Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Spoiler Free Summary:  Doomed is a story about Madison Spencer, who is dead, but that doesn’t stop her from  posting blogs about her fight with the Devil.  She’s trying to prevent the end of the world, which is pretty hard because everyone seems determined to run toward just that, and they’re doing so in her name.

doomed-paperbackA note on content and content warning.  Not only is this book designed for adults, I must admit that this has some aspects of tone and conduct that strike me the wrong way.  While this affected MY enjoyment of the book, it does not diminish the quality of the writer or it’s narrative.  This is important for me to say because I developed this new review format to be objective.  The reasons I struggled with the book have more to do with my own past and my own issues than it does with why this book might be of interest to other readers.  That said, readers with an aversion to certain sexual situations may want to speak to a friend who’s read this book before reading it themselves.

Character:  Madison is actually a very sympathetic character.  Her situation is tragic for a great many reasons, and as the plot progresses, her story only becomes that much more compelling.  There are a few other cute side characters here and there, but Madison drives this story.   I’m unsure of some of her motivations, and this is an issue because they shift the plot forward when I’m not sure why she’d do such a thing, but the bulk of her actions make up for one issue that may be more a result from having to step away from reading than the actual plot of the book.  Even if there is an issue, it doesn’t degrade Madison’s overall sympathy.    This book is in first-person narrative, and that gives us a lot of insight.  It’s also written in a sort of “blog” style, which is cool to see, and if the reader pays attention, there are some small easter eggs here and there.

Exposition:  This backfired in my opinion.  There are breaks  in this narrative from an alternative perspective.  Those breaks didn’t do much for me in any way, and really only confused me.  It’s not to say that breaks in narrative NEVER work, but to date, I’ve only seen this done well a few times.  I mention it here because those breaks are for exposition.  I comprehend what it’s doing, but all of that information comes back to light in Madison’s narrative.  There isn’t a lot of it, but I don’t know that there needed to be any.

Photo by Allan Amato.  Image used for the purpose of this review to identify author.

Worldbuilding:  This is a pretty deep world when I consider all the forces working together.  The wolrdbuilding is a strength in this book because everything builds on everything else.  It’s set in modern-day earth, but I’m not talking about the “physical” world.  I’m talking about Madison’s world and how it works.   Each time we gain more understanding in how she exists, we learn more about how the forces against her have been moving.

Dialogue:  The dialogue in this book is crisp and witty.   Madison’s tone is darkly optimistic, and that’s something I enjoyed a lot.  Not all of the dialogue is that good.  Madison’s parents were a lull for me in pretty much any scene they were in, but the dialogue between Madison and her grandmother was amazing.  Each character had a unique voice, and Palahniuk did a great job shifting those tones not from his perspective, but from Madison’s.

This image is not related to the book in any way, but it was funny, and I already felt nervous about copyright.

Description:  A friend (Hi Woody!) gave me this book because I continue to assert description as a weakness of mine.  In terms of using this book to analyze and practice the art of description in narrative, this book was a great choice.  Palahniuk’s style and description adds a texture to the story that goes beyond just “knowing what was in the scene.”  Where some authors use scene out of obligation, Palahniuk uses it as a tool and even a plot device.  I’m grateful my friend gave me something like this to study.

Overall:  Fans of dark comedy will enjoy this book, though I didn’t find a lot of it funny.  It’s not graphic or controversial (I think) for the sake of shock value, at least not in my opinion. The cliffhanger ending didn’t endear itself to me either.  This book covers a few very important concepts.  The blending of setting, circumstance, and character makes for some very powerful drama.  It’s satirically funny at times and poignantly tragic in others.  Some of the characters frustrated me because I simply don’t find them believable, but Palahniuk works with characters like that.

Thanks for reading


Book Review: Magic-Scars by C.L. Schneider

Book Review: Magic-Scars by C.L. Schneider

One great thing about being on vacation is I can read much more.  I reblogged my review of the Summer Indie Book Award-nominated Magic-Price last week anticipating I’d be ready to post my review of Magic-Scars today.  This review also gives me a chance to try out my new format for reviews.

