Book Reviews

Book Review: Slumber (Beauty Never Dies Chronicles, #`1) by J.L. Weil

July 28, 2017

J.L. Weil’s Slumber is a post-apocalyptic retelling of Sleeping Beauty in which the elements of romance and dystopia are often indistinguishable.

I received a free ebook copy of Slumber from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The gorgeous cover immediately drew me in, and I can never resist a fairytale retelling.

Unfortunately, this one didn’t work for me on any level: writing style, plot, characterization, or worldbuilding.

But before I get to that, I want to make one thing clear:

It didn’t fail for lack of a big publishing house behind it.

It has a gorgeous, professional cover, and the purple prose has clearly been copyedited. I’m sure the award-winning J.L. Weil deserves whatever awards she’s won.

But Slumber disappointed me in the same ways as a hundred thousand traditionally-published romance novels have before it.

That is, massively but not unexpectedly.

When I agree to read a romance, I’m prepared for a plot that exists mainly to delay the happily ever after (and doesn’t always make much logical sense).

I was disappointed Weil didn’t tie any overarching literary theme into her worldbuilding.

In her fantasy world, everything beautiful is deadly. That could have been cool social commentary, especially in a Sleeping Beauty retelling.

But romance and social commentary don’t always mix well, I guess.

Because it is a romance, I anticipated flowery language and meaningless metaphors:

She stood out against the boring room like flame to a fire. Dark red hair outlined her delicate face in soft waves. Such vibrant color was unusual in a place stuffed with nothing but dirty white walls and dreary gray floors. Her hair glinted in the waning light and immediately caught my eye. It was the kind of color that was hard to miss in a room colder than the arctic. Bold and silky against her pure and porcelain skin, untouched by any damages of the sun, she was like a beacon of light on a foggy night—the brightest star.

“… like flame to a fire”? What?

(Yeah, I know she means, “Like a fire stands out against a fire,” but that isn’t what she said.)

And the white = pure metaphor is:

  • Cliche
  • Creepy (Your first thought after finding a sleeping stranger should not be, “How virginal!” Ew.)
  • Kinda racist

But cliche, creepy, kinda racist heroes are nothing new. (Although most of them probably have better names than Dash Darhk.)

Neither are bizarre, unsexy “sex” scenes.

Neither is authors romanticizing relationships that, were they happening in real life, would be toxic at best.

That particular trope is so old and so widespread I don’t even want to talk about it on my blog.

It’s been talked about. It’s boring. I don’t have anything new to add except some illustrative quotes:

He shrugged, taking a step toward the door. “Suit yourself. Stay here. The Night’s Guard will love you. Either way, I don’t care.”

Asshole.

“Who are the Night’s Guard?” I whispered, pressing him for answers. It was true I didn’t want to stay in this room, but could I trust him?

“Your worst nightmare,” he muttered.

He kisses a sleeping stranger, tells her the world has ended, and then threatens to leave her for the Bad Guys to find. What a prince.

I tilted my head to the side, finding Dash looking at me. My skin flushed, and it wasn’t from the heat. The look he gave was downright menacing …

He took a step forward, eyes flashing like a silver bullet. “How does it feel, knowing you’ve kissed a killer?” The texture in his voice had gone low and ruthless.

*swoon*

“I’m hazardous, Charlotte.” Our eyes locked, and if I didn’t know better, there was regret. “If you don’t get as far away from me as possible, you’re going to get hurt. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you. I told myself I wouldn’t touch you. It can’t happen again. I can never give you what you deserve.”

Life advice: When someone tells you they’re bad news, believe them.

There are several instances in which he kisses and/or grabs her either without her consent or against her wishes (which is portrayed as totally romantic), but I’m not going to quote them because I found them really upsetting.

But it wasn’t actually Dash that made this such a difficult read. It was Charlotte.

And it wasn’t because I found her annoying (although I did):

I didn’t know a guy who could resist a weeping, helpless girl. Yep. I had resorted to the oldest trick in the female book.

It was because she reacted to the hero threatening and insulting her the way a real-life abuse victim would: with fear, radical mood swings, a growing distrust of herself and the world around her, and denial.

It was heartbreaking:

Dash had done nothing but make me feel safe.
Every fiber in my being was saturated with raw emotions. He couldn’t keep doing this to me, kissing me and then giving me the cold shoulder. He wanted me. He didn’t.

Look, write what you want. I firmly believe fiction both reflects and creates the “real world”; I also believe in artistic freedom.

I don’t always agree with what artists use their freedom to do. And I know my early relationships would have been a lot healthier if my idea of romance hadn’t come straight from novels like this one.

Which, ultimately, made it impossible for me to enjoy reading Slumber.

The Craft of Writing

Comma Splices are Fine, Fight Me

July 22, 2017

Me: I don’t know. I don’t really have strong opinions about grammar.

Also me: Comma splices are fucking fine, meet me in the back alley.

Menacing finger snapping from West Side Story

Don’t get me wrong. If I’m editing your manuscript, I’m still going to flag and/or fix them for you.

I don’t ever want you to accidentally do something a reader might think is “wrong.”

But if you’re like, “Nah, actually, I meant to do that,” I’m not going to be like, “OMG YOU’RE RUINING EVERYTHING. Don’t even think about crediting me in your acknowledgments.”

I’m going to be like, “Cool. I can see why you’d want to do that.”

