This week I am not reviewing a work of fiction, but a non-fiction book, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I read this book over the past week and a half. It took me that long because I found so much of value in it that I took copious notes and covered the pages with sticky notes.
Great for Outliners and Pantsers!
Now let me start by stating that I have always been a dedicated pantser and rebelled against outlining. The most I ever usually do is a detailed character profile. And then I just let those characters roam free, getting up to whatever nonsense they want.
But I have found that this can cause my characters to wander around, lost in a desert (literally, in one of my uncompleted novels). Nothing gets accomplished or advanced. This book can resolve that problem.
Jessica Brody shows you first how to confirm that you have a story-worthy hero and then she demonstrates the 3 Act structure and the 15 Beats of the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet. The 15 beats are broken down to explain what type of action is contained in each beat, what purpose it serves to advance the story, and what order they should be in. Then she breaks down the 10 Genres and shows sample beat sheets for published novels in each genre.
Beats are points of action for the hero(es) that move the story forward. As I was reading the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, I was mentally comparing it to my Work in Progress, thinking: yes, I have that; that too; I covered that; oh, I didn’t think of that one-that could make a huge difference. As soon as I finished reading the book, I broke down my story according to the beats, realized that I didn’t have an Act 2 nemesis and figured out who it had to be and from there I was able to flesh out the rest of the book. I feel like I will be able to finish this book now and understand where my characters need to go and what they need to do. I still have the freedom of changing the beats as the action progresses, adding or removing scenes according to my characters’ development.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is having any issues organizing the action of the novel they are writing. Even if you are a Pantser.
This week, I am reviewing the Last Call at the Esposito, by Richard J Cass. I have read all four volumes in this series now and have enjoyed them very much. When Richard Cass was asked if this was truly the last call, he was noncommittal, and with a smile, said, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
An Excellent Addition to the Series.
Last Call at the Esposito is the fourth in the Elder Darrow Mystery series. It follows the the story of Elder Darrow, a recovering alcoholic who bought a bar, The Esposito, in Boston, on the theory that being surrounded by alcohol would help him with recovery. He has been more or less successful proving that theory.
Elder has encountered various mysteries and situations since purchasing the bar and cleaning it up from the dismal place it was, occupied by down and out street people, drug dealers, and sloppy drunks. His goal has been to turn The Esposito into a jazz club at night and a lunch bar during the day. He has been fairly successful at that.
He has gotten beaten up a few times and been on the wrong side of some of the “gangsters” in Boston. But has become friends with a Boston Homicide Detective, Dan Burton, who also has a drinking problem. He and Burton have had varied adventures over the previous three books, each saving the other, and that trend continues in this novel.
The premise in this novel is that there is a faction trying to get the Olympics to come to Boston. The area that would be absorbed by that project includes where the Esposito is located. Elder is understandably concerned and starts to look in to whether or not this looks likely. Of course, he irritates the wrong sort of people and things start to happen.
There is also a mystery concerning Kathleen, a woman he almost fell in love with before who disappeared on Elder. Well, she shows up again in this book and he is sidetracked by her reappearance. He is still trying to decide if he is or was in love with her and what’s her connection, if any, to the Olympics question?
My only criticism is the author, through Elder Darrow, is overly concerned with men’s wear. We get a detailed description of the outfit of every man that Elder meets. This includes the material of the suit and shirt, how well it fits, and what it’s condition is. This description pulls me out of the story and makes me think, “why do I care?” I realize that the clothing says a lot about the man, and that the condition of a man’s suit can also make a statement about the man, but I do think a briefer description would be more appropriate.
Except for this one criticism, I found this book to be a great addition to the series. The characters are well-developed, with both positive and negative character traits, and believable. I enjoyed this book very much and do hope that Cass is not quite done with Elder Darrow.
Overall, I would give Last Call at the EspositoFour and One Half Stars.**** 1/2*
This week I am reviewing Horizon by Tabitha Lord, it is the first book in a Sci-Fi / Fantasy trilogy. Horizon was the 2016 Writer’s Digest Grand Prize Winner. It was also a Finalist of the Next Generation Indie Awards and a Finalist of National Indie Excellence Awards.
Excellent First Book!
