Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Word Reclaimed"

The Short:

The Word Reclaimed
(The Face of the Deep, Book 1)

By: Steve Rzasa

4/5 Stars

What: Amid a space wreck, the last known copy of a Bible is discovered.

Recommended to those who like: Futuristic, dystopian, space battles, Christian, Sci-fi.

Not recommended for those who dislike: Long books that take a while to get going.

The Long:

The Word Reclaimed made for a good read, albeit a long one that dragged a little at points. In it we follow Baden, a young man who is part of the crew of the Natalia Zoja. He discovers a Bible amidst a space wreck, but he and the crew are pursued relentlessly by Kesek, the enforcement agency tasked with eliminating any religions that make claims to exclusivity. When a mysterious man saves him from Kesek and claims to be a follower of the Word, can he be trusted?

Meanwhile, court politics are in an uproar as the King seems to be losing power rapidly to Kesek. Can a dedicated group of loyalists manage to save the kingdom?

The plot is multilayered and deep, which makes for a realistic, exciting read. However, it took me until about halfway through the book to become really invested in the characters and get to know them well. Bear with the first half, though, because the second half is action-packed and everything falls into place. The story ended in a cliff-hanger and I look forward to reading book two in the near future.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Rzasa and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Music and Writing

Courtesy of Pexels
I'll be the first person to admit that, for an aspiring author, I'm not the most creative person out there. Many authors (and other people who find themselves involved in creative fields) really enjoy doing art in other veins. For example, many authors write musical sound tracks for their books or do some of their own artwork.

Other than taking piano lessons for several years and playing the flute in high school, I can't say I've been all that creative. Once my piano lessons got to the point where I was expected to start putting chords to the music, I hit a wall. Ask me to draw something and you'll get the definition of an incredulous look in return. Want me to come up with a creative idea? My mind turns into a blank sheet of paper and I can't seem to find the pens, pencils, or crayons.

So as far as creating things, I'm a bit of a dud. Honestly, some days I don't know how I get story ideas (and a lot of days I fear I'll never get a good idea to write about again).

But that doesn't mean that creative disciplines, such as music, don't impact me. On the contrary, I can hardly write unless I have some jam going.

If I'm writing a placid scene, I tend to select some classical music. For upbeat, happy scenes, I have a whole playlist of Irish jigs (those also work if I just need to type really fast). Battle scene? Time for some movie soundtracks or  rock. (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Marvel for the former; for the latter, Styx, Journey, Skillet, and Bon Jovi, to name a few).

Sometimes music just provides a steady rhythm for my fingers to tap out as I type. Other times, it provides some inspiration or helps me to conjure up more emotion for a difficult scene.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what's your favorite genre or author? Why/how does it help you?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sequel Review: "To Darkness Fled"

You can find my review of the first book of the Blood of Kings Trilogy here. I would highly recommend reading  the first book before continuing. 

Haven't read the first book? Come back next week for more posts and a fresh novel on Friday. In the meantime, check out some old book reviews or my Goodreads page.

The Short:

To Darkness Fled
(Blood of Kings Trilogy, Book 2)

By: Jill Williamson

5/5 Stars

What: Achan finds himself pushed to be king, even though he doesn’t want it. Vrell finds herself tangled in an ever-growing web of lies. Lord Nathak and Esek will stop at nothing to prevent Achan from coming to the throne.

Recommended to those who like: fantasy, internal conflict, sword fights, and have read book 1.

Not recommended for those who dislike: Significant romantic plot line.

The Long:

Warning: Spoilers may lurk for those who have not yet read book 1, which I reviewed here.

To Darkness Fled did not disappoint as a sequel. So many sequels fail to build on character development or feel like they lack a clear goal for the characters, but To Darkness Fled had even better character development and internal conflict than in the first book, in my opinion.

Achan wants nothing more than to escape the throne and the pressures that are put on him—he is pressured to find a suitable wife (even if he doesn’t love her), forge alliances, present himself as a capable prince (even though he hasn’t had experience), proclaim Arman, and otherwise just be perfect. His frustration and division in character grow throughout the book.

