’t get sick, I (erroneously) assumed this particular plague would only get the one. Ha. Elder Sprog told us on the evening of the 29th that his throat felt scratchy. I sent him off to the urgent care clinic with Darling Husband and prayed for a case of strep. Luck did not favor me, and he came home with the same accursed virus that Younger Sprog just managed to defeat. Elder was out of school for three days. He went back on Thursday of last week, and had Friday off for parent-teacher conferences anyway.

One of my teacher conferences was canceled because the teacher was too sick to come in.

Begone plague!

So here’s this week’s book review, reading material compliments of Ms. Christie

Twists, twists, beautiful twists!

[SPOILER ALERT- IT’S ONLY FAIR FOR ME TO WARN YOU I DISCUSS THE ENDING IN THIS REVIEW]

Should I be embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read much Christie? I read Black Coffee a few terms ago as a genre read and hated it. I immediately despised the little Hercule Poirot. Unfortunately, the Christie I chose as my introduction to Poirot was a play recrafted as a novel. It was adapted by Charles Osborne, who just strung the bits of dialogue together to be read rather than heard. It was not a good choice.
I picked up The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with trepidation, fully expecting to dislike it as much as I disliked Black Coffee. What a wonderful surprise to find that not only was Poirot not the narrator, he was almost an afterthought. I rather enjoyed Dr. Sheppard’s narration and the distance that we maintained from Poirot up until close to the end, when the mystery was chugging along with enough steam that even I could overlook Poirot’s annoying idiosyncracies.
I feel strange reviewing Christie’s work. Obviously a master of our craft, she strings the reader along with clues and red herrings adequate to keep anyone’s interest. The golden wedding band in the pond, the obvious relationship between Major Blunt and Flora, the questions from Miss Russell about poisons, the mysterious nature of Ralph Paton all combine to create suspense and a sense of “hmmm” in the reader.
The characterization in this book was lovely– from the uber-nebby Caroline to the more standoffish Major Blunt, I had a clear sense of who the characters were, and most importantly, what might drive each and every one of them to commit murder. This was my favorite aspect of the book, and one I will try to incorporate more into my own characters. Christie gave every character (except for the actual murderer, more on that later) a clear motive for murder. With each mounting clue I felt certain I’d figured out who did it, except that each clue led me to a different character. I bow to Ms. Christie.
Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment in this book is that I didn’t suspect Dr. Sheppard. I’m sure that some readers would, but I picked up this novel expecting to dislike it, and I was so surprised at my pleasure in reading it that I didn’t second guess the narrator. Dr. Sheppard’s voice is ideal for telling the story. He’s calm, not prone to gossip, a bit wry and the trusted town doctor. In less able hands, these traits may have made him more suspicious than others, but Christie never let on that I should look at the doctor with anything less than a trusting eye.
The last chapter, Apologia, ended the story on the perfect note. The tone of Dr. Sheppard’s voice changed, from something akin to friendliness to a more detached attitude. We see this a lot in today’s media, the case of the criminal changing personalities once he or she is discovered. After I read the final chapter I wondered if Christie was one of the first to use this tool, to show the reader the coldness of the criminal only after the story is concluded.
No story is perfect, and I did find the middle to drag on a bit. Christie could have had the big reveal much sooner than she did and spared the reader the tedium of the all the “little reunions.” Many clues were repeated several times, as with the last conversation that Sheppard had with Ackroyd, seemingly for the benefit of the characters present in the scene. This is something we’ve been taught to avoid.
Mediocre middle or not, I thoroughly reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The characterization and suspicion of every character are fantastic and something I aspire to.

Book Review: Magic for Beginners

book review, mixed genre January 25, 2011

I read Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners in fall of 2009 for a class on fantasy. These stories are classified as “slipstream,” something a little different, but I find that in general I really enjoy slipstream. Here’s my take on her collection of short stories:

This and that, but it all comes together.

I read the blurb on the back and all of the praise before I actually began reading Magic for Beginners, and I was fully aware that I was going to read slipstream fiction. This knowledge set expectations on my part, and I was not disappointed.

Link’s voice is perfect for this subgenre, lilting and musical, and uses it to good effect, contrasting the lyrical quality of her writing with the horrific subject matter.

I imagine that if I had begun reading this book with the idea that I would be reading something more classically set in the fantasy genre, I might have been disappointed. But I know that when I read slipstream, particularly slipstream short stories, that I’ll be working a little harder, stretching my own imagination a little further and most likely left without a sense of closure.

