Climbing Walls

Last week I talked about how I had gotten myself stuck in a story problem and hadn’t managed to navigate my way out of it. This isn’t some remedial math course, honestly actual math problems are so much easier. All the information is there, you just have to figure out how the pieces fit together to find the answer.

No, this was an entirely different kind of story problem. One that had an actual story broken in the middle of it. In the past, I’d keep writing scenes until something worked. The action of putting words on the page often loosens up the creativity enough for a great idea to fall out. But considering where my anxiety and stress levels have been these past few weeks, not only does that option seem tedious and time wasting, I simply don’t have the energy to play with ideas and scenes that I will probably have to throw away.

I had a wall. How do we get over walls? We build ladders.

When we can’t build a ladder, we break out the sledgehamers.

Whatever you do, don’t take a sledgehammer to your ladder. That really doesn’t help.

As the week kept trickling by, and I knew I would have to be accountable to you dear people, I knuckled down and got to work – yesterday. I lined up all the loose ends, teased out the biggest issues, and tackled the dragon that was holding my ending hostage. After all of that, I’m proud to say I now have a direction to follow, and several burns and scratches that probably need some attention.

So yeah, I could still use some ice cream, and maybe a band-aid or two.

Now the real work of getting the thing written can begin. Yay?

Could someone tell the dragon that I’m out of treats and he needs to go home?

Down, Zeddicus!

TV Series Review: Picard, Season One

I’ll admit I had some huge reservations about this new chapter in the Star Trek universe. Picard has always been my captain. The Next Generation was the Star Trek I grew up with. I had so many expectations that it would take nothing short of a minor miracle to fulfill them all.

Good thing I believe in miracles.

The Story

Time has passed since Captain, now Admiral, Picard has commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise. He’s retired and doing the thing he always envisioned he’d do, managing the Chateau Picard vinyard in La Barre, France.

And he’s bored.

He left active duty with the Federation with a bad taste in his mouth. One of his last efforts as Admiral blew up in his face when the Federation didn’t give him the support he needed. The resulting deaths still haunt him.

So when a mystery falls into his lap, he’s not only intrigued, he feels obligated to act. Back during the events of Nemesis, his dear friend, Lieutenant Commander Data, sacrificed himself to save Picard. This new mystery is linked directly to some of the more mysterious parts of Data’s past, namely where he came from and who created him.

If he can solve the mystery, he will not only save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, but he might also find resolution over the death of his friend.

My Review

As with any long standing science fiction universe, you can expect the story to be complex and nuanced. There are several planets, species, cultures, and goals all colliding with each other. Add to this the emotional motivations of each playing character, of which there are many, and that’s a lot of information to track.

The writers handled this challenge well. They avoided the common pitfall of using massive info dumps, instead choosing to carefully present information one crucial parcel at a time. For me, it was not unlike putting together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to reference the picture. I enjoyed the challenge, but it was too complex for my teenager (and too mature for the younger kiddos).

From the acting, to the effects, to the writing and dialogue, Picard delivers everything a true TNG fan could ever hope for. We have so many of our favorite elements coming into play. There’s the Borg collective, the friction with the Romulan Empire, Picard’s past as Locutus, and diving deep into the concept of synthetic life and what it means to be alive.

There are also plenty of other elements that come into play to add extra spice, such as using a non federation ship and seeing what happens when Picard must step outside the rules. One of my all time favorite Voyager characters, Seven of Nine, falls into the story in a way that’s both true to her character and essential to the plot. Win.

I can’t wait to see what direction they take as the story continues to unfold. As for me, I’m thrilled with the story so far.

I got my minor miracle.

Recommendations

This is a more mature Star Trek and definitely not for younger viewers. I recommend viewers be at least high school age considering some of the themes and situations. While the use of coarse language is fairly minimal, it’s still there as well as casual intimacy, graphic violence, and intense scenes.

If you loved TNG, and are okay with an increase in the intensity, you’ll love it. Easy as that.

However, if you’ve never been into Star Trek and want to start, this isn’t a good place to do so. There’s a lot of history behind many key characters that will be lost on you. The show might still be enjoyable, but I think you’ll miss out on many of the emotional notes.

