Friday, October 28, 2016

Sequel Review: "War for the Waking World"

Please check out the reviews of Book 1 and Book 2 first! I've tried to keep this spoiler free, but no guarantees. 
The Short:

War for the Waking World
Dreamtreaders Book 3

By: Wayne Thomas Batson

5/5 Stars

What: With his new Dreamtreading team, Archer must do battle for not only the Dream, but the Waking World as well.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Christian, middle-grade/teen, and have read books 1 and 2

The Long:

To appreciate this book, you really need to read the first two books in the trilogy. Spoilers may lurk for those who have not read the first two books.

The Rift has finally torn into the Waking World, driving the two worlds together. Archer and the other Dreamtreaders must find a way to separate the two before the merger becomes permanent. To do so, they must defeat Kara and the ultimate enemy. But what if Archer’s previous actions have destroyed all hope of victory?

This is a fitting end to a well-thought out series. The themes of spiritual warfare come to a head in this conclusion, leaving the reader with much food for thought. While the ending is satisfying, I think there might be room down the road for a companion series.

The imagery in this book is also fantastic. (Kaylie’s dream creations are quite amusing). While some of the elements of the book may appeal more strongly to younger readers, the mature themes will more than make up for it for older, more serious readers.

Any thoughts? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

NaNo Survival Guide: Preparation Week

This is the first post in a series that will start now and continue through November for National Novel Writing Month. I'll also be offering updates on my own writing. Happy NaNo prepping! If it's not for you, I hope you get a chuckle out of these posts anyways. If you're still on the fence about NaNo, make sure you check out this post. 

It's still October, but NaNo is coming quickly.

In fact, November will be here in just one week! To have a successful NaNo, I highly recommend preparing yourself for it. If you're a plotter, I would highly recommend the Snowflake Method. If you're diligent this week, you can probably whip out the better part of the plotting necessary.

Even if you're not a plotter, I've still prepared a list of things for you that can make writing those 1,667 words a day easier. After all, even though writers are superheroes, we still have to eat and do other responsible things.

Ready? Here we go!

  • Food:
    • If you have to be an adult and cook your own meals, Crock Pot meals are your friends. I would recommend hopping over to the NaNo website and checking out this thread.  
    • Stock up on granola bars, clif bars, trail mix, and other poppable, non-messy snack items. Keyboards and gooey foods don't mix. 
    • Is your caffeine stock adequate? In spite of how much we all try to not stay up late in November, inevitably, we all get behind and have to pull a late night or two to make word count. My favorite caffeine sources include coffee, Chai tea, Earl/Lady Grey, green tea (good for the immune system, too), and Awake chocolate bars. 
  • Planning Writing Time:
    • November is really one of the least convenient times for NaNo. There's Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping to do, exams, final papers, and gobs of other obligations. You can't get out of all of them (nor should you try). Nevertheless, try to plan out your word count goals so that you can work in time for family or other commitments. I personally make a weekly goal word count that puts me ahead for Thanksgiving and accounts for exam studying.
    • If you can, make a daily schedule of when you plan to write. I know that, if I have a novel well-planned, I can type out my 1,667 words in about 30-50 minutes so long as I'm not proof-reading as I go. Thus, I need to find about one hour a day to write on weekdays. I like to make a spreadsheet schedule and block off writing times. Even if they're only 15 minutes apiece, I can easily accomplish my goals without feeling swamped. 
    • Plan out where you want to write. I love the library. It's quiet, has tons of information, plenty of comfy chairs, and easy access to caffeine if I need a break.
    • Invest in a Facebook blocker. My favorite is Freedom. It's free and lets you choose one or two sites to block. You even get to choose how long it blocks the site. You can still log out of the blocker and use the site if you need to (I use Facebook for a lot of group messaging), but it's enough of a pain to do so that you don't want to do it all the time.  
    • I also plan in a day or two for re-evaluating my plot. It's helpful for when you need to re-charge your writing batteries. These are often good for days when you have other commitments and may not have much writing time. 

    • Encouragement:
      • Week three is the pits. If you're anything like me, all the prepping has hit the fan at that point and you're left wondering why you ever though this was a good idea. I have a jar of pep talks that I keep on my desk for such times. It may or may not have multiple quotes from The Lord of the Rings in it.
      • Set up writing times with friends now, before you get swamped. All day word war? Now's a good time to plan that. Katie Grace is the queen of these and puts me to shame. 
      • Find what threads you want to follow on the NaNo site and have them ready to access. As I said, I like 15 minute chunks, so I like to follow the 15 minute word-war thread.
    I hope you enjoyed this. Is there anything you would add to this list? 

    Saturday, October 22, 2016

    Friday Fiction Fix: "The Orphan King"

    I apologize for the later posting of this if I kept any of you waiting. Apparently, I forgot how to read calendars when scheduling my posts! Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this Friday (Saturday?) Fiction Fix!

    The Short: 

    The Orphan King
    Merlin's Immortals, Book 1

    By: Sigmund Brouwer

    4.5/5 Stars

    What: A young man seeks to fulfill his mother's dying wish. But doing so places him in the midst of a centuries-long game that could cost him his life.