The term “cognitive dissonance” has been put forth by Kessel and Kelly in their anthology Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (p. xi). According to the entry on Wikipedia, “[c]ognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.”

Link seems to grasp this concept and run with it. In “Stone Animals,” the reader experiences the dissonance between the concrete relatable problem of marital trouble with the ephemeral problem of a haunted existence. The tension of each separate issue winds about the other and heightens each.

In “The Faery Handbag” the characters are so utterly believable: a Scrabble playing grandmother with a weird, giant handbag; a grieving granddaughter with a quirky, neurotic friend. The story is so utterly unbelievable: a handbag that holds a world, a demon dog and your wallet, the people who leave the bag to visit.

In “The Hortlak,” we come to know Eric, an everyman’s kind of guy who has a secret crush on Charley. He likes his job and his boss, nevermind the fact that the boss wears surreal pajamas and zombies frequent the All-Night.

I was able to accept the unbelievable as merely a part of the story and allow it to heighten the tension I felt at the more mundane elements. Reading slipstream fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief that can sometimes be hard to achieve, but Link made it easy for me. It’s the cognitive dissonance that makes the stories more interesting than the sum of their parts.

I’ve come to expect this cognitive dissonance from slipstream fiction. It’s the skill with which the author spins the contrasting elements that makes or breaks the story for me. Despite the fact that these were short stories, I was immediately invested in the characters. Link uses her voice and a masterful sense of cognitive dissonance to immerse me fully in the story so that I just run with it and accept the impossible in the everyday world.

“Some Zombie Contingency Plans” started out fine. An ex-con named Soap. That’s intriguing enough. Come on, you know the thought the crossed your mind– the one about prisoners dropping the soap– and I was a little concerned about where the story was going. Concerned enough to keep me reading. It was all downhill from there.

“This is a story about being lost in the woods.”

That’s the first line. I had a fleeting hope that maybe this would make up for Tana French’s book. Alas. The commonality– child disappearance– bothered me just as much in this short story as it did in French’s book. I could not find the thread linking the art theft with Carly’s neglect of Leo’s disappearance. This was the first story in Magic for Beginners that left me feeling completely lost. I could not picture the characters or the setting, as generic as they seemed. If I can’t see the characters, relate to them in some way, all is lost.

“The Great Divorce” redeemed Link for me a bit. It wasn’t the story itself that did the redeeming, it was the imagery she created. I loved the mental image of a ghost sitting in bougainvillea, of the ghost children in the lines at Disney. While I read the story I had a hazy image of Alan and Sarah discussing Alan’s marriage to Lavvie and it was a lovely, evocative image, but the story itself left me feeling vaguely depressed and flat.

The last two stories disappointed me. They had potential for the same kind of imagery, but never lived up to it. Magic for Beginners could have been fantastic– a librarian superhero of sorts.  I could envision bits and pieces of Fox, but not the whole. I knew she was beautiful and I knew she had a tail, but what about the rest of her? Furry or smooth? There was very little consistency in the setting so I had trouble actually immersing myself in the story. In “Stone Animals” I didn’t have this trouble. I could see the house and the bunnies and so was able to immerse.

“Lull” very nearly caused me to put the book down and give up. Too much, too little all at once. We had three different storylines going on in “Lull” and I never felt like I knew enough about any one of them at a time to fully “get” it. I was definitely intrigued with the backward storytelling, but it wasn’t enough to drag me willingly on the journey. And that’s what the last half of the book felt like– a vague journey on a train with dirty windows.

Link’s works comes highly recommended if you’re looking to stretch your idea of genre.

Book review: Hooked by Les Edgerton

book review, writing "how to" books, writing life January 17, 2011

After I read from my thesis during my defense the floor was open for questions. I was asked by someone what my favorite “how to” book on writing is. That was an easy answer… Hooked by Les Edgerton.

Here’s the review I wrote just after reading it:

The tag line on this book says “write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go.”

Don’t we all want to do that?

I can’t say that I’m ever particularly drawn to the writing “how to” books. I usually find that there is such a dearth of information in the books that I tune them out around chapter six or so, much like I tuned out my mother after 20 minutes of lecturing me about some behavior. Hooked, however, had me hooked.

Edgerton uses examples and engaging language to discuss the writing of fantastic openings. He explains that every story must have an inciting incident and a story-worthy problem. These things should be known before beginning the novel, because they will help clarify the plot and how to best proceed with the plot.

