Someday I’ll Be Redeemed By Kelly Blanchard

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My next novel in the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge is Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, a self-published novel by Kelly Blanchard. This blend of fantasy and sci-fi is a work of art. I love the combination of the kingdoms. Each kingdom is unique and has its own sets of codes and values regarding technology, magic, and morality. Blanchard has woven together a fantastic tale of love and hate that makes you eager to pick up the next book in the series.

I’ll start off by saying I discovered this author through an online writing group. I liked her encouragement and support in the group. Some time after learning she had a sci-fi fantasy book published, I ordered a signed copy through her directly! I love supporting local authors when possible and am always excited to see what kind of stories they craft.

I am an odd reader in the sense that if there is a book I truly enjoy I want to sit down and plow through it, but if my schedule doesn’t allow for this I put it on my desk in plain view for a time when I can sit down and finish it with fewer breaks. Therefore, some of my favorite novels will sit on my desk right before the crazy action is sure to begin. It will sit and wait. Wait for me to return. This is a horrible habit of mine. This situation occurs most often when I am reading The Dresden Files for some reason. It happened with this book, which means it must have caught my attention and I was super excited about what would happen next in the story. Right before Blanchard takes us on the journey to finding answers I stopped reading for a few busy weeks. I wanted to have the time to sit down and read it all at once. Eventually, I picked it up again and was not disappointed.

The characters are fun and intriguing. However, I had a difficult time keeping up with all the characters, not to mention remembering what country they were from. I ended up determining who my favorite characters were: Lorrek, Vixen, Therth, Erita, and Heldon. Then I focused on their stories and simply kept in mind the other characters they interacted with regularly. Part of my difficulty had to do with changing character perspectives. At the beginning of the novel I would finally get used to one character and their voice, but then I would be yanked to another character who I hadn’t built any connection with at that point. Building connections with characters is extremely important to me, which is why I was so excited when we would be delving into Lorrek’s head at a certain point of the story. However, it ended up reading more like a global flashback than a memory that belonged to him alone. Regardless, this section was still my favorite part of the novel, as the author continued developing the world and the plot in a concise and stunning way. I will also note that the transitions got much smoother in the later chapters and by the end of the novel I hardly noticed the changing perspectives.

Overall, I recommend this novel if you’re interested in sci-fi, fantasy, or both. Blanchard builds a beautiful world and crafts an intricate plot. It is a good read and makes you want to know more and see where the journey takes our protagonists.

Writing and Scrappy Little Nobody

Last week I participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story writing contest! It was intense, but I had the chance to expand my writing skills. The contest works like this: you are assigned a genre, subject, and character and then you have 8 days to produce a short story. I had horror, retirement, and a security guard. In case you were unaware, I don’t write or watch horror. Though, I read some classic horror, such as Edgar Allan Poe. So, I tried to channel my favorite story of his, The Cask of Amontillado. One of the reasons I love that story so much is that it isn’t necessarily scary, but does it make you feel wholly uncomfortable. The contest was a lot of fun! My best friend and fiancé went over some of the drafts with me to help with developing the characters and increasing the elements of suspense. I went through at least 4 different drafts before settling on one to send. I still feel that it is lacking, but I had a 2,500 word limit. I doubt I’ll formally publish it, so maybe after I get feedback from the contest judge, I’ll post it on here for y’all to read!

A photo by Aaron Burden. unsplash.com/photos/xG8IQMqMITM

I also finished listening to Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody (2016). Anna Kendrick is one of my favorite actresses. As she is not an author, I am using her book for the 26 book 2017 reading challenge for the category of “a book by someone who isn’t a writer.” One thing I do enjoy about these celebrity novels (I’ve also listened to/read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please) is that they remind us how human celebrities are, amidst all the celebrity worship. They have fears, courage, love, joys, and sorrows just like every other human on this Earth. I prefer reading these autobiographies over magazines of interviews with them. I don’t need to know all the latest scoops about their personal lives, but I want to know what they think is important to know about them.