A note on format:  Reviews are essentially opinions.  Everybody has one, and at the end of the day, a person either likes a book or doesn’t.  The real question is how to be objective.  As a writer myself, I love an overall opinion of my book, but I also look for honest feedback.  So I’m taking a page from the writer’s group I was in while stationed in San Diego.  It allowed me to be objective.  It also allowed me to separate myself from what I think of the person.

This format came from what I like about books and what I look for when I read books.  My hope is that if readers don’t care about a certain aspect, they can skip to one they do. I’ll also give an overall opinion, which you can also scroll to directly.  Please feel free to comment on the format below as I want to help authors improve and readers find books they might like to read.

The crown of stonesSpolier Free Summary:  Magic-Scars is a sequel to Magic-Price.  Scars is the second book in the Crown of Stones Trilogy.  It takes place a few years after Price.  Ian Troy is still fighting with his friends to stop his father from using magic to take over the world.  The readers get a lot of treats here in terms of secrets revealed and progress in the story.

Character:  Ian Troy is awesome.  He’s why I liked book one, and he’s why I’m eager to read Magic-Borne, though I do want to read this Potter book I’ve heard tell about first.  (NOTE:  This has more to do with me trying to read The Cursed Child before someone spoils it.  I’m actually more excited to read Borne at this point.)  The first-person narrative drives Ian home, but I’ll be honest, I’m officially frustrated I can’t see more of the other characters.  The world is so deep.  As much as I love Ian, I’m upset that I can’t get into any other heads.  It doesn’t necessarily hurt the book at all because, like all books that do first-person narrative well, Ian is a wonderfully sympathetic, proactive character.  This is my number one requirement of all books.  I don’t care how cool the magic system is.  I don’t care how intricate the world building is.  If the main character isn’t sympathetic and proactive, it doesn’t rank very well on my book.

18714210._SX540_Ian isn’t the only reason to keep reading though.  There’s a whole cast of characters that are fascinating.  First-person narrative allowed Schneider to keep the scope of the world from getting out of control, but I’d have happily read two or three more books in the series if it meant I could have gleamed more insight as to the motivations of the other characters.  Like I said, it doesn’t hurt the book.

Exposition: Another benefit of first-person narrative is the fact that it sort of cheats the bulk of exposition.  Schneider didn’t beat us to death with exposition, but there’s a lot of it.  It’s woven in well with great dialogue, and it’s only something you notice if you’re up at 4 a.m. reviewing a few chapters to get a feel for it.  In my opinion, if a reader has to go back to the book and look for exposition, it was done right.

Worldbuilding:  This is one of Schneider’s two main strengths.  The magic system is complex.  As I think on it more and more, I’ll do what I always do and start looking for ways to punch holes in the system.  That’s the cool part about fantasy books like this.  As deep and well designed as the world is, there are a few questions about how the magic works that I’m hopeful the last book addresses.  The world itself is intricately designed, as are the cultures, histories and races of this series.

wQwMv69V.jpg-largeEverything feels real while reading this.  Yes, there are things about the magic system that give me questions, but I’m willing to let it go until I read the last book.  None of those questions feel like cheats.  Usually, by book two, I like to have a pretty solid feel for how a magic system works.  My gripe is that, while the basic premise is easy to grasp, I still can’t quite summarize the mechanics of how the system works.  This may be because the system is a part of the plot.  As we learn about the magic, we understand what’s going on in the book more.  To just come out with it would cheat the reader of discovering certain things for themselves.  Only those obsessed with diagraming and breakdown of abilities would be disappointed.  Bonus points for the Eldering.  Their history was a nice touch.