The first three chapters provide something of an overview of story structure and opening scenes. The real meat begins with the fourth chapter when Edgerton describes how to integrate setup, backstory, character introductions, foreshadowing and opening lines. Chapters nine through eleven deal with things to avoid, scene lengths and transitions and advice from editors and agents.

Throughout my reading of this book and I found myself trying to fit my own story into Edgerton’s formula of inciting incident and story-worthy problem. I found these these two items especially helpful, and identified the story-worthy problem and inciting incidents in my thesis. Identification of these items helps to focus on the plot and why the events are so important to the characters.

I actually took notes as I read this book. Here are a few of them:

Stability + inciting incident = instability + struggle to resolve instability = new stability

A story is a movement from stability to instability to a new stability.

Components of an opening scene:
1.    inciting incident
2.    story-worthy problem
3.    initial surface problem
4.    setup
5.    backstory
6.    stellar opening sentence
7.    language
8.    character
9.    setting
10.    foreshadowing

The beginning must be connected to the whole of the story.

Goals of openings:
1.    introduce the story-worthy problem
2.    hook the reader
3.    establish the story rules

A scene is a unit of drama.

Instead of elevating the emotional language, the smart writer flattens it.

Begin with a small moment of intense realization that affects your protagonist on an internal psychological level and you have room to allow the problem to grow.

Keep your story on the level of individuals.

I would recommend this how-to book for anyone who writes, and not just for help with beginnings. Beginning a book effectively will help the writer write the rest of the novel.

Book Review: Richard Matheson’s “The Funeral”

book review, SHU WPF, writing life November 29, 2010

I’ve spent today finishing up the last bits of work for my MFA program. I had an essay due for my horror reading class and the giant final project for my Writing About Popular Fiction. I sent everything out into cyber space today. All that’s left before I graduate is to attend one final residency and defend my thesis. A year ago at this time, I was sad to think I would soon be done. I got a “bonus” year out of the program when they added the “F,” and it was one year too long. I’m not sad to leave now and I can honestly say I’m disillusioned. It would have been better to go out last year.

 

Anyway, here’s a review I did some time ago of Richard Matheson’s short story, “The Funeral.”

Was this supposed to be horror? Because The Funeral was hysterical.

I love the tongue-in-cheek way Matheson handled Morton Silkline. Just the name… Silkline… like the silky lining in a casket, Morton himself is slick and cool. “Rising as if caught in the midst of a tete-a-tete with death’s bright angel, Morton Silkline circled the glossy desk on whispering feet and extended one flaccid-fingered hand” (p. 261). Fan-fricking-tastic. The visual of just that sentence gives me everything I need to know about Mr. Silkline.

Morton is a man in control. He’s the epitome of businessman, expressing just the right amount of tactful sympathy to his clients tempered by a professional attitude to assure the bereaved he can handle their needs with no expense spared. And then along comes Mister Asper.

Ludwig Asper tilts poor Morton’s world on end. He arranges his own funeral– post-death, naturally– and brings along a crew of mourners that Morton is utterly incapable of handling. The ragtag crew of various monsters appears unable to observe the most basic of courtesies. “The waxen-faced man” (p. 268) seems to think Morton is an appetizer, Jenny sets fire to the rug, and the Count can’t ignore her.

Poor Morton. My sympathies were with him by the end of the story.

I did have a few issues with The Funeral. First and foremost, the use of stereotypes. Of course Ygor was at the funeral. Of course the witch was the crone. Of course the Count was from Carpathia. I tried to keep in mind the fact that this story was written and published in 1955. Did these stereotypes seem fresh then? I’m not sure. While the story is still a good read today, it is definitely more funny than scary, but I can’t say for sure that this wasn’t the original intent of Matheson to begin with.

My other issue with the story was, along with the stereotypes, the sheer predictability. When Asper first came into Silkline’s office and declared that he was arranging his own funeral, I actually waited for him to say he knew when he was going to die and for the precognitive knowledge of his own death be the creep factor in the story. Kind of a pre-emptive planning (which I know some people do and I find incredibly disturbing on several levels). Once I realized that Asper was undead (I’m assuming he’s a vampire based on his request to have the mirror removed), I knew exactly where the story was going.