Anna Kendrick is a down to earth girl from Maine, who knew she wanted to be in theater since she was five or so. Her parents and brother were supportive and even helped her take theatre opportunities in New York. When she was seventeen she moved to LA, where she had no money, no car, and no friends. While it did not happen quickly, she eventually made friends and caught breaks in some big movies, such as Up in Air and Pitch Perfect. The first movie I noticed her in was Twilight, as Jessica. Her discussions of what happened in those movies were great. I love that she was only on set for two weeks of the final movie, which was nice for her because it was supposedly super cold. They filmed in Canada.

It was also nice to learn about some of Anna’s insecurities. She experiences impostor syndrome in that she feels fake in a world of glam. It was comforting to know that someone who has won and been nominated for so many awards still suffers the same insecurities I do. By admitting this, she challenges readers (me) to just go out and do it. Be who you are and the rest will fall into place. It will feel weird. It will feel uncomfortable, but that is how you grow as a person and as a professional. I am glad I took the opportunity to read/listen to this autobiography by Anna Kendrick.

Scarlet Spider

By Chris Yost

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Consider this. First, you are a clone. Second, you are a failed experiment. Kaine lives with both realities. Kaine used to be an assassin and a supervillain to Peter Parker Spider-Man. The first volume was a tad confusing until the end of the volume where I read a bit about the history between Peter Parker, Ben Reilly, and Kaine. I could have done research beforehand, but I didn’t want to spoil any of the story. I also know my fiancé has told me the story of Kaine’s past, but I couldn’t remember all the little details.

In the first volume Kaine wants to move to Mexico and chill on the beach with a drink. However, he only makes it to Houston before he reluctantly helps saves a girl who is being smuggled across the border. After saving her from near death, he takes her in to keep her from being deported. Aracely can read people’s minds and can connect with other’s emotions, even evoking a sense of fear from her opponents. She eventually takes on the superhero identity of Hummingbird during a mission she goes on with the Scarlet Spider. Despite his best efforts to remain a loner, Kaine develops friendships with a cop and doctor couple, Officer Wally Layton and Dr. Donald Meland, and a woman at the hotel, Annabelle. He befriends them all fairly naturally, considering his constant inner dialog of being a monster and wanting to be alone.

Kaine confronts this monster inside him in volume 2, when he nearly dies from an attack by a Wolf gang who are after Aracely. This scene seemed to be a defining moment in Kaine’s acceptance of himself. He is trying to be a new man in a new city trying to get away from all his evil deeds of the past. However, the monster is still inside of him and it will always be. Accepting that came at a price, but he was not without another savior. One thing that makes this series great is Yost’s way of maintaining Kaine’s constant struggle between good and evil. He never seems to become fully evil, yet at the same time, he can’t feel truly good.

I enjoyed many aspects of this series. I loved the fact it took place in Houston, Texas. Texas is a fantastic state (I am biased). I was amused that they included a rodeo issue in the series to allow for some “traditional” Texas elements. I was also pleased to see that Houston accepted their new superhero with open arms. They praised him and indicated they were happy he was there to be their personal superhero. Their acceptance was probably one of the reasons that Kaine found a home among these Houstonians. I also enjoyed seeing the Rangers featured for a few issues in volume 2. The Rangers are a team of superheroes (like the Avengers) that help out areas located in the Southwest United States.

Scarlet Spider is my “a book you can finish in a day” book/series for the 26 book 2017 reading challenge. I knew I wanted to do a comic for that category, but it would be too easy to just read a single graphic novel, so I decided to read a short series. This comic is 25 issues with a one issue special (12.1) for a total of 26 issues in four trade paperback editions. I completed them all in one day to accomplish the task. This series is one my fiancé has been trying to get me to read for over a year now. I am glad I finally got around to reading it! It was well worth it.

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson

Warning: This ramble will include spoilers.

I am participating in a the 26 book 2017 reading challenge I found on a post circulating Facebook, it originates from Hannah Braime’s website though. The Bridge to Terabithia is the novel I selected as “a book from your childhood.” I am glad I did!

