Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Breathless by V.J. Chambers

Holy #$%^! Where has this book been in my indie author wanderings? V.J. Chambers pushes YA to the absolute edge. The sweet, delicious edge. This is one of those books that crosses over- paranormal, urban fantasy, thriller, YA, adult, romance, horror, apocalypse, conspiracy, adventure, and more. Wow. I don't even know how to categorize this. Other than brilliant. It's definitely that. Brilliant. Tell your friends. Tell total strangers. This book rocks.

What begins as a sweet but compelling YA romance morphs, midway through, into something dark but even more romantic and, at the same time, sickly humorous.  I cannot count the times I found myself laughing out loud then looking over my shoulder a little nervously because Chambers manages to make the inappropriate and the forbidden approachable and even funny.  If it shouldn't and can't be happening, it will and does.  This is not a book for the faint of heart.  Chambers tackles teenage sexuality in plain language.  Characters make disturbing, sometimes even illegal, life choices, but Chambers follows through by showing the consequences of their actions.  High school is well-rendered in all its insular pettiness.  However, she also lets moments of greatness we can all relate to poke through and shine, like the one teacher who encourages free-thinking or the maddening, magical moment when you realize you would throw it all away because of one single electric kiss.

Azazel and Jason both make compelling leads.  Both are strong, intriguing, and have great chemistry.  Jason is spot-on as the strong, mysterious, but oddly vulnerable boy who defends Azazel from bullies and even relatively mild insults with militaristic fervor.  His intelligence and logical arguments are refreshing in a YA romance.  Azazel is bewitching as the center of her offbeat hurricane of a family.  A little hitch here for me:  Jason's longing for normality is understandable, but Azazel?  Hmm.  Beyond that, though, they are brilliantly polymoral characters.  They aren't meant to be entirely likeable.  They are... complex, and therein lies their charm.  Azazel and Jason do not move in a good v. evil, black v. white world, although everyone around them behaves as if they do.  They are continuously forced to make black and white choices in a shades of gray world.  

Chambers hits some pretty deep themes hard and heavy almost from page one: the nature of good and evil, and how young people can best construct their own moral identities in a world that constantly lies, fails, and uses them.  Jason and Azazel are both blessed and cursed in this regard.  They are at the center of relentless, pervasive violence and betrayal, but Chambers gives them the gift of each other: their deepening love becomes an unwavering moral compass that guides them through the madness of their worlds turned upside down and shaken sideways.  This drives them closer together, but it also forces them into choices that mark and scar them.  Chambers leaves us with the hope that together, there is not only healing, but destiny as well. However, she leaves us hanging as to whether that destiny will be a happy one, or a further descent into chaos and destruction.

Thank goodness for book two.  And no waiting, either.

Review: Trembling by V.J. Chambers

The stakes are higher, the heat is on, and tensions mount in book two of the Jason and Azazel trilogy. Did I mention intense? Our characters grow darker, but in typical Chambers style, darker doesn't always equal evil or bad. In fact, the definition of evil and the nature of choice and free will is at the very heart of this second book as Chambers tackles some very heavy issues for any YA book. This is what I love about her books, though. She unapologetically does not hold back. As Jason and Azazel struggle with their twin darknesses and a world that has used them and thrown them away, they must also navigate the rocky shores of teenage love. This is a tall order for any teenager, or even most adults, but when those teenagers happen to be a trained killer with anger management issues and a messiah complex and a pagan cult's goddess-incarnate-on-the-run exploring her first tastes of freedom and sensuality, things are bound to get... complicated. And dark.

This was another book I could not put down. This is another book that begs for more attention, more marketing, more publicity, more exposure. This book needs to be read. So. Once again, please tell your friends, their friends, your grandmother and her friends, and total strangers on the streets about these books. They are the rarest of finds among indie books- an original, brilliantly-executed story coupled with nearly flawless editing

Review: Tortured by V.J. Chambers

**spoiler alert** (May contain spoilers)
In the third Jason and Azazel installment, their connection deepens as their world gets darker and more violent. Like, incredibly violent. And incredible deep. Jason and even Azazel descend into depths of violence and darkness that make me pretty sure they are indeed Chaos and/or the Devil incarnate. However, this is not the most disturbing part. The most disturbing part?

