Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reality, Meet Fiction: Treaties


This week has certainly been interesting with regard to world news. Great Britain decided on June 23rd to leave the European Union. It will be interesting to see the long-reaching effects the move will have on immigration and the world economy.


While the EU is an economically-centered alliance, it certainly calls to mind older alliances that were more centered on military help. And while these alliances were often helpful, one has to look no further than WWI to see some of the disastrous consequences that treaties could bring.


If you have multiple countries in your storyworld, how can you use them and their treaties to your advantage as an author?

Why has your country made (or avoided making) treaties? Is there something in its past? What does your country seek to gain by making a treaty? What does the reciprocating nation hope to achieve? What strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics does this reveal about your countries?

Is your alliance primarily economically based, focusing on trade, currency, and regulations? Or is it primarily militaristic in nature? How has this changed the cultures of the two countries? Has increased trade diluted your national culture? If so, what's the opinion of the people?

What disadvantages are there to being part of this trade agreement or alliance? Do other countries drain your country's monetary resources? Does it dilute or change culture? Could being part of a military alliance drag your country into a war?

Although this was shorter than normal, I hope it gave you some good food for thought! 

I still have guest posting opportunities available for mid-July. Contact me soon with your ideas!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "Never to Live"

I still have some guest-posting opportunities available. Contact me using the form in the left hand column with your idea! 
The Short:

Never to Live

By: Just B. Jordan

4/5 Stars

What: A half-crazed elf, tortured to the ends of her wits, must battle personal demons—but will she become the monster she dreads most?

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Christian, Very Dark, Mature Teens and Up

Not recommended to those who dislike: Stories with confusing beginnings.

The Long:          

This is one of those stories that doesn’t fit nicely into a star-rating system. Some elements were 5 stars, others were definitely 3 stars. It doesn’t quite fit in with the other 4 star books I’ve rated, in spite of that being the rating I chose for it. However, to amend my entire rating system for the sake of one book would be impractical.

To start, this book is really dark. It deals with insanity, personal demons (literal and otherwise), sin, and other, ugly topics. It’s also very long, so proceed with discretion. This is not a book to take with you to a sunny beach and enjoy in an afternoon.

Elwyn was always the outcast of her village. When she’s eventually captured and tortured, she locks part of her mind away, trying to guard the memories of the task she was given. But as time passes, she feels she has more in common with the monster she’s always feared than anything she would have liked to have been.

The worldbuilding was quite original, but I didn’t feel that I had much chance to enjoy it. This book sort of chucked you blindfolded into the deep end. Trying to understand multidimensional travel (I think?) and entirely new races of beings through the eyes of a character who was losing her mind was difficult.

I honestly wasn’t sure that I liked this book until about two hundred pages or so into it. That’s a lot of reading before deciding that you like a book. I never felt like I really understood what was going on, which made it difficult for me to enjoy the story. Hence, why I considered giving it three stars.

Yet, somehow, this was one of the most thoughtful allegories I’ve read—even without having a plot that I really enjoyed. It made me think and look at my own heart and motives. It also caused me to reflect on my relationship with God and how I trust in Him. Never once did the book feel preachy or contrived. Thus, why I would have liked to have given it five stars.

I’ll have to think about this one some more and I hope to get around to rereading it one day. In the meantime, you’ll just have to rely on this bumbling review to decide whether you want to pick it up or not.

 The Bottom Line: An appropriate pick for more mature readers who are willing to take a risk on a complex story filled with both darkness and light. 

What was the last book you read that challenged you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We Write Books: June Update

Well, I really meant to update you guys on my progress for the We Write Books challenge before this. I didn't realize it's been well over a month since my last update. 

So, you can probably guess how my writing's been going. (Looks around, searching for where June went.)

However, I must say that the Go Teen Writers 100 for 100 Challenge has been helping me out a lot with my word count, even if I've been writing under five hundred words each day. I've at least been writing something for Crossfire. 