I give Picard a rare and shining 5/5 stars for the amazing work that went into the story telling and all the emotional punches.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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About Walls

This has been the slowest most frustrating summer–ever. Each day feels far too long and yet nothing really gets done. Things that do manage to get done don’t stay done for long. Don’t get me started on how I feel about the laundry or the wicked carnival ride of perpetual feeding and kitchen cleaning. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

When it feels hard to even get the basics done, it puts long scope projects in a particularly difficult category. They are always there, but since they aren’t immediately rewarding to work on it’s just so easy to let days and weeks slide past while other more urgent tasks fill up the space.

This challenge gets even worse when you’ve run up against a mental wall. Something is broken in the project and no progress can be made until it is fixed. Now, not only is the work not rewarding, but it’s downright frustrating. Add that to being stressed out about how to handle all the everything that 2020 is shaping up to be and guess what’s not being worked on even more. Yep, that long scope project.

This is where the time problem sets in. The reason these projects take a long time is that there is a heck ton of work that needs to be done, not all of it consisting of getting the actual words of the story onto the page. Needing two months to do a project and then putting it aside for a week here and there means the deadline is going to smack you straight in the forehead as it whizzes by.

And this is where I’m stuck. I hit a wall with a project I was terribly excited about at the beginning of the summer. The problem? I realized I didn’t know what the story was actually about. Without this critical marker, the prose had started to wander into uncharted territory on its own. I’ve done this mistake before. It means lots of painful rewriting later should it get out of hand. Which in turn takes longer, which means that deadline is going to be even harder to meet.

The good thing about walls is that they are only a barrier if you let them stay. This particular wall isn’t terribly large or even daunting, it’s just there being all wall like and stubborn. I know what needs to be done to fix the story problem and it’s not even all that hard. I’m ready to knock a great big hole in this wall, just as soon as I find the last box of Girl Scout cookies hiding in the bottom of my freezer. And finish the laundry. And perhaps weed the garden.

Gah! Okay. Should the wall still be there by the time I check in next week, send in reinforcements.

And ice cream.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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Book Review: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I have a love hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s writings. I love how he uses language to create an otherworldly sense of place and characters that are always far more than what’s happening on the page. But, many of his writings do nothing for me. With each new book, I start reading with the hope that this one will scratch my Gaiman itch. Sometimes those hopes are dashed.

So it was with reluctance that I picked up this collection of his shorter works. With so many different offerings, I knew there would be several I would truly enjoy and then there would be others that I probably wouldn’t like at all. And.. I was right.

This is also why it’s taken me the better part of a year to finish reading all of them. After each disappointment I’d put the book down as if I were punishing it. When enough time had passed, I’d pick it up and give the next story a try.

A sampling of my favorites

Instructions

This poem holds tiny pieces of other stories I have grown to love. There is an element of mystery and whimsy as the poet instructs the reader along a cryptic journey giving very specific instructions that feel as if they are meant to either enchant the reader or keep them from harm. The further into the poem the reader ventures, the deeper they find themselves in a wondrous land of fairy tale and magic.

As with many profound tales, this poem wanders itself into a circle and the reader finds themselves back where they started, only changed.

Goliath

I feel this story is inspired by the Matrix, but one that feels more faithful to how being a consciousness living in the confines of a computer program might work. Our main character is literally larger than life, a Goliath of a man. Throughout his life, he experiences odd shifts where he knows something has changed, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. With each shift, he becomes more convinced that his life is nothing more than a sham covering up something much deeper and darker than he can imagine.

When the truth comes for him, he’s ready to face what real life looks like and take up the duties he has been training for since his “life” began.

Sunbird

As someone who loves experiencing culture through food, this tale of rare Epicurean delights was as fascinating as it was delicious. The aptly named Epicurian Club has set out to consume the world’s rarest delights, ranging from extinct species to all the different beetles of the world. They go to great lengths to challenge their tastes and stretch their palates. When the mention of the rare and exquisite sunbird piques their attention, they make plans to travel to Egypt to try it. Needless to say, the so called sunbird has a few mythical qualities of its own that makes this story even more delectable.

My Review

This isn’t the easiest book to simply sit down and read through. As with many Gaiman stories, the enjoyment of reading comes from paying attention to all the subtle details that rise to the surface or are brushed past in the narrative. This level of reading intensity makes it hard to find uninterrupted time to enjoy each work the way it was intended to be read, that is, slowly and with attention to detail.

