Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: Light of the Last (Chuck Black)

Note: May contain spoilers for the first two books.

Drew has been taken into FBI custody after the events of Cloak of the Light, charged with a shooting on a college campus and assaulting two FBI agents. His explanation seems too ludicrous for anyone to believe him if he includes his seeing the light and dark invaders that no one else can see, but even telling the truth short of mentioning the invisible invaders leaves the FI skeptical. When a stranger offers Drew an alternative to prison, Drew latches on to it, despite the dangers that come with it. As Drew works in this new role and as Validus and his new team of angels work to protect him, they realize that Drew’s role in the growing plot is bigger than either Drew or Validus first expected.

Light of the Last moves along at a steady pace, and the suspense and tension get higher and tighter. I liked how the plot took a turn from what I had originally expected. It becomes filled with a kind of “end of the world” kind of scenario, with political dealings that are likely less than legal. While it hadn’t been what I expected, I still really liked seeing the strategy and plot development behind what did occur.

Drew’s development was well done. He doesn’t become a Christian right away, and it takes a lot of time and effort on the angels’ part to finally bring about the right circumstances to bring this young man to God. It takes time for him to finally come around, and become humble enough to turn to God. I like too how all of the skills he has accumulated throughout the books are pushed to the limits at times. He handles himself well when it came to terrorist threats, and takes charge where he knows he can, and becomes a strong leader (with a ton of cash). I found it amusing when Drew begins his training for the CIA and the teacher lists all of the skills the people there will learn, I felt completely confident that Drew had this training mastered already.

I liked how Validus, while he has had thousands of years to accept it, still struggles at times with not feeling inferior as the last angel created. While he probably doesn’t experience as much growth and change as Drew does, Validus still has moments where he learns from his mistakes, and sometimes struggles to not wallow in self-pity. He remains strong and firm for his team, to keep them encouraged in their mission, even when it feels confusing or hopeless. There hadn’t been as many scenes in Validus’ POV, but I saw enough of him through Drew’s eyes, and it was interesting to see that contrast of how Drew perceived him and how I perceived him.

One aspect of Drew’s development was, I think, very well done. Validus and his team were making little progress with getting Drew to turn to God, so they came up with a plan to essentially strip him of his pride, allowing him to reach rock bottom before Drew let God raise him up. It shows how God can bring His children to Himself. For Drew, pride was getting in the way of believing, and when Drew had his pride destroyed, and he questioned his own sanity, it put him in the position to be more open to believing. God can do that with anyone. When His children stray, He can take away what keeps them from coming to Him, or returning to Him. When we have nothing, when we’re at our most vulnerable, that’s when the Word of God can do its best work, and lift us up. Validus and Drew demonstrated this well, and while at first I didn’t understand what was going on, it was interesting to finally realize the purpose of what Validus and his team had done, and see how it changed Drew for the better.

Violence/Gore: A lot of fighting, both with sword and firearms, and hand to hand. Some characters are shot and killed, and angels and demons, if killed, are usually slain by sword. There are also suicide bomb terrorists. At one point a suicide bomb goes off, and the description of the aftermath might make some people uneasy.

Profanity: Only referenced, if any.

Sexual content: None.

Other: Political plots and scandal. Drew deals with drug rings and firearms smuggling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Look for a New Angle

Probably around five years ago, I started a fantasy novel. What it started out as compared to what it’s become is very, very different. I changed my heroine, the plot’s focus shifted, characters developed and often demanded more attention than I originally allotted to them (not pointing fingers, but the majority of this unrest comes from my darling dastardly elf villain). So a few more rewrites and adjustments were made. Things were looking good.

And then last September, I finally finished the first draft of the novel. Finally. I was up at an unholy hour of the morning, but I finished it, and I felt extremely satisfied. I let it sit and stew before attacking it with editing, and things were looking good. Editing went well, I was ready to thrust my little novel into the hands of alpha readers and let them comb through it.

But then one suggestion was made. And then another. And things began to unravel fast. I was scrambling to fix it while getting more ready for the alpha readers, but nothing was working. Nothing was turning out right. I was stuck, and it didn’t get any better when my elf villain began to want an even bigger, more focused role of villainy (he’s a brat, that one). I was stuck.

Pretty much what happened.

So I thought the best to try was a total rewrite.  The thought of rewriting the whole thing sucked, but if it helped, so be it. What could it hurt?

A lot, actually. The rewrite didn’t feel natural, it didn’t have the same feel as the old version. I was told it was because it was new. I understood that, so I kept plowing on.

But it still wasn’t feeling right. It was coming as well as it had before. I was frustrated with it (sometimes to tears), with having to start over, with being stuck with the plot, with the characters. There were moments when the words came easier than the others, but usually it all felt awkward. I was discouraged, having seemingly gone back to square one, and still flailing.

Then a friend (who has so patiently listened to my rants and rambling) suggested I step back from it, that I stop working on it and read up on the craft of writing, and research for my novel. I balked at first at this. I knew I hadn’t done any reading on the subject of writing, but I didn’t want to drop the novel. I wanted to fix it fast.

But then I decided to give it a try. I figured I needed to step back and let it stew for a while. I’d read up on writing well, and research different elements for my novel. If nothing else, I needed to at least take a break from it to calm down.