Dialogue:  This is sort of in the middle for me.  The characters all have a unique voice.  The exchanges feel more-or-less natural.  I can’t pretend to know what makes dialogue “better,” but the dialogue here isn’t bad at all.  There are a few instances where some readers might argue some of the interactions, but I’m not one of them.

indiepride3Description:  I have a better sense of the world than I do the characters.  I naturally see Ian more clearly in my mind that the other characters.  I confess characters don’t sit well in my imagination to begin with.  What I do know is that all the characters get their fair share of description.  It’s not enough to get through my particularly thick skull, but I think most readers will be fine with it. I think the settings are stronger because they bring better images to my imagination.  What Schneider does well though is weave those things in.  I hate being beaten to death with description or minute detail.  Not once in the book did I skim over a section because I felt it was just overwritten description.

A note on content:  There are some adult scenes in this book.  Normally, this is an automatic turn-off for me.  I’m more a “Fade to black” scene kind of guy.  Things get steamy in this novel, but it’s not over done.  In fact, one of my favorite parts in the book (one that sums up Ian rather nicely) is in such a scene. These scenes don’t oversaturate the book or get in the way of the plot.  It’s a well-done balance in my opinion.

1d9390_138339a396c348f9ade2dfafb512d4c8Overall:  I was a big fan of Price, and Scars is much better.  Scars pays off on the potential Schneider demonstrated with Price.  It’s a great second act that has just enough cliffhanger to make you want to jump straight to book three without robbing you of feeling like you’ve finished reading a novel.  (I absolutely hate true cliffhangers).   I’ll rate it on Amazon and Goodreads because they help authors, but ratings really are more or less an awful tool.  People either like books or they don’t.  So I won’t be providing a rating here because I wouldn’t invest 1,200 words on a book I didn’t love.  I wouldn’t have already bought the next book in the series either.    I’ll end with this…

I’ve made no secret that Schneider is a friend of mine.  What I feel is important to point out is that she became my friend because she’s a wonderful person who’s been an amazing help to me and my own development.  What made me seek her out was an amazing cover and a damn-well written book.  I sought her out because she has skills I admire in a writer.  If you’re looking for a great, fast-paced book to read, look no further.

Thanks for reading


Third Person: The Deific Approach to Narrative

Third Person:  The Deific Approach to Narrative

Last week, I posted a blog about first person narrative, during which I gave some pros and cons to that style of writing.  First, that blog was a huge success, and I have you all to thank for it.   Thank you!

Now the pressure’s on to make every post that informative and that helpful.  I can only hope I don’t disappoint.

If I’m being honest, I don’t see vary many true third person narrative stories anymore.  Most books I read (and I read a lot) are either told in first person or third person limited omniscient.  Third person allows the reader into every character’s thoughts at any time.  The author isn’t limited in any scope.  He can (and should) decide when and how to provide information to the reader.   I had to go pretty deep into my library to find a few examples, but I did.

1267501_091211090215_david_eddings  The Belgariad by David Eddings:  I read the first three books in this series.  Eddings is a great author who may be underrated or under-discussed.  I talk about fantasy fiction and reading pretty much every day, and his work doesn’t come up very often (though someone mentioned him when I talked about cinematic universes).   In all of my library, his was the one book or series that jumped out at me when I considered what I’ve read that effectively uses third person narrative.

51eq24cRtRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:  I know I said no other books jumped out at me, but I read LOTR in 2000 and Belgariad in 2010, so maybe give a guy a bit of a break.  I don’t need to build up the success of one of the best selling series (not to mention films) in history.   Tolkien is simply the standard by which all other fantasy authors are compared.   I can’t tell you how many books or reviews I’ve seen that read: “Better than Tolkien” or “Takes the world Tolkien created and improved it.”  When you compare every other book to one book, you prove that book to be the standard.

Third person omniscient used to be the standard for most fiction.  It’s evolved over the years, and I may just manage to accidentally fail to find it in fiction these days.  If you know of a popular series that uses it, feel free to let me know in the comments.  In the mean time, let’s take a look at what it gives writers:


hands-1222866_960_720Unlimited scope: The author has the power to give the reader every thought and every opinion in every scene for every character in the book.  This allows readers all the insight they could ever ask for.  The author has the most control over what to reveal and what to withhold.  The author allows the reader to see every angle at any time.  That also makes the information more immediate.  Where first person might have the reader wondering at what point they’re getting this information, the reader doesn’t worry about that issue with third person narrative.  The reader gets everything as it’s happening.

