Sunday, November 17, 2019

Book Review: Skyward

“People need stories, child. They bring us hope, and that hope is real. If that’s the case, what does it matter whether people in them actually lived?”

This book was both inspiring and entertaining, and wow, just wow. Since I started reading Brandon Sanderson’s books last year, I’ve been hooked ever since. This one, however, has got to be my favorite so far. The writing style is clear, the characters are compelling, and the plot me had me on the edge of my seat. I ended up finishing the book in two days.



Book: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Young Adult, Science-Fiction, Fantasy
My rating: 5/5 stars
One-word description: g-force

One of the reasons I enjoy Sanderson’s works is because the details of his world building are so rich, and the plot is so compelling. I really felt like he knew what he was talking about when he described space flight, especially with the added g-forces and coordinates.

He certainly did his research.

Yet, with Skyward, the story never bogged down like it seemed to with a few of his Mistborn novels. Sure, I found the beginning of Skyward to be a bit of a downer, but it picked up after the first fifty pages or so. That’s not to say that the rest of the book was completely happy—I don’t trust Sanderson with my favorite characters—but rather that I couldn’t help but read the rest of the book.

Another reason I enjoy Sanderson’s book is because of his ability to write multiple genres. The Mistborn trilogy is adult fantasy, The Alloy Era is its companion series but also a mystery/western, and Skyward is of course science fiction with a touch of fantastical elements.

Apparently female pilots are one of my favorite character types. They. Are. Epic. In this book you’ve got Spensa (callsign: Spin) who will gladly crash her simulated ship into her flightleader just to spite him and who talks like a hero of old. Then there’s Morningtide, Freyja (callsign: FM) who likes to point out and defy the status quo, Hudiya (callsign: Hurl) who is enthusiastic to no end, and Kimmalyn (callsign: Quirk) who’s a little on the timid side but makes an excellent friend.

It would be a shame not to mention the humor and the AI, and the AI’s quirky sense of humor. Oh yeah, and Cobb (callsign: Mongrel) is another of my favorites as he is probably the best teacher in the flight school, though he can be a little confusing. At one moment, after their first experience actually flying, he tells them, “That […] was somehow the most embarrassing and inspiring display I’ve ever seen out of cadets! You should be ashamed. And proud.”

That’s when I decided he was one of my favorite characters.

My only complaint right now is the way the cover design made Spensa’s hair look black, not brown. Like excuse you, cover designer, no. Wow, am I picky or what?

Interested in Skyward? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Let’s chat! Has Skyward made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Have any sci-fi recommendations?

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

8 Popular Fantasy Novels I Enjoyed

Before I’ve written on 8 Obscure Books I Thoroughly Enjoyed, (some of which I should have classified as popular; oh, well) but today I’m here to talk about some of the popular ones. Obscure books are fun to introduce, sure, but popular books can help people find fellow readers with similar tastes, and you can talk with your bookworm friends about your favorite stories for hours on end. Here goes!

The following books are not books from my Treasured Books list. I originally had the books listed on this post, but the list got too long for one post. I rant enough about those anyway, so here are just a few books I may not mention much but deserve notice. Book are organized by author’s last name.


The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander


Though lesser known than his fellow Inklings and writer friends J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain are still read and enjoyed today with over 66,000 ratings on Goodreads. The second book, The Black Cauldron, was probably my favorite of the series, but The Book of Three does an excellent job introducing this strange yet endearing world.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende


Can we just take a moment to appreciate the author’s last name with the book’s title? I was one of those kids who grew up watching the movies, wishing I could be a great warrior like Atréju and befriend a luck dragon. In college I read the book and fell in love with the story all over again, and more so. While the movies wrap up their plots with a neat little bow, the book just keeps going, reinforcing the title in a new way. The book is much better than its adaptations.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman


Pretty sure I rant about this one a lot. A really quirky and kinda dark fantasy with one of those movies that’s just as good as the book, though listening to Gaiman read his own book is rather enchanting! I particularly enjoyed the way the story included multiple types of fairytale tropes from the hapless (and somewhat idiotic) romantic to clever women (not all of whom are good) and greedy princes, all within the land of Faerie.