The snowflake method has been helping me a lot with my writing; I know what's supposed to be going on in each scene, as opposed to wondering what's going to happen each time I open my laptop. 

Unfortunately, I think it's contributing to my lack of motivation to work on the story. It doesn't feel very "exciting" to write because I know what's supposed to happen. Granted, my lack of enthusiasm may have something to do with the fact that this is the second time I've done a total overhaul on this book. It's my perennial bear, mostly because it's a story that I really want to get right. 

Due to how far behind I am on writing, I'm going to be re-evaluating my summer goals here shortly. I'm really feeling the itch for a fun story (I've been writing far too many serious works lately) and that would fit in well with the 100 for 100 challenge. We'll see how it goes--as always, I'll keep you guys posted.

How has your writing been going? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reality, Meet Fiction: Man-Made Disasters

Just over thirty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster rocked the world. Equipment failure, human error, and other factors created the worst nuclear power plant disaster to date. The effects can be seen even today, with nearby cities still largely abandoned. A new containment facility is currently being built to attempt to contain the still-dangerous radiation.

Chernobyl Today (Wikipedia)
Five years ago, the Fukushima nuclear accident, triggered by a tsunami, re-ignited fears and concerns about nuclear energy.

These accidents, especially Chernobyl, have raised global concerns over the safety of nuclear energy. This is relevant as nations search for alternatives to fossil fuels.


Your world might not use nuclear energy, but what sorts of man-made disasters influence your world?

Did a magician cast a certain type of spell with disastrous consequences? How did the public or governing bodies react? New laws? Prohibition of magic? Scorn of sorcerers?

How does your storyworld's past (or present) shape its future? What barriers and challenges does this present to your characters? Do they have different opinions on the disaster? How has it shaped their lives? Technology in use?

Fun Fact:
-A coast-to-coast flight in the U.S. is about equivalent to 3 days of natural background radiation exposure. (radiologyinfo.org)

Well, I hope this wasn't too depressing. Do any of your stories integrate man-made disasters?

If anyone is interested, I have a couple of guest-posting opportunities coming up in mid-July! Contact me with your idea using the contact form in the left-hand column.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sequel Review: "The Superlative Stream"

I would recommend reading A Star Curiously Singing before reading this book. However, this review should be spoiler-free. 

The Short:

The Superlative Stream
The Darktrench Saga, Book 2

By: Kerry Nietz

5/5 Stars

What: SandFly and HardCandy encounter a mysterious planet. Could it hold the answers to the Superlative Stream and A-not-A-cubed?

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi, Christian, Sarcasm/wit, and have read book 1.

The Long:

I finally got back around to this series! SandFly’s wit was just what I needed.

I would strongly recommend reading A Star Curiously Singing prior to picking up this book. However, if it’s been a while since you’ve read the first book, don’t be afraid to jump right into this one. Mr. Nietz does a good job catching you back up on what's happened previously. 

SandFly and HardCandy finally reach the Betelgeuse system, only to find a mysterious planet and no sign of the Superlative Stream. Are the planet’s inhabitants the key to finding A~A^3 or is there something darker afoot? And what connects the two debuggers’ pasts?

This is an excellent follow-up to A Star Curiously Singing. The same humor mixed wonderfully with the darker themes of the book for a well-balanced read. I loved getting to learn more about HardCandy. She's quickly becoming a favorite character. The Christian theme is strong again, but it’s well executed.

I’ll definitely be picking up Freeheads when I get some down time.

Have you read any good sci-fi lately? 

Please note that I will likely be slow to respond to comments this weekend.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Bookshelf Tag

Reality, Meet Fiction will resume next week. In the meantime, here's a blog tag!

Liz over at Out of Coffee, Out of Mind nominated me for this tag. I'm glad I finally got around to it!

A Short but Powerful Book

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

GoodReads says it's 272 Pages, but I don't recall it being nearly that long. (We'll call it short, okay? Regardless of whether it is or not).