    Recommended to those who like: Loosely Christian, fantasy, quick reads.

    The Long: 

    Thomas is a man on a mission. He seeks to conquer Magnus--a grand fortress that was stolen from his family before he could remember it. Orphaned and abused by monks, he must find a way to escape and make alliances that can help him conquer the fortress. 

    Though he knows some of the challenges before him, he couldn't possibly know about the challenges that will be presented to him as he is thrust into the midst of clandestine combat between two secret societies. Will he be able to convince them of his loyalty? Or will someone end his life first?

    This is a quick, easy read that I would recommend for middle grade/young teens and up (there is some violence, but it's not overly graphic). Adults will easily be able to enjoy the series as well. There's intrigue, fantasy action, and some lovable characters. 

    The Christian message is subtle and well-played. I hope that the themes of faith continue to be explored throughout the rest of the series; we've only scratched the surface as of yet. 

    The Bottom Line: Recommended for young teens and up who are looking for a quick and intriguing fantasy read. 

    Tuesday, October 18, 2016

    Looking Ahead

    Well, it's that time of year again. I'm stocked up on coffee, I've got a fresh notebook with some half-baked ideas, my fluffy socks are waiting in my drawer, and I've got a new YWriter word document waiting for me.

    NaNoWriMo is coming.

    This year, I'll be publishing a NaNo survival guide/pep talk series on Tuesdays starting next week and through November.

    Ideally, I'll continue to have book reviews on Fridays, but it will depend on my schedule and how writing is going.

    For now, I'm heading back to planning and catching up on sleeping and reading.

    Are you doing NaNo this year? 

    Friday, October 14, 2016

    Sequel Review: "Watcher in the Woods"

    This is a sequel to House of Dark Shadows. I would recommend reading that book prior to this one. However, this review should be relatively spoiler-free.
    The Short:

    Watcher in the Woods
    Dreamhouse Kings, Book 2

    By: Robert Liparulo

    5/5 Stars

    What: The King family must face threats from both within and without the house.

    Recommended to those who like: Suspense, darker stories, loosely Christian, teen and up, time travel.

    The Long:

    This book picks up right where House of Dark Shadows left off. If you’ve left the series for a while (which I don’t know how you managed to leave it for so long), it might take you a moment or two to hop back in, as there’s not much of a recap.

    I appreciated that the stakes were higher and that there was a more definite goal in this book. It definitely makes for a more intense read.

    As with the previous book, Xander and David provided a nice bit of humor to a dark story.
    I can hardly wait to read the next one—cliff-hangers are terrible!

    The Bottom Line: Highly recommended to readers of House of Dark Shadows. I’d recommend this series to those who like a bit of mystery and suspense in a format suitable for teens and up.     

    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    Pastors in Fiction: "Firefly"

    The previous pastors I've covered have come from Christian speculative fiction books. Today we're changing tack a little and visiting the TV series Firefly, which, interestingly enough, was written by an atheist. 

    Name: Shepherd Derrial Book

    Book TV Series: Firefly; Space Western

    Role: Main Character

    Personality: Warm, almost grandfatherly

    What he brings to the table: Shepherd Book joins the crew of the Serenity early on in the series. He is involved in their daily lives, including the (often illegal) messes they get themselves into.

    Spiritual role: Shepherd Book serves as the "conscience" of the group, many of whom are not religious.

    Pastorly/Worship notes: We know rather little of Shepherd Book's beliefs, but he is a Christian. He doesn't lead worship, but he can be seen reading his Bible or performing other pastorly duties.

    Ninja Status: Purple Belt. Shepherd Book has a rather checkered past that lends him familiarity with weapons, the antagonistic Alliance, and other dangerous subjects.

    At one point, when asked by one of the characters if the Bible had something specific to say about killing he famously replied, "Quite specific. It is, however, a mite fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps." (Perhaps he deserves a higher belt level?)

    Further Discussion: Although I haven't finished Firefly (there's only one season, so I'm afraid I'll like it too much and then have nothing more to watch when I finish), I have to say that Shepherd Book is one of my favorite fictional pastors.

    For one, he deals with more realistic people who don't want a sermon preached at him, who don't put up with empty platitudes, and often don't want his opinion on things. He doesn't compromise his beliefs often, but he doesn't shove his message down people's throats, either.

    Another reason that I like him is that it is clear that he struggles, too. It's not uncommon to see him frustrated with one of the characters for not understanding an issue of faith. His past is somewhat fuzzy and suspicious, as well.

    What's your favorite portrayal of a pastor in non-Christian fiction? 

    Friday, October 7, 2016

    Friday Fiction Fix: "The Giver"

    The Short:

    The Giver

    By: Lois Lowry

    5/5 Stars (And on the Favorites Shelf)

    What: Jonas’ world is perfect, but when he is selected for a position of honor in the community, he finds not everything is as it seems.

    Recommended to those who like: Dystopian, Clean, Thought-provoking, quick reads.

    The Long:

    This is one of my favorite books, but I haven’t read it for several years. When I found a used copy for a reasonable price, I simply had to read it again.