My mom recommended this book to me when I was a kid. The first time I read it I was probably around 10 years old, give or take a year or two. It was one of the first chapter books that really impacted me. I still remember the feeling of sadness and happiness waft over me together like a wave. Looking back, and after listening to the audiobook as a woman in my mid-twenties, I realize that was the first time I really understood God and Death.

Jesse is an artist and Leslie is a tomboy with a knack for writing (clearly inherited from her parents). To kick things off, I feel an instant connection with these characters as I love art and writing. Jess is stuck in a rut, feels unappreciated, and wants a friend to cherish. He finds that with Leslie. Friends are the best thing for a person to have. The number of friends is irrelevant, as Leslie firmly declares she has one and a half friends, but we all need at least one other human being to share our lives with. “No man is an island…” (John Donne).

Imagination is at the center of the novel. Terabithia is a made-up land ruled by a king and queen, Jesse and Leslie. They fight trolls and wander through their kingdom that is all their own. Nothing can touch them there. They can conquer all their troubles through play. By acting out their insecurities and problems they are able to better deal with real life situations, such as Leslie facing and later sort of befriending the school bully, Janice, after she was betrayed by those she considered friends.

A few chapters before Leslie’s death, the author has the Aaronses go to their yearly church service, Easter. Leslie asks to go because she had never been and she is all about experiencing new adventures. When it was over she said it was fascinating. Jess laughed and exclaimed how boring it was. Then, Leslie responds with, “You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.” Leslie is able to find the beauty in it because it is something she went to on her own volition. She wants to experience life as it is presently and church just happens to be another stop along her short journey. When I heard that quote again, I remembered reading it as a child on my bed with my back resting against the wall. From an early age, it affected what I believed about Christianity, God, and Salvation. I learned God is beautiful and He is always present with us. No matter what happens in life, God will continue to walk along side us. Did the little girl die in the novel still? Yes. Was she too young? I’d say yes. Why would that happen? Because Leslie made a choice to swing over the river in the rain. We all have choices and consequences, good or bad, for our decisions. In this case, the consequence was death. I cry and cry every time I read it, but you know what came out of this story? New life. The imagination was not stifled. Instead, a bridge was built to allow a new queen into Terabithia, for a new queen to explore and imagine the world as only a child can. This novel teaches kids that death happens and we will mourn, but we will also continue to live and love to honor the memories of those we have lost.

After Death

A.D. After Death, Book One 

What would happen if there was no more death?

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A genetic cure for death has been found in this new 3 part series by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire. However, one man is beginning to feel the repercussions of death and question his place in a world where they are no longer mortal. This comic book reads like a mixture of a traditional comic book and a picture book. The present day story is done in the format of a paneled comic book, but the pages containing flashbacks are designed with long text accompanied by simple and gorgeous water color illustrations. This format allows the reader to clearly understand the author’s intent for that scene.

After death’s cure, it seems people operate in fifty year cycles. The lead character, Jonah, takes on a new job for the new cycle. It is almost as if humans realize they need to make a change every fifty years or they’ll get bored or go crazy. I am not positive that was Snyder’s message, but it makes sense to me, as I enjoy a variety and I am mortal. I cannot imagine, nor would I ever desire, to be immortal on Earth.

Jonah seems to be going through an “eternal mid-life crisis,” in a sense. He reflects on his first memory and memories that he believes defined him, for example he was a bit of a kleptomaniac as a kid. According to him, the whole reason the cure for death was found was because he stole the wrong thing. This “thing” he stole was not revealed in book one, which is the author’s catch for getting you intrigued for book two, I am sure. We do know that Jonah Cooke was a normal, everyday man who discovered, or revealed, the extraordinary. One thing I do like about his character, is that he does not seem to have changed in the future. He is a random, boring guy who still likes to “collect” things that may or may not belong to him.

Overall, I recommend this book, but reserve any final thoughts for future volumes. The story can go in so many directions that  I don’t feel I can give a proper review until the story is complete. However, it is intriguing and I write this ramble in hope others pick up this series too and enjoy it along with me.

