Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Challenge Update #5

It's my last update on my classics reading challenge! I've had a lot of fun sharing these with you. Hopefully they weren't too boring(okay, so I know they were). I'm planning on tackling a revised version of this challenge in 2017. 10 specific books made me feel a lot of pressure even though I finished them with time to spare. So next year I'll be choosing 5 classics for my challenge!

Book 9 was Grapes of Wrath. This was my second DNF challenge book and I'd give it 1 star. I tried for days to push through this, but I'd find myself only reading a page or two before giving up and then struggling to return.

For me personally, I found the Grapes of Wrath to be too crass and the writing dry. If you can imagine an old country man sitting on his porch and talking in an emotionless tone at a plodding pace about the most dull things you can imagine, you'll have a good idea of what reading this was like. There were times the content was interesting. I could see what the author was aiming for. In some ways this reminded me of Aesop's Fables where you just read one little story and there's layers of meaning to it.

I got that. I appreciate the attempt. This might be something you have sitting in your bathroom where you read one "chapter" every now and again, but it's not a good BOOK. There'd be an entire chapter dedicated to a tortoise crossing the road. Is their meaning to it? Yes. Is it interesting. No. And is it relevant to the story? No. At least not if you're looking for a plot or character driven story. If you're looking for a story that's like a kid cleaning out his closet and telling you about the random items he's grabbing, then sure.
And there's a chapter to a car salesman selling cars. And a chapter dedicated to a field being plowed. I mean . . . it was so booooring. I got to the point where I couldn't do it anymore and moved on to new things.

The Hobbit was my final book and I was so nervous about it. My mom read me this story when I was little and I loved it. But I also loved just spending time with her and getting to cuddle up at night to listen. So I was worried that maybe the fact that I got to spend one-on-one time every night with my mom had given me a positive perspective on the book.

Did I enjoy it as much? No. I don't think that's possible to replace the first time you hear a story or to replace a special memory. But I did like it and gave it 4 stars.

It's an interesting experience reading a book that you already know the story of. It's hard to fully enjoy an adventure story when you know what happens, so for the reason of simply not being completely engaged at the high points because I knew how it'd work out, I took off a star. I can't know if it'd normally have been completely immersive if I'd experienced it for the first time.

Overall, it's a story that went by surprisingly fast with a lot of world-building and details. There's plenty of action and danger. I loved Bilbo and Gandalf. The plot was fascinating and it's a good thing Bilbo is the central character because the dwarves were unimpressive.

I didn't care if the dwarves succeeded, but I wanted Bilbo to and so overall I was happy when they'd survive something. About half the dwarves have no personality(there is 13, so it makes sense), and of the couple that do, there's not much to go on. But the dwarves are whiny, have zero plan for dealing with the dragon or moving around the wealth. Then they mess up the Lake people's lives and feel no sorrow over it. They stuff themselves in their mountain and get all greedy and nasty, even turning on poor Bilbo after everything he did for them.

That definitely effected how little I cared about how things ended up for the dwarves, but I felt the other races made out pretty well and the world was a safer place after it was all said and done with less evil in the world. And Bilbo had his adventure and found there was more to him than he knew.

So for the lack of being riveted at high moments(as I said, could be because I knew what would happen) and because the story does have a group of dwarves who I thought were not so great people as part of the central focus, that's why the minus 1 star.

But the adventure was fun, the world-building amazing, and I was cheering little Bilbo on the whole way.

Overall, I'm really happy with what I read this year. You can check out the rest of my updates if you're curious about what other books I read and what I though of them!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Aria - ABB Review

The year is wrapping up and I've had a streak of wonderful books. The weekend before Christmas, I settled in to read Christmas Aria hoping that I wouldn't break that streak.

 Aria Parkhurst, Countess of Brenton, has made the match of the Season. Now all she wants is to have the perfect Christmas with her new husband. However, when the newlyweds arrive at their country estate to find that the Earl’s obnoxious cousin has made himself at home, Aria finds herself drawn into the webs of gossip and scandal that delight the ton. And, when a former suitor sets his eyes on her as a prize, will the Earl believe that she married him for love and not money? Or will Aria’s first Christmas as a bride see her dreams unravel?

There was something about this little Christmas romance that caught my eye, and despite reminding myself that I don't like romance, it wouldn't get out of my head!

When an acquaintance was asking for Christmas book wishlist, I decided heck, why not, and asked for this book. I actually got it (woohoo!) and while on my anniversary trip this past weekend, I chose this to read one evening.

Oh, but what did I think of it . . . only one way to find out. Read on!!

I do have this attraction to Regency stories, because the time period itself lends a whole different twist on romance. So much of the stories revolve around dialogue and fitting into a world where you have to speak and act a certain way. For women especially this is a challenge. I love the banter and wittiness, I love the focus of romance over lust. And so I dove into Christmas Aria.