Personally, now that I’ve read Gaiman’s shorter works, I can see why I favor his novel length stories better. If I’m going to invest that kind of time and attention to a story, I want to experience it for a long time and dive deeply into these characters and conflicts. There is always so much going on that it feels like the shorter works don’t do these stories justice.

Recommendations

If you love a story that stretches your thinking and challenges reality, you’ll find several works in this collection that will fill that need. While these all are speculative fiction, they swing back and forth from science fiction to fantasy, often capturing elements of both in tandem. There’s also a healthy dash of elements of folklore stirred in for even more depth.

However, this isn’t for light reading by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it a book for younger readers as the subject matter tends to dive into deeper topics and there is coarse language and graphic descriptions.

While in the end I’m glad I gave the collection a try, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone but those who already like Neil Gaiman’s writings.

I give Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things 3 out of 5 stars for stretching my thinking but not scratching my literary itch.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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10 Must-Read Fantasy Series You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before

Hey everyone, Jodi here. Today I have a special guest post for you from Desiree Villena all about our favorite topic, fantasy book series. Without further ado, here’s her post –

Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

10 Must-Read Fantasy Series You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before

No matter where you go, readers will find each other. Every social media platform has its own bookish community, from “booktube” to “bookstagram”. There’s just something irresistible about talking to fellow bookworms, whether we’re stacking our already towering TBR with even more titles, showing off our favorite book cover designs, or trying to get everyone within shouting distance to read this amazing book we just finished because we’ll burst if we don’t share it.

Unfortunately, “bookish” social media is subject to the same flaws as all social media. Chief among those is the echo chamber. Once you find your little corner of like-minded readers, it’s all too easy to get swept up into reading the same books that everyone else keeps gushing over.

But what about all the books that don’t get the hype? From those  telling a marginalized story to those by authors who haven’t managed to strike it big yet, you’d be surprised how many amazing books fly right under the radar. Today we’re going to be highlighting ten of my favorite fantasy series that, in all likelihood, you’ve probably never even heard of!

The Mangoverse series by Shira Glassman

Indie author Shira Glassman doesn’t write books to fit mainstream tastes — and that’s exactly what makes her work so delicious. Full of rich, real-world diversity and focusing on characters who are often overlooked, Glassman’s stories are always a delight.

The Mangoverse series, starting with The Second Mango, follows the story of Queen Shulamit and the warrior Rivka. What starts out as a simple quest for a royal girlfriend becomes an  adventure when they discover a temple full of women who’ve been turned to stone. Packed with characters you’ll love, the land of Perach will make you want to linger.

The Legacy of Flames series by Emma L. Adams

If urban fantasy is your thing, strap in for an unending adventure, because Emma L. Adams cranks out rip-roaring fantasy books like nobody’s business. From dragon shifters to faeries, there’s a series for everyone in her interconnected universe. Each series can be read in any order, but to get the full effect (and to really be able to appreciate Adams’ expansive imagination), readers should start with Alight and work their way on from there. These books are sure to delight anyone who wants plenty of sass, humor, and excitement.

The Second Sentinels series by Lee Brontide

Formerly published under the name Lee Blauersouth, this one is perhaps a bit of a cheat, since there’s technically only one book out so far — but I like to think of it as getting in on the ground floor of a great new series. (Plus, the author is hard at work editing book two, so I’m sure it’ll be here soon enough.)

This emotionally charged series follows four teens through the whirlwind of solving a superpowered mystery, but it’s about much more than just flashy tech and special abilities. Where Secondhand Origin Stories really shines is in its character development: each of the central teens deals with the world of superheroes in fresh and interesting ways. Come for the pizzazz, stay for the finely drawn world and in-depth relationships.

The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker

Okay, it’s possible that you’ve heard of this one. After failing to land a literary agent, Buroker became a powerhouse in the indie publishing world. Still, she’s shockingly unknown in the larger realm of fantasy fans — so I think we’re safe to include her.

The Emperor’s Edge is the book that put her on the map, and it’s a solid entry into the world of steampunk fantasy adventure. Centering on Amaranthe, an ex-law enforcement officer who’s been wrongly accused of a crime, and Sicarius, an assassin who’s guilty of pretty much every crime they pin on him, these books are just plain fun. The banter between all of the characters is top-notch, as is the slowly developing feelings that unfold over the course of the books. The best part? The first book is free!

