Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands

Book: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Awards: None (Yet. It was just published.)
My rating: 4/5 stars
One-word description: Shiny (Bullets, sand, glints off metal, the desert sun, the book cover. I know, I know, that’s more than one word…)

I actually anticipated the publication of Rebel of the Sands, which is something I don’t usually do with books unless they’re in a series, but I read about it on a book blog and thought I’d give it a chance. After it came out, I was too broke to buy it. Then I moved to Italy where I can hardly find any English books. But I finally got my hands on a copy when I visited London with a friend and spent my souvenir money on it. Who needs touristy souvenirs when you can buy books?

I knew I had to own this book because the cover was so pretty. Okay, I know that’s a little vain and I’ve written a post on not judging a book by its cover, but come on. This cover is a work of art! I was hoping the book was just as wonderful, and it was. The writing style wasn’t quite what I expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Most of the unexpected style came with responses after dialogue that had a colloquial feel to it, but others came during the descriptions of places and creatures, which were great overall. Here’s just one description:

“The furthest away I could ever get was when my mother used to tell me bedtime stories of Izman. Only when my father couldn’t hear. The city of a thousand golden domes, with towers that’d scratch the blue off the sky, and as many stories as there were people. Where a girl could belong to herself and the whole city was so rich with possibilities that you almost tripped over adventures in the street.”

Hamilton is a master of show-don’t-tell and character development. I loved the character development in this book. The villains are human, and the heroes are flawed. Amani is a dynamic character with dreams, a smart mouth, and a bit of an identity crisis. Can we say relatable? Then there was Jin, who’s travelled about as much as I have, and while I may not relate with him nearly as much, his world view has caused me to think about my own.

I also really enjoyed the fantastical elements of the story from the Buraqui (SAND HORSES!) to the Skinwalkers to the Demdji. I’m a sucker for fantasy and fantastical horses and magic. Did I mention magical horses? Okay, so the plot doesn’t revolve around the magical horses, but their presence makes me happy nonetheless.

Yet while the descriptions of most of the fantasy creatures was excellent, with the shape-shifting Demdji, they were vague. I still have no idea what a Roc looks like. My first thought was a bird-like creature. Then I wondered, “Is it a dragon? Wait, nope. It has feathers.” Please excuse my ignorance while I go and Google what on earth this creature is supposed to be…

As for the plot twists, some of them were fairly predictable and others weren’t. In fact, I was so busy watching for one twist, I completely missed the other.

I gave this book 4/5 stars on account of some vague descriptions yet great writing style, dynamic characters, and interesting plot, which felt vaguely reminiscent of Eragon. I was so caught up in reading this book, I hardly gave a second thought to rating it. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes young adult and fantasy.

The only problem? Now I have to wait for the next book to come out. But I’ve brought this on myself. It’s frustrating, but it’s wonderful all the same, like waiting for Christmas morning. Sometimes the anticipation is half the fun!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

7 Steps to Keep Writing When You Feel Like Giving Up

We all have those moments when we get bored with our current project, our eyes get tired, or we just have the intensifying urge to scream and throw the computer out the window. (Please tell me I’m not the only one.) Sometimes we reach a point—whether or not it’s burnout—when we just want to quit writing. It’s hard work. One word after another. And it seems like all the ideas are too hard, too unoriginal, too dry.

I’m not just talking about writer’s block. Maybe it can be the cause or the result, but it has many terms. For students, it’s known as senioritis. For postgrad students like my dad, it’s known as college-brain. I like to say my brain is tired. Sometimes I reach the point where I say dumb stuff like “I can’t English.”

Whatever the reason, we can all grow tired even of something we enjoy doing. I love writing. But some days I feel like quitting. Recently, I’ve been working on my dissertation for my MA in English Literature, and as much as I enjoy reading, I’m sick of working on this project through the summer when most of my family and friends are on vacation. Now everybody’s getting ready to head back to school, and I’m still working on my dissertation.

But over the years, I’ve found several methods to help me get through it all. Here are just a few that have helped.

1) Set goals.

Whether it’s 1,000 words or 100, setting goals for each day, each week can help you make them. Projects like NaNoWriMo give you a set quota for the day based on your final word count goal. Make sure you set achievable goals, like don’t strive for 5,000 words a day if you can barely write 2,000 usually. You can work up to that instead. 

Every bit of progress counts. Even if you don’t make your quota for the day, don’t beat yourself up. There’s always tomorrow. (Unless that’s the deadline, in which case, CHUG COFFEE).

2) Share your project.