The story starts off with newlyweds Aria and Michael Brenton riding to his home for Christmas. First time to her new home and her first Christmas as a wife? Oh yeah, 19 year old Aria's story has a lot of potential for trouble.

They arrive to find that Michael's cousin(and heir) has taken up residence in their home with a party of friends for the holiday. Now Oswald is a bit . . . flamboyant. His clothes are bright and rigid and in trying to be as fashionable as possible he looks ridiculous. Besides his absurd clothing, Oswald's mannerisms are those of a man who is trying to be light-hearted and airheaded while inside he's fuming. Ugh, hated that man.

With Micheal being 32, Oswald felt his future as heir was secure, but now with young Aria on the scene, there's the strong chance that he'll be ousted. Tension brews as he plots against Aria in the hopes a divorce will once again eliminate any chance of him losing out on being the next Earl.

Though Aria dislikes Oswald, she has no idea that her dislike is returned in full. Joining him is the Viscount, a man who isn't happy that Aria is off limits.

The evil duo decide ruin in the form of a scandal is the way to go. At every turn they seek to humiliate and discredit Aria. This isn't helped by local gossips who feed on everything and in a society where women are held accountable for their image while not having the freedom to protect it, Aria realizes she's in trouble.

Oswald is constantly undermining Aria, and sending her into the Viscount's path. I wasn't sure which of the two men I wanted to strangle more. It's like LEAVE THE POOR GIRL ALONE!!! Aria meanwhile is trying desperately to prove with her actions that she didn't marry Michael for his money.

Michael during this whole thing is like WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON!? He doesn't know if Aria is interested in the Viscount, or if she's sick, or what, because her hiding and pouring her energy into the Christmas party is not leaving him with much to go on.

The whole time I'm going, "Aww, poor Aria! You stupid gossiping women. Noooo, it's a trap!!!" And then you'll have people trash-talking behind her back and then all smiles and simpering to her face.

I was cheering for Aria right from the start. I loved the balance between her young and insecure point of view and Michael's more mature and even-keel point of view. They prove to be a good match for each other and I was so gripped by the story that every time Oswald showed up at the worst possible time and was like

I was so ready to be in Aria's corner and kill the twerp and his lackey viscount. An easy, light read that will fly by. Dynamic characters, a sweet romance, and a great way to spend the evening. 

If you like sweet, regency romances, this is definitely one I would recommend. A perfect choice for Christmas! This got five stars from me!

Buy it on Amazon!
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Monday, December 19, 2016

Author Interview with Becca Patterson

This month I'm interviewing Becca Patterson! Becca has authored several books such as Daughter of the Revolution.
Daughter of the Revolution cover.jpg

Kristen - Thank you so much for joining me today, Becca. One of the new "things" in publishing is book trailers. What do you think of “trailers” for books?

Becca - I think it’s a rather odd concept, but if it works go for it. I’ve not been sold on any book by it’s “trailer” though I have found trailers for books I want to read and watched them. They can be fun and provocative, but they don’t tell me much about what the book is going to be like.

For a movie, showing little snippets of the movie in a seriously shortened arc that doesn’t reveal the end make a whole lot of sense. The trailer is a closely related medium to the the work in question. A book, though, is all about the words written on the page. It would be great if you could get actors to portray the characters in the way that a movie does, but that would be expensive. So most trailers are made of quotes from the book or about the book. They look like an automated slide show, usually with some music playing in the background.

Kristen - I feel much the same as you do. I think they're interesting, but haven't been sold on a book over them. Right now at least, the best ones do have actors and I just saw the pricetag on one recently and *whistles* I was like, "Okay, so I'm never affording one of those."

One of what I think is the best parts about being an author is the people who fall in love with your work. What do your fans mean to you?

Becca - My fans are the reason I publish. I write for myself, but I edit and polish and make it perfect for my fans. They deserve the best I have to offer, so I will give it to them.

The fun part for me, is that I work with a group of my fans. I work in a high school, and my books are in the library. I get to watch the frenzy when the kids know that I’ve released another book and they are waiting for the librarian to get it checked in for the first time. Then once they start reading it there are cries of “no spoilers” from the ones who haven’t read it yet when it comes up in conversation. I suspect not many authors get that kind of view of their fans.

It’s a double edged sword though. I love my fans dearly, but I could do with a little less nagging to get the next book out.

Kristen - Aww, that is so amazing! That sounds like the greatest confidence booster. That'd give me all the warm fuzzies. I've got only one person who harassed me about getting the next book out, and I'm just imagining her several times over and sending you lots of sympathy. :D

The writing process is a long one and after awhile I know I find myself going "no more! please!" After that first draft, do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?

Becca - It’s usually more than a month, but yes. Once I finish a first draft I can’t edit it right away. I still remember too much about what I meant to say, which makes it hard to see where I didn’t say that. Also, I need time for my writing skills to mature between the draft and the edit.

