Top Ten Tuesday: Extraordinary Book Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Extraordinary Book Titles.” This topic is broad and undefined, so I went through my TBR and Read lists on Goodreads and picked 10 books with titles that stood out to me in some way. Whether they were comical, unique, or just perfect for the story, here is my list, in no particular order:

1. The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
This title is ominous, and I have a feeling the actual book won’t quite live up to that. But it is initially what led me to check into the book request it on Netgalley. I’ll be reading it soon.

2. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
It’s easy to explain why this title stuck out to me–I am an escape room enthusiast and worked at an escape room company for over 3 years. I know the actual escape room content in the book will be light, based on reviews, but I’ve still decided to give it a try at some point.

3. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
I love this book title, and I love the person who wrote it! The title kept her from being able to get it published traditionally, but it’s about dealing with PMS with humor, from a Christian perspective, so the title is perfect. I am looking forward to reading this when I have a chance to locate a copy.

4. How We Became Wicked by Alexander Yates
The title caught my interest quickly; otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have put much thought into this one. I am not really a zombie person in any medium, but I read the first few pages of this, and I’m planning to give it a go.

5. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
So again, I’m really not a fan of zombie fiction (books, movies, TV or games). So the fact that I have 3 zombie apocalypse books on my TBR, and 2 just on this list, probably makes no sense. Still, I’m going to give this one a try, hopefully by the end of the year, in support of a fellow new author. The name isn’t what initially drew me to this book, but I do think it has a nice ring to it.

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I read this for the first time in high school, and remember how interesting it was to learn that the title was a reference to the temperature at which paper burns. It’s perfect for the book, of course, and I’ve always really appreciated the title.

7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This is another book I read in high school. My English class had read Hamlet that year, and then later read this play. Everyone knows the sacrificial heroes are going to die, whether because they know Hamlet, or because of the title…but they do make it entertaining along the way.

8. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The title of this book is a clear indication of the mystery found within. It’s a little strange, though, that the question of whose murder the narrator is supposed to solve seems like a mystery, for at least the first quarter of the book, and then it’s a big reveal when it’s discovered…but the name is right there in the title. Other than that though, good title. (Note: the original title is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but had to be changed in the US.)

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Considering the subject matter of this book, and the extreme 80s & video game references, the title of this book is perfect. I don’t actually have more to say about this one.

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
This book for those who struggle with feeling like an outcast in the American church culture is perfect for introverts and socially awkward people like myself. And the title, borrowing from a section of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is clever.

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?

Weekly Writing Update: October Week 2

I got the interior of “Pithea” formatted for paperback with minor difficulties, and after some real frustrations with the cover, ordered my first proof copy. It’s set to arrive tomorrow!! Once I have it in my hands, I’ll start reading through it with an eye for final details that need changed while also making sure the formatting is good. Visually speaking, I’m more concerned about the cover coming out good, so I’m really anxious to see it for the first time.

After I ordered the proof copy on Tuesday, I tried to turn my attention to prepping for NaNoWriMo. But that was when I realized that I only had a week until my next writers group meeting at my local library. Last month, I volunteered to lead a talk on writer’s block this month, and I hadn’t done any prep for that. So I spent a couple of evenings making notes and preparing a handout. I think I’m basically set for that now.

I have done a little of the prepping I had planned for NaNo, but I need to make sure to focus on that more in the coming weeks. There are just over 2 weeks left of Preptober, and I still need to go over the outline I made 4 months ago for the story I’m writing this year and flesh it out. Also re-read the first draft and new plans for the story that comes before. And read a couple of character interviews I wrote as part of the planning stage for this story. I’ll have to find a way to balance my writing time between “Pithea” and my NaNoNovel (working title: “Ophaela”).

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Book #2
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

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Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve now read #2. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

After the first book that set up the fantasy world and introduced us to Hogwarts, Harry’s 2nd year at the school was more comfortable and a smoother read. The plot was clearer and the danger more real. I also didn’t notice the grammar issues like I did in the first book, so either there were less of them, or I was engrossed enough not to notice (either way is a good thing).

There was a lack of characters that were established in the first book, though, which was a little disappointing. And some of the new characters were mostly just annoying. Colin was apparently just there to point suspicion at Harry. Lockhart was annoying, but at least there was a decent payoff. When he lost his memory, he became quite amusing to me. I was a little confused by Dobby. I guess he really did do everything he did of his own accord (rather than at the behest of his master, like they originally suspected), but his reasoning for it was weak.

My husband had warned me that there would be a possible spider-related issue for me in one of the books, but he couldn’t remember which one. I have fairly severe arachnophobia, so I’m going to have to be careful when watching the movie. At least I’ll know when to look away.

