Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: Goodbye Days

Book: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Genre: Young adult, contemporary
AwardsAML Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2017)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2017)
My rating: 5/5 stars
One-word description: Heart Wrenching (That’s totally one word.)

Wow. Just, wow.

This is definitely another book that crushed my feelings. Where do I even start?

How about the opening line:

“Depending on who—sorry, whom—you ask, I may have killed my three best friends.”

If it sounds intense, that’s because it is. This book is so raw and real. I might have finished it sooner than in three days if I didn’t have to put it down and take a break.

“Our memories of our loved ones are the pearl we form around the grain of grief that causes us pain.”

Then there’s this quote:

“For the most part, you don’t hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone.”

I could go on.

This book was beautifully heartbreaking. The main character, Carver, suffers from survivor’s guilt and anxiety, the latter of which I can relate to. I’ve read a couple of books that have protagonists who deal with anxiety, but this has to be the best one yet. I have not gone through what Carver did, but man, can I empathize with him. And did I mention he’s a writer? It was also really refreshing to read a YA novel from a male’s perspective. Honestly, I haven’t seen too many.

Then the characters are so well-written and three-dimensional and unique. Each “goodbye day” Carver experiences is different, considering the dimensions of each household. Sure, I may not have agreed with everybody’s views, but I don’t think one can. The book doesn’t shy away from religion or atheism and addresses them both head on, showing how peoples of differing beliefs might deal with grief.

I gave this book 5/5 stars for excellent character development and strong themes. Because of the language and some content, I would mark this book for those 13+. I definitely would recommend this to anybody interested in intense, contemporary YA.


Similar book reviews: A World Without You, We Were Liars, and Mockingbird

Enjoy contemporary YA? If you liked Goodbye Days, you might also like Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin, Saving Red by Sonya Jones, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia.

Let’s chat! Have you read Goodbye Days yet? If so, what did you think? What are some of the books on your TBR for this summer? Do you have any recommendations? 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Writing about the Ocean

While writing on my latest novel, I came across a scene where my characters crash-land their starship into the ocean. That’s when I got all excited about writing about the open water and started brainstorming all the different ways somebody could die in the ocean. Not a pleasant topic, I know.

Having lived in Hawaii for three years, I know a bit about the ocean. I’m no expert, but my dad used to be a SCUBA diving instructor and would take me and my family to the beach at least once a week, if not to go diving, at least to go swimming and snorkeling. So, if you’re thinking about including large bodies of water in your story (not including rivers), this post if for you!

The only thing to fear is fear itself everything.

Okay, so maybe not everything, but it’s pretty close. In fact, there’s more to fear in the ocean than drowning, shark attacks, and massive waves.

First, you have riptides. Did you know people swimming on the beach can actually get sucked out to the open ocean by currents? Even the strongest and the best of swimmers can’t fight it. The main mistake they make is swimming against the current. Swimming parallel to the shore is the only way to escape it.

Second, you have the bends (decompression sickness). This point is one that a lot of writers, particularly those of screenplays, get wrong (e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek). The only movie I’ve seen get it right, where applicable is The Abyss. If you swim further than ten feet underwater, you might notice a pressure in your ears. That’s because the pressure of the water is stronger than the pressure of the air.

The difference in pressures is why SCUBA divers equalize, by plugging their nose and blowing out. It may cause an awkward popping sensation whether you do it underwater or above water. If one were to surface too quickly (specifically faster than your smallest bubbles), one could end up with the bends. Yes, it can kill you and your characters.

Finally, you have open water, dehydration, jellyfish, the Bermuda Triangle, you get the picture.  

Blood and the ocean.

While blood can attract sharks, these creatures are not quite like the monsters you see in Jaws. But that doesn’t stop me from being paranoid. One time I went out with some friends in a kayak while I was wearing a bandage on my leg from a minor cut. I was so scared of getting attacked by sharks that I didn’t get out of the boat. As it turned out, the twelve-foot swells mounting close to the shore turned out to be our greatest challenge that day.

