Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Review: A.R. Hill – A Light Against the Darkness

Cover: A Light Against the DarknessI like my champagne with sparkles, and my vampires without. So, I was thrilled to find A. R. Hill’s A Light Against the Darkness. In a sea of sparkling wannabes, her vampires are dark and brutal and every bit as exciting as vampires should be.

Oni is a Japanese vampire. He’s barbarous and savage and equal parts evil and insecure. He kidnaps a young girl, Samara Takeshi – who he renames Oreno – and turns her into his bride. He forces her love and keeps her locked away in his home. He takes her freedom, her childhood, and her life…

Slowly, Samara realizes that Oni has turned her into a vampire. When the horror of it finally dawns, she feels compelled to get away from him and forge her own destiny. But it’s not until Oni kills her parents that she gains the strength to flee.

After some adventure, Oreno stows on board a ship bound for the United States, makes her way to Hawii and eventually the mainland, where she finds others like herself. They take her in, teach her the ways, and embroil her in politics that only vampire societies can create. She is judged and sentenced by the council yet takes it in stride, earning her place, learning their ways, and makes a “life” for herself.

And then Oni comes calling again.

Samara is just a school girl when she’s faced with the tremendous loss of her humanity and the realization of the horror she’s become. It’s watching and learning how she handles the crisis – choosing to be more than just a monster – despite the knowledge of the long road before her which makes A Light Against the Darkness such a good read. We see the path from her point of view and feel her struggles. We’re with her every step of the way.

But don’t let Oreno’s school-girl history fool you into thinking the book is light on action. Hill keeps the pages turning with: escalating politics, sword fights, gun battles, explosions! There’s just enough blood and gore to satisfy.

Never a dull moment, A Light Against the Darkness is chock-full of intrigue and action. If you like your vampires dark and gritty, this is a must read for you.

Meet the Author – Buy the Book



Amazon: Paperback: A Light Against the Darkness

Create Space: A Light Against the Darkness

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Review: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of those ‘famous’ books on writing that writer-type folks talk about whenever the subject of good-books-to-learn-writing-skills comes up. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time.

However, I found it very difficult to get through.

The premise of the book is based on a wonderful 30-year-old memory: Faced with the insurmountable problem of writing a book report on birds, Lamott’s 10-year-old brother is in tears and wondering how he’s going to get it all done. Their father puts an arm around his shoulder and says, “Bird by bird, Buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Fabulous advice.

But I realized after reading the introduction the book was not for me. It’s written in a literary style, a bit verbose for my tastes, and the takeaways aren’t what I need in my writing life right now. In my mind, Lamott spends a lot of time rambling about she thinks about things, rather than adding any concrete “how to” to the information. And there are a few chapters where she talks about something that happened to her, and you’re sort of left to wonder what she wanted you to get from the aside.

In the first chapter, “Getting Started,” Lamott talks about writing the truth and writing what’s real. She advocates starting with writing down everything you remember from school and kindergarten and holidays and such, along with your feelings and what you knew at the time. If you keep hacking at it, you’ll find the truth, or what’s real to write about. And that’s where you should start writing.

As a writer of speculative fiction, this isn’t what I needed (or wanted) to hear. I make things up. And while my stories might contain a kernel of something that happened to me (or someone else I know) it’s not going to resemble anything in the way of this exercise. The feelings, the emotions, yes – else how could you identify with my characters? – but the rest doesn’t make sense for me.

(From a genealogical perspective, on the other hand, I find this chapter fascinating. And, I might have to give it a whirl when I find the time.)

Other chapters in the book offer sound advice for beginners:

  • Start small. (Especially if you are easily overwhelmed by large projects.)
  • It’s okay to write terrible first drafts.
  • Stop being a perfectionist. Perfectionism is “the voice of the oppressor,” according to Lamott.
  • Plot grows out of character.
  • Care passionately about what you write.
  • Trust what your inner voice – your intuition — is telling you about your writing.

Then there’s a chapter called, “School lunches,” where Lamottt talks about a writing exercise she uses in her classes. Everyone writes down what they remember about school lunches and then they compare. She says when they discuss the differences of lunches throughout the states, it’s where they “see in bolder relief what we have in common.”

She gives some examples of what she wrote, which seem over dramatic. I think they’re supposed to be funny, but aren’t to me. It’s like she’s trying too hard.