Really though the truth is I write fast and edit slow. I have more drafts complete than I know what to do with, but I can’t just stop writing. So I finish a draft and add it to the waiting list for edits. There are, I think, seven books in there right now. Sometimes I find that a novel just doesn’t make the cut when it comes up for edits. It’s sad when that happens, but I put it away and move on to the next one. By the time some books come up in rotation they are already two years old and wow, I really didn’t know how to write back then.

That’s what editing is for.

Kristen - How do you develop your stories?

Becca - For short stories, I start with a character and a goal and just write my way to the end. Then I have to go back and make sure it all makes sense, but that’s doable with a short story.

Novels start sort of the the same. They come to me as a character and a goal. Then they bring in some secondary characters, with different goals and a villain with an opposing goal and then I know I have a mess. I do character interviews to sort everything out and get a good feel for the world they are living in. Once I start writing the novel it’s pretty much the same as a short story - I start writing and stop when I get to the end. Then go back and make sure it all makes sense. It just takes a little longer.

The real big difference is the number of short stories worth editing is somewhere around 15% where at least 75% of my novels are worth editing.

Kristen - What is the easiest thing about writing?

Becca - The easiest thing about writing is: writing.

The initial draft flows from my fingers so willingly. If only that were all it took. I have thousands of short stories, in first draft form. They will never be anything more than that. I wrote them just to write. To feel the flow of words and see the thoughts in my head become life. It’s how I imagine magic feels.

The next best thing about writing is hearing how much people liked your story. It’s good that those two are on the ends, otherwise I’m not sure I’d make it through the middle.

Kristen - I loooove writing the first draft. And usually the second isn't too bad because i have so many plot holes to fix. But after that I'm like nooo, can't I just write the first draft and someone else can polish them?

Thank you for joining me today. Good luck with your writing and hope you have a Merry Christmas!

kitty-400px.pngSci-Fi and Fantasy are just two of Becca Patterson's preferred genres. An author hailing from Minnesota, she has been writing for as long as she can remember, and takes much of her inspiration from the teenagers she works with. In her spare time, Becca enjoys making her husband laugh, and playing string with her three cats. 

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Diversity in Fiction

Writers hear all the time how we should be diverse in terms of what we write and our characters. Our stories should be unique, not cliche. They should hold diverse characters. So what does diverse mean? I'd argue there's no flat rule for what diverse is. Everyone hears diverse and pictures something different.

Though my kids will eat just about anything, they really like PB&J to the point where they have it for lunch every day.

I use a different jelly every week to make lunch diverse. My husband thinks I'm crazy and states that grape jelly is the only proper jelly to be paired with peanut butter. I'm happy to say though that the kids are happy with the apricot, orange, lemon, pineapple, mint, apple, fig, and you name it jellies I've used.

Being diverse doesn't always mean "kids have to eat something different every day", it could mean they're having a different fruit for breakfast this week, or a different jelly for lunch.

Imagine you're reading a book and every character is the exact same. It's possible for people to share some traits. But if you can't tell the difference between two people because their dialogue sounds the same and they have the exact same ambitions that they're trying to achieve in the exact same way, that's boring!

So we diversify in various ways, but what really counts is that characters are different in some way. Diversity is important in every genre, be it fantasy, historical fiction, romance, sci-fi, etc. Some genres will require you to adhere to what was true of that time period or if it's a modern setting, the same. But you can still have people who are unique and different without making them a dragon or blue-skinned alien.

One of my favorite sayings is "Write people" and that's what I believe will naturally make characters diverse. If you focus on writing characters that are "people" with depth and motives and hopes and fears and dreams, they'll naturally be diverse because you don't need to look very far to see that real people ARE diverse.

I've broken down difference into three main groups: Surface differences, Balanced differences, and Self differences. Don't think too much about my terms, I'm just coming up with ones that hopefully fit.

Surface differences are the things that mostly affect what other characters think about that character. They may have a measure of affect on how the character's story plays out, how they see themselves, etc. But most of what a character encounters, good or bad, when dealing with surface diversity is based on another character's perception of them.

Balanced differences are aspects of a character that affect how other characters see them and actual differences at a deeper level. These are things that, like physical differences, may have a character face adversity or have an easier road, but also do impact who a character is inside.

Self differences are diverse aspects of a character that affect who the character is and how they'll approach the world.

To note, there will be some crossover in all categories! I'm not creating hard lines, but trying to establish basic parameters. Obviously a surface difference could be something a character internalizes and makes a central part of the "why" when it comes to their actions. And a self difference could result in another character judging that person based on that difference.

Surface Differences
  • Physical - What do your characters look like? 
    • Hair - What color is it? How does the character style or cut it? A character's hair color may be cause for prejudice in your story. The way they cut and style it might be a key to their background or indicate something about themselves. 
    • Eyes - Color and shape. Are they lively, cold, dead, sparkling, humorous, etc.
    • Body type - Is the character muscular, lanky, stocky, skinny, plump, feeble, etc. This can show age, what kind of work a character does, if they're well off. What words you choose are important. Different words for the same trait can bring forth negative or positive connotations, so think about what message you want to send to readers and how you want them to feel. Are they tall, short or average? 

