Weekly Writing Update: January Week 4

Last Sunday, I said I hoped to be done with the read-through of draft 2 of “Outcast” (book #2 in my series) by Tuesday of this last week. However, a combination of some early mornings (which means early nights, cutting into my prime writing time) and a change in the chapter structure slowed me down.

I will vaguely explain (to avoid spoilers) that this book has 2 main storylines that are being told in an alternating pattern through maybe 2/3 of the book. But where certain scenes and revelations from both of them coincide is crucial. In the first draft, which was a vastly different story, I had a good spot, but the story changed so much, I kept playing with where that spot should be. I thought I had chapters laid out–which scenes went in which chapters–and then I suddenly hit on what I think is going to be the final layout. But I realized that I needed to read it straight through and make sure it flows well.

I’m now 3/4 of the way through (plus I accidentally read at least 1 chapter out of order, so I don’t know if I’ll feel the need to re-read it when I get there). I should definitely be onto a new task by this time next week. I’ve already contacted the people that I think can give me some great early feedback, and I hope to have this draft to them soon. (One of them still needs to read Pithea (book #1 in the series, which was released just over 2 weeks ago), because when she last read it, it was probably 7 drafts away from the completed version.

Then I’ll turn my focus to making sense of the mess I left book #3 in while I wait to hear back from those who have agreed to read “Outcast.”

Book Review: His Name Was Zach

Finished Reading: His Name Was Zach
by Peter Martuneac

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Post-apocalyptic

Zach

I’m going to preface this entire review with the explanation that zombie fiction is really not my thing. I chose to read this book to support a fellow self-published author, and I want to make sure that anyone reading this review knows up front that my thoughts on it are likely tainted by the fact that I just don’t care for zombie stories. It’s not just the zombies themselves, or the gore & violence, but the hopelessness and despair, and the fact that they’re so often the same basic story. That being said, on with the review.

Zach and Abby found each other during the worst possible circumstances–a zombie apocalypse. Zach is a former marine, and Abby is a 14-year-old whose parents are gone. They decide to stick together, forming a father-daughter relationship to rival those with blood connections. Through many different kinds of threats, from zombies to dangerous humans, imminent starvation, and even overwhelming loneliness, they take care of each other. Will they ever find the rest they’re longing for?

Zombie apocalypse or not, I didn’t hate this book. But I didn’t enjoy it very much it either, and that’s not just because of the genre. The book has two main things going for it–a lot of heart and the realism regarding the main character’s marine background, due to the author being a former marine himself. However, there were many things that detracted from the book for me; in the end, I wasn’t the best audience for this book.

The book probably could have been cut down at least 75%, if not close to half, and told the same story. There was a lot of repetition, including many flashbacks that showed something we’d already been told, with nothing new to add, not to mention the pages-long Rev War daydream. There was unnecessary recap of past events, and a lot of repetition of dialog.

Some other issues I had were pockets of narration styles that didn’t fit with the rest (like a few paragraphs from a bird’s perspective and one time when the author/narrator informally addressed the reader); two female characters whose names started with A, which caused me to be confused about who was doing what, who was in peril, etc. during fast-paced scenes; grammatical issues and typos often enough to pull me out of the story.

I’ll pause here for a quick warning for those who are like me when it comes to content that makes them uncomfortable: the book is very graphic. There is more language than any book I’ve read (if it had been a movie, I would have had to turn it off…apparently it bothers me more to hear it out loud than to read it), and there is one particularly gory scene that made me very uncomfortable. Sexual situations (both consensual and non–and let that be a trigger warning for those who need it) were handled much more tastefully by comparison.

I think, though, that what bothered me the most was how the writing has a very YA feel, which I am certain was not the intention. And even with that, Abby talks like someone way beyond her years much of the time, while other times acting like a child. (This may have been intentional, given the traumatic experiences she’d gone through and the super-smart characterization given to her, but I didn’t get that impression.) Abby was probably my least favorite non-villain character, which is sad, since the (not-yet-released) sequel is titled Her Name Was Abby. I don’t know that I’ll have an desire to read it, though I’m not committing to that yet. There are a lot of ways the sequel could improve on the original.