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


A magical realism novel that left me wondering what was real and what was magical—this book is heartbreakingly beautiful. The story combines the myths surrounding Russian folklore of the snow child with the harsh reality of winter—and life—in rural Alaska. Not only is it an excellent portrayal of the harsh beauty of nature, but it’s also a profound story about the loss of a child and found love.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss


I enjoyed this one way more than I thought I would, considering it’s length and how I initially didn’t make it past the prologue. But I’m glad I made the effort to read it. Like The Naming, the story features a musician, but from there on the stories differ. The main character Kvothe, as it turns out, is a troublemaker but will still go to extreme measures to help people. The only problem is that I didn’t care as much for the sequel, and the third book still isn’t out yet.

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson


Do you ever have those go-to authors? You know the ones, when you don’t quite know which genre you’re in the mood for, but you always enjoy X’s work? Sanderson is one of those authors for me.

While his writing style gets better with each book in the series, The Final Empire is still my favorite because the magic system is so well thought out, the characters are incredibly dynamic, Elend is a cinnamon roll, Vin is a beast, and Kelsier kinda scares me but I like him.

But let me warn you before you start… EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW IS A LIE! All right. You’ve been warned. Enjoy!

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab


Never judge a book by it’s cover. Hahahaha! (That is 12% authentic laugh.) I may have read this book because I saw it’s cover in England, thought it was so intriguing, then went back to my library in Italy and checked it out. That right there is effective marketing at work.

While the book reminded me a little bit of The Lord of the Rings—beware the evil trinket—and an even tinier bit of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell—haven’t we met this mad king of England before?—A Darker Shade of Magic also manages to have an intricately-built world. Or shall I saw worlds? There are four Londons after all.


Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


"I'm not a girl. I'm a shark!"

This graphic novel was an impulse read at my local library and later an impulse buy. 99% of the time my impulse reads or my impulse buys, when I haven’t read the book yet—those impulses are terrible. Nimona was that brilliant 1% exception. The art is quirky yet beautiful, and I enjoy the way the story confronts the definition of what a villain is and what a hero can be.

Let’s chat! What are some of your favorite popular fantasy novels? How about favorite characters? Enjoy any of the ones I listed?

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Poem: At Night (Audio)

I’m working two jobs now, both part-time positions. One is substitute teaching, which can be nice depending on the role I sign up for that day, and the other deals with space, which is pretty awesome, especially since I’m working on a sci-fi novel now. I particularly like how it’s pushed me to research more and ask questions I wouldn’t have initially known to ask, like “How many people are going on the Mars mission?”

Oh, and did you know we’re going back to the Moon, and then we’re planning on building a space station that orbits it called Lunar Gateway? Super exciting stuff.

If you couldn’t tell, I really like my job, which is such a change from working retail. I may not work as many hours as I did—not yet anyway. I’ll be pushing for full time. But I am super passionate about what I do, which has helped the transition from Europe back to the States be all the more bearable.


At Night

I used to feel robbed
by the way the night crept in
and stole my light—
my time to tend my plants,
time to read in the warmth
of the sun.

But now, I see the stars
once again.
The light is still here
if I take the time to look for it—
to spot the International Space Station,
to let the land rest,
to read in the warmth
of the fire.

***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? What’s your take on nighttime?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Writing Update: Between Publications

Some time has passed since I posted anything about my latest stories. Two years have gone by since I released Last of the Memory Keepers, and it’s been a little over a year since I started querying Origami Swan. So what exactly am I working on?

I’m glad you asked!

I try to keep my Current Stories page updated, but I tend to include only the major projects I’ve announced. Here are just a few things I’ve been working on lately.



What happened to Origami Swan?


I’ve made it farther with this novel than I have with any previous queries. I reached over 100 rejections, not all of which received letters, though the ones I have received have been encouraging. My favorites are when the agent actually personalizes the letter and mention my main character by name.

That being said, I have had several manuscript requests. I’m excited to see which publishing route this novel will take!

Writing Slump (Summer 2018 Spring ‘19)


Oh, it happens to the best of us. For nearly a year I was struggling to get through a middle grade magical realism/fantasy/what-is-this-even manuscript. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to write out the entire story by hand—ha! never doing that again—and somewhere along the way, the plot jumped out the window and was never seen again.