And that, in my opinion, is the only reasonable reaction for a genre fiction editor to have.

Wait. What’s a comma splice again?

It’s when you join two independent clauses with just a comma.

I used it in my introduction when I wrote, “Comma splices are fucking fine, meet me in the back alley.”

Here are some more examples:

The causes don’t matter, the enemy can be anybody.Anthony Burgess, 1985
They were the best of friends, they saved each other’s life countless times, they laughed and talked together over campfires long into the night.Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife
The hawk turned and skated off down the wind and vanished beyond the cape of the mountain, a single feather fell.Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
His name was Edward Hutchins, he was English, he was fifty-four.Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby
She can move through the woods like a shadow, you have to give her that.Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

I didn’t create any of those splices myself, by the way. I copied them from Stan Carey, who copied them, comma splice and all, from the source texts.

What’s the problem with comma splices?

Nothing. Haven’t you been paying attention?

But technically, in the English language, there are three “proper” ways to join independent clauses:

  • With a semicolon: Comma splices are fucking fine; meet me in the back alley.
  • With a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so): They were the best of friends, they saved each other’s life countless times, [and] they laughed and talked together over campfires long into the night.
  • With a semicolon followed by a conjunctive adverb (however, on the other hand, etc.) followed by a comma: The causes don’t matter[; for that matter], the enemy can be anybody.

A comma alone isn’t one of those three proper ways.

That’s it. That’s the entire argument against the comma splice.

Well, and, “You aren’t Cormac McCarthy,” but you already know how I feel about that one.

They don’t make your writing hard to understand. They don’t add unnecessary bulk to your sentence. And they don’t even send mean DMs to book bloggers who write negative reviews of their books.

I refuse to hate them just because they’re improper.

Why Comma Splices are Becoming More Common

The way I see it, the comma splice has two benefits you don’t get from any other usage.

It replaces a relatively uncommon punctuation mark (the semicolon) with a common punctuation mark (the comma).

I have a journalist’s irrational hatred of unnecessary characters. If the language shifts in such a way that we can eliminate an entire key from our future keyboards, I’m on board.

Goodbye, en-dash! Farewell, semicolon! Take the forward slash with you when you go, please.

(I’m joking, kind of, but I’m serious about my preference for linguistic simplicity.)

It shows a closer relationship between two independent clauses than a semicolon can convey.

Think of it like a sliding scale.

The period occupies the far left side of the scale. When you have two unrelated independent clauses, separate them with a period:

Comma splices are fucking fine. Meet me in the back alley.

The semicolon lives in the middle. When you have two independent clauses that are kinda related, join them with a semicolon:

She can move through the woods like a shadow[;] you have to give her that.

The comma splice is all the way on the right. When you have two independent clauses that are so closely related they’re basically identical twins, you can join them with a comma splice:

His name was Edward Hutchins, he was English, he was fifty-four.

But you don’t have to. I’m not here to twist your arm into breaking the rules. I’m just saying, as a writer, it’s your call to make.


Looking for a copyeditor who swears a lot and respects your right to splice all your commas?

We might be a good fit! Claim your free 1,200-word sample edit to find out.

Roundups

Keep Cool with 9 Books Guaranteed to Make You Shiver

July 15, 2017

It's fucking hot! Cool down with one of these nine icy summer reads.

Lately, it’s been so hot that the dogs at work refuse to get up off the ground of their air-conditioned suites even to go play in the lake.

If that’s not an option for you (and your eyes haven’t yet melted out of your skull), try immersing yourself in the frozen worlds of these nine speculative fiction novels.

They’re all Goodreads-reviewer guaranteed to give you literal chills. Continue Reading

Author Interviews

How to Succeed in Kindle Scout Without Really Trying

July 8, 2017

How to Succeed in Kindle Scout Without Really Trying

Today, I’m back with part two of my interview with Rita Stradling. (Part one is here.) We discuss the Kindle Scout program, which is kind of a crowd-sourced way to get your book published by an Amazon imprint—or, at least, that’s how they sell it.

Rita talks about things she didn’t know about the program before she won, what exactly the program entails, and how she did (or did not) promote her Kindle Scout campaign. It’s a great listen for anyone curious about what goes on behind the scenes of Amazon’s publishing as well as authors considering publishing through any Amazon imprint.

If you have any questions after listening, drop them in the comments and I’ll forward them to Rita.

As always, there’s also a transcript below the jump.

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Author Interviews

How to Write Realistic Science Fiction without a STEM Degree

July 1, 2017

Interview with Rita Stradling, author of Ensnared, a near-future retelling of Beauty and the BeastHow to Write Sci-Fi Without a STEM DegreeHow to Write Sci-Fi Without a STEM DegreeIs it possible to write science fiction worth reading if you know fuck all about science?

That was one of the questions that came up during my interview with author Rita Stradling.

Her newest release, Ensnared, is a near-future retelling of Beauty and the Beast that was recently selected for publication through Kindle Scout. It has robot monkeys and a spooky high-tech tower and a Beauty who saves people from avalanches.

Most of Rita’s explanations of the technology in Ensnared flew over my head. I mean, they sounded plausible, but I’m an editor, not an engineer.

Dr. McCoy of the USS Enterprise says, "Shut up."

But Rita isn’t a scientist. Her background is in art history, and she confessed during the interview that science was actually her worst subject throughout school.

So how’d she do it?

Listen to our conversation (or click “Read More” for the transcript) to find out.

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