Meanwhile, Vrell finds herself wondering if she knows anything anymore. How can she be Achan’s squire when she’s a highborn lady? More disturbing, she’s starting to feel something for him—even though she’s already betrothed. How can she keep her secret when the evidence mounts against her?

Meanwhile, the party must escape to Ice Island to rescue former Kingsguard knights, avoid Esek, and scrape up enough support for the army if Achan is to take his rightful throne.

The plot was gripping and I was really intrigued by the internal conflicts that raged throughout the book. This book does have a stronger love element than the previous novel, but the action still plays the primary role. Also, it’s not sappy.

Ms. Williamson also builds upon the allegorical elements of her work in this novel. Arman comes into play in a more significant manner and the characters are faced with a choice of which god they will serve. This heightens the plot and fits in well. I look forward to reading the final book soon.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Ms. Williamson and her work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why Stories Matter

Have you ever finished a book and been unable to stop thinking about it? Why do we have favorite books--ones we can read again and again?

I suppose the answer is a little different for each of us. The reasons why stories matter to us differ even between each book we like.

For example, A Wrinkle in Time still speaks to me even though the binding is falling apart after having read it about a dozen times (I actually just picked up a new copy in the Spring so that the original one doesn't totally disintegrate). I love Meg Murray. I, like her, cannot seem to find a "Happy Medium". I share in her struggles to control my temper. I often feel like my peers don't understand me.

But in the end, she finds that there's something better. That sometimes, our flaws make us, well, us. We don't have to be perfection personified--there's really no human version of it anyways. (And if you haven't read Wrinkle, get yourself to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. It's a quick read). We just need to do the best with what we're given.

Another volume I've read just about to death is The Lord of the Rings. And while I skip about half of The Fellowship every time I read the trilogy, I still love it. After I finish it, I feel like I'm ready to conquer the world. Not in a Sauron-esque way, but, to paraphrase the wonderfully wise Samwise Gamgee, to fight for the good in the world that's worth fighting for. I love the books more and more as I grow older, perhaps because it feels like the world's being consumed in darkness and I don't stand a chance against it. But if a hobbit can save Middle Earth, maybe I can make a small dent in my own world.

In my personal opinion, we love stories because they encourage us. Because they inspire us to be better. To change our world. Sometimes, it's easier to get that message from a story than from a real-life experience.

If Meg Murray with her braces and over-reactions can save her brother from IT, if Sam and Frodo can throw the Ring into Mt. Doom even though they're less than four feet tall, maybe we can make a difference.

It's often been said that one needs a willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy a story. Perhaps we can use that same belief in the impossible to defeat the skepticism that so often holds us back in real life.

What are your favorite stories/books and why? Why do you think stories matter?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Keeper of Edelyndia"

The Short:

The Keeper of Edelyndia
(The Keeper Chronicles, Book 1)

By: Benjamin J. Denen

5/5 Stars (And possibly going on the favorites shelf)

What: A man wakes up with no idea who—or what—he is; only that he’s powerful and that, somehow, he must cleanse the Church in Edelyndia of the corrupt and protect those who have cared for him.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Christian, loose allegory, sword fights

Not recommended for those who dislike: Violent scenes (akin to PG-13)

The Long:

I will definitely be looking for more books from Mr. Denen. The Keeper of Edelyndia was well-written, fast-paced, and certainly worth the read.

Throughout the story, we follow Orron. Although powerful almost to the point of being superhuman, he has no memories of where he came from, only troubled dreams. He has a strong drive to protect the innocent.

The Church in Edelyndia has no such desire. Rather, leaders have become corrupt, sending a special group known as “Keepers” to remove 11-year old girls from their families to be taken as tributes to the capital.

Draedon is a Legion Commander of the Keepers who struggles with his duties. Can he justify capturing these young girls when he knows he would never allow his now-teenager daughter Kor’lee to be taken? But, how can he refuse his orders, especially with the violent Captain Valtor placed under his command?

The resulting tale is one of heroism, righteousness, and a quest to purify the land of those who would destroy the innocent. It has a few well-placed plot twists and believable, vibrant characters. The world building is good.

A warning to the reader: Mr. Denen does not shy away from telling the darker side of the plot (which makes the story more believable, and allows the light to shine all the brighter). I would equate it roughly on the same scale as the new Batman movies, to give you an idea. The violence is not glorified and the overall plot line conveys a Christian message.