That and I didn’t care for my job, which was so boring that I’d come home and just want to sleep or read or play video games. (I’m not usually a video game person, but I found I really enjoy Subnautica, an underwater sci-fi survival role play.) If anything, I found myself avoiding my story more and more. It wasn’t until after I finished the Camino that I decided I must finish my story before we moved.

So I did. It still ended up being terrible—most rough drafts usually are—but I was finished! Then I could finally move on to other projects.

All the Road Trip Poetry! (Summer ‘19)


Yeah, okay, so I wrote like three poems. But that’s quite a lot for a two-week period—for me anyway. You can check out two of them poems here:



Another poem I wrote was the result of an art/writing sprint I had with a friend. I gave her a poem, and she had to draw a picture. She gave me a picture, and I had to write a poem. I’m quite pleased with the results, but I’m debating whether I want to submit it for publication or post it here.

Also, since the start of this year, I’ve been adding audio and sometimes video versions of my poetry. Though I didn’t have time to record during my road trip, I have considered going back and adding audio versions. My recent poems could use some views as well, so check them out!



My Not-So-Secret Novel (Summer ’19 and on…)


I don’t typically talk about my novels until after they make it past the rough draft process. That way, I know whether I’m going to stick with them or not, and so much can change between the beginning outline and the final edits. But I will say that it’s a *whispers* adult sci-fi. *cough* I’ll be starting it next month for NaNoWriMo.

That’s all you get for now! Thanks for reading.

Let’s chat! Fellow writers, how are your projects coming along? Are you interested in audio versions of the poems I posted this summer? When was your last writing slump, and how did you escape it?

***

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Book Review: Strange Waters

I’ve been on a sci-fi kick lately. When the Phoenix Fiction Writers announced a collection of short stories with water-related sci-fi—oh my goodness so much yes! As somebody who has lived in Hawai’i and is in love with the sound of lapping waves, the smell of sea salt, and the thrill of the ocean and how freakishly big it is, I was a little excited for this collection. Of course, I can be a little picky about my underwater stories and my sci-fi, but I was still looking forward to this one.

Thus I found myself with yet another advanced reader copy for the latest Phoenix Fiction Anthology, so I present you with my humble estimation of the book. All opinions are my own.






Book: Strange Waters by Kyle Robert Shultz, E.B. Dawson, Hannah Heath, Beth Wangler, Nate Philbrick, J.E. Purrazzi, and K.L. + Pierce
Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
My rating: 5/5 stars
Year published: 2019
Short description: WATER-BASED SCI-FI!!! (and fantasy)


“Backpack Boy” by Nate Philbrick



Oh, my goodness. Featuring fear and bravery, pain and adventure, I found this story is so sweet and heartbreaking simultaneous. I called the parallels within the plot, but they in no way detracted from my ability to enjoy the story. I particularly liked the boy’s stuffed elephant as a character who encouraged the boy as he went along. And Philbrick’s description, as always is brilliant:

“The elephant was crayon-blue once upon a time, but a hundred adventures have sapped the colour. He’s a bit lumpy and old, but the boy loves to press his cheek into the ruffles under the elephant’s chin, where it’s soft and warm like Mum’s knit sweaters.”

Overall thoughts: most heartfelt

“Finer Things” by C. Scott Frank


I’m a little biased because I don’t care for romance, and one of the descriptions for this story is “star-crossed lovers.” Suffice to say I wasn’t much of a fan, and I didn’t find the sci-fi elements or the character development to be very believable. But maybe that’s just the skeptical, non-romantic in me speaking.

Overall thoughts: squishy but with good themes

“Roanoke” by J. E. Purrazzi


Wow, that ending though! A sci-fi adventure set on an aquatic world with a ship called The Wells. I need to go back and re-read the story when I’m feeling a little more awake, so I can get a better feel for the narrative and the beautiful descriptions. I sure hope there is more to this world than this one story because now I’m hooked!