Those two issues aside, I enjoyed The Funeral quite a lot. The predictability and the stereotyping made an unsurprising story, but it was entertaining anyway. I did wait for something more to happen, and felt like Matheson didn’t quite squeak out all the entertainment value he could have, but it was a satisfying story. I particularly liked the ending, with the vision of Morton shaking that little bag of gold, thinking of his nephew in Mexico, a glint in his eye as he weighs the benefits of servicing the undead.

Work cited:
Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: RXR, Inc. 1995.

Book Review: The Killing Room, John Manning

book review, genre fiction, mixed genre, paranormal, poor editing, writing life, writing peeves November 15, 2010

Okay, here’s my new attempt at blogging! I’m shooting for three times a week. Someone poke me if I’m not back on Wednesday. Monday will be book review day. This is good for me, since it will prompt me to read at least one book per week. Sometimes that’s hard because I’m balancing school with kids with house with pets with husband with life… but it’s important for a writer to also be a reader.

Anyway, I finished my assignment for my Writing About Popular Fiction class and went looking for something to read. I ended up in the sunroom with the cat on my lap. This book happened to be within reach, so I grabbed it. Can’t make the cat move.

On to my  review of The Killing Room by John Manning.

A friend loaned me this book, so I’m not sure where it was shelved in the bookstore. Horror? Nah. Nystery? Not really. Thriller? Maybe.

Premise: a generations-old family curse is killing off the Youngs. Once every ten years they must meet for a reunion at the family estate in Maine. One person, whose name is chosen from a lottery, must spend the night in a basement room. Only one family member has ever lived the night, and she’s catatonic. Howard Young, the family patriarch at 98 years old, has hired a former FBI agent, a specialist in paranormal cases, to break the curse once and for all. Carolyn Cartwright arrives at the Young estate skeptical, but ready to do business. Many factors come into play here, including Carolyn’s own tormented past, family secrets, greed, and pride.

So what exactly is this book? The mystery of the killing room is a good one, but the details of what happen in the room remain a little fuzzy throughout the book. The answer is revealed in the end and a resolution is found. There are some elements of horror, including a little gore and some violence. The mix of mystery and horror may classify this as a thriller, but I’m not convinced. There is also a romantic element, but it’s sweet, not edgy, and does not lend itself to the thriller classification. I expect more tension from a thriller or a horror, and if there’s a romantic element in either of those genres, it’d better be incredibly tense with some amazing sex. Not here.

One issue I have with paranormal elements is that they remain consistent. If a writer introduces a paranormal element, like ghosts, then the other paranormal elements have to fit in with that “genre” of paranormal, or there better be a really good excuse as to why it’s something different. This novel (and this might be a bit of a spoiler, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know more) uses ghosts/malicious spirits as the main type of paranormal and then brings in a zombie. If there was a good reason for the zombie to make an entrance, I might have bought it. But in this novel it feels like the author ran out of ideas and brought in an element just for the scare factor. The zombie yanked me right out of the story and I threw my hands up.

I was sorely disappointed by the amateurish writing style.
“Inside the linen closet Ryan slowly lowered his hands from his ears.The house had fallen eerily quiet. The screaming and crashing and the gunshots had stopped. When the commotion had begun, Ryan had looked over the bannister into the foyer below and seen a scar-faced man on Douglas’s back raising a knife. Without even a moment’s hesitation, Ryan had turned on his heel and run down the hall, scurrying into the nearest hiding space he could find. For the next hour– or had it been less than that?– he had kept as still in the closet as possible, his hands clamped over his ears to drown out the sounds of his family being murdered, one by one” (p. 322).

I count seven “hads” in that paragraph. Someone very wise once told me most “hads” can be eliminated from writing. This section is representative of the book, lots of grammar errors and typos, just things that the writer should know better than to do and things that an editor could catch.

I give this book a C. It’s a fun read and I like the idea of the family curse, but the ends were not neatly tied and the errors in writing and publishing really detract from the book.

Work cited:

Manning, John. The Killing Room. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2010.

Book Review: Harm None, M.R. Sellars

book review, pagan fiction September 21, 2010

Let me preface this post by stating that I write pagan fiction (amongst other things like mystery, thriller, romantic suspense). I write pagan fiction without the use of paranormal elements. As a practicing Wiccan, I’m bothered by the fact that it’s hard to find fiction including paganism that doesn’t bring in some kind of non-realistic magic. The topic of what constitutes real magic is something for another day, but suffice it to say that in all the years I’ve been practicing, I’ve never seen anyone levitate, shoot energy bolts from their hands or turn anyone else into a newt (much to my chagrin… that would be a handy talent). I do believe that some people are more in tune with their environment than others, but the movie magic? Nah.