More reliable:  I’d mentioned in my  post about first person narrative that it’s hard to address the perspective of the narrator.  It makes the speaker a little hard to believe.  Third person narrative is more trustworthy because you know you’re getting the author’s honest account of what the characters are doing or thinking.  Sure, the characters might be wrong, but the reader knows.  There’s a reasonable expectation of objectivity for the readers to work with.


audience-828584_960_720Unlimited scope:  Nope, that’s not a typo.  Like Spidey says, with great power, comes great responsibility.  Now the writer has to choose what information to reveal when.  More importantly, the writer has to decide WHY the reader wouldn’t get the information sooner.  I remember thinking about this while reading The Belgariad.  I constantly wondered why some information wasn’t getting filtered.  Readers like me are frustrated by having information the characters could need.  Believe it or not, this is EXACTLY how soap operas become so addictive.  The consumer is just aching for some way to get that secret to the person who needs it.  In fiction, it’s more difficult because the characters are interacting, and the author is providing insights to the characters’ thoughts.   Authors have to watch out for the plot holes created when revealing information that should have come to light sooner based on how the story progresses.

Less relatable:  The reliability of the information in narrative is proportional to the reliability of the character.  Just think about it.  If I’m in everyone’s head, when do I have the opportunity to grow closer to any one person?  This doesn’t mean that readers can’t relate to characters in this narrative, but it can happen.  As successful as The Lord of the Rings was, a lot of readers will tell you that it was hard to connect to some of the characters.  I personally consider the books to be more of a history of events than a story.  It’s well told and beautifully written, but a lot of my affection for the characters has more to do with the movies than the books.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the degree to which someone sympathies with a character is proportionate to the amount and quality of time the reader sees from the character’s point of view.

smiley-822989_960_720More challenging plot twists:  In first person, all an author has to do to keep the readers in the dark is keep the main character in the dark.  Third person narrators don’t have that option.  I touched on this above, but this specific aspect of the scope requires a bit more information.  The reason readers don’t know what the bad guy is up to is because the author never goes to the bad guy’s perspective, which makes the bad guy less sympathetic. (and now I have to write at least one blog about sympathetic characters.

Just realize that hatred isn’t the worst thing a reader can feel toward a character, it’s ambivalence.)  So where I can keep the reader clueless in first person, it’s much trickier in omniscient storytelling because the reader knows what everyone is thinking (or at least could).  This touches on my big problem with this form of storytelling.  The trouble is withholding information in such a was as to allow the reader to learn something when it’s necessary without making the reader point out any number of reasons the character should have had that information already.  Sure, as authors, we have the privilege to withhold as much information as we want, but the more you withhold, the less satisfying or more contrived a plot twist or conclusion will feel.

angel-749625_960_720Summary:  Third person is great for stories with a lot of scope and few plot twist elements.  Your events need to be more interesting because your characters might not be as familiar (and therefore compelling) to your readers.

Did I leave something out?  Care to provide a different side of some of these issues?  As always, feel free to use the comments section.  I had a lot of fun discussing the craft with the last post, and I look forward to more of the same.

Thanks for reading,



Narrative: The pros and cons of 1st person narrative

Narrative: The pros and cons of 1st person narrative

I noticed Corey  (Quintessential Editordo a blog about The Power of POV, and that got me thinking about it.  Now some people use POV (Point of View) and a few other terms.  The most classic term used is narrative.  Once I read his blog, I thought  I’d dig a little deeper.

As I’ve learned about writing over the years, I’ve become familiar with the more commonly used types of narrative.  Now most people talk about what they are, but I don’t know that anyone’s taken the time to explain what they do well and what they don’t do so well.