Overall thoughts: dynamic world-building


“Kamynosa’s Labyrinth” by Beth Wangler


I’d been reading the stories one at a time, one each day, and I was just going to read the description when I blinked, and I’d finished it. Suffice to say I was hooked by the plot, the beautiful descriptions, and the characters. Can I also say that the style was reminiscent of The Princess Bride, referencing a longer text and giving us gems like this one:

“I will not bore you with a detailed exposition upon the nuances of the Labyrinth and its history, which Professor Daus-sun has described in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Kamynosa, curls perfectly tamed and best coral-stamped skirt twisted around her hips, read aloud the script whose origins were ancient even then.

Overall thoughts: beautiful prose

“Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea” by. E. B. Dawson


Highly entertaining, though the ending was a more abrupt than I would have anticipated. Full of wit and characters who may or may not thrive in an academic society, this story is about the joy and frustrations of discovery, even if that discovery just so happens to be a stowaway. I sure hope there is more to the story of Barnaby Brown because it can’t end like that!

Overall thoughts: most witty

“Through the Lens” by K. L. + Pierce


Not my favorite of the stories. While I liked the combination of fantasy and sci-fi, I was a little confused as to why certain characters behaved the way they did. I think if the story had more pages to develop the characters, it might have made more sense. All the same, I enjoyed the sibling dynamic and the lengths Dion was willing to go to for his sister.

Overall thoughts: dedicated siblings

“Ric Vayne and the Curse of Ghoul Nebula” by Kyle Robert Shultz


Highly entertaining, as is usual for Shutlz’s work. At first, I was a little appalled at the drunken state of Ric Vayne during the opening, but as the story went along, he grew on me. The way he cared for Ovo and her freedom was so endearing. Though are we going to talk about how he nicknamed her Ovo because he thought she looked like an owl but couldn’t explain how the name “Ovo” looks like an emoji of a bird? No? Maybe it’s just me…

Overall thoughts: engrossing story

“The Underground” by Janelle Garrett


Fascinating. Honestly, the description didn’t have me too hooked—a girl is kidnapped by dragons, and her brother is trying to rescue her. Haven’t we heard this one before? But as the story went on, I got the sense that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. While I’m still not sure of all the details, as it’s a part of a series, The Steward Saga, I have a theory that it’s not just fantasy.

Overall thoughts: intriguing


“This Pain Inside” by Hannah Heath


Brilliant, as is usual for Heath’s work. A powerful story with well-developed characters and excellent themes, this one is actually set in an underwater society. I particularly liked the way Heath combined the science of what it might be like to live so deep and the fantastic abilities that come from the Ne, and I’d like to see the concept fleshed out into a longer piece.

Overall thoughts: excellent themes

Interested in Strange Waters? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Antiheros by the Phoenix Fiction Writers (Shultz, Dawson, Heath, Wangler, Philbrick, Purrazzi, and Pierce), Skies of Dripping Gold by Hannah Heath, Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Let’s chat! Has Strange Waters made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Have any underwater fantasy/sci-fi recommendations?

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Let's Talk about Murder in Fiction

Sherlock: Let’s talk about murder. Imagine someone’s going to get murdered at a wedding. Who exactly would you pick?

Mrs. Hudson: I think you’re a popular choice at the moment, dear. 

—from “The Sign of Three”, Sherlock

When I was in high school, I used to be obsessed with murder mysteries. My mom and I watched the entirety of CSI Miami, and I went on to read all the Sherlock Holmes books and fangirl about and critique the movies and shows. Nowadays, I don’t read near as many mysteries, save Sanderson’s The Alloy Era series, but I still enjoy the occasional who-done-it because of the intellectual challenge.

As I’ve gotten older and my tastes have changed, I can no longer tolerate some things that I once did. I still enjoy action and adventure, but I don’t like much violence, and I’m more sensitive to death in stories.

Death in fiction is disturbing. Sure, it’s not as intense as it would be in real life, but it’s not appealing all the same. Yet it’s there more often than not. But what exactly are the different stances on death, and how do readers deal with them?

Caution: this post contains spoilers for films The Mission and Les Miserables. Proceed at your own discretion. Likewise, this post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers.


Pacifism vs. Revolutionaries


In the film The Mission, two priests have an argument about morality and the defense of the mission where they serve. *caution: spoilers ahead* As the Spanish are coming to claim the territory and sell the natives at the mission into slavery, one priest—who happens to be a reformed slave trader—argues that they should fight back, and the other—the man who led the first to become a priest—argues for peaceful protest.