One section of the book is called, “Help Along the Way,” where I suspect Lamott meant to suggest some useful tools for writers. But she spends an entire chapter discussing index cards, where the advice amounts to “Always carry something to write on.”

In another chapter, “Calling Around,” Lamott advises, “There are an enormous number of people out there with invaluable information to share with you, and all you have to do is pick up the phone.” Again, good, but we don’t need entire chapters to get the point across.

Two chapters, “Writing Groups” and “Someone to Read Your Drafts” are all about finding critique partners and getting feedback on your work. These are the two best chapters in the book. They contain good information, especially for beginning writers, and I agree with most of what she says.

(Unlike Lamott, I don’t advocate getting feedback from relatives, because in most instances they’re too afraid to hurt your feelings to tell you what you need to hear.)

The chapter on writers block is encouraging, but not instructional. There are no suggestions for how to overcome it (although an earlier chapter on writing letters could be useful. Lamott does not tie the two together.)

If you want to learn more about the author Anne Lamott, read this book. There are long passages about what she thinks about the writing process and how she handles it. She’s admittedly neurotic about it, and makes the assumption that most writers are as well. I disagree.

If you’re looking for concrete examples on how to write, new tools for your toolbox, or tricks of the trade, I’d look elsewhere.

Two chewed pencils.

Monday, December 20th, 2010

A (Brief) Review of “How I Write” by Janet Evanovich

Cover: How I Write by Janet EvanovichI read a lot of “How to Write” books. I love to. I find it fascinating, as I think many other writers do, to witness the writing process of another writer.

Some books are good. Others are duds.

This one, for me, is a dud, mainly because the information is very basic.

The book is divided into sections (Creating Great Characters, Nuts and Bolts, Structure, Revising and Editing, Getting Published, and more) each with an introduction by Ina Yalog.

These introductions are, in my opinion, the best part of the book. They contain most of the valuable nuggets of information.

The rest of each section is set up in Q&A format. From the length of many questions, I assume that these are real questions that Evanovich has fielded from aspiring writers, taken verbatim from email or letter. In fact, a few of the same questions are still on the FAQ of her Web site.

Evanovich’s answers are short and to the point. Quite clearly she stays on topic of “How I   Write.” It’s not often Evanovich does more than answer the literal question as asked.

It wouldn’t have taken much, I think, to put in a bit more effort — to answer questions more completely — and create a more comprehensive, more useful, book.

Some points are illustrated by snippets of prose from Evanovich’s many Stephanie Plum series books. Although useful, these sometimes felt like an advertisement for the books. Coupled with the brevity of Evanovich’s response to many of the questions, the entire package feels like she is simply cashing in on the questions of her readers.

Sadly, much of the information provided can be found elsewhere on the internet, albeit without her dry wit and a bit of background about the Stephanie Plum series characters.

All that being said, new or inexperienced writers may find much of the information useful. For them, Evanovich’s book could be a good starting point.

My rating:
Chewed Pencil
One Chewed Pencil
Saturday, September 25th, 2010

A Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

I read Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage for my Fill in the Blanks project. (The project: in a nutshell, a bunch of us reader/writer types have committed to reading 100 classics (in 5 years) that we feel we should have read either in high school or college.

I copied someone else’s list to start myself off with and have been slipping books on and off the list as I’ve re-discovered them. My list has been fairly set in stone for the last year or so (until now: this book wasn’t on my original list.)

Visit the Fill in the Blanks blog to see lots of reviews by everyone on the project. Join if you’re so inclined. )

My review:

The story is about Henry Fleming, a recent recruit to the Union army during the Civil War. As his regiment waits to see warfare, he becomes increasingly obsessed with whether or not he has the courage to stand his ground. He doesn’t know if he’ll run.

As it turns out, when he first encounters a battle, he’s so surrounded by fellow solders and confronted by the enemy that he can do nothing but fight. The second time her faces battle, however, he flees. He convinces himself that he was right to save himself.

He later makes it back to his regiment and fights bravely. He’s deeply ashamed of his earlier behavior, but by the end of the book manages to make peace with himself.

For a classic, the book was pleasantly shorter than I thought it was going to be. Still, I was sometimes annoyed by all of Henry’s self pity and castigation. But if not for all that, I wouldn’t have gotten such a deep understanding of Henry’s feelings.

And, I’m glad to finally know that a “red badge” of courage is a wound received in battle, according to Henry.