The Harrietta Lee series by Stephanie Ahn

If hard-boiled detectives are up your alley, look no further than the urban-fantasy adventure that starts in Deadline. Described as a female-led Dresden files, the series stars Harrietta Lee, a paranormal investigator in New York City. Or at least she was, until a blood magic ritual goes horribly awry. Now she’s struggling to make rent and scrounging for odd jobs.

When an opportunity to work for a powerful corporate family falls into her lap, she doesn’t feel like she can turn it down — even if it’s a family she once had ties to, and solving this case will mean digging into her own uncomfortable past. If you want film noir, but with magic, you’ll tear through this series in no time.

The Eve Williams series by Ashley Beasley

Who doesn’t love a good story about necromancers?

In Bramble and Blood, Eve Williams is tasked with finding a woman who may already be dead. Working with a Druid Enforcer and contending with a wide range of magical creatures along the way, Eve will need to dig deep into this mystery — even if it means she may end up as the next victim. Full of excellent worldbuilding, strong characters, and perfect pacing, this book will have your heart racing as you rush to the end.

The Tales of Inthya series by Effie Calvin

If you’re looking for princesses and fairy-tale romance mixed into your fantasy series, The Queen of Ieflaria may just be for you.

What starts off as a tale full of ballgowns and royal betrothals quickly sets itself apart. Princess Esofi’s kingdom has a dragon problem, and a marriage to the prince of Ieflaria was supposed to fix it — until his tragic demise leaves her with a broken engagement and no means of making the alliance she so desperately needs. Or does she? An unexpected solution keeps the story fresh. Throw in dragon fights and ass-kicking princesses, and I’m even willing to overlook the names that read like the author let her cat walk across the keyboard.

The Order of the Dragon series by Tina Glasneck

Vampires and dragons taking center stage in a rollicking urban fantasy series? Sign me up, please!

Once Bitten introduces us to an utterly unique world where dragon’s blood creates day-walking vampires. Yes, you read that right. As if that isn’t enough, the star of our tale is a romance author who gets quite literally swept up in adventure when she falls overboard on a cruise ship, only to be rescued by a dragon. This series has plenty of bite, taking us on a journey full of mystery, prophecy, and romance.

The Tomes of Kaleria series by Honor Raconteur

In Tomes Apprentice, titular apprentice Mei Li has a problem: her Master has gone missing in a shipwreck, along with ninety tomes that detail how to prevent approaching disasters that could easily end the world. You know, no big deal.

Now everyone is turning to Mei Li for answers, but without the tomes, there’s little she can do. But that’s not going to stop her from trying. This rich, Asian-inspired fantasy series features 5,000-year-old demons, enchanted flutes, deities, and time travel. Add in a thrilling plot and a world populated with richly drawn side characters, and you have a series that shouldn’t be missed.

The Paranormal Worlds series by CC Solomon

Featuring another unusual premise for an urban fantasy, Mystic Bonds brings us to a version of Earth ruined by the apocalypse. In a world where most of the population was wiped out, those who remain either have sudden magical powers… or will do almost anything to get them. Magically-gifted Anima and her brother are on the run, searching for a hidden city and a man that Amina’s seen only in her dreams.

Full of rich worldbuilding and a compelling mystery that will enchant readers to the end, this book will stick with you long after you finish.


Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, marketers, and book reviewers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys writing short stories and reading everything from cosmic horror to contemporary romance.

5 Summer Quotes to distract you

While there are many of you who love the summer heat and fun, if you are anything like me, you’re fed up with this particular summer where everything is out to get you. Let’s agree for the next few moments to sit back, relax and remember all the parts of summer that we love and are still am trying to enjoy.

Oh, and make yourself a yummy drink to sit back and enjoy as well. You deserve it.

“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink in the wild air.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”

Henry David Thoreau

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explode, and every sunset is different.”

John Steinbeck

“Summer has filled her veins with light and her heart is washed with noon.”

C. Day Lewis

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”

Maud Hart Lovelace

Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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Adventure is out there!

As the summer rolls on, it’s becoming harder and harder to hide in my cute little office and work. There are exciting things to do, things to see, and I might be a teensy weensy bit stir crazy. When the crazies set in, it’s time for a change of scenery.