I liked them anyway.

That's right. I said it. I liked- no, loved- them anyway, and rooted for them the entire way. I wanted them to succeed. I wanted them to successfully mass slaughter entire buildings. (OK, arguably, these guys deserve it.) Azazel thinks the same thing about Jason at one point in the series. It may be in Book Two. Her brothers make her watch hours of videotape of Jason, smiling, during killing spree after killing spree, and she decides it doesn't matter. She'll love him no matter what he's done, or who he is, or who he's done it with. And he feels the same about her. Gut twisting, but masterfully so.

By the third book, we're pretty deep into the whole Sons of the Sun and the Satanists or the Rabbits or Chaos conspiracies. Oh, and you have to love it when the Catholic Church gets involved, as well as a couple of very fringe cults for good measure. And then Chambers throws in the coming Mayan Apocalypse. Conspiracy fans and Apocalypse nuts will *love* this. Part of me thinks this is foreshadowing for a future series, but fans be warned: she lays it on pretty heavy here with the conspiracy stuff. I needed a score card at times. But then, I think that's part of her point: when people start fighting over good v. evil, it all devolves into a game of deadly ridiculousness at some point. In Jason and Azazel's case, extremely deadly ridiculousness.
Because, as Azazel so insightfully points out, anything can be justified once your opponent is "evil." 

The novel is not without its moments of tenderness, humor, teenage angst, and romance. In typical Chambers style, she does not back down from the tough subjects. Safe, healthy teenage sexuality is unflinchingly examined as two characters have to deal with the consequences of uninformed, and therefore unsafe, sex. Jason and Azazel struggle with intimacy. There is something so real in the way it is easier for Azazel to kill someone than to tell Jason he isn't satisfying her sexually. And the way she manages to sit through a group self-help session (or perhaps intervention) on the female orgasm is perhaps the bravest thing she does in the entire series. Such things are not easily discussed, yet Chambers does so with humor and grace. If only one of her readers learns from Azazel's experiences, then Chambers has done the world a huge service and deserves a medal.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's Never Going to Stop

If I'm lucky, if everything I want and dream of comes true for me, weeks like the past several will not only NOT get better, they will get worse.  Or rather,  faster.  Time is speeding up for me, I swear.

Let me be clear(er): the past several weeks have been great.  I've been immersed in writing, reading, connecting with other writers and immensely creative people, ideas are flowing fast and furious. Ann's comments about Worlds Burn Through not only make sense, but I know which of the 4-6 current story arcs I need to whittle down to 2-3.  I know which narrative vehicles are not going to work as they are written.  I must constantly ask myself "Is this logical?  Would he/she/it really do this?" as I review every single chapter.  I have to ditch Callista's diary and the Queen of New Orleans, compress ley lines and Cherokee mythology into one magical system, and gradually transform Alexander Ravenwood III into the Emperor of Fire.  Things must speed up; characters are running out of time.  Remember that although I love Miranda this is not her story.  Accept that romance between two alien teenagers who are even more alien to each other will be awkward but powerful, especially since one of them has more experience killing than kissing, and there can be grace in that.  Oh, and I'm going to sorta kill someone major.  Sorry, but it has to be done.

While I've been figuring this out, Ann's having picnics in the outback, drinking wine and looking at stars.  This is good.  At least, I thought it was.  I thought, "Oh good, I'll have a break before I talk to her again."  I decided that I, too, could take a deep breath and a vacation.  Not to the outback, but a writing one.  I promised myself I would stop in on the little town of Whitfield, and see what kind of supernatural hijinks have been brewing while Chloe and Eliot needed my help in "The Chronicles of Nowhere" Trilogy.  You know, have a little fun.  It turns out a very very powerful being just showed up.  He's giving one of my regulars, Caspia Chastain, the tarot-card artist and brilliant barrista, a hard time.  Bad luck for him, because he's about to become very very weak, and then 'normal' Caspia will have quite a lot of power over him.  Good thing she's such a nice girl... or not.  I promised myself I would have this 50,000 word novella, Season of Heaven, posted to Kindle by Halloween.