    •  These aspects instantly give readers a way to separate the characters in their mind and build an image of them. Depending on the circumstances, a character's physical appearance can affect how they're perceived or how they see themselves. Each descriptor can cause challenges or ease. If your character has the same eye color as everyone else, it might make them feel safe, or ordinary. They might like or hate blending in. In Keeper of the Lost Cities Sophie Foster grows up having her brown eyes be ordinary, but after learning the truth about who she is, she then lives among her people where no one else has brown eyes. She hates the attention! A tall person may be able to see over crowds, but finding clothes could be a nightmare. A short person may fit in with the people around the, but be suddenly in a position where they are wishing they could reach that tree branch or jump over a gap that their legs can't make. Different cultures will react differently to people who are skinny or overweight. I would die if I had to go on a cross-country journey. So what realistic advantages/disadvantages do a character's physical definitions give them?
  • Gender - The key thing with this again is how each gender is thought of in the society you've written, whether it's based in a realistic setting or one you've created. Are the genders seen as equal? Does one tend to fill certain roles in society more than the other? Is any character doing something considered non-traditional for their gender?

[Story note: The number of key women in Heart of the Winterland vastly outnumber the prominent men. Don't ask me why, the story wrote itself that way. And the genders are considered equal. Though I can see it being a fun challenge to make an unequal society in a future book, for now I'm happy letting characters be themselves without bumping into people who think men/women shouldn't/can't do x.]
  • Race - Also pretty self-explanatory. This can be anything from writing realistic fiction that uses the many races and ethnicities that exist in our world, to creating your own. This is tricky in fantasy(barring urban fantasy) because "europeans/africans/asians/etc" don't exist in fantasy worlds since there isn't a Europe or Asia, etc. But that doesn't mean we don't/can't base our character's fictional race on an existing one.
[For Winterland I predominately based my two fictional races on Western Europeans and Asians(with most of the influence coming from China/Japan).]
    • The tricky thing with race is that there's no winning. I've seen people get huffy because a story is mostly x race. Or the one or two characters from a different race are portrayed in a way they don't like. It does make it tempting as an author to be like ARGH, forget racial diversity! Here's the key for me with any type of fiction. If you're writing realistic fiction/urban fantasy, then yes, give credit to the influences each race has on their culture, but also factor in their PERSONAL situation. Where were they born? Raised? Who raised them and what were they like?

    • Then there's the freedom that comes with fantasy. I get to decide what life is like for each race, what their culture is, how they're seen by other people, etc.There still needs to be a good flavor of individuality in each. What holidays do they celebrate? What do they see as a priority in life? What kind of food do they eat? What do they wear? etc.
    • Here is one of the most important things I can say about this, because I see a lot of people worrying about this: Write a person. This goes back to my writing people theme. If you write a black character and name them John Smith and they are a high-end lawyer who listens to country music and settled down in the country, someone somewhere might say you've white-washed the character. If you create LaKeisha the loud and sassy black woman who's living in the inner city and working at the local diner when she's out out grooving(do people still groove?) with her girlfriends at the club playing rap music, then you'll be accused of stereotyping.

    • People, I warn you, you'll never please everyone. You'll never make everyone happy. So don't try. Write your character as a person whatever traits and features you give them. Because there are black people out there, real people, who fit into a John or LaKeisha box. Traits do not belong solely to one race or another, making it impossible for John to be John. And just because 
  • Clothing - Whatever the setting, there'll be clothing that is fashionable or not. There'll be clothing that gets associated with a certain group of people. Pajamas in public will probably never be seen as classy, I'm sad to say. What are the character's clothes made of? Are they well-worn? The wrong size? Do they wear something new every day or the same thing? What colors are they wearing? Culture can often dictate what fabrics, colors, or styles can be used by which people. Laborer's will most likely not be wearing the same thing as scholars.

Balanced Differences
  • Positions - this is anything from jobs, to ranks, to what role a person fills. 
    • How the character acts - This is what the character has learned through nurture or what they have chosen to maintain as a part of themselves because of their upbringing. A princess may speak more formally than a street rat. How they perceive meals, lodging, clothing, personal hygiene can easily be affected by what is their normal. A boy trying to support a sick mother and little sister might jump at the chance to earn day old bread, while a duchess may be upset that her bread didn't come with the right side of jam. 

    • How others see the character - Will your character be treated poorly or with deference by the people around them? Are they respected because of their position, or scorned for their poverty? A character might be a slave who's treated like furniture, or the only child of a powerful ruler and treated as glass.