For a while, I really struggled with the dilemma—if I found myself in the situation, which would I choose? Would I fight to protect peoples’ freedom even if it meant killing, or would I protest nonviolently, standing up with people even if it meant injury or death? And does it really matter because they both die as martyrs in the end? *end spoiler*

A little while later, I was reading Les Miserables and reflecting on the rational behind why many of the young—and sometimes old—men joined the revolution, whether it was to escape poverty and destitution, to stand up for human rights, or simply because they had nothing but their lives to lose. While I don’t remember all of the great prose, I remember thinking, “Wow, Victor Hugo is so persuasive he could convince me to be a revolutionary.”

*spoiler* Of course, like in The Mission they all die, save Marius. *end spoiler*

Another time, my dad put on the movie Tears of the Sun in which a group of Special-Ops are on a mission to rescue a doctor in Nigeria and end up bringing refugees along with them. As the team and the refugees are headed for safety, the Special-Ops team fightr off rebels along the way. My dad told me situations like the ones in the film were one of the reasons he joined the military—to protect the innocent.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
—Edmund Burke

In the end, I decided I’d rather be a revolutionary than a pacifist. I’m not for killing but when it comes to the innocent, I’m for protecting them.



Casual Death and the Value of Life


Perhaps one of the most disturbing moments concerning reading came when I was studying for my English Lit degree. We had read The Road for or speculative fiction and were discussing it in class. When we inevitably addressed the cannibalism present in the book, one of my classmates said, “I don’t see why the girl had such a hard time with it.” Essentially, she gave me impression that in a post-apocalyptic world, killing somebody else to ensure one’s one survive was acceptable.

I was stunned. How could somebody blatantly disdain a child’s horror and advocate for cannibalism? Weren’t they missing the point of the book?

Another novel—one that I actually enjoy—that addresses the devastation of death is Illuminae: “Sure, the story kicks off with the deaths of thousands of people, but *** forbid there be cussing in it, right?”

While profanity is a topic for another time (one I briefly touched on in Controversy in Fiction: Censorship), the book makes an excellent point. Why is death more readily accepted in fiction than swearing? So it’s okay to read about a book about genocide or a cozy mystery—an interesting choice of words—but when you have a bunch of swear words in a young adult novel reflecting the degradation of society, some readers lose their minds.

I’m not saying that I’m an advocate for swearing in fiction, but I do think it’s important for readers to establish their priorities. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes considering justice versus mercy concerning death comes from Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the wise cannot see all ends.”

Let’s chat! What’s your take on murder in fiction? Have any favorite quotes from fiction that influenced your stance?

***

Update: next week I’ll be posting a book review a day early in celebration of the book’s release day. While you’re welcome to come by on Sunday, the review will be up on Saturday.


Movie references: Sherlock, CSI Miami, The Mission, Les Miserables, and Tears of the Sun

Literary references: Brandon Sanderson’s The Allow Era, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Haiku Collection: Down South (Audio)

I’m not used to living in a place where it’s still 95 degrees Fahrenheit in October. I’m ready for fall weather, especially the crisp sweater-worthy mornings. Though at the same time, I’m still hoping it doesn’t come just yet because I’m still living out of my suitcase. All I have are the same seven summer shirts I’ve been wearing since June. (Somebody save me.)

Some days, I still enjoy living in the American South. Other days I hate it. I enjoy my jobs, which is a wonderful change, but the bug population here is nuts. That and the buildings here are hideous, and recycling is basically nonexistent.



Moving back to the States after living in Europe for the past four years has been an adjustment for sure. As my mom put it, my family may be American by birth, but we’re European at heart. It may take some time to settle in. But I’m not quite there. Not yet.



Incandescent

the way the light shines
on the water at sunrise
birds herald the day


Stick Bug

she dance, the way she
steps—back—forward—back with those
green legs she sways, here


Wasp Nest

don’t. move. when she lands
on your collar, take her out
of doors, say goodbye


Culture Shock

hits me like a wave—
would that only the salt is
making me cough hard


***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poems? What’s one unique trait you like about where you live?