For someone who doesn’t take in a lot of zombie apocalypse fiction, I felt like I’d seen many of the events from this book done before. Common tropes certainly can be used and feel fresh and unique, but they didn’t in this case. Though to be fair, there were plenty of things that happened that didn’t seem so cliche too. Overall, I think what I saw in this book was a lack of experience with writing. With more revision and feedback from other experienced writers, I think it would have been a better overall read. And I know that plenty of what I mention in this review is personal preference. If it seems interesting to you, please be sure to check out others’ reviews for this book.

Find out more about His Name Was Zach

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

Create a character who is the polar opposite of yourself–strengths that are opposite of your weaknesses and vice versa, shy if you’re outgoing, etc. Put them in a situation that you’ve been in before and see how they would behave differently than you did.

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recent Book Gets

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is “Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf.” I posted 3 weeks ago about books I’d either gotten for Christmas or acquired shortly thereafter, and normally, I wouldn’t have much to add in this short of an amount of time. However, my husband and I went back to Half-Price books just yesterday, much sooner than normal, plus I do have a few more from right before Christmas I’d love to mention. So here are 8 of my most recent book gets:

1. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
Sadly, I had forgotten I got this until I started scanning my bookshelf for what should go on today’s list. I got it in the clearance section of HPB some time before Christmas (we go there a lot during the holidays). I “read” this in high school, but I’ll admit I didn’t read it very thoroughly. Though I did well in school, I was pretty lazy. I’d already seen the movie at the time that I read it for school, and basically read chunks of the book looking for scenes that were in the movie to write about. It’s definitely time to read it for real.

2. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I got my sister some books for Christmas and found some great deals on what she wanted on eBay. One of the sellers had a promotion of buy 2, get 1 free, so after I looked for a 3rd book that she would want, I found this in their list of eligible books and decided I might as well get it for me. I’d been planning to read it anyway!

3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I have read maybe 1 Sherlock Holmes story ever, that I can think of, and I couldn’t even tell you for sure what it was (Hounds of the Baskerville, I think). Like many others, though, I’ve viewed various iterations of Holmes over the years. I spotted this high on a bookshelf in our own house, but I didn’t even remember having it. Turns out someone had given it to my husband several years ago. Technically we already owned it, but it is now sitting on my shelf, and I plan to start reading it soon.

Plus, reading it will make my novel journal a lot more relevant to me:

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I’ve mentioned this book multiple times recently, but that’s just because of how good it is! I try not to buy books at full price if I can help it, because how do you sustain a habit if you spend that kind of money? So I passed on getting it when it was still on the “new releases” shelf. It was only marked down a few bucks when we went back to HPB yesterday, but my husband insisted that was good enough. (Read my review of this book.)

5. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
Brant Hansen is my favorite radio personality. If you’re in the mood for a fun, clean, often random podcast that makes you think, check out the Brant & Sherri Oddcast. He also writes some books that combine faith and humor and make some interesting points. This is his first book, and I really enjoyed his second one, Blessed are the Misfits. I’ve been hoping to read this for a while, but my library doesn’t carry it. Though I’ve checked every time we’ve gone to HPB recently, imagine my surprise to see it sitting on the shelf yesterday!

6. 2 books from the Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard
I enjoyed this series a lot when I was younger, and when my daughter got old enough, I read the first book in the series to her. I have kept my eye out for these book over the years, even before she was old enough, and have maybe 10-12 on my shelves (there are 40!). I spotted 3 in the clearance section, but only bought 2 of them, because I was certain I had one of them already. Sadly enough, it turns out that I don’t have the one I thought I had (the cover looked so familiar!), but I do have one of the two that I bought…so I only added 1. Ah well…it’s time to keep a list on my phone of which ones I have, since I never know when I might run across more.

What books are you excited about getting recently? Link your own list in the comments so I can check yours out too!

Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Finished Reading: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

Dark Sea.png

On the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness live the Igiby family–12-year-old Janner and his younger brother Tink, little sister Leeli, and their mom and grandfather, known mostly as Podo. Their land has been conquered by Gnag the Nameless, who hails from Dang, across the sea, and who has sent his Fangs to keep the people in line. Through a series of connected events that all starts with a mischievous dog, the Igibys find themselves on the wrong side of the Fangs of Dang. When the Fangs come to realize that the Igibys have knowledge of the location to the jewels of the late King Wingfeather and the Shining Isle of Anniera, which are said to be the key to restoring Anniera and defating Gnag, the Igibys realize they will always be in danger.

This book was a lot of fun, with characters that are lively and entertaining and a lot of lore and history. The quirky nature of the narrative and even the names of various people and location had me chuckling more than once. Though it’s children’s fiction, it doesn’t pull any punches, and reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Roald Dahl, to a degree.