Although it's in an entirely different vein than The Chronicles of Narnia, this book really re-shaped my outlook on spiritual warfare. I'd highly recommend it. And I need to add it to my re-read list.

A Good, Long Book

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.

I'm really not hitting the mark with Christian Speculative here, but this is one of my favorite long books. I'm (slowly) making my way back through this series. I try to re-read it every summer.

This would be a good choice for people who don't mind magic and love an epic fantasy with a little grit here and there.

Favorite Classic

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace

If this doesn't count as a classic, it should. They're making a movie, which both excites and terrifies me. If it doesn't live up to the one with Charleston Heston in it, I will be disappointed--but not surprised.

A Relatively Obscure Book

*Laughs* How many obscure books have I featured on this blog?

Hero, Second Class, by Mitchell Bonds

We'll put this one down because it made me laugh my socks off.

An Underrated Book

Auralia's Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet

It only has a 3.65/5 star rating on GoodReads, which is surprising to me. Granted, the writing style is a lot to get used to. However, I really adore this book (if you haven't figured that out already).

An Overrated Book

Waterfall, by Lisa Tawn Bergren

This was recommended to me by a friend and it had a 4 star rating on GoodReads, so I decided to give it a try when the ebook was cheap. If you follow me on Goodreads, you know I didn't finish it. Maybe someone else would like it, but it was too much of a love story for me, there were too many coincidences, and I couldn't stand the main character.

Most Reread Book

The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan.

Ack, I need to re-read this. Not sure my current copy will handle it, though. They have a really nice cover design out now...

I'm not positive that this is my most re-read book, but it probably comes close, other than perhaps A Wrinkle in Time. 

Of all the books you own, how many have you not read?

If we only look at print books, about 10-15. Adding in e-book copies would probably push the number toward 25-30, just because I'm a sucker for a sale.

A Book You Haven't Read

The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr

I just picked this up at the bookstore last week, but I have some other books that I need to finish first.

A Short Story Collection

I actually don't own any, unless you count All Creatures Great and Small and James Herriot's other books.

A Non-Fiction Book

Broken: 7 Christian Rules Every Christian Should Break as Often as Possible, by Jonathan Fisk

An interesting read that combines theology, Star Wars references, and rabbit trails. Not for the faint of heart.

A Physical Book with an Interesting Backstory 

The Lance Mackey Story, by Lance Mackey

One of my other interests is long-distance mushing. Lance won the Iditarod (one of the most famous, prestigious races) 4 years in a row after fighting off cancer, addiction, and other personal problems. While I don't agree with all of his life choices, even after getting better, his passion for the sport and his survival against all odds is something else.

This is the only signed book I own. One of the couples from my church visited Alaska on their anniversary and got to meet Lance. They surprised me by bringing me back this book. The signature reads, "To R---, a great Iditarod Fan, L Mack."

Well, Liz already tagged pretty much everyone that I know in the blogging world, but feel free to steal the tag!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Book of Names"

The Short:

The Book of Names
Legends of Karac Tor, Book 1

By: D. Barkley Briggs

5/5 Stars (And on the favorite series shelf)

What: Two brothers are sucked into a strange world where good and evil are tangible and old legends find new life.

Recommended to those who like: Christian, Fantasy, Teen and up, Sword Fights

The (Really) Long:

This series is partially responsible for the creation of this blog. I was so excited when I found this book in the Christian book section at the store. It had some good characters, great action, interesting world building, mentioned King Arthur, and was like a teenage-geared Chronicles of Narnia (sort of).

It was everything I had been looking for. Granted, my teen self didn't have as much of a problem with occasional head-hopping or a few line-editing errors, so I didn't really notice that. What I saw was a story that spoke to me.

The release date on the next book was approaching rapidly and I looked for the next book every time I went to the store.

Only to find out that the series had been discontinued by the publisher.