Overall, it was a good read, with good characterization and excellent descriptions of battle, the poverty of war, and death.

Friday, July 9th, 2010

I’m Wanted! And Other Bits of Newsy News

Uncle Sam - I Want You PosterOh, boy!

I was tickled to wander over to Anna Marie Catoir’s blog and find myself “wanted!”

After reading the review for Blood Soup over at Kay’s Dead Book Darling blog, Anna Marie wanted to read it, too.

Wow! That kind of stuff just makes my day.

(Kay gave Blood Soup a “Great!” rating, by the way. You should check it out.)

But before you wander off to Kay’s blog to read the review, check out the masks Anna Marie makes and showcases on her blog. They’re fabulous. My favorites are the The Brown Man and Blue Lips.

In other newsy news, I sold my story Sky Lit Bargains, to the Drollerie Press anthology, Hellbore and Rue.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

A 5-Star Review for The Dragon’s Clause!

I’m not joking.

Once again, I’m walking on air!

(This follows very closely on the heels of the 5-star review I received on Amazon for my novella, Blood Soup. I’m very  excited.)

Cover of The Dragon's Clause by Kelly A. Harmon This is the story of a man who violates the terms of a contract, and the “party of the second part” decides to execute the enforcement clause. Only this time, the contract has been in place for hundreds of years, and is between a town and a dragon.

The terms—pay the dragon annual tribute, and he doesn’t destroy the town—are quite simple. Not the sort of agreement you’d want to break, even for a good cause.

A lesser author would have given readers a simple revenge tale, with the moral being, “keep your word.” But Kelly A. Harmon gives her readers much more. Her characters—both human and dragon—are complex and subtle, with nobilities and strengths that might just outweigh their instincts and weaknesses.

Perhaps The Dragon’s Clause should be required reading for all lawyers…and for you!

You can check out the review on Amazon, if you want. While you’re there, check out my Amazon author page.


Note: The Dragon’s Clause was originally published in the Ricasso Press anthology, Black Dragon, White Dragon.

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Some Folks Love a Hot Steaming Bowl of Blood Soup…

All I can say is, “Wow!” I received this fantastic review of Blood Soup, posted by S.R. Southard at Amazon:

In “Blood Soup,” Kelly Harmon ladles out a story of a fantasy kingdom beginning at the moment of a fateful decision. That decision, warned about in a prophesy, carries consequences that ripple across decades in an inevitable and destructive chain of cause and effect. The characters are complex, vivid, and compelling, with motives both understandable and entangling. The aroma of “Blood Soup” carries the tang of universal themes such as wise and unwise leadership, the long-term effects of bad decisions, birth, death, and the wisdom that comes with reflection in old age. Kelly Harmon writes with a flowing style that draws you right in to her swirling mix. Read it at a bus stop and you’ll miss three buses before you even look up. It’s hot. It’s tasty. Take one spoonful of “Blood Soup” and you’ll finish the bowl!

Monday, July 6th, 2009

The Hounds of the Baskervilles: Arthur Conan Doyle

This is a review for my Project 100: Fill in the Gaps project.

The plot (from Wikipedia).

The rich landowner Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in the park of his manor, surrounded by the moorland of Dartmoor, in the county of Devon. He appears to have died from heart attack, but the victim’s close friend, Dr Mortimer, is convinced that the death was due to a supernatural creature, which haunts the moor in the shape of an enormous hound with blazing eyes and jaws. Fearing for the safety of Baskerville’s heir, his nephew Sir Henry, coming to London from Canada, Dr Mortimer appeals for help from Sherlock Holmes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the first thing I’ve read by Arthur Conan Doyle. I expected not to like this (very short) book for at least two reasons: 1) I usually don’t like to read mysteries, and 2) the antiquated style of writing was certain to turn me off. However, I enjoyed the tale so much that I believe I’ll be adding Arthur Conan Doyle to my reading list.

It’s funny that I don’t like to read mysteries. As a pre-teen I devoured those one-minute mystery books for kids…couldn’t get enough of them. Adult mysteries have usually felt contrived, and I lack the patience to figure out what is a clue and what is not. The Hound didn’t feel contrived at all to me…and when clues were slung in my direction, I knew it (even if I couldn’t figure out what they meant at the time). But knowing what they were increased my enjoyment of the story, because I could noodle over their significance at odd times – like when cooking dinner.