Yes, blood attracts sharks. My dad and my brother used to go spear hunting for fish, and they would stay in the water until the “tax collectors” showed up. They have a couple interesting stories to tell. Fortunately, none of them resulted in death or scars.

Aside from cuts and bloody fish, you have something else that nobody seems to talk about let alone include in YA fiction—periods. Girls, we all experience it. Guys, if you’re writing includes female characters and they go to the beach, they might have to wear a tampon at certain times of the month. That’s not to say that you must include such a detail, let alone describe it (please don’t), but at least be aware that it happens.

Rocks make great handholds, until they bite back.

Seriously though, I can’t count the times when I was swimming near shore and nearly stuck my hand on a sea urchin or in an eel’s mouth. Eels like to hide in clefts in the rocks, and they’re pretty territorial. Sea urchins are all over the rocks.

My dad once got bit by a sea urchin, and it left a little circular shape on his fingers. Apparently, it hurt. A lot. Then my brother got stuck by a sea urchin’s quills on two different occasions, and his hand swelled up so that he looked like Kirk when he had a reaction to a vaccine Bones gave him. Sea urchins look pretty, and while you can touch them without injuring yourself, you don’t want to get stabbed.

And let’s not forget rocks. According to my dad, ““Flesh versus rock, rock wins every time.” While you might encounter some friendly, slimy boulder in a lake, you’re more likely to encounter some not-so-friendly ones in the ocean. If you’re by a volcanic island, you’re also going to encounter lava rock with tends to be very sharp. I’d rather walk barefoot on wood chips or hot cement than lava rock.

Some people are terrified of the water.

One time in college, I was chatting with some of my friends about the ocean and how, like in Finding Nemo, the ocean bottom drops out into a black abyss. Then, one of my friends started shaking his head saying, “NO.” Suddenly, he was terrified of the ocean, even though he had never been.

Similarly, it’s possible to simultaneously be terrified of the water and fascinated by it. For example, I’m afraid of heights, so unlike a lot of people, seeing the bottom of a lake or the ocean scares me. But, I lived in Hawaii for three years. During that time, my family and I visited the beach on a weekly basis. I should be fine, right?

Wrong. Because I haven’t had consistent trips to the water, it has become like a distant friend. Like Moana, I am drawn to the sea. I enjoy staring out over endless water. I dream of sailing and swimming and plunging beneath the waves.

But unlike her, I may or may not have a panic attack before setting foot in three feet of water. Last time I went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, I started hyperventilating. Once I got past the entrance (with a drop off; it wasn’t quite a beach), I was better. I was still a bit nervous, but at least I could breathe. One of the ways to deal with such panic attacks is continual exposure. Like anything else, the danger doesn’t evaporate, but my confidence grows.

Let’s not forget about sand!

It’s coarse and rough and gets everywhere. And it feels really weird when you end up with a mouthful. Don’t ask.

After reading this post, you may be dissuaded from approaching the ocean. But it’s a truly magnificent place, I assure you. There’s something about the way the water stretches to the horizon, the smell of the salt in the air, the feel of the water on your skin as you submerge beneath the waves, or the first time you spot a sea turtle or a sea lion that’s simply wonderful.


Film references: Star Wars, Star Trek, The Abyss, Finding Nemo, and Moana.

Let’s chat! What are some of the most interesting aspects about the ocean you have found? Do you have anything to add to the list of above tips? 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Author Interview: Lisa Nicodemus Lyons

Meet the author! Lisa Nicodemus Lyons is an indie author, editor, and collector of unicorn tapestries. She is the author of The Alliance series, its sequel the Allegiance series, and a standalone novel, The Hunt of the Unicorn. I was first given a copy of her the first book in her series, In the Palace of Rygia, in exchange for an honest review. Little did I know that a couple months later, I would get the chance to meet her! 

