Category: Books (Page 1 of 3)

All Your Twisted Secrets

This is a book that came up in a recent search on Overdrive, and had been sitting in my wishlist since then. Recently, it came up in the Kindle Daily Deal, so I went ahead and took a chance on it. I’m certainly glad I did!

The debut novel from Diana Urban, All Your Twisted Secrets instantly reminded me of Christopher Pike’s novels, and I’m really impressed as this is Diana’s debut novel (at least from a major publisher)! Six teens meet at a restaurant where they had supposedly been invited for a scholarship dinner, only to find themselves trapped and a timer counting down to certain death? Who confined them, and why?

Copied here are some Q&As from Diana for FAQs she has received (copied with her permission):

How did you get the idea for All Your Twisted Secrets?

One day, my husband and I started speculating the shortest timespan you could set a book or movie to, throwing ideas back and forth. Could an entire book take place over just fifteen minutes? No way, that’s not enough time to accomplish anything. But what about an hour? What if you locked a group of people in a room for an hour? What if someone died at the end of the hour? What if the trapped people killed one of them? What if they had to choose someone to kill, or else they’d all die? We exchanged this look that was like, “Bingo,” and I raced to my desk and started scribbling down ideas for characters I could put into this crazy situation.

All Your Twisted Secrets takes place in one room over the course of an hour. What were some of the challenges of working with such a tight locale?

The challenge wasn’t so much with the locale, but the time constraints. Most of the action in the locked room spans one hour, such a limited time to get to know each character. I thought interspersing flashbacks in the locked-room narrative would kill the tension as they confront this impossible choice. So instead, I alternated real-time chapters with flashback chapters—all from Amber’s POV over the past year as she struggles to win over the intimidating queen bee (who’s drama club director) to score the school play and get into her dream music school. These flashback chapters get to the heart of the story: the characters’ relationships and how they deal with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one—all while dropping clues about whodunit and who might die.

What were some of your techniques for building suspense?

Ending each chapter on a cliffhanger is one of my main strategies. And that’s harder to do than you’d think, without it seeming cheesy or like you’re intentionally withholding information to keep readers hooked. Also, you want a few overarching mysteries that span the full novel, and then mini-mysteries in individual chapters to create these little cliffhanger. And each chapter needs to build in tension until you cut it off. But, in my opinion, you have to have the payoff for each mini-mystery come fairly quickly in the next chapter or two, otherwise readers will get frustrated.

To learn more about Diana’s writings, as well as her informative blog, her website is https://dianaurban.com/

The Shape of Night

One of the first books I checked out on my library’s Overdrive service was The Shape of Night. I was looking through the mystery section for something to read, and Tess Gerritsen‘s name came up quite a few times. Rather than delving into one of her mystery series, I decided to go with her latest book.

A cookbook author who needs a break from everything in her life, Ava Collette drives from Boston to Tucker Cove and manages to rent a house with an amazing view: Brodie’s Watch. Shrugging off rumors that it’s haunted, Ava struggles to finish her cookbook amid guilt and alcohol abuse, until one night an apparition does appear. Is it real or sprung from her imagination?

The Shape of Night is a book that I enjoyed for the most part. I’m a sucker for a mystery, and of course the location and surroundings spoke to my Murder, She Wrote-laced heart. Ava is likeable, even if at times it’s almost cliche that her drinking seems to dominate everything. She’s rightfully curious about the apparition, the house, and its history in relation to the town.

Among the few faults I found with the book was how most of Ava’s work was left off-page. We read about her cooking fairly often, but except for testing a few recipes on the house carpenters near the beginning we don’t learn just how she actually managed to finish her cookbook, with as much drinking and amateur sleuthing as she was doing.

The ending of the novel was satisfying, with just the right amount of tension and suspense, followed by a short but needed resolution, especially with Ava’s sister Lucy coming back into the picture. There’s almost enough hinted at near the end of the book that it could almost warrant a sequel, perhaps Ava exploring another old house or other location for her next cookbook.

Art & Arcana

From Empire of Imagination author Michael Witwer, joined by Kyle Newman, Playing at the World‘s Jon Peterson, and Michael’s brother Sam, Art & Arcana is a very comprehensive look at the visual history of Dungeons and Dragons. Starting from the beginnings of the original game and going up through the current 5th edition, this book is absolutely crammed full of artwork! The accompanying text is not too bad a read, though the text size was a tad small for me. Also, I did appreciate the slight ribbing at the 3rd, 3.5, and 4th edition rules and the exaggerated artwork that came along with it (seriously, I CANNOT stand Wayne Reynold’s artwork!), but glad it wasn’t too overbearing. I bet there’s plenty of artwork you’ve never seen before, and it was nice to re-visit some of my favorite pieces from David Trampier, Erol Otus, and Jeff Easley!