Note: book two came out this week at your local comic shop! I have not read it yet.

Go Set a Watchman

By Harper Lee

Every story has a first draft. Something on paper that places a fictional world into reality.

I recently completed the audiobook of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, performed by Reese Witherspoon. This novel, really a draft by Harper Lee, is a fascinating specimen for writers to see the growth of novels and how they develop into fully-formed stories. It also gives me confidence in my own abilities. If Harper Lee can pull out the beauty of To Kill a Mockingbird from this novel, then anything is possible.

The root of the story is the same: a young girl coming of age in the South. She just happens to be 26 and reflecting on her childhood, rather than a child and experiencing those moments in real-time. This slight difference in perspective completely changes the story, despite many characters and some events being the same. However, I agree with her original editor, Tay Hohoff, that the submitted manuscript was more of a series of anecdotes than a fully-fleshed out novel. Harper Lee introduced Jean Louise a stubborn character with many good convictions that she picked up from her time in New York and from her father, a father who she learns is not everything she believes him to be. However, the story has many incidences of “telling” what happened rather than “showing” what happened. This is something many authors, including myself, struggle with in first, second, and maybe even third drafts.

I haven’t read many reviews about Go Set a Watchman, but I have heard in passing that people were outraged by Atticus and his beliefs. His perspective does not surprise me based on where he lives and his occupation. Jean Louise learns the hard way that humans–even hardworking fathers–cannot be perfect gods. Atticus and Jean Louise butt heads because she is realizing their social ideologies are not perfectly in sync anymore. Atticus tells Jean Louise that they actually aren’t that different. They have similar goals, but different understandings on how to achieve those goals. Jean Louise gets angry with him because she is too focused on her own perspective and not willing to listen and visualize the world through her father’s eyes. Atticus, on the other hand, has already learned the art of listening. He listens to everyone, regardless their beliefs. He even says, “hypocrites have just as much right to live in this world as anybody.” This statement to me felt like an acceptance of all people, regardless of his personal view or bias, and reflected the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird. Despite that statement, I do see that he is not the same Atticus we grew up with. His views are different than those expressed in Lee’s originally published novel, but he is made more human in this version and, to me, that is beautiful.

Overall, this is not a fantastic novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books and this falls short of that brilliance. As a writer, I am pleased it was published so I could see how Harper Lee transformed her draft into the final publication.

 

Hiatus and SLAM!

Hello readers! (if I still have any following my hiatus…)

After participating in National Novel Writing Month last month (November), I realized how much I missed writing my own stories. I had a lot of fun drafting a novelette and a few short stories. Many of which will never see publication. I hope to edit a couple of the others.

I am also aware it has been three months since I last posted on my blog. Given the holidays are around the corner, I will not promise regularity, but I do hope to make at least one post a week from here on out. I think two a week was too much for my schedule and I got overwhelmed.

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On to the ramble: My friend at the local comic book shop, Excalibur, recommended I start reading a new independent series titled SLAM! I was skeptical, but since I know a couple people doing Roller Derby I thought I might give it a try. The cover is fun. Bright pink and green. I enjoy her black eye and bloody face. The story progresses fairly well for a first issue, in that it gives each of the main characters’ backstories in a succinct manner and quickly establishes their newfound friendship. After laboring over my own story last month, I remembered how difficult it was to introduce characters clearly and effectively in a limited time frame. A couple of the pages I enjoyed the most were the “P.D. (Pre-Derby)” and “A.D. (After-Derby)” character sketch pages of lead protagonists, Jennifer Chu and Maisie Huff.

The author of SLAM! is Pamela Ribon, who is probably better known as a story writer for the recent Disney film, Moana. If you have not yet seen this new Disney princess film, I highly suggest it. The illustrator is Veronica Fish, who has done a lot of work with the Archie series. Fish does an excellent job with her character designs and the expressions are spot-on.

Happy reading everyone!