  • Disabilities - These are impairment that may be physical, cognitive, intellectual, mental, sensory, developmental, or some combination of these that results in restrictions on an individual's ability to participate in what is considered "normal" in their everyday society.
  • Disorders - A wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, or behavior. These can range from mild to extreme. Depression, anxiety, dementia, PTSD, bipolar, and narcissistic personality disorder are all examples that fall in this category. These do not change no matter the genre, though society's perception of them or treatments will vary. 

  • Diseases and defects - Let it be known that I hate the word defect. I'm not sure why, but it hits me with a lot of negative connotations that may be the result of personal experience. First, let me say that these are not the same thing, but fall in the range of medical conditions and that's why I'm putting them together.
    • Diseases are something we can't escape in real life, so there's a certain amount of realism that can be added to writing by not omitting something we all face. Colds or the flu anyone? People get sick, they just do. And people get deathly sick. I'm sure we've all had friends and/or family whose suffered through a terrible disease and possibly even died as a result. Is it contagious? 
    • Defects are an often-inherited medical condition that occurs at or before birth. Down Syndrome, club foot, and cleft lip/palate are some examples. 
  • Often disorders, disabilities, diseases, and defects will play a role in how a character goes through a story. What are they having to overcome? Maybe it's a family member to a key character who has one of these problems. Does that change how the character sees the world? How do they have to adapt? How does it change them? Do they let it define them? What situations are a lot more difficult to navigate because of this? Does what they have leave them tired, physically, emotionally, or mentally? 
  • But they also can make a difference in how others see them. Are they discriminated against? Seen as helpless? Are they constantly shielded or offered assistance? Are people nervous around them? Is the society one who believes these people have a right to life? Are they ostracized or believed to be a burden?
Self Differences
  • Motivation - What does a character want from life? What is their goal for this story? What makes them get up every day and keep going? Are they out for revenge? Do they have a family to provide for? Is someone counting on them? Do they yearn for adventure? 
    • Unique - what makes a character special? What makes them stand out in their own way? Is it their ability to see the good in people everyone else has given up on? A good leader, a good follower, a good listener. Compassion, empathy, strength, determination, a strong sense of responsibility. What makes us admire or despise your character? 
    • Setting - Where does a character live? Where have they spent most of their life?
      • Rural or Urban? - A person who's raised in the country will be different than one raised in downtown *insert big city*.  An urban character might be more comfortable around crowds, dealing with traffic, or the general bustle of the city. They may find the country too quiet or boring. A rural character might hate the smell and noise of the city. They may miss the space or seeing the stars. Maybe they feel safer in their own environment?
      • Modern, Future, or Medieval? - This can also dictate your characters speech, attire, or attitude. Think about what is expected of people at the time and how that affects what your characters will do.
    • Family
      • Members - Are the character's parents living or dead? What kind of influence are the parents? Does the character have siblings? What are their siblings like? Are they the only child, only boy/girl, youngest/oldest, etc? 
      • Expectations - What do the guardians do for a living? Do they expect their child(ren) to follow in their footsteps? Do they want their child to aim higher and not be like them? Is their a position they're being trained for? What a character grows up having expected on them can be the driving force behind why they make decisions.
      • Society - Is there an aspect of the family that society judges the character on? Maybe there's a stigma against multiples or more than x amount of kids, or less than x amount of kids. Is it a multi-racial family? Did one of the parents marry outside of their social sphere?
      • Treatment - What is the relationship between the family members? Is there an abusive family member? Perhaps one of the parents is stubborn and so is the character. Do they butt heads? Does something in the past(perhaps the loss of a child, or a twin) make the parent withdraw from the character? The character could be a troublemaker who resents their parents attempts to get them on track.
    • Religion and personal beliefs
      • A persons morals, religion, or personal beliefs can greatly affect what a character does. One character may believe that everything is free for the taking and the real crime is thinking that they shouldn't be allowed to take what they want. Most villains won't see themselves as villains. Their morals will be skewed, but in their mind they'll be right. Whether you're creating your own religion or using an already established one, what your character believes will play a role in how they approach things and what they see as right or wrong.
    • Education  
      • What kind of education did the character receive? What about their parents/guardians? Were their parents pushing them to achieve more academically? Or were they more of the "school up to the age of 10 was good enough for me, so it's good enough for you." The kind of parents who find learning pointless or feel threatened by their child becoming smarter than they are.
      • A person raised by someone with a higher education or more money, will have different traits than someone on the other end of the spectrum. And then of course there's what they do with their own lives, did they seek to be something different than what their parents/guardians were? This can affect how a character talks, what they have for goals, if they're strengths lie in academic knowledge or street smarts. Maybe they can't read, but could survive off the land. 
    In writing this I kept adding more and more diverse points. I finally had to tell myself enough! So yes, I'm sure I missed some, but I needed to draw the line. I also know that MOST of these points can be expanded on enough to fill an entire post. (You're welcome to tackle it!) But because this is meant to be an all-inclusive post of the various ways you can promote diversity in characters, I've tried to keep each point fairly brief. There's hopefully enough there to give you ideas and spark deeper research.