What I’m trying to do is give a clear picture of what the practice of witchcraft really is, which is the use of energy with intent (some people argue that prayer is actually the same thing). In my thesis, my main character falls under suspicion of murder because she’s a practicing witch who happens to know an awful lot about herbs and poisonous plants. She’s a witch, but she doesn’t ride a broom, doesn’t light candles with her breath or practice mind reading.

That said, I’ve been on a search for a long time now for authors with a similar goal. A few years ago I came across M.R. Sellars. His storytelling abilities impressed me and I grab any of his books I can. Here’s a review I wrote of his first book:

Harm None, the first Rowan Gant book, by M.R. Sellars

The author, M.R. Sellars, commits what may be the biggest faux pas I have ever seen. In the author’s note he explains his lack of proper grammar usage and tells his reader not to email him:

Note also that this book is a first-person narrative. You are seeing this story through the eyes of Rowan Gant. The words you are reading are his thoughts. In first person writing, the narrative should match the dialogue of the character telling the story. Since Rowan, (and anyone else that I know of for that matter,) does not speak in perfect, unblemished English throughout his dialogue, he will not do so throughout his narrative. Therefore, you will notice that some grammatical anomalies have been retained (under protest from editors) in order to support this illusion of reality.
Let me repeat something–I DID IT ON PURPOSE. Do NOT send me an email complaining about my grammar. It is a rude thing to do, and it does nothing more than waste your valuable time.

Okay, first of all, I flipped through the book and the stylistic grammar he’s talking about is the use of such things like “oughta” instead of “ought to.” I believe that a writer should use proper grammar, for the most part, maybe except for emphasizing something or to establish an accent, and allow the reader to “stylize” the dialogue on their own. When I am reading dialogue, if I see “ought to” my mind usually interprets that as “oughta.” Using this kind of stylized grammar will only remove the reader from the story because it makes them think “oh, bad grammar.”
Second, don’t write down to your reader. And don’t offend them in the author’s note by telling them not to be rude and write an email. Oy.

This should be interesting.

…about a week later…

I read it. And I must admit I enjoyed it. The plot is tight, the voice is appropriate for the story, most of the facts about Wicca are accurate and portray practitioners in a fairly objective light.

The plot… Rowan Gant is a practicing Witch. His best friend, Ben Storm, is a cop. Ben is assigned to a murder case in which the victim, a Witch herself, has been ritually mutilated and a pentacle drawn on the wall with her blood. Ben recognizes the symbol on the wall as the same as a pendant that Rowan wears, so he asks Rowan to “consult” on the case. There are other murders committed during the course of the book that cause Rowan to believe that the murderer is a Witch and is trying to summon a demon or something equally evil. Rowan manages to track down the killer through slightly supernatural means (more on that later) and also sets up nice conflict between himself and several people on the police force and a reporter.

It’s a nice, taut storyline. Every scene carefully drives the plot forward. I didn’t feel like this was accomplished at the expense of character development. I felt like I got to know Rowan, Ben and Felicity throughout the story and saw them grow. Well done.

The description is also quite good. He describes the murder scenes in vivid detail and nothing left out of Rowan’s visions. Overall, I liked the story very much.

I do have a few points of contention. (Naturally.)

I still stand by my earlier comment that it’s not necessary to use the stylistic grammar. I did feel as though it was jarring me from the story because I had to think about how to pronounce it. When I read dialogue I don’t automatically assume that each character is speaking in stilted English. I put the style into it on my own, as I imagine most readers do.

Sellars also points out in his author’s note that he knows that the magic is “over the top.” Wow. Yeah, that’s one way to put it. Rowan, through the use of study and meditation, has been able to “train” himself into what basically amount to powers of ESP. He can have visions, premonitions, clairvoyant recollections, etc. He identifies the murderer using dreams and visions that he has at the crime scenes. No Wiccan I know has been able to “train” themselves into these sort of abilities. It’s a little discouraging to me that pagans feel the need to embellish the Craft rather than tell it how it really is.

I already own the second Rowan Gant book and will be reading it. Hopefully Sellars will have toned down the “over the top” magic and the stylistic dialogue to really showcase his talent as a storyteller.

To find out more about Mr. Sellars, you can visit his website at www.mrsellars.com or his blog at mrsellars.com/mrblog.