Right off the bat, the explanation for the name of the world these characters inhabit gives you a sense of the writing style. The first person to exist woke up on the first morning, looked at a rock, and said, “Well, here we are.” Thus, the world’s name came to be known as “Aerwiar.” Though none of the other names for people or places are really explained, and I did actually struggle a little muddling through so many when they came close together, this is a good example of the tone of this book.

Even with the whimsical nature, there is still some real peril. Fortunately, possibly because it’s meant for kids, for the most part, the good guys prevail and the bad guys are defeated, at least in some way. I’m not saying there aren’t some losses, but I won’t say more because of spoilers.

One of my favorite things about the book were the hints that the author dropped throughout the book, giving little nudges about a big secret revealed near the end. Two big secrets, really but they were tied together. While I suspected pretty early on, and then decided I was definitely right still a ways from the reveal, remember that this book is meant for kids. I could imagine kids near my daughter’s age, maybe a bit older, reading this and beginning to catch on, getting excited as they realized the truth.

It was fun and full of adventure, and I cannot wait to continue the series! I recommend this book for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. Also, you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian. It may be a bit allegorical, again similar to the Narnia books.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2008, but a new hardcover edition will be released on March 10, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

Find out more about On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Weekly Writing Update: January Week 3

After pushing myself to get back to working on “Outcast” (book #2 in my series) last week, I did not have any difficulty keeping that up throughout this last week. Most days I worked at least an hour on the revision of draft 2. I wish it could be more, but alas, I still have a day job to attend to, not to mention homeschooling to do.

I actually finished draft 2, then spent some time figuring out the order for the scenes. Now I’m going through and reading (sometimes scanning) to make sure that the order is good, transitions are there, and things generally make sense. Then I’ll cross my fingers that the small group of people who know Pithea (book #1 in the series that was released just over a week ago) well enough to help me figure out where to go next with this book have time to read it.

I’m about 1/4 of the way through this read-through, and hope to be able to finish it by Tuesday. Then I’ll turn my focus to making sense of the mess I left book #3 in while I wait to hear back from whoever is able to read it.

Book Review: Stealth Power

Finished Reading: Stealth Power
Nanostealth #2
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Stealth Power

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Stealthy Steps.

Picking up immediately where the previous book left off, Gemma hides out in a safe house while planning to rescue Dr. Bickel, along with another monumental task that presents itself as the story goes on. The only trouble is…she’s still invisible. She must learn the best ways to navigate a visible world, while also learning to co-exist with the nanotechnology that she has so far fought against, if she’s going to accomplish her goals–and get her life back.

I definitely enjoyed this book more than the first. Most of the information is out there (being dumped into the first book), and we’re left with just the continuing story of Gemma and the mites (good band name, no?). The relationships that we were introduced to in the first book were continued enough to make me happy, with the addition of a new character who became one of my favorites. The writing style isn’t my favorite, but in the end, I was glad to have read this, and look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

Gemma herself bugged me during a lot of this book. I mentioned in my review of the first book that she came across like a petulant child, and that only got worse in this one. The sections from her POV (which is most of the book) was immature, and I didn’t always enjoy it. I know there was a lot of really unpleasant stuff happening to her, but even while she was growing stronger in many ways, boy, did she whine a lot. There were also a lot of verbal tics in this book that I don’t remember from the first one–a lot of “um”s in the dialog. It only led to a further frustration with Gemma, and there’s a reason most authors don’t write dialog that realistically. It’s annoying to read.

The associate pastor, Zander, was probably my favorite character from the first book. That took a small turn for me in this book, as his character came across as simply a vehicle for preaching Christ to the other characters, and to the reader. I’m not saying there aren’t people in real life who would have talked exactly as he did, but he became a bit confrontational when talking to Gemma’s evil twin sister, and I felt it was a bit much. My favorite character in this one, then, was the new guy in this book, an FBI agent.

My favorite thing about the first book was Gemma trying to communicate with the mites, and that really expanded in this book. Even while she groused at and about them, I really liked them. Maybe that’s the under-emotional side of me, to identify more with the computer than the human. My least-favorite thing about the first book was the exposition, and Gemma’s repeating of the exposition, and there was some of that in this one, but not nearly as much. The author did, however, have a tendency to recall back to a previous conversation later on, and she would pretty much always include twice as much of the original conversation as was needed.