    Which brings me to research! I hate research, but it's something that almost all writers need to do at some point. Regardless of genre, research is a necessary evil. I've spent a lot of time recently researching clothing and colors that may be restricted to certain classes in x time period in y country. Get some personal experience if possible. I was telling a fellow writer that I was thinking of buying what I dress my characters in and seeing what it'd be like to walk around in it. 

    Talk to people, read up on subjects, educate yourself. Everyone has a different set of experiences that plays a role in making them unique. We're all diverse and writing characters who are equally diverse doesn't have to be hard and shouldn't be a "token" character. Develop a character who feels like a real person and people shouldn't care if one aspect is the same. I'll read about all male characters if they're individuals. I'll read about all royalty if they're unique. I'll enjoy stories of people who are all short if they're diverse. I want diversity in my writing, along with other things of course. Create characters who I can laugh and cry with. 

    At the end of the day, write people and you will achieve diversity. 

    Wednesday, December 14, 2016

    Triple Anthology Threat!

    It's been a great year for anthologies! And now, just in time for Christmas, three awesome anthologies are now teaming up to bring you four prizes!

    There's a chance for you to win paperback copies as well as a $30 Amazon Shopping Spree!

    Read on to find out more about this anthology and enter the giveaway! 

    The Anthologies:

    From the Stories of Old

    In this international collection, new life is given to fairy tales, both classic and obscure.

    Mythical creatures put the fairy in Fairy Tale. Mermaids, selkies, and ocean guardians experience the best and worst of humanity; sisters encounter an unusually friendly bear; a brave bride meets a silly goose; and a spinner of gold sets the record straight.

    Urban fantasies modernize classics: a Frenchman learns the truth about magic, his past, and his girlfriend; a girl sets out to find love but receives a curse; and today’s naughty list makes Old Saint Nick not-so-jolly.

    New worlds bring a fresh sense of wonder! In the future, a young woman fights for her people and herself; a bastard son finds acceptance in a world ruled by women; and a farmer’s wits win the heart of a frosty king.

    Discover unexpected twists on old favorites, and fall in love with new tales and worlds to explore!

    Now available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

    Fantastic Creatures

    Here be dragons ... and selkies and griffins and maybe even a mermaid or two.

    Twenty fantasy authors band together to bring you a collection of thrilling tales and magical monsters. Do you like to slay dragons? Or befriend them? Do you prefer to meet cephalopods as gigantic kraken or adorable tree octopuses?

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    Monday, December 5, 2016

    Lodestar(Keeper of the Lost Cities #5) - ABB review

    I stumbled across Keeper of the Lost Cities(KotLC) at my local library a few years back and felt compelled to pick it up. I quickly fell in love with a middle grade(ages 10-14) series that most definitely was not targeting people my age.

    It got to the point where this was the only series I'd check on frequently to see if the next book was out and that I'd bump to the front of my reading list. (I'm rather obsessive about reading the books on my list in the order I add them, though this year I've been working on that)

    For the most part I've kept my favorite to myself. Until this year that is. I've never been ashamed to be a KotLC fan, but no one I knew had read it and it's hard to convince my friends and family that they should read this children's book!!! I sound silly saying it, I know I do. But this year my sister started reading them and a friend told me I got to nominate a book for her challenge, and this is what I chose. Now having two converts, I've been determined to inform people of this awesome series.

    Besides my random saying, "You should read this" I've never had a chance to really break down why I love KotLC. After reading books 4 and 5 this year, I decided to finally take on the challenge of pitching one of my favorite series to an audience of adults.

    So this is going to be a little different than my normal Angry Book Blogger review. For one thing, I've never done an ABB review on a book that wasn't the first in its series. It's also really challenging to fully convey everything I love about later books without getting into spoilers. I'm relishing the challenge though.

    Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.

    Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.

    Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.”
    There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.

    KotLC is a MG urban fantasy series that is sometimes compared to Harry Potter. While that is probably the "best" series to connect it to, I'm always reluctant to say that because it's also very different.

    What's the same is that the story revolves around a young "human" who lives in our ordinary world until one day she finds out she's not normal, or even human, she's then whisked away to the Lost Cities of the elves where she attends the school and is destined to take down the evil that threatens the whole world.

    Keeper is not nearly as dark as HP, and everything from the characters, to the world, to the family's, to the powers is radically different. I do feel like this series has the potential to be the series for this generations MG audience that HP was for mine. I actually missed the HP boat though and didn't read it until I was 20, so I'm just going off of what I've heard from people my age.

    By this point I'm sure those of you familiar with my review series are going, "Kristen, where's all of the memes? I only read these things for the memes."

    Now this review is for Lodestar, number five in the series, and I'll will do my best to not ruin any surprises for newcomers or fans who haven't read it yet.