Then things got complicated, in a wonderful turn-your-life-upside down kind of way, which will be the subject of a post all its own.  Or four.  I'll just say I think the fates, or whatever (insert fearsome deity), have their eye on me, and I'd better damned well be ready for whatever they're about to throw my way.

I promised myself I would post Season of Heaven because it's time.  It's time to launch.  I'm not sure how I know this, but we writers are weird, and something I can describe only as forces are propelling me forward.  Signs, portents, forces, and sometimes things literally falling in my lap.  (More on that later.)  So.  I'm a bit nervous about the big reveal.  Every time I start wondering how the hell someone like me can make something like this work, I refer myself to the deeply seated instinct that seems to be driving all of this.  I did warn you writers were weird, right?  It's this deeply seated instinct that's telling me to hold on to my keyboard, things are about to get crazy (ier)...

I am waaay too fond of the ellipses.  Oh well.  There are worse vices.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


It's been two days since emerging from the bowels of the Hyatt in downtown Atlanta, and I really do feel like I've just time travelled or spent almost a week on an alien planet known as DragonCon.  I'm still trying to adjust to regular sunlight, normal food and clothing, and the freedom to move around at will.  If you haven't been to DragonCon, I know this will sound strange, but it's the truth.

Costumes everywhere.  Bizarre costumes for which I have no context and some that made me stop and say, "Hey! I remember that cartoon/book/comic!"  I don't recall eating.  I remember that I did it, but it was usually done on the run from one room full of bizarre creatures discussing equally bizarre things to another room or even building.  I actually forgot to eat several times and don't remember being hungry.  I remember sitting in on one particular panel when my stomach wouldn't stop growling.  I kept telling myself that this meant I was hungry and I needed to remember to eat, but I don't remember actually being hungry.  If you know me at all, you will recognize this as extremely bizarre behavior.  The one thing I do remember wanting and consuming constantly was coffee.  I think, by day two, I had a blood coffee content far above the legal limit.  Good thing I wasn't driving.

I lost the freedom to move where and when I wanted.  It was so crowded that not only could you not sit, you couldn't stop moving.  If I paused for any reason, a staff member or an Atlanta police officer was there to say, "Move along!"  And so I did, even though often it meant moving in a direction I didn't want to be going.  Daniel and I were frequently swept away from each other, just like being caught in a strong ocean tide.  I have truly learned the meaning of the words "swept along with the crowd."  Disney World on New Year's Eve and Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday might possibly come close to the press of bodies crammed into four or so square blocks of downtown Atlanta.

At any rate, I feel like I'm coming down off hard drugs or a really long drinking binge.  Of course, being me, nothing of the sort happened, but that's how I feel.

What did I learn?  Well, I'm still decompressing from all of that, and I probably won't be able to write coherently about it for several days.  If then.  So, a few jumbled points:

1. Steampunk.  Second most active track for me, and by far the coolest thing at the con.  I'm looking forward to learning more about it so that I can write Steampunk and make beautiful costumes and weapons of my own.

2.  Writer's Track.  I was most active here.  It should be no surprise that this was not the most exciting track, but I learned a lot, and it was my favorite.  I got to see old friends who are as much writing nerds as I am.  I got autographs from obscure authors I like a lot.  I got my first ARC!!!!  I even found myself on my feet in the middle of the aisle, giving an impassioned speech about how the traditional publishing industry, just like the music business, was going down hard and fast and that we'd all better be ready to adapt or die.  This during a panel where the editors of major traditional publishing houses were present.  Everybody freaked.  It was great.  But most importantly I learned a lot and got to see my peeps.

3.  YA fan tracks.  Good to know what's on reader's minds, and to discover that 60 year old gay men to gawky ten year old girls to mid-thirties moms to twenty-something jocks all read and love YA.  Who knew?

Anyway.  Enough for now.  It's over.  It's time to return to the real world of work, family, and more work, aka writing/ reading.  I can catch up on reviews I've been meaning to do, edit and revise my book in progress, and start on another project that will continue to drive me crazy until I bring it to life.

And blogs?  Did I mention blogs?  Much to do on that front.