    Jonas’ community is perfect. There is no pain, no argument, and no hunger. But when he is selected for the highest honor in the community, he discovers that nothing is as it seems. Is what they lost worth what they gained?

    The Giver is one of those unique books that both children and adults can read and enjoy. The language is simple and straightforward, but the story itself is thought-provoking. I always end up thinking about the story for days after I read it.

    The plot, the characters, and the message all combine for a beautiful read.

    I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone in case they haven’t read it, so I will refrain from saying more. (This is an easy book to spoil for others). If you haven’t read this one yet, make sure you read it soon! Also, the movie isn’t half bad, but it misses some of the points made in the book. 

    The Bottom Line: I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.            

    What's the most pressing book on your to-read list?   

    Tuesday, October 4, 2016

    On the Pursuit of Excellence

    One of these days I'm going to get back to Pastors in Fiction. However, this post was just burning to be written this week. 

    I'm in my senior year of study right now. Due to my major, most of this year consists of hands-on work that applies the principles I've learned over the last two (very stressful) years.

    In addition to my 40 hours-a-week "internship", I'm expected to research topics that I'm unfamiliar with and to write weekly summaries of what I've been doing during my hands-on learning experience. Each instructor has different expectations for our summaries and what they should contain. (Which makes life interesting, as I change teachers every three weeks).

    The instructor who has moderated my past three weeks of learning has very high expectations.

    After I submitted my fifteen page report (that I considered far too detailed), I sat back and felt confident that I had knocked her expectations out of the park.

    Only to get an email the next day saying that I had significant room for improvement.

    But didn't I put six hours into it? Didn't I look up two topics? Didn't I use MLA citations? But, but, but...

    Then the anger hit. This was so unfair. Her expectations were totally unreasonable. The last teacher had been content with the six page report that I hadn't done any further research on. She should know how much effort I put into my report. I had put a good effort in--I deserved an A. People who didn't try deserved B's, not people like me who tried. No one should have to work this hard.

    The next day, I complained  to one of my friends about the work I had to do. She sympathized with me and said it was unfair. I felt vindicated...until I thought back on the conversation.

    "I tried so hard..." "I deserve..." "She's being unreasonable..." "I put six hours of work into this. If I put that much work in..." "I know I didn't answer every question in the rubric, but nobody has time for that." "The previous student didn't have to do this much work."

    Excuse me, self of two weeks ago, but when was the last time excellence cared how much time you worked on something? When did excellence care that you think deserve something? Does excellence care what someone else had to do?

    When did someone achieve excellence by having that sort of attitude?

    "Good enough" is not excellence. "I tried hard enough" is not excellence. "I'm tired of working on this" is not excellence. "I deserve," "I've surely put in enough time," "This is unreasonable," are not hallmarks of excellence.

    "This is a flaw I should address," is a step toward excellence. "How can I improve?" is a step toward excellence. Admitting faults, being honest with oneself, performing work diligently, avoiding entitlement, and taking personal responsibility are all steps toward excellence.

    I do not "deserve" an A--but I can earn one. A certain amount of time will not guarantee a good grade--but a good grade will almost certainly require a lot of time and effort to achieve.

    Writing is very similar. In some ways, it requires more of us than school does, for the simple fact that we have to determine what excellence is. We don't have a teacher who will put a shiny gold star sticker on our writing and say it's good. We determine what is acceptable to send to agents or to self-publish.

    *Side rant* People always complain that self-published books are sloppy, but I'm always amazed at how many good ones are out there. We spend most of our lives having someone tell us what is acceptable and giving us A's for effort. So, when we are told to strive for excellence and given the opportunity to regulate it, it's a wonder that the world doesn't blow up. *Side rant over.*

    Excellence does not award points for participation. It awards points for results. It doesn't care how many writing books you've read--unless you apply them. It doesn't care how many times you've edited a work--it cares if it can be edited more. Excellence doesn't care if you're tired of fine-tuning a character--it cares if the character is fine-tuned.

    Excellence is a demanding teacher. It will work you hard. It will push you past your current limits. It will force you to grow. And, in the end, it will provide reward.

    Of course, entitlement is always another option. Entitlement invites us to say "enough". It invites us to blame others for our lack of excellence. Entitlement whispers what we want to hear--that excellence is too costly and unreasonable to even attempt. It tells us what we deserve, not what we can earn.

    Entitlement is an easy road, but often leads to disappointment. We will never get what we feel we "deserve" if we listen to entitlement. We will become jealous souls, bereft of the ability to achieve anything worthwhile.

    Even though I realize this, I'm far from perfect. I still catch myself complaining about my teachers' expectations. I still don't want to work hard some days. And I often give up when I think I've accomplished "good enough", rather than shooting for the stars.

    Nevertheless, I encourage you (and my future self) to shoot for excellence. Whether that's in writing,
    in school, or in some other vocation, shoot for the stars. Be all that you can be--you might surprise yourself.

    Do you struggle with doing things to "good enough" rather than as well as you can? (In a healthy, non-obsessive way, of course)