If I were to pick one of my inks to describe Lisas novels, it would be Drachenblut (German for dragon’s blood). 
While there are aren’t any actual dragons in her novels, the great beasts still play a large role.

Welcome, Lisa! It’s good to have you on my blog. I hope you’re having a fabulous summer. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve been a writer/editor/designer for the national office of my denomination for the past 20 years. Prior to that, I worked as a writer and editor for a small-town newspaper. My kids are grown and have their own kids now, so I guess I’m an empty-nester. But my life is so busy, I don’t feel like it’s empty.

What does your writing space typically look like?

I sit on the couch with my feet up and a laptop. If I have music playing, it’s usually Enya. And my little dog Pippin is on the couch at my side. Yes, she’s named for a hobbit.

When it comes to writing, what is your drink of choice?

Vanilla latte or homemade chai. The lattes are homemade too. But they have to be decaf, because I work all day and can only write in the evenings.

Who are some of your favorite authors? How have they inspired you?

C.S. Lewis is at the top of my list. I was introduced to him while I was ill and bedridden many, many years ago. The Chronicles of Narnia got me through a tough time and took my mind to fun places. I remember thinking at the time, “I sure would like to write like him!”

Then came Tolkien, of course, but other favorites are Bodie Thoene, Stephen Lawhead, Carol Berg, and Terry Goodkind. They’ve inspired me through the fantastic worlds and characters they’ve created and the way they draw me into their stories. Ever since I was a kid, my mind has gone to imaginary places, and it was nice to visit such places created by others and escape from the real world for a time.

Thoene is an exception, since her works aren’t fantasy, but I very much loved learning more about real people in real history through her WWII fiction. Her books inspired me to pick up some actual history books and learn even more.

Can you tell us about your books? Where would you recommend readers start?

Definitely start with book 1 of “The Alliance” series, called In the Palace of Rygia. That’s the beginning of a very long, very intense epic. The series takes place mainly in two realms that have been at war for some time. One is a realm of righteous believers who follow the teachings of the God called Eloah. 

The main character throughout the series is a man named Justus Corden, general of the opposing realm, Rygia, and leader of the war against the righteous… that is, until he’s forgiven by a man who dies at his hands. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. It happens in the very first chapter. 

From that point on, Justus must wrestle with everything he’s known and believed, and he finds himself trying futilely to reject a call that was placed on his life long ago. Of course, there’s a woman of the righteous realm whom he meets, and there are many other memorable characters that you’ll fall in love with. The main theme throughout the series is forgiveness—especially for an enemy.

If you could meet only one of your characters, who would you pick?

That’s a tough question. Every author’s characters are like his/her children. It’s hard to pick a favorite. One might think my main character, Justus, would be the one, but I believe I’d lean more toward Turek Enfield. Readers won’t meet him until the series that follows “The Alliance.” The series is called “Allegiance,” and it picks up where “The Alliance” left off. I made it a separate series because the main characters are mostly of the next generation, and the adventures take on a worldwide scope rather than focusing on just two or three realms.

Who has been the hardest character to write and why?

Definitely Turek. He’s a bit on the crazy side. Getting inside the head of a crazy person has been quite a ride. But he’s probably the most rounded of all my characters—you never know which way he’ll lean or what he’s going to do next.

What has been your favorite thing about the self-publishing journey so far?

The control I have over everything. And how quickly you can get your books out there. On the other hand, my least favorite thing about it is the lack of advertising and exposure. Most authors are great at writing and lousy at advertising. I’m like those people. But for brand-new, up-and-coming authors who might never get a chance with a publisher, it’s so great to see your work in print (whether digital or paper). These days, you have to be a known quantity before a publisher will give you a second glance. It’s a tough market, especially if your niche is tiny, like Christian speculative fiction.

What one piece of advice would you give to upcoming indie authors?