In the end, I think it’s really the writing style that detracts the most from this series from me so far. The characters and plot I am enjoying more than enough to make up for that though. I need to try to put less time between this one and the next one than I did the first book and this one, though, because there was little in the way of reminders to what happened before. I started out really lost! Like with Stealthy Steps, I would recommend the book to fans of Christian mysteries & thrillers and lovers of this type of sci-fi.

Find out more about Stealth Power

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

setting (1)

Examples of ways to use this picture seed:

1. Write a scene that takes place in this setting.

2. Write a setting description based on the above picture. Try to include all five senses. Whatever your instincts or preferences for setting and detail, try to over-exaggerate the scene.

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Notebook Collection, part 5

I don’t know why I got it into my head that I needed to share every notebook I bought on my blog. It’s probably part of being obessed with buying them. I want to share them, and the story behind them, with others!

If anyone is interested in the previous posts as my collection grew: the first 12 notebooks, the next 10, 6 more, and another 5. And now here are the next 5 additions:

6

Box Lunch is my favorite of all the “geek stores” at our local mall, mostly because it is so focused on things from my childhood (A Goofy Movie, Aristocats, The Rescuers), on top of the more recent Disney movies, and many other popular fandoms. I found this notebook in the clearance section. The cover of this half-size notebook has lenticular printing, which sort of makes it look like Mario’s trying to dodge barrels if you tilt the book up and down.


7

This is from the same visit to Box Lunch. You may recognize the look if you’ve seen the movie Up. It’s about the same size as a full-size notebook, though the length and width are swapped (not even my first notebook with that shape). The front and back cover are actually tied on with that string you see there, which worried me at first, imagining the pages falling out. But the pages are bound together, so I think it’s safe.


8a

At a bargain store, I found an incredibly interesting notebook that was labeled a “novel journal” (not the one shown here). It was based on the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve seen an adaptation, but not read the book, so I looked around the area where I found it for an edition I could connect with more, since the label mentioned some other novels that I would have preferred. I didn’t find any, but I still loved the notebook, so I bought it.

8bA few weeks later at Half Price books, I found a few more varieties of novel journals, so with a little deliberation, I bought the Sherlock Holmes edition. Shown in the right picture, the lines are actually comprised of text from the stories, which is what makes these journals so cool!

(Side note: I gave the Jane Eyre version to my sister, who actually has read the book.)


9aWhile considering the previous notebook at Half Price Books, I saw this book nearby. I mentioned in the previous notebook post that I seem to like notebooks with maps on them, and this was no exception.  9b Besides the Tolkien quote on the front, it’s filled with other quotes about adventure, presumably because it’s meant to be a travel journal.


Finally for this batch, this cute half-sized, skinny notebook was a gift from my in-laws for Christmas. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the words on the front were quite appropriate, because my husband and I love escape rooms (and I used to work at one, and while I worked there, we had this expression put on a t-shirt). My mother-in-law went a step further, too, and wrote on the first few pages–a dedication, then some quotes about writing, and to the third page she taped the print-out shown in the right picture above.

I’m now caught up on sharing my notebooks, and I’ve been trying really hard not to get any more. But the only real way to avoid it is to stop going to the notebook section in stores that I visit…and I like to look at them. If I used them more quickly, I might not mind it so much, but it’s so much easier to type than to write in a notebook, as much as I love writing by hand. Anyway…

Do you collect anything related to reading or writing? Feel free to share!

Weekly Writing Update: January Week 2

This is my first update in a little over a month, mostly due to holidays and family being in town for a few weeks past that. I did work on a few things here or there throughout that time, mostly minor changes to Pithea before publishing day.

With that done and out now, I need to focus on book #2 all the more. So 2 days ago I delved back into the 2nd draft. I’d left off in a spot that I was struggling with, which is never a good idea. Fortunately, I was able to tackle it and have some ideas for how to end the scene I’m on, add depth to a character that I’m only just starting to use more fully, and avoid having the MC seem like he’s the only one with any convictions.

I’m really looking forward to finishing this draft and getting some opinions on it. I know that this will be miles ahead of where Pithea was by this point, which is good, because I would like to be able to release it a lot faster than I did Pithea (which went through many drafts). I also need to work on book #3, because I’m considering releasing it very shortly after book #2 (I won’t explain why right now though, it’s just an idea so far).