This weekend that drive to adventure took our family up Big Cottonwood Canyon to explore the Mill B area. What’s great about this spot is that the water from the river cools down the canyon floor making it a welcome break from the summer heat. There are stunning waterfalls, comfortable short hikes, and plenty of rocks for the kiddos to scramble around on.

On a recommendation from a family member, we found Hidden Falls which is marked only by a tiny sign. It’s not even a hike, but rather a climb up the side of a hidden stream that leads to a lovely isolated grotto. The kids had a great time climbing and traversing the stream on half submerged rocks like a real world “floor is lava” game, and I was thrilled to get them away from their screens for a while.

To finish up the afternoon, we hiked Mill B South which is also a short well-maintained and nearly flat trail that leads to a larger staircase waterfall at the end. It’s a perfect place to bring a picnic and get away from things.

A lot of this area is what I imagine the dramatic canyons and mountains in Stonebearer’s Betrayal to feel like. There are steep slopes and hidden gems just waiting to be found. Maybe if I go far enough, I’ll find an immense castle occupied by magical immortals.

Hey, a girl can dream.

What are your favorite outdoor activities?


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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TV Series Review: Good Omens

I have a sneaking feeling that I might run across lots of mixed feelings on this one. While the two authors, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both have huge followings, they also tend to push the boundaries of the expected into often dangerous territory. In Good Omens, what’s a more dangerous subject than the coming of the Antichrist?

Like I said, it’s loaded with ideas and history that plunges us straight into dangerous territory.

The Story

Like most good fiction, this one starts with a monumental “What if?” What if the child who was meant to grow up to be the Antichrist was accidentally switched at birth? What if the demon assigned to watch over him, has actually been watching over the wrong child?

The story centers on this demon, Crowley, and his angelic counterpart, Aziraphale. These two beings have been on Earth as representatives of Hell and Heaven respectively since the beginning of time, and have formed an unlikely friendship. Not only that, they’ve grown accustomed to the comforts of life on earth and aren’t thrilled at the prospect of the coming of Armageddon, which will end it all.

While the hosts of Heaven and Hell are eager and anxious for Armageddon to finally happen, both Crowley and Aziraphale are willing to do anything to delay it and possibly prevent it for as long as possible.

My Review

I’ll state right now that I’m a biased watcher. I’ve always enjoyed Prachett and Gaiman’s unique spin on stories and their deep dives into unique characters and what makes them tick. I’m also super biased because the two leading actors are none other than the exquisite David Tennant as Crowley, and the ever intriguing Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.

Honestly, the show itself gets forgiven a lot because of these two factors alone.

As a whole, I found the series fascinating to watch. The story is complicated and there are lots of twists and turns to keep track of, which for me is a perk. There are multiple driving forces to push and prod the story in different directions, and all of them are working against the goals of the other.

What I particularly liked is the sheer brilliance of the dialogue between Crowley and Aziraphale. The debates between them and the huge amount of history shows up in these little revealing snippets deepens their characters and the history of the world itself. They care for each other in a way that’s taken millenia to grow. It’s no surprise that most of the watchers who enjoyed the show want to see these two characters in a more serious relationship beyond friendship.

Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of work if you don’t mind diving into a story that centers around Armageddon and all its associated lore.

Recommendations

Obviously if you already enjoy Prachett and Gaiman, you are going to like this show. It has all the charm, depth, and humor you’d expect from a collaboration between the two. While it is complicated, so are most of their writings. Those who already like reading these two authors will be fine in keeping track of what’s going on.

I would warn those who have sensitive religious views to either watch the show with a grain of salt, or steer clear. It doesn’t shy away from this being an end-of-the-world type story and brings in enough theological material to support the differing world views surrounding the prophecy. This might make some watchers uncomfortable.

When it comes to objectionable material, there’s a wide but thin smattering of language, violence, and innuendo that some might find offensive but are neither remarkable or overblown. What’s there is appropriate to the situation.

I rate Good Omens a solid 4/5, a great show but you really have to pay attention.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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Too Many Goals, a Cautionary Tale

As an ambitious person, I tend to go overboard when it comes to setting goals. A good goal should force you to stretch yourself to reach, but still be doable. They require real effort. This is a good thing. Reaching for a goal means that even when I don’t complete it in its entirety, I still work harder and get more done than if I hadn’t set the goal at all.