I’ve noticed that I seem to be in the minority of liking this book more than the first, but what can I say? It went in almost the opposite direction of my biggest gripes of the first one. And I liked the idea behind the antagonist being a memory, and even moreso, a memory of the big villain of the books. All in all, it was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to the next.

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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

Book Review: Mother Knows Best

Finished Reading: Mother Knows Best
by Kira Peikoff

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Drama, suspense

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Eleven-year-old Abigail has a semi-normal life, except that her parents (especially her mom) are reclusive, she has absolutely no extended family, and she’s not allowed to have a smartphone or social media like her friends. She discovers through a DNA mapping site that she actually has a lot of distant relatives and even tries connecting with one, which she thinks will make her parents happy. It has the opposite effect. This sends her mom into an emotional tailspin, and before long, her life begins to unravel. Then she finds out that her parents are not who they claim to be, everything they’ve been hiding from is revealed, and it turns out that the danger is very real.

I had my ups and downs with this book, and wasn’t sure what to rate it, even while writing this review. The writing was clear and concise, and even the science presented in the book wasn’t difficult to follow. There were some specific moments in the last third of the book that I anticipated and enjoyed when they came to fruition. And there were a few small twists that I wasn’t fully expecting. Outside of that, though, the book was a bit of a miss for me.

I think a lot of what didn’t work for me about this book was personal preference, so keep that in mind as I continue. For starters, the book is told in 1st person, present-tense, which I thought was a strange choice, considering the POV changes, and that during the first half of the book, more than half of the story was showing what led up to the present time where the books starts. We see the story from 3 perspectives: Abigail, her mom Claire, and the antagonist Jillian, the threat from the past. The two time periods shown in the book are “present” time–Abigail is 11 and living with her mom and dad– and the past–the year or so before Abigail was born, right up until the point that she was born. It would have made a lot more sense to me if the book was at least past-tense during the past parts. And I don’t understand the reasoning behind 1st person if you want to head-hop as much as this book does. The only good thing I can say about it is that at least each time the perspective changes, it’s clearly labeled. But there were still times that, even with this, I would forget who the current “I” was and get confused.

My biggest disappointment was that I was unable to connect with any of the characters. I’m definitely a character reader and writer. An interesting, well-executed plot is important, but I am character-driven. I think the main character was meant to be Claire, but the story was told from Abigail’s perspective about as often, and I just couldn’t get into the right frame of mind to see things even a little bit from Claire’s perspective. Her single biggest driving point is the loss of her first son, due to a terrible genetic disorder, and her strong desire to have another child that is healthy, but her inability to do so, because of her genes. I have never experienced loss to this degree, and I’m not a terribly sentimental person, so I don’t think I would react remotely the same way as her if I did. Don’t get me wrong–I have 2 kids and I love them and would be devastated if either of them died! And perhaps I’d then discover that I would be the same as her. But in my current life, it’s difficult for me to connect with her reaction to her loss, and the fact that it drives literally everything she does. Also, she’s pretty terrible to her husband (Ethan), even calling him corrupt because of his ethical ideas about the genetic manipulation discussed in the story.

Abigail’s parts were generally my least favorite. For one thing, she didn’t come across as 11, but closer to 13 or more. Especially for someone who has been as sheltered as she has, she seems to understand and question a lot more than I’d expect. I get why she was written to be as curious and deceptive as she was, and without it, there would basically be no story, but again, my personal preference here, I didn’t like how she acted.

The antagonist is basically a big loon. I mean, Claire has some mental issues, but hers are understandable and addressed. Jillian is just delusional and psychotic, and I don’t know if that was on purpose, or if that was just how she had to come across in order to give the story suspense. Whichever the case, by the end, I just rolled my eyes at how stupid she had been.

For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–there are some sexual situations that are more detailed than I prefer, and a bit heavy on the language side (the f-word is used more than anything else, I’m pretty sure).

I don’t regret having read this book. It wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t hook me. Also, it is meant to be suspenseful, but I think that element is terribly done. The synopsis on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. gives away too much and I think the plot should have been structured differently to create more suspense. Too much of the backstory is told too soon, and the entire thing is just too predictable. I would recommend this book for those who enjoy drama and obsessive characters, but not for lovers of suspense novels.

Extra notes: If you prefer to read the book with a little more mystery going in, I suggest not looking for more information on this book before reading it. It really might have changed my opinion. Also, I thought this book was a bit sci-fi at first, then I did a little research. I found it interesting that the topic of this book has really happened, or at least is being seriously experimented with.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

Find out more about Mother Knows Best

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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:

You’re avoiding yourself.

(Today’s prompt is a quote from the book Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren.)

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**

Weekly Writing Update: October Week 1

Last week, I finished making immediate changes to “Pithea” that I already knew needed made. My plan now is to format the updated draft for print, get a proof copy, and read through the book that way (probably reading it out loud), hopefully one last time, making notes for anything else that needs changed. I want to have the final draft as settled as possible before November.

This brings me to NaNoWriMo. October is what many of us call Preptober. I already have a preliminary outline for what I’m planning to write this year, which I wrote 4 months ago. But I need to re-familiarize myself not only with that outline, but also with the story that comes before it. I have a few areas of the outline to flesh out, too. I’ll have time to do this while waiting on my proof copy to arrive, I’m sure.

Book Review: Smoke Screen

Finished Reading: Smoke Screen
by Terri Blackstock

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Brenna and Nate were high school sweethearts, a relationship that ended in heartache when Nate’s father was convicted of killing Brenna’s father. Soon after, Nate left town amid accusations that he’d burned down the local church. Fast forward almost 15 years, and Nate returns to town an injured hero, and Brenna is fighting a bitter custody battle for her two children. Nate’s father has been released from prison, but most people still believe he is guilty, including Nate. While Nate tries to reconnect with his father and Brenna tries to fight her own demons while also fighting her ex-husband, Nate and Brenna realize that their flame is still burning.

This book gave me all the feels…I got angry, I smiled, and I shed some tears. Nate was incredible, Brenna was all too real, and their relationships with God were presented in a very real, positive way. I am very glad that I read this book.

The book is listed on Netgalley as a mystery/thriller, but it really isn’t either of those. It’s more drama & suspense, with a heavy romance. Yes, the mystery of who killed Brenna’s father, as well as who burned down the local church, are addressed in the book, but they are some of the smallest plot threads, at least until near the end. One of the biggest arcs is Brenna’s battle with her horrid ex-husband. That was the part that had me angry. I won’t pretend that things like this can’t happen in real life, but the way it all went down was just…so aggravating. And because of this situation, Brenna was struggling with alcoholism, which was a heavy element in the book as well. But it was difficult to blame her, considering how she was being steamrolled into not being able to take care of her children properly.

The relationship between Nate and Brenna was one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in a long time. It was not about the physical, but purely about the emotional & historical connection between them. That Nate was able to look past the effects of her currently terrible circumstances to see the real woman, and gave her a lifeline when she needed one the most, while allowing her to build her own strength, rather than relying purely on him, all makes him one of my favorite male romantic protagonists ever.

The book was told in first-person perspective, but switched back and forth between Nate’s and Brenna’s points of view, which I found a little disorienting. Each time we switch, or even just when there’s a new chapter, we are clearly told who’s perspective we’re in, but I still had a difficult time with it. And I’m not sure there was really a good enough reason to do it this way.

I think that one of my biggest issues was with the predictability and contrivances that I noticed. One of the things that happened near the end I basically assumed had to happen, though weirdly, even when it did happen, it turned out to not be for the reason I thought it was necessary. And a few events were a little too coincidental, happening purely to make sure the plot went where it was supposed to.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was surprised by how quick and easy of a read it was, and would recommend it to all fans of Christian drama, suspense, and romance.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

Find out more about Smoke Screen
Publication date: November 5, 2019

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!

September in Review

I read a few less books this month than last month, but still not bad. A combination of homeschooling and starting a new part-time job are probably to blame, but I’m still happy with the amount I read. More importantly, all of the books I finished in September have already been reviewed, so that’s something!

Here are the books I read in September:
Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble (2 / 5)
The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (3.5 / 5)
Swipe by Evan Angler (3 / 5)
Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills (4 / 5)
Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell (4 / 5)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (3.5 / 5)
Synapse by Steven James (3.5 / 5)
Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (4 / 5)
Holes by Louis Sachar (4.5 / 5)

This list includes 5 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from August was Holes (the re-read). My favorite previously unread book was Fatal Strike. My ever-changing list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads, if anyone is interested in that. (Note: The list of books I have read overall is not remotely complete there. When I created my Goodreads page 4 years ago, I added some of my favorite books over the years, but to add everything I’ve ever read would be very time-consuming, not to mention impossible to remember it all.)

Despite my almost too-long list of TBRs, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Writing Wednesday: Character Interviews

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This is my first Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, and I’m very excited! It is also a post for my own weekly feature that I call Writing Wednesday. So let’s get to it!