How could they do this? Why? How could anyone not like this story? It was one of the few times I came close to being "angsty" in my teenage years. (Another publisher that was a better fit for the story picked it up relatively recently, which resolved the angst).

Thus, the idea that more people should like Christian fantasy so that I could read more of it. (Mwahaha, now you see that my evil plan is working!)

*Ahem*. Enough with the long monologue there.

Natural disasters, demonic forces, and disappearing teenagers threaten to tear Karac Tor apart at the seams, especially without a king.

The Barlows' world has been turned upside down over the last few months after the death of their mother and a cross-country move. The last thing they expected was to be sucked into the politics of a dying kingdom.

This is a loose, somewhat gritty allegory that still makes me think when I read it. The writing alternates between poetic and clunky, but the story still makes it up for me, personally. The worldbuilding is fantastic. It took me a few books to really like the characters, but I love them now (I'm on book 4 of 5).

The Bottom Line: I would recommend this book to those looking for an epic fantasy read with strong good vs. evil themes and who are willing to overlook the occasional passage of less-than-ideal writing.

Do you have any books that you adore in spite of the writing style? 

Have any of your favorite series been cancelled?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reality, Meet Fiction: Education

Thanks for joining me for the blogiversary celebration last week! As always, I'd love your feedback on new post series or ideas for the blog. You can get in touch with me by using the contact form at the right. 


Over the last  few generations, the number of people attending institutions of higher education has exploded. Attending college in the U.S. has become more of a rule than an exception, and ever-higher degrees seem to be required in the workforce.

The rise of technology, increasingly complex jobs, and a shift away from an industrial society have encouraged this change. Yet, it seems to be a self-feeding cycle, with more jobs than ever requiring a degree from an institution of higher education, where a high school diploma used to be sufficient.

As it seems more and more necessary to attend college, the increased costs of college seem more daunting. Much debate has raged over who should pay for education, especially at higher levels. (Here in the U.S., K-12 public education is payed for through tax payers' dollars).

So, while it may seem like I'm bringing all this up to start a debate over higher education, that's not my intent. It's certainly a good debate to have, but it's better suited for other arenas. What I'd like to talk about is how we can use these concepts in our stories to create a more realistic world in our stories, and how it can introduce conflict into our books.

How are people educated in your world? Is there formal education? Or is it something that families do?

How long does school/education last in your world? How soon do kids/ adults have a choice over what they want to study? Are there expectations for you to follow in your family's footsteps? Are you expected to obtain more extensive education than your parents?

Are men and women both educated? Is there any type of segregation in learning? How are those lines drawn--race, gender, religion, economic classes, intelligence?

How is the progress of students assessed? Are there standardized  tests? Is there a rite of passage for students for their graduation?

What doors does education open for  your characters? Do people have prejudices against those who have a lesser education?

Fun Facts:
-At some medieval European universities, students actually voted how much to pay their professors.
-Education has looked quite different through the ages; during the Medieval period, a common set-up for a day in higher education involved lecture in the morning, followed by an afternoon in which students and teachers would debate different questions.
-College debt has replaced credit card debt as the largest source of debt in the U.S. (Source. This is a really interesting article if you're interested in this subject, albeit from a more informal site).

What is education like in your country?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Blogiversary Wrap-Up

Well, that was quite the week!

Thanks for celebrating the blog's first anniversary with me! I hope you found some great books to add to your "To-Read" pile and enjoy.

You guys have made my first year of blogging awesome. You have no idea how much your comments and encouragement mean to me. When I first started out, I was unsure if I was capable of producing quality content or posting regularly. I've learned a lot along the way and I hope to continue learning and improving.

Anyways, all this is to say, thanks for the support! I look forward to another great year with you guys!

See you on Tuesday!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Blogiversary: Top Miscellaneous Speculative

This one is for all the books that didn't quite fit into either sci-fi or fantasy, strictly speaking. (Really, it may just be an excuse to write about more books.)