    There are so many things I love about this series: the world-building, the characters, the humor, the plot, etc. But I wanted to focus on some of the deeper elements for Lodestar.

    Sophie Foster is back in the Lost Cities--but the Lost Cities have changed. The threat of war hangs heavy over her glittering world, and the Neverseen are wreaking havoc.

    The lines between friend and enemy have blurred, and Sophie is unsure whom to trust. But when she's warned that the people she loves most will be the next victims, she knows she has to act.

    A mysterious symbol could be the key--if only she knew how to translate it. And each new clue reveals how far the villains dark schemes spread. The Black Swan aren't the only ones who have plans. The Neverseen have their own Initiative, and if Sophie doesn't stop it, they might finally have the ultimate means to control her.

    Things are heating up for Sophie and her bad of merry men. Keefe's obsession with smashing Sophie's name together with every character finally elicited an audible laugh from me in this book when he added "Dophie" to the list.

    I'm also a fan of lame puns and corny jokes. And I had to try and explain to my husband at one point why I was laughing. It goes to show I've got a funny sense of humor, because I read it to him and he was like o_0 I went, "You would've had to been there, or rather read it." This bit from Keefe is what had me going.
    And then Sophie cut him off before he could say that last word, but I think that just made it all the funnier.

    What really got me with Lodestar was the amount of deep content. And that's what I'll be focusing on today.

    The first beast Lodestar tackles is verbal and emotional abuse. One of the characters recalls a memory that is a bit dark and though he doesn't really understand it, he's upset by it. He's talking with Sophie once she finds out and is feeling low because he didn't stand up for himself or demand answers.

    I think so many people have been there were they look back at something and are like, "What kind of loser sits by and watches that happen, or allows this, or or or." We've been there! We've felt like heels because there was something we didn't see, didn't question, didn't stop, and when we didn't stand up for ourselves or someone else it feels like crap. This character is there! They're going through that.

    And his friend says, "It's not your fault." And tackles what it means to be abused and how it effects our ability to fight back, to stand up for ourselves, and any number of things.

    Lodestar tackles consent and treating people like people and not objects. In a nice, MG appropriate way too. A young character of about 10 is trying to be all suave and goes to slip his arm around a girl's waist and his father stops him.

    So many times I see books that have male characters acting inappropriately towards women and it's not called out. I took issue with this in my first Angry Book Blogger review. When the character doesn't check themselves, and no one else says, "no, that's not okay" a reader is going to get the impression that certain behavior IS okay. Especially when we're talking about people who haven't matured enough to know better. Yes, I can read a book and say, "that's not right." but a young  and impressionable 12 year old boy is another matter.

    It goes both ways, of course. But the point stands and I love that Messenger included this part because it addressed that it's not okay to touch girls(or women) without permission and it did so in a way that's easy for a young reader to understand and in an appropriate example that fit smoothly into the story without feeling forced.

    Discrimination and prejudice is also a big part of Lodestar, and even of the whole series. The elves would say they are better than humans, yet they still suffer from some of humanity's worst faults. Messenger takes a different twist on discrimination as we experience it. People aren't discriminated against because of their gender, skin color, or wealth. Instead there are things the elves of Keeper have that I would say are fairly unique.

    The first is the discrimination against children. Elves live forever, for the most part, and they're very big on optimal genetic purity. Elves are given a list at a certain age that tells them who will be a good match to marry. If you marry someone for silly reasons like love and they're not on the list, your marriage is ruled as a bad match.

    Immortality is a long life span to have your society constantly sneer at you because you married the "wrong person." And this carries over to the children. Children of a bad match are considered less. Dex(my favorite character) is the brunt of such prejudice and at one point his mother talks about how hard it was to see him grow up to be shunned by the other children.

    I mean, wow, just wow. Because I know many people have been in Dex's shoes where for one reason or another they are outsiders. They're alone and they do eat lunch somewhere that they feel safe. And what really made this scene great is a few of the popular kids go on to say that they're sorry they were so wrapped up in themselves that they couldn't see when someone was alone.

    In an amazing excerpt that could easily be lost with everything else going on, Dex talks about his feelings on the matchmaking registry. The other characters are excited or nervous to get their lists, and Dex quietly says he's not even sure if he will get a list. He'd rather be with someone because they love each other, but more than that, he doesn't want to take part in something that he feels is wrong.

    I can't begin to imagine what Dex's family faced with his parents being ruled a bad match. I do love how well his parents have taken the disgust of their society, though. They've embraced that people don't like them and try to be even kookier in public just to see people get all ruffled about it. I love the attitude of finding some humor in it.

    To go a step further with the discrimination, this society believes that children become less powerful--and by extent important--with each child born after the first. So many elves only have 1 or 2 children so they're not having imperfect children. Elves believe that  discrimination against children who are not the firstborn.

    And eve stronger is the discrimination against multiples(twins, triplets, etc.). And this is another way that Dex's family has come under fire. Dex has a set of triplets as younger siblings and this book we see his mother open up about how she felt.