If you tell people what you’re working on, you’re more likely to receive encouragement than if you keep your writing project secret. This isn’t to say that you have to share every last word as you go, but friends are a great way to keep you going. Back in July, when I was spending the month with my friend Faith, I’d spend the morning writing my dissertation, and when I finished my goal for the day, Faith would cheer me on, even if I thought my writing was complete crap. Thank you, Faith!

3) Set aside time and space.

Know what writing environment works for you and stick to it. Set aside certain spots for writing and relaxation. For example, in England, I wrote in my room or at the library and spent all my relaxation time outdoors. At home, I worked on my dissertation in the living room but read or wrote for fun on the balcony or in my room. This allowed me to separate my work space from my relaxation space, and believe me, it’s helped my mental health.

As for time, it’s good to know when you focus best. For writing, I focus best in the morning and the evening after dinner. I cannot for the life of me write in mid-afternoon. But I can edit anytime. Knowing what time works best for you can help optimize your performance and help you meet your goals.

4) Just write!

Often times, the best way to do something you don’t want to do is to just do it. If you don’t want to write, just write. It may not sound like much fun when you think about it, but if all you do is think, you’ll never get anywhere. If you want to make progress, go out there and make it. Just thinking about it won’t get you anywhere.

5) Pace yourself.

Back when I was studying for exams and doing homework, I used to study for 45 minutes and take a 5-10 minute Pinterest or Facebook break. This works well for writing too. Now, I like to put on a movie soundtrack and work until the last song. Then I’ll take a short break.

Your brain can get tired of work, especially when you’re bored. But be careful not to take a break before your allotted time, and if you’re on a role when you reach the end of your set time, keep going! 45 minutes is a great time period to work with short, 5-10 minute breaks so you don’t lose concentration. Repeat the process and take 15-minute breaks every other hour.

6) Bribe Reward yourself.

Whether it’s with an enjoyable walk, a TV episode, or a bowl of ice cream, treat yourself after you make your quota for the day. Back in my undergrad days, I used to reward myself with a chapter for fun after 45 minutes of studying. Lately, that hasn’t worked because I’d end up reading half the book for fun instead. Now I have go for a nice long bike ride or have a bowl of Reese’s peanut butter ice cream. Tell me you wouldn’t work on homework for ice cream.

7) Remember why you started.

Did you start writing for fun? For the joy of discovering what you believe? For school? For work? Whatever your reason, reminding yourself why you started writing can help you keep writing. For my dissertation, I could keep telling myself I that if I don’t write the thing I’ll fail my MA, but how encouraging is that? Instead, it’s helpful to remind myself why I picked The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost to write on—because I enjoyed reading them and I wanted to learn more!

Having a mission statement works great. But if you’re on a tight deadline, don’t feel like you have to write one out.

Finally, I’m thinking about starting a newsletter for all my lovely followers. If you’re even remotely interesting in receiving more direct updates, please fill out the following 10-question survey. Thanks!

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Have there been any circumstances when you felt like giving up? Which of the above tips have helped you? Do you have any helpful tips for meeting your goals?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Controversy in Fiction: Banned Books

Welcome to my newest series, Controversy in Fiction! This month, I’ll be addressing banned books, part one in my five-part series.

Disclaimer: Because of the nature of this series, I don’t expect all of my readers to agree with me. While I will attempt to accurately present both sides of particular issues, I will take sides on some issues and can’t expect to cover every last issue in existence. I apologize in advance for anybody who is offended for religious/political/book-loving reasons; it is not my intent. Please no hateful comments as this is a children-friendly blog.

Caution: This post contains spoilers for The Outsiders for the purpose of discussing why it’s sometimes banned.

Back in my undergraduate days at Evangel, I took a course on Young Adult fiction. It was completely awesome. We got to read some of my favorite genres for homework, and I discovered some of my treasured books too! One of our first weeks of the class, we talked about banned books.

Banned books are those restricted by libraries, schools, religious institutions, etc. for the purpose of preventing children or others from reading content considered inappropriate. Books may be banned for various specific reasons including, but not limited to profanity, violence, sexually explicit content, or religious or political agendas.

For our assigned reading, our class read The Outsiders. When I first picked up the book (I borrowed a copy from my professor), I thought, “Huh, this looks okay.” I wasn’t so sure about it. But before I knew it, I’d finished the book and thoroughly enjoyed it! When my sister (12 at the time) had to read the book for her class, she completely fell in love with the story and the characters. My mom skeptically picked up the book, but in the end, she liked the story.

Yet The Outsiders is not a happy book. It contains smoking, gangs, and violence. It isn’t really much of a surprise that it should be among the banned books. Why would teachers want children reading books where the main characters smoke or (SPOILER ALERT) hide from the law for killing somebody in self-defense? (END SPOILER ALERT)

Is this the kind of book parents would want their children to read? Probably not. But it does have its redeeming values (self-sacrifice, compassion, etc.), and it is for these qualities that many readers will advocate for reading the book and encouraging others to do so.