Dragons of Winter Night

A few months have passed since I read and reviewed Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I’ve read a few other books in the meantime, including starting The Eye of the World, but now I’m ready to go back into the world of Krynn and the continued adventures of Tanis, Raistlin, and everyone else!

This book picks up right where the first one left off. While one dragon highlord was killed we already get a replacement, this one wearing blue armor. An army of blue dragons come to join in, but the dragon highlord sends them north. They encounter Tanis and the others, riding on Griffons headed towards Silvanesti (yep, another freaking elf homeland). After a very confusing recount of events and dreams that everyone in the party has due to the corrupted tower in Silvanstri, Laurana and several others head out to find another dragon orb.

Basically, they do find the other dragon orb and stuff happens as they try to get it to Sancrist. While all of this is happening, we don’t hear anything about Tanis, Raistlin, or the others who aren’t with Laurana and Sturm. And Tanis is who I really care about. I don’t care about Sturm, not really.

Later on we do come back to Raistlin, Caramon, Tika, and the others, but not much time or details are devoted to them. We also get a little insight into the Knights of Solamnia as Sturm is questioned before the Council for his actions regarding Derek and his orders. There’s some political undertones and power struggles, and all that comes with that, but in the end it all has very little affect on the story as a whole, and I was ready to move on. Shortly after this is where I stopped, when I realized that the story really wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe it does pick up before the end of the book, but I just don’t have the time to keep reading chapter after chapter trying to find out.

I never realized two things about this trilogy. First, just how little actually happens, and just as few locations those events take place in. Once I finished reading the majority of the second book, I was thinking over what all has happened and it’s just not very much. Second, there’s so much melodramatic “tension” going on between characters. I guess most of it is supposed to create drama and draw the reader in, but most of the time I just rolled my eyes and wished something would actually happen, rather than reading more and more about how a character would first feel angry, and then remorseful, but never actually doing anything about it.

After reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I was still looking forward to what happens to all of the characters. I wanted them to keep exploring the world, meeting new and interesting people, races, and cultures. I was quite let down trying to get through the second book, and I don’t think I’ll try to read any other Dragonlance novels.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

It’s been a very long time since I’ve last read the Chronicles trilogy. It was in middle school that I first learned about it, likely from my friend “Chip” who also introduced me to RPGs. What’s the connection? The Chronicles trilogy takes place in the Dragonlance universe (created by the book’s co-author Tracy Hickman with his wife Laura, and expanded with the help of the book’s other co-author Margaret Weis), used by TSR (and later Wizards of the Coast) as a setting for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as well as a multitude of books. Regarding the latter, I’m pretty sure the Chronicles trilogy was by far the most popular. I remember reading quite a few other Dragonlance novels, but I can’t recall which ones, let alone what they were about.

Awhile ago I re-purchased the original paperbacks off of eBay, meaning to re-read them at some point. That time finally came a few weeks ago, when I sat down with the first book, opened it, and came to a horrible realization: the text was too small! Getting old sucks, yes, but seriously it’s really small. I guess for the paperback size it had to be that small in order to come in at a decent page-count. So, I set the books aside in my “to donate” stack, went on Amazon, and purchased the first book for my Kindle. While I still hate using PDFs/tablets/etc. for RPG material, for reading a book it’s just too nice using a Kindle: no holding a book open or page flipping, long battery life on the Kindle’s e-ink screen, and I can even read on my phone or online if I want to.

ANYWAYS, how was my impression of re-reading the book after so long? After all, I had tried to re-read a Forgotten Realms book years ago, and oh the pain! In contrast, I think Dragons of Autumn Twilight holds up fairly well, even though it’s still clear in spots that the writers were still fairly green at the time, and a better editing job could have greatly helped. While we get some insight into each of the main characters, we don’t get much about the main villain. He’s just there, described as the bad guy with the evil queen’s support, and then at the end is a quick fight.

I wanted more backstory for Tanis, and I wanted more development between him and Laurana. I wanted more backstory for all of the characters, honestly, to give them more motivation for their actions now. From what I can remember I think Dragons of Winter Night does go more into that. I did enjoy re-reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight more than I anticipated, so I know it won’t be too long before I pick up the next two.

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