I experienced this writing my fifth book, The Nick of Time, which is the story of a little girl who finds herself tracking down a legendary artifact in an effort to help her father save the world before it’s scheduled to end.  When I sit down to work out that story, I’m going to end up switching the narrative because the one I chose wasn’t working.  It’s a solid idea, but the narrative you use to write a story changes how effective it is.

So a quick google shows varying results when you search “types of narrative in fiction.”  I’m going to stick to three, because, like Corey said, those three are the ones with which most people write, and they’re also the ones with which I’m most familiar.  They would be First Person, Third Person, and Third Person limited (which I call POV).  As I started typing this post, I immediately realized there’s too much to cover in one blog, so this will be the first in a series of three.


First Person:  Confession.  This is my least favorite type of narrative, but don’t let that fool you.  It’s not my least favorite because it’s just bad.  Narrative is a tool.  I don’t like it because I see it done badly the most.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t great examplcover_277es of first person narrative.  Let’s check out a few.

The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss:  Rothfuss is probably the biggest name in the game right now.  The Name of the Wind took the fantasy world by storm and fans will devour the next book when it comes.

51JKlgjAvpL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher:  Butcher’s Dresden Files have been a great staple in urban fantasy for almost 20 years now.  It was even a series for one season, which I wish they’d go back to and work on again.

Wastelander, by Corey Truax:  You’re darn right I’m talking about this story before it’s even done drafting.  I’ve read it.  It’s a perfect reason to use first person done by a compelling character.  You won’t have to take my word for it.  Just read the first chapter when the book is released; you’ll thank me later.

These are perfect examples of first person narrative done well, so let’s look at what it does for writers:


Intensifies relationship between the main character and the reader:  Readers connect to characters, and none of these narratives do so better than first person.  The narrator is the main character, and he’s talking to me (the reader).  It’s only natural to grow closer to someone you talk to on a regular basis.  I wasn’t hooked on Dresden after book one, but I kept reading because Harry was a cool guy to listen to.  When the story intensified, I was all the more invested because Harry was sharing his story with me.

stage-1015653_960_720Comedy and breaking the fourth wall:  First person breaks the fourth wall regardless of which effect you intend, but it’s magical when you use this for comedy.  Deadpool and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are wonderful examples of using first person narrative and breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect.  This technique makes every joke an inside joke.


Limited scope:  I see first person narrative done most often in mysteries, and there’s a reason for that.  It’s just so darn easy to keep readers in the dark when they only know what your main character knows.  Beware using first person for other types of stories.  It can frustrate readers to not know what’s going on.  Mystery readers expect to not know; readers of other genres can get antsy when they’re kept in the dark.

Baffling perspective:  There’s really no other way to describe it.  During my writers’ grouptube-710083_960_720 meeting a few weeks back, we had a huge discussion about when the main character is telling his or her story.  Consider Dresden talking about horrible events after they happened.  Wouldn’t that affect his ability to discuss painful memories?  Isn’t it more likely that people put a positive spin on things in hind sight?  I know I never told my parents exactly how stuff was broken in the house.  This creates a paradox that I don’t like trying to puzzle out.  Dean Koontz handled it well in Odd Thomas.  I just struggle with the idea of someone writing a story after it’s happened.

Isn’t the point of a story for the main character to progress?  Won’t the person tell the story inherently be very different than the person he or she was before his or her journey started. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m one of those jerks that refuse to use “they” as a singular personal pronoun.)

Summary:  For my taste, first person narrative is most effective for stories that are limited in scope.  They should have incredibly sympathetic characters.  Mysteries are a bonus, but so long as the reader doesn’t need to know anything more than the main character, the story won’t suffer.

Did I miss a well told first person narrative?  I know I left a lot out.  I just don’t have the time an energy to post that many links to that many stories, but they’re out there.  (Well, I have to at least mention the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells.  Anyone who hasn’t read his stuff is missing out.)

Feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading