Book Recommendation: The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears

9781460337752-COVTitle: The Masked Songbird
Author: Emmie Mears
Publisher: Harlequin

KoboB&N | Amazon *

Disclaimer: Let it be known that I purchased this book of my own free will and enjoyed it so much that I’m posting a recommendation/review.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.


I adored this book.

The voice. This voice is everything I want from first person. Gwen is fun to hang around with, and you never quite know what she’ll do next–which is why it’s totally believable that she’d suck down an open beverage when she finds herself in desperate need of one (no spoilers here!).

The story is rigorously true to its own internal logic, and to Gwen’s character. I know her well, so I believe in her choices. She may be hapless from the beginning, as the blurb tells us, but it’s clear she’s tough even before she can leap onto rooftops. She’s good at her job, yet she’s stuck with an evil boss. She’s bad at budgeting, but she doesn’t “solve” the problem by throwing expensive meals/shoes/etc. on credit cards (or hell, even affordable ones–the woman is barely surviving). She has flaws, interesting flaws that directly effect the direction of the novel. She’s also competent enough before she gets her super strength that I believe in her ass-kicking abilities when she does find she has powers–and in the loyalty and kindness that drive her to use them. It’s beautifully done.

The supporting characters are also intriguing. Gwen’s evil boss makes all other evil bosses look like kittens. Her neighbor is a-dor-a-ble. Her flatmate is charming. And her boyfriend…yeah, I think I dated him once. Even those who appear only briefly are memorable and nuanced, which I love–layers and secrets keep me guessing all the way through.

This book strikes a beautiful balance between a fun origin story and a serious contemplation of the price involved in becoming a hero. That choice fascinates me, as do the consequences. I think about it more than I should, probably. I love superheroes. I wrote a novel about superheroes. It’s nothing like this book, but my point is that I was proudly biased when I started reading The Masked Songbird, and I wasn’t disappointed. I was thrilled to see a female superhero who faces these choices and the sacrifices that come with them, who rises to the occasion just like Cap and Spider Man–but (I’m itching to tell you more, but I won’t) brings her own unique spin to the story, too.

What surprised me the most about this novel was its depth of heart. It’s clear from page one that it’s going to be a fun read, but woe betide you if you go in expecting Emmie Mears to pull any punches. She raises the stakes throughout the novel, and she delivers. There’s a line in the climax that hit me so hard I had to put my e-reader down for a few minutes to catch my breath. It’s a moment that could be cheesy, but Ms. Mears pulls it off without sugary sentiment.

Is it too soon to ask for a Gwen Maule TV series? In the vein of Arrow? I’d love that. More importantly though, there’s a sequel on the way–which means lots more quality time with Gwen!


*Yup, I’m still mad at Amazon, but this book doesn’t seem to be available in print (yet! I hope!) so I’m linking to them. Go buy it somewhere. Anywhere.

Project(s) update

I’m in the beginning stages of two novels right now, which is pretty unusual for me. Not sure exactly how it happened, and I suspect one will probably take over my brain before long, but jury’s out on which it will be. The two books are different enough that they might play well together for a while, but eventually I do expect one of them to demand more of my time.

Stephen King talks about “keeping the door closed” on first drafts, and for me it’s really the only way. If I talk about it too soon, the idea loses its magic. With that in mind, I’ll share the genres here and leave it at that for now.

The first is Magical Realism, and it’s quite serious–which is probably why I need to be worldbuilding on the second project while I’m writing on this one. I’m about 15k words in.

The second project is straight Fantasy. It’s leaning toward Epic Fantasy, but I’m still in the discovery process. I’ve written less than 200 words on it; I need to develop the setting and character backstories before I can get very far. I did capture a bit of voice, which is the tricky part. If I have a hint of voice, I can usually rocket through a draft. If not, I tend to struggle. That’s why I dislike first drafts, in comparison to the rest of the writing process; I can’t lock down the voice until I write, and it’s hard to write until I have the voice. Yeesh.

In fact, I call this my zero draft because it’s much more of a skeleton with dialogue than anything resembling a real draft. I may write more about that soon, but for now I have some worldbuilding to do!

Quick Update and Links

I’m working on a few short stories right now, and it feels good to finish things after spending so long wrapped in a bubble of novel. I love my novel, maybe more than anything else I’ve written, but there’s something soothing about reaching “the end” with a little more regularity. Maybe it’s just that “a change is as good as a rest”?

One of the stories has a super precise voice, and it’s fun to puzzle over each word. It also has dragons.

Other small projects: a villain story, a steampunk story, and (maybe) a sci-fi story that’s acting like it’s going to take a while to find the right tone. That’s ok; I can wait.

Links to some things I’ve particularly enjoyed lately: 

Delilah Dawson on 10 Things You DON’T Need to be a Writer – couldn’t agree more!

Chuck Wendig’s glee at Guardians of the Galaxy pretty much reflects my feelings on the movie, too.

Speaking of Chuck Wendig, he also wrote a great piece on comparing yourself to others. It’s a must-read.

My critique partner, Sara Seyfarth, has a lovely story in Paper Darts this week. Check it out when you have a chance!

How to Express your Mood with Superheroes

I made fun little chart thing. I got the idea this morning while talking to people on Twitter. 

It has superheroes.

I think it’s pretty self explanatory, although I suppose that “badass” isn’t so much a mood as a state of existence. Let’s say it’s also a state of mind, shall we?

Enjoy :)



Excuses for blog silence:

  1. Graduated from MFA program at the end of June – yay!
  2. Got married at the end of July – also yay!
  3. Needed time to collapse – zzzz.

This week, it’s back to my writing routine. The second draft of my novel is with critique partners, so I’m working on a new story. I’ll be back with the novel soon.

I’ve also been blowing through books and literary magazines like crazy. The highlights:

Here’s some other stuff I’ve been checking out:

  • Audio Didact, an Apiary Podcast. It’s by two friends of mine, Killian and Daniel (with special guests). Great conversations on books, comics, science, music, art. All the good stuff.
  • The 100, a sci fi show on the CW. It premiered last winter, I think, but I’ve been catching the reruns. (It has Desmond from Lost, Burke from Grey’s Anatomy, and Zoe from Person of Interest.)

Looking forward to:

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (it comes out today!)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy

Blog Hop: A Writing Q&A

The fantastically talented Killian Czuba asked me to participate in this Writing Q&A Blog Hop, and I could never say no to Killian. Besides, these questions are fun–plus Blog Hop sounds kind of like Sock Hop, and I always wanted to go to one of those.

Killian’s answers are here, if you’d like to read ‘em!

Next week, keep an eye on Sara Rauch’s tumblr – I’m tagging her to participate next (more info about Sara appears at the bottom of this post).


What am I working on?

A fantasy novel. The working title is Independent Operative. I won’t say a whole lot about it right now, but it has superhero-type characters whose choices sometimes make it hard to tell them apart from the villain-types. It also has grapple hooks, movie stars, and kissing.


How is my work different than others in its genre?

IO is very lady-centric. A little Birds of Prey, a little Avengers. My ultimate vision is to reflect the humor and excitement of these types of comics and films while also using the novel form to its best advantage by exploring complex characters and themes.

I don’t know if any of this necessarily makes the book so different than others in its genre. I like to think that if I do it right, it might bend the boundaries a bit. But that is impossible to tell from the inside, honestly, so my main focus is on writing the best story I can. I hope the rest will come.


Why do I write what I do?

Speculative fiction has always called to me. All good writing approaches the question of what it means to be human in some way or another, no matter the genre. Speculative fiction can turn purely philosophical questions into workable situations, and that really appeals to me. Who do you become if your government forces you to kill other teenagers in an arena on reality television, when the cost for refusing would be your life and your family’s? How does the meaning of identity shift when we create machines that think like we do? Or if you’re The Doctor and you regenerate a new body instead of dying, are you really the same person you were before–and even if so, will people react to you the same way?* On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss these questions as trite, and the way they’re handled certainly makes a difference. But there can be real weight behind them. I love that.

I touched on this idea earlier in the week when I reviewed Archetype by M.D. Waters, and that novel is certainly a great example of what I’m talking about. A few other authors who’ve inspired me in this regard are Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brent Weeks, Margaret Atwood, G. Willow Wilson, and David Anthony Durham.


How does my writing process work?

My stories start with a character. I can have all the great plot ideas in the world, but they sort of drift around in my mind until a character shows up to pull them together.

Once I’ve done some character sketches and world building, I draft through a combination of outlining and discovering as I go. I usually have some sense of where the story is headed, but I like to leave room for “aha!” moments, and I try to stay flexible. I’ll outline a couple of chapters ahead and veer off if necessary. And in revisions, everything’s subject to change.

Stories are different. While I still need the character to get things started, it’s usually much more about discovering things along the way.

I use a lot of colored markers, post-its, and index cards throughout the process. I have Pinterest boards and soundtracks for many of my projects. All this helps me to immerse myself in whatever world I’m working on–and it’s fun, too.







Tag, you’re it! Next stop on the blog hop, it’s Sara Rauch!


Sara Rauch. Sara Rauch’s writing has appeared in Lunch Ticket, upstreet, Inkwell, Bartleby Snopes, and Crossed Out, and in the anthologies Dear John, I Love Jane and Best Lesbian Romance 2014. She lives in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts with her partner and their five fat felines. When not herding cats, she’s editing Cactus Heart and writing new stories.




Book Recommendation: Archetype by M.D. Waters

18079523Title: Archetype
Author: M.D. Waters
Publisher: Dutton Adult

Indiebound | B&N

Disclaimer: Let it be known that I purchased this book of my own free will and enjoyed it so much that I’m posting a recommendation/review.

My desire to convince everyone to read this book is currently locked in an epic battle with my hesitation to tell you much about the plot in form of a summary. I don’t tend to read back copy before I choose a book to read, which is probably weird; I get recommendations, I read a page or two, and I decide whether or not I want to buy the book based on the writing. This approach served me well when it came to Archetype, not because the book doesn’t sound good when you read the hook (it does!) but because it’s so thrilling to experience the story along with the narrator, Emma.

So. This will be a bit of an odd review, I guess. But part of my reasoning behind writing these recommendations is to pick out books I feel strongly about, and I spent days thinking about Archetype after I finished reading it. We need more books like this, books that stretch the boundaries of genre and leave readers with both emotional resonance and deep explorations of important themes.

What I can tell you is that Archetype is part futuristic dystopia, part thriller, and part romance. When Emma wakes up knowing nothing about her past, the tight narrative structure allows the reader to experience Emma’s confusion with her while also hinting that there’s more going on than meets the eye. While first-person, present-tense narration is prevalent in dystopian literature these days, it’s clear that M.D. Waters chose it for a reason. Another option would have produced an entirely different effect, and it’s used to its absolute best advantage here.

In the first half of the novel we learn about the world in which the story takes place along with Emma. There’s a beautiful rhythm to the prose that weaves a sense of trust and security, even as questions and curiosities continually bubble to the surface. Trust in Emma, trust in her ability to eventually piece together the truth, and trust that we’re in good hands with this author.

As Emma begins to suspect there’s more to her past than her doctor and her husband are telling her, the stakes rise. From the midpoint on, the story rockets forward–by which I mean I basically didn’t speak to my own husband for an entire evening because I was too wrapped up in the book to do anything other than read.

When done well, dystopian literature asks crucial questions about humanity that can be otherwise hard to face. Archetype asks about the true meaning of identity, and about who  (or what) we as individuals have the potential to become in the face of disaster. Emma faces these choices, along with every other character in the novel (there are those who, I suppose, have already made theirs). Waters doesn’t treat her themes lightly; she gives them the weight they deserve while also weaving a truly engaging story. Not an easy feat, by any stretch.

The only other thing I’ll add (because I like to be prepared) is that Archetype does end on a cliffhanger. But never fear! The sequel, Prototype, will be out July 24.

Novelthesis Survival Experiment: Celebration Edition

At some point (or several) during the process of crafting a major project, you will reach a milestone. A full first draft. A halfway point. The first sentence written after staring down the Cursor of Doom for three days. Whatever your milestone is, you’ll need to find a way to celebrate.

10 Ways to Celebrate Milestones: A Guide for Workaholic Writers

10. Take your time getting up. You’ve been attached to your chair for the last month/six months/year/two years/hour and a half. Don’t expect too much from your muscles too fast. That’s how injuries happen.

9. Check to make sure the zombie apocalypse didn’t happen while you were working.

8. If you have any friends left after hibernating with your work for the last month/six months/year/two years/hour and a half, call them. Maybe they remember you and would like to get a drink.

7. If they don’t remember you, there’s always Twitter. And chocolate.

6. Make grand plans for the success of your manuscript or project. Practice what you will say when interviewed by Jon Stewart.