Horizon tells the story of Dr. Caeli Crys. She lives on a planet with two distinctly different peoples. Her people, the Novalis, are empaths and also have other gifts. Caeli can heal, among other things. Her people for generations have hid the planet, using their gifts, from all of the other planets in the universe. This is where the problems start, the other group, the Amathi, do not have the same empath gifts, but are more scientifically advanced. This causes problems on the planet.
The book opens with Caeli hiding in a cave in the forest. She sees a space ship crash on the beach and uses her gifts to heal the one survivor of the two men on board. This introduces Derek.
The two have some adventures and are rescued by his people on the ship, Horizon. Caeli is torn about leaving her planet, she feels drawn to help them, but realizes she cannot do anything for them on her own. So she leaves her planet. For now.
On the ship, Caeli must now adjust to a much more technically advanced society, and adjust to the fact that there are so many inhabited planets that there is an Alliance, which the ship, Horizon belongs to. And, of course, enemies of the Alliance.
Caeli is a very rounded character. You see her grow from a child to an adult and a doctor. She is so well drawn that the reader feels all of her emotions; love and loss, friendship and fear. But she refuses to be a victim. Reading the book, I found myself completely involved in her story. Derek and the other characters are also well developed, but this is clearly Caeli’s story.
The book is written from both Caeli’s and Derek’s viewpoints, which can be confusing as there is not a discernible pattern. In the first half of the book, on Almagest, the viewpoint goes back and forth, but are mostly Caeli’s. The second half of the book take place on the ship, Horizon. Derek’s viewpoint is more prevalent at this point. However, this did not keep me from enjoying the story.
Tabitha Lord has since finished the complete trilogy with Infinity in 2018 and Equinox in 2019. I look forward to reading those installments in the Caeli Crys story.
Today I am reviewing Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson. This is the sixteenth novel in the Walt Longmire series (plus some short stories and novellas) and it takes place one month after the events in Depth of Winter. Walt is still recovering from what happened in Mexico, both physically and emotionally. He had to do things down in Mexico that he had never imagined he would have to do and now wonders if it has changed him. Is he still the same man that he was before?
However, crime doesn’t wait and he has a possible murder to investigate. This is complicated when he sees a single wolf in the tree line. This one wolf doesn’t seem to be part of a pack and is older and larger than normal. There is something indefinable about it.
In every one of the Longmire books, Walt has some type of metaphysical concern. In this case, is the wolf a spirit animal or is Virgil White Buffalo trying to communicate with him? Plus Walt has been having instances of freezing both mentally and physically; is this a reaction from the events in Mexico or is his body preparing for a vision, as Henry Standing Bear suggests?
Throughout the book, Walt is besieged by questions. Is he investigating a murder or a suicide? Is he a different man, should he still be sheriff? How can he finally use a computer? Will a cell phone be next?
That singular wolf also causes some panic among the townspeople. Just because the wolf nibbled on the dead man in the woods, people are convinced he is a danger (everyone knows that once they’ve tasted human, they will want to eat humans, as people keep telling Walt). All the while he is still wondering just what the wolf is doing there and doesn’t see a reason it needs to be killed, though he is in the minority. He tries to stay out of it, after all wildlife are the concern of Predator Control or Fish and Game, not the Absaroka Sheriff’s Department. but keeps getting pulled in.
As one expects with Craig Johnson’s books, the characters are believable, each with their own foibles; and both positive and negative character traits. For example, Vic Moretti, while known for her outrageous language and impatience with people shows extraordinary concern when there is a missing child and when dealing with a confused elderly woman.
I am not a fan of reading excessive scenery description, but Johnson’s writing has just the right amount so that the high plains and mountains of the area are visible in the reader’s mind and become characters of the book on their own. With each book the characters develop and grow, they change in ways that, while unexpected, are logical.
As usual with the Longmire series, I loved this book. With each one, Walt is given a difficult situation, or numerous difficult situations, that he resolves in his own unique way.
This is the fourth in the Detective Byron series by Bruce Robert Coffin. I have been a fan since the first book, Among the Shadows. Great characters, excellent detection, and in this new book a grisly murder, an excess of suspects and a satisfying ending that while a surprise, makes perfect sense after the fact. I would highly recommend this book, but if you haven’t read the first three, read them first so that you can appreciate the character development and growth. This is an excellent police procedural, part of an outstanding series.