Number 3: Swipe, by Evan Angler

This one probably fits in more with middle grade books, but I thought it really deserved to make the top three somewhere. This dystopian novel for teens is a great read with lovable characters.

Number 2: Tainted, by Morgan L. Busse

This was the first steampunk novel I ever read! I enjoyed it and thought the worldbuilding was fabulous. I can hardly wait until next year for book two to come out!

Number 1: A Time to Die, by Nadine Brandes

This book is one of my all-time favorites. It's got great characters, action, and worldbuilding, all in one, which lands it at the top of this list. And, it made me cry. Which is sort of mean--but also awesome.

Honorable Mention:

Black, by Ted Dekker
-Is it fantasy? Is it a modern day thriller? Time travel? Apocalyptic? Allegorical? Whatever you call the intersection of those genres, that's the genre for this book. Although not my favorite in The Circle, it's still a good read.

The 13th Tribe, by Robert Liparulo
-I didn't pick this one just because I'm not sure that it really qualifies as speculative--but I'm not sure what else you'd call it. So it still made the list.

These books are a bit more difficult to find, but you can find them by clicking on the "Book Reviews" link in the "Looking for Something?" side bar or by clicking on the hyperlinks in this article.

Tomorrow, we'll finish up the blogiversary celebration. What was your favorite category?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Blogiversary: Top Fantasy

This is where it gets difficult for me. Fantasy is very near and dear to my heart, so picking only a handful out of the couple dozen I've reviewed was painful. But, I did my best to maintain a somewhat narrow field. 

Number 3: Auralia's Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet

I debated putting this one in the top picks, just because it wouldn't be a very good introduction to fantasy overall; it's a better pick for someone who already loves fantasy as a genre and is willing to try a book that's a little different. 

However, I couldn't not put it it in the article. I love the fresh story, the somewhat mysterious elements to the plot, and the original world-building.  

Number 2: Daughter of Light, by Morgan L. Busse

This is a stunning allegory that I really need to re-read and then promptly find the next book. I loved Rowen and I think she's one of the more realistic and loveable female characters I've come across in a while. Plus, it has some good sword fights. What's not to love?

Number 1: A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr

Another book that really needs re-read! I loved Mr. Carr's writing style and the concept behind this story was fresh and original. The characters were quite lovable as well. 

Honorable Mention:

The Keeper of Edelyndia. by Benjamin J. Denen
-I really wish I had given myself four slots for books (or a way to create ties between books) so that this one could have gone in the top picks official list. Definitely give it a read--it has fresh ideas and a touch of mystery. If you have time, also be sure to check out my interview with him here. 

Resistance, by Jaye L. Knight
-Okay, so I should have taken five picks for fantasy because I would have liked to include this one, too. If you like fantasy with a Roman flavor, you should definitely check this one out, especially if you enjoy conflicted characters. You can also read my interview with her here.

By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson
-This one was another close contender for the top three, especially when considering the second and third book in the series. Between Ms. Williamson, Mr. Carr, Mr. Denen, Ms. Busse, and Ms. Knight, I may very well be flat broke in the near future. They're all excellent writers and this intro to an epic fantasy series is no exception. 

Oath of the Brotherhood, by C.E. Laureano
-If this one hadn't had so much romance, I would have had a really hard time picking books for this list. As it is, I think it makes a good addition to the Honorable Mention list. 

The Sword, by Bryan M. Liftin
-It's killing me that I can't find the sequel to this! Spiritual warfare, sword fights, and a post-apocalyptic society make for an original read. 

You can read reviews for these books and more by clicking the "fantasy" tag in the left hand column, or by clicking on the "fantasy" link at the bottom of this post. 

Thanks for taking the time to read through this excessively long list! (I'm really terrible at picking favorites and I have no idea why I decided to do four lists for the blogiversary). Tomorrow I'll tackle the last category--miscellaneous speculative.