5. Go Outside.

4. Catch up on TV shows you’ve missed. Though not even quarantine could have saved you from knowing pretty much everything that occurred on Game of Thrones, you’re still vaguely aware that something major happened to Olivia Pope* a couple of months back, and that the Wicked Witch of the West may have visited Storybrooke.**

3. Make a dent in your to-be-read pile.

2. Margaritas!

1. You’re not fooling anyone; you haven’t stopped thinking about the rest of your project. Or maybe now’s the time to work on that shiny new idea. And what better way is there for a writer to reward herself than with more writing?***

**Once Upon a Time
Yup, it’s a sickness. We know. 

Book Recommendation: The Archived by Victoria Schwab



Title: The Archived
Author: Victoria Schwab
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Indiebound | B&N | *

Disclaimer: Let it be known that I purchased this book of my own free will and enjoyed it so much that I’m posting a recommendation/review.

Typically, I’d like to do these recommendations for newer releases but since a sequel to The Archived came out in January (The Unbound), I thought this would be a fine time to recommend the first in the series.

I can’t remember the last time I read a book on my e-reader and loved it so much that I purchased a copy in print form as well. I love digital reading for many reasons, but sometimes I want to hold the book and bend its spine with love. The Archived is that kind of a book (as is its equally wonderful sequel).

Somewhere in a world parallel (but accessible) to ours, the dead–called Histories–are catalogued in a library called the Archive. When Histories occasionally wake up from their shelves, disoriented, Keepers like sixteen-year-old Mackenzie Bishop are responsible for making sure they are safely returned. It’s a dangerous occupation that sometimes turns violent and always requires Mackenzie to lie to everyone she knows, but she still loves her job. The position–and the unique powers that accompany it–were passed down to her by her grandfather, Da.

Mackenzie’s dealing with death on the outside world as well as in the Archives. Her Da has passed away, and her little brother was recently killed in a hit-and-run accident. She and her family are starting over in a new city, and their apartment building means a new Archive territory for Mackenzie–a much more active one.

Aside from its status as a true page-turner, The Archived takes place within one of the most fully realized fantasy worlds I’ve experienced through a novel. Victoria Schwab has a remarkable eye for detail that makes the world feel both creepy and deeply believable.

Every character in the story comes to life with his or her own set of unique motivations, from Mackenzie herself–who’s likable, smart, and strong, while also flawed–to her parents, who are fairly minor yet still stand out as memorable and sympathetic (they’re more present in The Unbound).

And then there’s Wesley Ayers. Wesley is amazing. I don’t want to give much away, but let’s just say I have a major book crush (from what I’ve seen, I’m not alone in this). He’s a really different kind of character, someone I really found myself cheering for.

The Archived is a thoughtful and emotionally engaging read as well as a fun and exciting one. I wanted these characters to win, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading it. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for when we pick up a novel?

I’ll admit it. I went on a Victoria Schwab reading binge after The Archived, and it was hard to move on to reading something else when I was done. She’s really a versatile writer, and I recommend checking out all her books.

*Yeah, it’s on that other site, too, but they’re being really evil right now so I’m not going to link to them. I want you to buy this book (buy it now!) without judging where you buy it – I can appreciate the value of convenience, for sure. That being said, if you’re in NYC: Book Culture has an order button, and I bet BookCourt (Brooklyn) or Astoria Bookshop (Queens) would order it for you, too.

Revenge: Some Thoughts on the Season Finale, And a List

This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Revenge.


Revengers revenging in Season 2.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a couple of weeks, but between finishing my thesis and trying to collect what I wanted to say, this post is coming around a little later than I’d intended.

Revenge‘s leading lady, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), is what I think of as a larger-than-life character. She spends the first season tearing through people’s lives, wreaking havoc with that cold little smile of hers. At the beginning, revelations about Emily’s past make her vaguely sympathetic, yet she shows so little emotion that one begins to wonder if she is, in the words of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, something of a “high-functioning sociopath.” None of the supporting characters, including Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), even approach Emily’s level of skill with power plays and manipulations. Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) keeps things interesting with his various eccentricities, as does Amanda Clarke–faux Amanda, that is (Margarita Levieva). But by and large, Emily handles them without much fanfare. This was why I liked the Americon Initiative storyline in Season Two; it took an entire organization of terrorists to give Emily a worthy opponent. I was disappointed when that path was abandoned.