The problem I keep running into is setting too many goals at one time. When this happens, I spend each day scrambling to try to reach the most important ones and lamenting the ones I didn’t have time to work on. It’s a nasty cycle. Without fail, I’ll say stupid things to myself like “I can catch up on that tomorrow or over the weekend” fully knowing that the time fairy isn’t going to grant me more hours, even if I promise to slip her into one of my stories. Sometimes it’s not time that causes the problem, but energy. It doesn’t matter how much free time you have if you’re too tired to think or work.

I started July like I start every month, by looking over what I really wanted to make progress on and then setting goals that would help me do so. Turns out there were plenty of things I wanted to be more consistent doing that included house and yard work, personal health goals, and of course, authoring pursuits.

When I counted the things on my list today, I found sixteen different tasks that I needed to accomplish if I wanted to reach all those goals today. Some only take a few minutes, but most take anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours each. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math there. Even on a great day, there’s no way I’d have the time. Especially since I’ve also got the kiddos at home and need to give them attention as well, not to mention keep everyone fed.

Yep, just thinking about it is stressing me out a little.

Will I learn my lesson when I set goals for August? I surely hope so. The good thing is that every time I work through one of these challenges, I do learn a few things. This time I learned that tracking that many goals becomes stressful and tedious. It’s best to limit goals to the things that are truly important and then do the best you can with the rest.

My question to you is, are you a goal setter? If so, what does your goal setting practice look like?


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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Book Review: Verses for the Dead by Preston and Child

This is a year of trying lots of new things, including authors I hadn’t read yet. I’d heard of the Pendergast novels off and on for ages, they are one of those staples of genre fiction that have collected a wide fan base and end up being referenced at writing conferences. A friend of mine had enjoyed the books and we needed a fresh read for our very casual book group so we chose the most widely available title in the library system, the 2018 release Verses for the Dead.

The Story

This book is very much a murder mystery. It starts with the discovery of a human heart found on a gravestone in Miami along with a cryptic note signed by a Mr. Brokenhearts. Enter Agent Pendergast, FBI. He’s got a remarkable track record when it comes to the tricky cases, and this murder is shaping up to be exactly that, tricky.

However, he’s unpredictable and tends to do things in unorthodox ways that leave a body count higher than what his superiors are comfortable with. For this reason, on this case he’s forced to accept the unthinkable–a partner.

The mystery unfolds as our duo work together to piece together the clues. Their murderer follows a bizarre M.O.: He cuts out his victim’s hearts and then leaves them on the graves of suicide victims. If Pendergast can’t find the connections between the victims, he’s sure more women will die in the same horrific way.

Through many twists and failures, we watch as Pendergast works through the case in a way reminiscent of Sherlock, finding the tiniest clues and using them to track down the killer.

My Review

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of mystery novels I can’t say if the pacing of this one was intentionally slow and methodical, or if it was just a slower read because clue hunting, while interesting, isn’t exciting. The way the different ideas came together, and the way it truly took a team of experts to help the case along, made for interesting reading. And, there was an action-packed danger-filled conclusion, so I can’t complain too much.

There is a reason these books are popular. The writing is solid and clear, the characters fleshed out and interesting, and the different settings vibrant and lifelike. There is always a sense of more going on than what happens on the page, especially with Pendergast’s character, which leaves the reader eager to see what else they can learn about him.

While most of the books in the Pendergast series are flagged as standalone reads, there is a lot of backstory about Pendergast himself that I feel I’m missing. I’m considering reading more, if only to learn more about him and why he acts the way he does.

Recommendations

If you like murder mystery, this is a solid one. A word of warning for the squeamish, there are graphic crime scene descriptions, autopsies, and naturally, a few murders witnessed first hand. There is also a reasonable, but not overwhelming amount of swearing. The clues are not super obvious at first, but like any good mystery start clicking together as the story moves forward only for there to be a subtle twist that changes everything.

If you tend to need things that feel like they’re moving and making progress quickly, this might be a frustrating read. Everything Pendergast does is methodical and deliberate so even when he’s rushing, there is still a sense of calm and stillness. This makes it all the more exciting when his feathers do get ruffled during the thrilling climax, but for some that might not be enough.

I give Verses for the Dead 3/5 stars, a solid read but at times too slow and deliberate.


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