There is an allegorical element/ strong Christian message to the story, which is one thing that makes the story great. Unlike some stories, it portrays believers as imperfect. There is also a small love element, but it does not crush the rest of the story.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Denen and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

I will be out of town this weekend, so it may take longer than normal for me to respond to your comments. I'd still love to hear from you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Blog Update

First off, I'd like to thank all of you who have been reading my blog. Your comments, "+1's", and even page views mean a lot to me.

Up till now, I've been writing on my summer vacation. As I prepare to head back to college at the end of the month, a few things will change (but nothing drastic!). I just want you to be aware of the following things:

  • You may notice an increased percentage of short posts. Especially for my Tuesday posts, you'll probably notice that I'm doing some shorter posts that aren't so time consuming to write. (For example, some of my NaNo posts took two hours or more to write and proofread. I'm not going to have time to do that every week once school starts) 
  • You may notice some more sequel reviews. During the summer months, I've had the luxury of reading three or more books a week. This means that I can read a book to review and a sequel to a book I previously reviewed without any difficulty. As a result, I focused on reviewing the first books in series and just reading the other ones on my own. This will change as the semester picks up. To give you a book review every week while satisfying my need to read sequels, I'll be reviewing sequels more frequently on the blog as Friday posts. To the best of my ability, I will post a review of a fresh book/first book in a series at least every other week
  • It may take me a while to respond to comments. Any college student can tell you that we go a little crazy when there's more than one exam per week. We turn into single-minded, caffeine-inhaling, sleepless, moody excuses for human beings who may or may not remember to eat, breathe, or talk to our fellow human beings. My schoolwork has to come first, but I will still try to reply to any comments within 24 hours (If I expect to be unresponsive for an extended period of time, I will note this at the bottom of the pertinent post). 
  • I will likely take time off from writing during busy periods. As with the comments issue, I'll give you a heads-up regarding any time I'll be taking off from the blog. It's unlikely that any of these periods will be longer than one week and I only anticipate missing 4-8 posts prior to Christmas (Read midterms, finals, and around Thanksgiving). Most, if not all of these periods, will be later in the semester. I'm hoping that I can find someone who can substitute post for me for at least finals week. 

In the meantime, I'll continue to post as normal. I'll also keep you posted (pun intended) on any other changes you can expect.

Thanks for your patience and understanding! You guys are awesome! And don't forget to check back in on Friday for a book review!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Every Character Should Have a Zoo Hat

I'll be the first to tell you that characters are my writing weakness. I'm what's called a plot-first novelist, meaning that I typically come up with a plotline for a story before I come up with characters. As a result, my characters often behave erratically and feel, well, flat. 

And that's why every character needs a zoo hat.

First, let me give you a little background (because you're probably really confused right now).

For the past several summers, I've volunteered at a local zoo. I'm now employed by them (no, I don't feed the lions, but I do get to work with some really ornery goats). Since I sunburn easily, I typically wear hats whenever I'm outside.

So, my first summer as a volunteer, I got a ball cap. I wore it every day to the point where it was faded out.

Last summer, I worked at a different job and took the summer off from the zoo. When I came back this year as an employee, hardly anybody recognized me. It took me a while to figure out why.

Then it clicked--I wasn't wearing my hat anymore. Everyone had identified me by my hat.
The wolf hat I wore nearly every day I volunteered. It's not quite the shade of blue it used to be, but I still wear it!

Now what does this have to do with characters?

Every major character should have some trait that makes them easily recognizable and unique.

For example, one of the characters in my WIP drinks coffee in excess. If she just drank coffee, she'd still be rather flat. So she has other character traits (she's an impatient doctor who's hiding something and doubts her faith, to name a few things). But, her coffee habit makes her feel real. It's a quirk; something that makes her stand out from the other characters, just as I stand out at work because few of my coworkers wear hats. Another type of "hat" would be Linus (from The Peanuts/ Snoopy) and his blanket. He wouldn't be Linus without the blanket.