Don’t let anyone sway you one way or another when it comes to your stories. Keep true to your own convictions and write from your own heart. Don’t try to fit your square peg into the round holes of established publishing. Just because they’re the giants doesn’t mean they’re right. Their decisions are made for the bottom line—money. Or at least the money they think they’ll make. 

I believe the statistics show that only 1 out of 10 professionally published books make good money for the publishers. Others either break even or lose money. That one popular book then carries the others by keeping the publisher afloat. This means that most authors aren’t going to get rich from their work, whether professionally published or self-published, so just do what makes you happy.

And one final question, just for fun. Pick three random characters from any of your books. Got it? Okay, now imagine they are all stuck in a rowboat just offshore of Caledron. What happens?

Oh, it would be so much fun to put in a couple of mortal enemies, like Justus and Letah. Then throw in someone for comedic relief, like Paulus the Fox. Will they kill each other or come to terms? I think in the end, the rowboat bumps against Caledron’s shores with nothing but dead bodies in it. But then, that wouldn’t be picking them at random, would it? I guess I chose them purposefully.

For random characters, I opened my first book to random pages and put my finger down. My characters, thus, are General Rolland Longsword, King Medan, and Justus’ daughter Anna. I suppose if they’re just off the isle of Caledron, Medan would try to pull the boat toward the isle while Rolland tries to pull it away, toward Rygia. Meanwhile, Anna would have to fight against Medan’s advances and lewd comments. Eventually Rolland would knock Medan out, despite the fact that he’s king. So Rolland saves the day and takes them home to Rygia, but he’d be grumbling about their situation the whole time.

Wow! I really like your answers. Thanks again for coming!

You’re very welcome! Thank you for having me!


You can check out my book review for In the Palace or Rygia here, and you can grab a copy of her books on Amazon!

Say hello to Lisa, everybody! Have you read any of her books yet? If so, which one is your favorite? 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Should Books Be Categorized?

I recently decided to sort my fiction by color. My sister took one look at the books and said, “You separated THE SERIES?!”

Yes, I did.

Thankfully, though my fiction collection is small enough that I can still find everything.
I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to set foot in a library and not be able to find anything. I have at almost every library I’ve been to. The first time I’d go in looking for a book I knew was on the shelf, hunt for at least an hour and a half, and leave disappointed. (Yes, I am an introvert. No, I DO NOT go to the library to talk to people, though I don’t mind talking to librarians I am already acquainted with.)

Despite most libraries following the Dewey Decimal System, it took me ages to figure it all out. Once I started volunteering at my local library in Vicenza, Italy, I finally started figuring out how everything worked. (You would think as a bookworm, that I would have figured it out before I turned 21. Haha! Nope.)

Perhaps my favorite thing about volunteering at the library was helping set up displays. Sometimes the head librarian would give me a topic or tell me to pick one, then give me free reign to find books throughout the library to put on display.

Note: This post is a satire and should not be taken 100% seriously.

First off, let’s examine some of the pros and cons of the Dewey Decimal System.

Pro: if you know the system, it’s easy to navigate.

You have nonfiction separated from fiction, young adult (YA) separated from adult separated from children’s, and so forth. If you’re looking for a cookbook, you probably won’t find it next to a novel about dragons.

Con: unspecific genres.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a YA book expecting adventure and discovery and ended up with a romance. And who decided it was a great idea to lump the science fiction and the fantasy together? Sure, they may crossover sometimes (e.g., Thor, Dragonsdawn, Season of Wonder). But come on. What if I wanted to read a high fantasy and ended up with a space opera? (And don’t say “Read the blurb.” They spoil things!)

Solution: ultra-specific genres.

Why organize novels as sci-fi/fantasy when you can organize them as sci-fi: dystopian, sci-fi space opera, high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, sci-fi/fantasy crossover. It’s a bit more complicated, but it makes soooooo much more sense. Right?

Pro: you can find new books browsing in sections where you enjoyed old ones.