The Initiative aside, Season Two ventured deeper into Emily’s character. For that, we needed more information about her past and the training she undertook in preparation for carrying out her vendetta. And what better to legitimize a fantastical undertaking of revenge than the introduction of a second revenger?

Enter Aiden Mathis (Barry Sloane). When we see Aiden for the first time, he’s standing beside Emily’s mentor (“revenge is a thing,” says Aiden’s presence) watching the tide rise around Emily, who is tied to a pole like Tiger Lilly. Unbeknownst to Aiden and Takeda (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Emily’s using this training exercise as an attempt to relive forgotten memories about her mother that only surface under duress (“seriously, it’s a thing,” says Aiden’s presence). Later, in Season Three, they attempt to recreate this phenomenon by shoving Emily’s head in a bucket. The effect, sadly, just isn’t the same.

Anyway, right when Emily’s about to drown-slash-remember, Aiden pulls her out of the water so naturally, she responds by trying to kill him. Sort of. Aiden and Emily have a romantic history that the revenge lifestyle (it’s a thing) has called to a halt. Not that she’s bitter about that or anything.

We got two seasons with Aiden Mathis, who somehow managed not to be underutilized as a supporting character as everyone else took nosedives in Season Three (remember when Daniel had shades of gray and Nolan got stories?). With Aiden’s death, I’m not so sure about the direction Revenge is going to take. In order to cope with my many feelings* on this sad subject, I made a list.


Don’t worry, Emily. Aiden will always be alive on Netflix.

Five Reasons To Mourn Aiden Mathis

-Aiden humanizes Emily. When he eventually wins her trust, he becomes the one person who can both understand what she’s doing and challenge how she’s going about it. When Aiden tells her she’s not alone, only to turn and walk away (he comes back! he always comes back), we see actual despair from Emily. Her emotional journey with Aiden transforms her from a robotic sociopath to a human being.

-Aiden has his own compelling agenda beyond Emily, something the other characters often lack (this agenda disappeared for a good portion of Season Three, along with Nolan’s one-liners, but it did eventually resurface). His motivations sometimes run parallel to Emily’s; at other times they oppose her, allowing him to push against her.

-Aiden’s character evolves with his story, as opposed to Jack’s (Nick Wechsler).  Jack pretty much remains an idiot from day one. When Aiden completes his own revenge by killing the man who murdered his sister, he realizes that Emily will never find fulfillment from her quest. This is something that Emily will never get. Revenge is a thing, Aiden’s presence says, but his character tells us that even in the best case scenario for Emily, this thing is not going to bring her the victory or the peace she expects. Nolan may tell her this, Jack may tell her this (in his rare lucid moments), but Aiden knows it to be true. There’s a difference.

-Aiden is better than Jack, who is the worst ever. Everyone in Jack’s life drops dead from boredom. First his dog, then his wife (faux Amanda), and finally his little brother. He wanders around aimlessly, allowing thuggy guys to take over his bar, repeatedly trusting the Graysons, and dating random French girls. I give props to the writers for avoiding the love triangle temptation, because there was no contest as long as Aiden was breathing.

-Aiden’s death replaces David Clarke’s (and by the way, it was pretty brutal and will be etched in my brain for the foreseeable future. Thanks for that). If you have to kill a character in such a way that makes it absolutely certain he’s a corpse because you’re about to bring back a character who’s been dead for THREE SEASONS, it may be time to rethink. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling cheated about the fact that David Clarke is alive. Why have I even been watching this show, investing in these stories? By all accounts, they’ve decided to reboot–and it feels like a cheap trick.

Aiden deserved better, and so do Revenge fans.

As excited as I am to watch Barry Sloane fight aliens with Jess from Gilmore Girls in The Whispers, I’m nervous about the direction Revenge will take without Aiden. The show started out as a unique kind of drama, and the first two seasons had great writing and character development. I barely made it through this season, and I’m not sure that larger-than-life Emily VanCamp–who is one of my favorite actresses**–can carry the show all on her own. Let’s hope the writers can give her something better to work with for Season 4.


*The issue of my overly emotional responses to Revenge is a subject for another day.
**She knocked it out of the park as Agent 13 in Captain America: The Winter Soldier….and should be heavily featured in the next Cap movie.