Linus and his security blanket, from'_security_blanket

Of course, they can't all wear hats--or else that would cease to be a quirk. Nor can that be their only trait. There are other traits that make me "me" at work--what jobs I like to do, pet phrases, character flaws, etc. Each character should have a unique combination of those as well as his or her "hat".

Small details--the "hats"--rarely affect the plot of the story. But these unique characteristics make the characters more life-like.

Don't be afraid to allow character quirks (as well as the character's overall personality) to change throughout the course of your writing. As long as the reader can see why it changed and the change is still in keeping with the nature of the character, change is a good way to show character growth. This is a close call; you don't want to make your character completely new to your readers, but you don't want them to stagnate, either. Perhaps your character adds a new picture to her locket (while still keeping the old picture of her parents in there). Or after his house burning down with his favorite book inside, your character finds a new favorite book that speaks to him more after his trials. Or perhaps they just
get a new hat, like me:

Any questions? What quirks do your characters have? In a book you've read, what's your favorite character quirk?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "A Star Curiously Singing"

The Short:

A Star Curiously Singing
(The Darktrench Saga, Book 1)

By: Kerry Nietz

5/5 Stars

What: In the future, slaves are termed “debuggers” and planted with a chip in their heads that allows them to manipulate and repair the world’s technology.

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi, Christian, technology, sarcastic/ sassy main character

The Long:

An impressive futuristic work with a likable main character, A Star Curiously Singing is a great book that I picked up free from Amazon for Kindle. If you’re looking for a good book for cheap, don’t pass this one up.

Sandfly, like all other humans, lives under Sharia law on a futuristic earth.

Unlike other humans, he has a chip in his head that allows him to control the “stream”—similar to the internet. He uses it to repair ships and robots of all kinds and earn a little money.The only downside? He’s at the beck and call of his master, who can give him mental shocks whenever he gets out of line.

When he gets a job off planet, something doesn’t quite add up. Aside from robot malfunctions, there’s something wrong with the humans aboard the ship--something changed while they were out in space. Perhaps the religion of the ruling class isn’t all that it seems.

Sandfly is a sassy main character who seems to talk to you right out of the book, and it’s a quick read. The story has a Christian message, but it fits in organically and is well executed. If I get a little time, I’ll definitely be checking out the second book.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Nietz and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

After Camp Nano, I'm feeling the need for some real outdoors. It may take me longer than usual to reply to comments, as I am on a camping trip this weekend. I'd still love to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

July Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

Where has the summer gone? It seems I just got moved back home and already I'm preparing supply lists for my next semester at college.

Other things are flying, too. Namely, the month of July (I suppose, if you want to be technical, you'd say it's already flown by). To recap for those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNo) is an event held in November where authors try to write a full 50,000 word novel in one month. But the fun doesn't end there--the group also hosts two "Camp" events, one of which was in July.

Camp NaNo is a bit more flexible--it allows you to set your own word count goal (rather than 50k being standard) as well as choosing to edit a work rather than write a first draft. This year, I set my goal to finish doing a rough macroedit on book two of my Christian dystopian series. To measure how far I'd come, I opened up a new document and set the goal at 45,000 words.

I'm pleased to say that I completed the challenge this year. While the book is far from finished, I've made significant progress. I've also learned several things along the way:

  • I need to pace myself. The years I've succeeded at NaNo events, I've worked little-by-little and made an effort to work every day. Racing out of the gate too fast is a sure way to fail, at least for me. I burn out.
  • I need to keep my macroedit and microedit separate. When I'm still figuring out major plot points, I don't have time to search for the perfect word in a sentence. This past month was probably my most successful attempt at separating the two. 
  • If I can't write a scene at the moment, I need to mark it down and come back to it. As a college student/ working person, I don't have time to stare at a blinking cursor for too long. Sometimes inspiration strikes if I edit a few scenes before coming back to the old one. It helps me to see what needs to be accomplished in the scene. 
  • I need to figure out plot holes before I start editing. This is something I didn't execute well this month. I was too eager to jump in on editing, so I didn't do a full read-through of my manuscript beforehand. As a result, there are a lot of missing scenes that need filled in. 
Any questions about my writing process?

To the authors out there, do you use challenges such as NaNo to motivate yourself? What's your biggest struggle when it comes to macroediting?