    I think parents everywhere can connect with this one. I remember when I brought my oldest to the pediatrician, I got lots of sideways remarks about how amazed the doctor and nurses were that she was a "normal" baby because I'd delivered her at home. I ended up switching to a new pediatrician after several visits of hearing what a shocker it was that she was whatever.

    And I think most parents, if not all, have come across someone somewhere who feels the need to remark on their children. So though I don't have experience with Mrs. Dizznee's situation, I did very much connect with her frustration that no one could just see her babies as children who were amazing.

    The Dizznee's are not the only one to face judgement for multiples. The characters of Tam and Linh Song are twins, but twins without the support of family. Embarrassed by their children, the Songs tried to convince the twins to lie about their age and they also failed to support them as they developed their abilities. Linh in particular had a power that was a lot to grasp and ended up causing an incident on accident. Instead of supporting her, the parents allowed Linh to be exiled. Not willing to let his sister face exile alone, Tam joins her.

    With a pardon, the Song twins are now back in the Lost Cities and their parents sidle up to them at one point. The father demands respect and the encounter is awkward. The parents do not feel they're in the wrong and the children have become stronger emotionally away from their parent's influence. Tam tells his father that respect is earned and just as this is causing waves, Sophie steps in with the best lines of the entire book.

    This part of the story hit home for me. I like to keep my past struggles in the past, safely tucked away where people can't judge how I handled them. But I've recently come to the decision that I want to share, because I want to help people and encourage them. 

    And that's why this segment of Lodestar hit home. Different situation from the twins of course, but I've severed ties with my father after a history of emotional manipulation and abuse. My family has taken a lot of heat for cutting relations with a man who's both a psychopath and has narcissistic personality disorder. People say that you should stay connected to parents because they're parents. We HAVE to respect them we HAVE to keep them in our lives. 

    I believe this is a harmful viewpoint. Parents should protect their children, they should support them. It doesn't matter if you share DNA with someone, a relationship that is unhealthy is just that. No one should stay in an unhealthy relationship. It is harmful for the world to insist that people just deal with something because "family." 

    I imagine that in this story, the parents will change and make some good choices and earn their kids back. But that's not always the case and for addressing a subject that desperately needs influential, healthy recognition, I commend Shannon Messenger.

    I needed to see this. Lots of people who are still stuck in abusive relationships need this. We need to know that we are strong, and important, and smart, and worth it. It doesn't matter the lies the manipulative/abusive parent tells themselves, because they are lies. 

    My friend Smeagol is going to help me out with a series of pictures to explain! I think most people know the story of Gollum/Smeagol, but I'll try to cap on the important things and hope this makes sense to everyone.

    Smeagol's life was idyllic until he comes in contact with a ring that manipulates him into believing that it is the most important thing in the world. It's even worth killing for.

    Gollum loses everything. His health, his home, his friends, his happiness, and his ability to do anything without the ring. In essence his life now orbits around the ring.

    He then develops a split-personality where one side is almost an extension of the manipulative power in his life. The little voice in his head that says he's not worth it, that he doesn't matter, and no one cares about him except the abuser. Manipulation makes Gollum feel like less and that he needs the abuser in his life. 

    It is VERY hard to break from an abusive situation and take a step back from the person who's manipulating you. You have to convince yourself that the lies are lies, that you're not crazy, and that you ARE worth more. 

    Because in the end, the person who is abusing/manipulating you will drag you down. They will kill you slowly, on the inside. They'll drain your will to fight, your sense of self, and your feeling of self-worth.

    Even if they're going down, they're bringing you with them. Adding in another LOTR character. Wormtongue poisons the mind of those around him with his words. He makes it so he's controlling the king and the king can't function without him. 

    It's not easy to break from a relation where your emotions have been toyed with. Verbal and emotional abusers do not leave physical traces of abuse and they break down your mind. They make you think you're crazy and that it's not manipulation. It's a sick lie that all too often people can't escape from.

    That's why we need more scenes like this. Because people need to know that they're not crazy, that it's okay to walk away. To people out their trapped in a situation like this, YOU deserve to be free. You are worth it.

    Back to Lodestar, I love that the Song twins are healing and becoming people who don't need someone just because "they're family". I love that Sophie stood up for her friends and delivered the best lines of the series. And I love that Shannon Messenger has used her ability to impact so many people in a positive way.

    This isn't a normal review. But I didn't want to detract from the key things here. 

    I can truly recommend Keeper of the Lost Cities for anyone of any age. These books are funny, interesting, gripping, and full of great dialogue. The world is amazing, the characters are a joy to read, and the plot never fails to impress. And more than all of that, Shannon just has this talent words can't express. The pieces I've shared here may get lost on a younger audience, but I believe anyone(young or old) who's gone through some of these things or has someone close to them who's faced a struggle that relates will love finding the deeper side to these books.