Throughout my life, I’ve never had many problems with banned books, with a few exceptions, of course. My parents were pretty generous with what they let me read. My mom considered me mature enough to read This Present Darkness at age 14. (FYI, I was not. I was terrified of that book, even though I thought it was really good.)

But at the same time, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter books until I was 16. I have since finished the series, much to my mom’s chagrin. And while I don’t believe the books are inherently bad, (I quite enjoyed them actually) I respect my parents’ decisions. I was raised in a conservative, Christian family, and my parents wanted to protect me from sorcery, even in fiction.

Similarly, my sister once attended a private school that banned Fifty Shades of Gray. Personally, I will put a book down if it has sexually explicit content. In fact, most of the time, I’ll tolerate a book if it has a couple kissing scenes. (See 3 Reasons I Don’t Read Romance Novels)

Yet while many book banning’s I’ve experienced may have good intentions, there are still associations who would rather ban books to exercise control. In Fahrenheit 451, all books were outlawed country-wide for encouraging people to think. In The Book Thief, Nazis burned books for their radical agendas. And in Ink and Bone, certain knowledge was forbidden for the sake of the Great Library’s control.

But as far as I’ve seen, most of the book banning that occurs today has good intentions, particularly the protection of children’s innocence, rather than governmental control. But eventually all children will grow up. While it may be important to maintain a degree of discretion when choosing books, they can be eye-opening.

After all, books can teach you new things.

Books can help you become a better person.

Books can warn you about the dangers of certain people and relationships.

Books can make you think.

Books can help you be more empathetic.

I could go on and on about the power of fiction. 

Ultimately, I believe books should be picked up based on personal preference. Yes, knowledge can be dangerous. But the real danger for people, especially readers, comes when others exercise governmental control over reading. But even in the US, where so many people know how to read, they don’t. Reading is often viewed as a chore or work rather than a preferred pastime.

And it’s like Ray Bradbury once said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”


Literary references: S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Markus Zusak’s The Books Thief, and Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone.

What’s your opinion on book banning? What are some of the banned books that you’ve read? Have you ever snuck a forbidden book to read it?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Muse: A Poem

Everybody has favorite small talk questions that they can pull out of their hat at a moment’s notice as though conversations are mere magic tricks to be mastered by a selected few. I don’t know how most extroverts do it. I’ve written on Small Talk before, so I shall not belabor my dislike for it. I get it. Sometimes people don’t know what else to ask but general questions. One of the most common questions I get asked lately is “What’s your dissertation about?”

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been researching and writing on The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost, comparing Spenser’s and Milton’s references to the Muses and inspiration. Inspiration itself is a huge part of any writer’s life. What would we do without it? Inspiration comes in many forms—breathtaking landscapes, quirky people, profound books, and mouthwatering chocolate.

However, many experts claim that writers should not fully rely on inspiration. If I always waited for inspiration, I would never write. Instead, sometimes I’m encouraged by friends or deadlines, and other times I’m pressured by not wanting to down a cup of coffee with nothing to show for it. How could I waste such precious caffeine?

Nevertheless, Inspiration is a great help. I’ve never been able to write poetry without it. Those that I forced myself to write, I’ve vowed never to show the world. Partially inspired by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s On the Other Side and partially inspired by a late-night bike ride where I spent five minutes under a street light watching a spider spin a web, this poem is all about that—inspiration. Well, that and a writer’s muse.

The Muse

She dances on air, her skirt trailing behind,
above, the dust—she could write her name in
it—but her feet never grace the floor. Some
say that magic is merely things we don’t
know—others call it faith. This girl keeps pace
to tunes unheard, an imaginary
swift, violin. Sometimes she pauses, suspended on
mid-air, to cock her head to one side and
whip out an invisible bow, before she will sweep
into a glide on glass. Step-step-step-twirl—
Maybe this mystery is real magic when I
just trip while walking. She can make her moves
seem like art—she is Da Vinci, telling
a myth on her tiptoes, of how this cave-
man brought her a flower and fell in love.

He sprawled upon the floor, sweeping up all
the dust with his blue coat. She helped him up
and handed him her bow. He stared; she held
her violin too. Take it, said she. Play a song
so I may dance freely. He took them in
his hands and set his fingers on the strings.
Magic, he thought. There’s no alternative.

Here I play, shrieking out sorry tunes like some
earthbound pterodactyl, and still she smiles
and sweeps across the floor, dancing on air.


Let’s chat! What’re some of the small talk questions that bugs you? Do you believe in magic? What are the sources for your inspiration?