Some days, I like browsing YA and find another book on my list or grab one at random. Other days, I discover books by authors I enjoyed before in completely different sections. Discovering your next great read is sometimes five or six books over on the shelf.

Con: some books don’t get the exposure they deserve.

Some people will avoid certain sections because they sound uninteresting or they read one book from that genre that they didn’t like. (Or they’re a teenager embarrassed to walk into the children’s section because it has a book in the series they’re reading.) Personally, I don’t read nearly enough nonfiction as I should. Something about being in school for the past five years has got me on an extreme fiction kick.

Solution: book displays!

As I mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of volunteering at the library was setting up book displays. Whether it was fairy tales, winter themed books, or classics turned into movies, finding books and putting them on display was like a scavenger hunt. Sometimes you’d get two books sitting next to each other that wouldn’t otherwise be related, and it was rather interesting to see.

I’m also one of those readers who likes to pull books off the displays and check them out because I couldn’t resist the color. 

My books organized by color.
I have a small enough library that I can actually do this! 

Pro: you can actually find stuff!

In Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles the Archives, the library at the magical University, is so chaotic in its organization that students have to search, sometimes for days on end, to find anything. The reason being—so many people had different ideas of how to organize the books, and they all died before the library could be completely organized. Talk about a lot of books! In the end, I’m pretty sure the Archives sounds like a librarian’s nightmare. At least we have a nation-wide accepted system.

Con: I don’t think in the Dewey Decimal System.

I think about how a book made me feel. Or how the cover caught my eye. I don’t necessarily think about where I found a book, though sometimes I might remember one book’s location if I have to shelve it often enough.

Solution: no categorization.

Let’s just walk into a library or a bookstore and pick books based on color or blurb or spontaneous discovery. Never mind the frustration that comes with not being able to find a book, that comes even with semi-organized shelves. After all, searching for a book is a treasure hunt anyway, right?

Then again, perhaps we should just stick with the system and set up certain book displays in the hopes that good books get the attention they deserve.


Film references: Marvel’s Thor

Literary references: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsdawn, Lisa T. Bergren’s Season of Wonder, and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles.

Let’s chat? Do you believe me? What’s your stance on organization? 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Poem: Pile of Words

Do you know what today is? It’s the celebration of my 100th blog post! (Okay, maybe it’s not that exciting.)

*throws confetti* *scrambles for chocolate* *runs around singing opera*

Let’s celebrate!

And now, time for my monthly poem. This one is a bit darker than usual, unfortunately. But that’s the thing about language. It’s used not just to communicate the joys in our life but also the sorrows.

The following poem is one of the few that I’ve written that deals with depression. Some days I struggle with doubt and self-pity, which of course drives me crazy. Despite my enjoyment of books, there are some days I don’t want to read. Despite my appreciation for language, there are some days I don’t want to speak or to write.

Yet somehow, I managed to write the following poem on such a day.

Pile of Words

I’m buried under
            a pile of words…
Nothing but these words

Words of yesterday,
words of tomorrow,
ones of happiness,
ones of sorrow.

I cannot feel
            the tips
of my fingers
            under this mountain…

I’ve used up my word quota
is this…



On a lighter note, as promised, I have compiled a book pyramid out of the all the books in my personal library. Yes, it was hard. No, I will probably never, ever do it again. Your welcome.

The Universe at the center of the book pyramid.
Photo credit: Valaria Klein
Building the book pyramid. My sister handed me books
and kept trying to run off with others while I assembled this mountain.
Photo credit: Valaria Klein

The final product! (In full color.) My sis' said it looks more like a cone than a pyramid. Thoughts?


Similar posts: Bury Me and Small Talk

Let’s chat! Sorry if I drove you crazy with the poem’s weird punctuation, but I think it accurately represents a certain level of apathy. What did you think of the poem? How about the book pyramid? What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for a good photo/video?