WW

In my writing past, I remember hearing other writers talk about their characters haranguing them. Complaining about their lack of page time, about unpleasant things that happened to them, or about who knows what else…but they always seemed to be complaining. I remember always being a mixture of jealous and certain that those writers were making it all up. While I didn’t believe that it was very likely that their characters just jumped into their thoughts out of nowhere to start talking to them, now I can see the plausibility—the writer might have been thinking about their story at that time, or just letting their mind wander in general. And now, I have seen the amazing benefits of talking to my characters.

There are likely many different ways people refer to this phenomenon. For me, it usually involves a discussion that is led along by me asking questions of my characters. Thus, I use the term “character interview.” And understand that the way I go about having these discussions with my characters are by no means the only way to do it. It is what works best for me, and you should definitely figure out what works for you (if this method works for you at all).

I will dispense with the history of how I came to utilize this technique in my writing, and just explain how helpful it can be. In the different stages of writing (which I would break down into dreaming, planning, writing, and revising), character interviews have been most useful to me during planning and revising stages. During the dreaming phase, you likely wouldn’t even have characters very clearly in mind. If you have enough to start talking to your characters about, you might be more in the planning stage. During the writing stage, well…you’re writing. Unless you run into a block and decide to stop and hash it out, you won’t likely be stopping the prose to have a chat.

So now you may be wondering how to start. Or what kinds of things to talk to or ask your characters about. Usually at the point that I decide it’s time to start one of these discussions, I am struggling with some kind of plot hole, or a question about how to proceed in a scene, how to get something to happen that I really want to see happen in the story, how to fill out a story, or even which character should actually be the protagonist or main character in a story. And then I literally just pose these questions to the characters I think can help me the most, and go from there.

The next question might be how you know which character(s) would be the best to talk to for the questions you have in mind. Sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes it requires thinking outside the box. Earlier this year, I was struggling to rework the plot of one of my books, which has a murder-mystery element to it, and when I wrote the first draft, it came out incredibly weak. I had a long conversation with the main character of that book, but still couldn’t figure out what I was missing in the middle of that story. I was considering setting it aside for a while, but decided to talk to a different character instead first—the antagonist. By the time I was done (a week and a half later), I had not only filled in that saggy middle, but realized that this person was not the main antagonist. Such a productive interview!

Now for the tangible question—where/how to conduct the interview. I’ve done them multiple ways—all in my head, recording myself audibly in some way, typing the conversation on a computer or my Neo, and writing it in a notebook. I don’t recommend doing it only in your head unless you have a great memory; I prefer to be able to look back on it somehow later. I recorded myself with a headset and Audacity one time, but decided that listening to the conversation later was just too weird, so I’m not doing that again. Typing it out works, as long as you make sure to clearly designate who is saying what. My preferred method is to write the conversations out longhand, though, and even a step further, I like to use a different color pen for each person talking (including myself). It makes it so much easier to read over again later, which I do a lot. Plus, I really like the tactile element of writing by hand.

A few more tips about conducting these interviews:

  • Give yourself the freedom to explore without worrying about accuracy. I have had interviews where, by the time I got to the end, things we discussed at the beginning were obsolete, because the plot took a turn during the discussion. That’s okay.
  • I use the term “interview,” but often I don’t ask questions for a while, instead just carrying on an actual conversation. But since the basic idea behind this (for me, at least) is that the characters know more about their story than I do, because it’s their story, I am generally coaxing the truth out of them.
  • If you have more than one character involved, they might start talking to each other, instead of you, and that’s okay too.
  • Don’t get too caught up in the nebulous world your characters are inhabiting for these interviews. They are outside of the time and space bubble of their stories. And yet, I find that it helps me to think of the times that I interact with them as a continuation of time in itself, and even reference back to previous discussions (like having one character say I’d just yell at him again if he told me his theory about something in particular, because yes, I’d gotten frustrated with him in a previous interview).
  • It might feel weird at first to do this, because of course you know these characters aren’t real, but they really can feel real. And in truth, if you don’t think of your characters as their own people (rather than just part of you), then maybe they won’t come across as real to the reader.

If you think talking to your characters might help you with your own writing, but still aren’t sure how to start, pick a character that you think might have some helpful insight, and just start out by asking, “What do you think of the story so far?” or “What would you change if you could?” You might be surprised what comes out.

In case anyone is interested in what most of my interviews looks like, below is a picture of the beginning of one of them, the one I mentioned above with the antagonist of the murder-mystery story (and an example of one where what I wrote at the beginning became incorrect by the time I was done). Purple is me, red is the antagonist. It took me to the end of the page to get past her refusal to help (which was totally true to her character), but after that, I immediately started to gain insight into the story. I’ve blocked out a few spots due to possible spoilers. Also, I use erasable pens, which are just amazing!

character interview

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