The first page or two of writing caused me some consternation. Doyle employs several, “As you know, Bobs,” (See the Turkey City Lexicon) in the opening dialogue which is openly contrived in order to deliver some necessary information. Beyond that, the writing smooths out, and although a bit wordy (IMHO), it includes many elegant passages.

Interestingly, the book begins in Dr. Watson’s point of view, and then changes to a letter format when Watson and Holmes split up (Watson to Devonshire, Holmes to remain in London). The letters are from Watson to Holmes – so still in his POV. There is also an instance of an “excerpt from Watson’s Diary” used to tell the tale. The style reverts back to Watson’s POV once Holmes joins him in Devonshire.

All of the loose ends are tidied up in meticulous detail via conversation of Watson and Holmes in the last chapter entitled, “A Retrospection.” The clues are explained and a tremendous amount of the back story is filled in by Holmes. For me, this was the hardest part of the book to read: it starts out with a long-winded description by Watson of why so much time has passed since the end of the case and now, when he and Holmes were discussing it. Per Watson, Holmes has solved two other cases in between. Why this is important – other than to show a passage of time (which I can’t figure out the importance of) – I don’t know. Further, Holmes’s dialogue is bloated in order to squeeze in as much detail as possible. I’m not sure this would work in a modern-day mystery.

Nonetheless, I found it to be an enjoyable read overall.


Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

How Do You Perfect Your Craft?

I write.

I write, write, write. Then I edit, delete, and write some more*.

American author Henry Miller once said that you have to write a million words before you produce anything good. That’s probably true. (This gave me a laugh, by the way: how to get a leg up on writing a million words of crap, the Million Words of Crap Generator v1.0.)

I also attend conferences and workshops for writers. (More on this in a later post…)

The other thing I do is read books on writing. I go through phases: I’ll read several in a row and then ignore them for quite a while. Many I borrow. But it struck me recently that I’ve enjoyed a few so much I’ve kept them and occasionally refer to them.

With that in mind, I thought I’d begin reviewing them here on the blog. Are you interested? What books would you like to see me review? (And if you’ve written a book on writing, drop me a line. I might be interested in taking a peek and reviewing it here.)


*Actually, it’s more like: write, write, edit, delete, edit, write, delete, write, write, edit, write, delete, edit, edit, write, write, write.

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Too Many Words

Cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorellA review of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke for my Fill in the Gaps: Project 100 list.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is an alternate-history (or fantasy) that’s set in 19th-century England during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s based on the idea that magic once existed in England and that it will be brought back with the help of two practicing magicians: Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange. The story centers on their relationship (or lack there of) as they make England into a land where anyone  can perform magic.

I looked forward to reading this book, particularly because it is a Hugo winner. In the end, I was disappointed. I could not finish the book fast enough. I found it completely intolerable.

Ms. Clarke writes in (my opinion) an archaic style akin to Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and, in fact has been criticized for writing a pastiche of them (and others). While I agree that her style mimics many of the old classics, I think I’d draw the line prior to pastiche. Although, like many of the classics, I feel that the book sufferers from extreme wordiness and could have benefited from some judicious trimming….probably 300-500 of the nearly 800 pages comprising this tome could have been deleted.

A good editor could have made this an outstanding read. I felt that there were so many words–such a lack of focus–that as I read, I continued to ask myself…so? So? SO!? Had I not committed to reading this for the Project 100, I’d have quit reading very early on. Very little held my attention. This is sad, because the story is such an interesting one.

Still, the book is not without its merits. There were occasions when Ms. Clarke created the perfect turn of phrase and wonderful lyrical description. Her world-building is superb. If only one didn’t have to plod slowly through the muck to get to the beauty.

As I complained while I read, one friend told me that the last 100 pages makes the entire book worthwhile. I disagree. The pacing did pick up toward the end, almost feeling as though the book raced to its conclusion. It did become more focused–loose strings were tied up–but it failed to provide me with the satisfying conclusion I’d longed for after investing so much time. I found it lacking.

If you like Dickins and Austin, you might like Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. For me, I won’t be picking up the sequel.

Post Script: I failed to mention one of the most annoying things about this book: fictitious  footnotes. There were hundreds, printed in minute type at the bottom of the page, often spanning two or more pages.  The most annoying of the annoying were the footnotes which referred to other footnotes in different chapters  of the book.