So far, it’s been a good experience. I’ve requested books from the library for this purpose, and I’m coming up with ideas on how to fix up my novel. By stepping back, figuring out what I need to research, and planning for it, I’m becoming more open to changes that need to be made. I realized it was similar to Hiro in Big Hero 6, as he brainstormed. Tadashi told him to look at things from a new angle as he swung Hiro upside down.

I needed to step back for my new angle. I was looking at the novel up close and trying to fix it while writing it, and it just wasn’t working and adding to the stress. Now that I’ve stepped away from the writing part and focusing on the brainstorming, I feel more open to new approaches, new angles from which to write. Because I’m not trying to write while I brainstorm, I’m able to look at it from a wider angle. I can take it all in without also trying to focus on one section. It’s a lot less stressful, and I feel more confident in getting it done. I have a lot of reading to do, but I’m kind of looking forward to the learning in the next couple months. I already have some ideas brewing, and I’m excited for more!

So that’s what is happening to my novel. ;) I hope this helps any fellow writers who might be struggling too. If things aren’t working, try taking a step back from the writing. Find a new angle. Don’t give up yet. I’m learning that editing/revision can feel like you’ve been trampled by speeding elephants, but I’m also learning not to give up when it gets hard.

Look for a new angle, if you’re stuck and nothing else seems to work. Step back from the writing and look at it from all sides. Have your characters approach the scene from a different route. Have your hero/heroine jump off the horse instead of turning the horse around, or have the side characters spread out a little through the plot before the readers meet them all. You never know what will come up! :D

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: Warrior (Bryan Davis)

Note: Possible spoilers for Starlight.

The black egg has finally hatched, and Taushin, the dragon prophesied to become prince, emerges with plans for his reign. But first, he requires Koren the Starlighter to achieve his plans, and to be his eyes, as he is blind, according to the prophecy. Elsewhere, Elyssa and Wallace work to free the slaves on Starlight and return them to Major Four, while Jason treks northward to find additional help, and Randall and Tibber join forces with the dragons Magnar and Arxad to stop the usurpers on Major Four.

The plot of Warrior doesn’t have a main point of conflict, really, but all of the POV characters have their own obstacles they need to overcome. Instead of a mutual villain that must be removed at the climax, the story spreads out information we need. It provides a lot of backstory, and there are enough twists in it to keep it interesting and engaging and not feel like an info dump. It’s spread out with action and adventure too, to keep the story engaging and suspenseful.

Jason, Koren, and Elyssa each have nice character development. Jason and Elyssa learn from their mistakes, and they are both the wiser and humbler for it. When Jason was taught a valuable lesson in the story, I could feel the shame he felt. I’d done nothing, but I understood the lesson he was being taught, and I felt embarrassed with him when he understood. With Koren, the values she believes in are attacked by Taushin’s influence, and while she struggles to remain unyielding, she seems to take hold of her beliefs more strongly, even when Taushin’s manipulation seems to overcome.

While there isn’t a main villain for all of the protagonists to face, Taushin asserts himself as the villain readers should worry about in the future, even though his interactions are only with Koren. Taushin is an interesting villain. He speaks in ways that make sense at first, ways that sound truthful, but one might suspect there’s something he’s not saying. He’s manipulative, but he does it in a way that seems gentle and caring. However, he is also not afraid to become harsh too.

We get a little more worldbuilding in Warrior, and it often coincides with the backstory and other information we receive. We see more dragon technology, and some of it seems connected to more magical properties than mechanical. The size of the dragons themselves still feels unsure, for me at least. I think I’ve figured that on average a dragon is 40-feet long, snout to tail. Otherwise, I can’t tell how big the dragons are exactly. When a dragon slaps a human with a wing I expect the human to go flying across the room, but it seems little more than if a fellow human had slapped them. We also receive a bit of dragon history, but there are missing pieces still, enough perhaps to draw readers to the third book.

Violence/Gore: Humans are enslaved by dragons, and they have been whipped and mistreated. Dragons are slain. There are a few skirmishes, but nothing is described in great detail. A character receives serious burns on their hands, and one character is tortured (but again, there’s not great detail).

Profanity: If any, it is only referenced.

Sexual content: It is mentioned a few times that the dragons force human women to have children with human men, men they likely are not married to.

Other: The dragon prince, Taushin, manipulates Koren to submit to him. He uses the safety of one of her friends against her to get her to cooperate.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Favorite Fictional Families

Family is a theme that pops up in nearly everything I write. It just happens. People who are actually family members, friends that have been family to the main character for eons, a character who is a friend to the MC but has been like a mother/father to them. Anything. I don't know why, but I really love it. I enjoy the relationships grow stronger in the stories, or finding family relationships I hadn't realized.

So, in no particular order, I want to share some of the family relationships I've read and/or watched that I enjoyed seeing. :3 I'll include ones from my own novel too because I can and because I want to tell you all all about it. ;) It still counts!

1. Gladers in The Maze Runner.
I loved learning about the organization of the Glade, and how the boys had created their own community. They didn't baby each other, but they did look out for each other and upheld their community's rules when they needed to

2. Silas and Bod in  The Graveyard Book.
I loved the way Silas was kind of like a father to Bod. He wasn't always around, but he provided Bod with advice and wisdom about the world, and he was there when Bod needed to be rescued. Silas looked after him, even when Bod began to get restless and explore the world outside of the graveyard.

3. My novel's villains.
In my fantasy novel, I have two villains. One is an emperor, and the other is the emperor's adviser. Behind these professional ranks, these two are as close as brothers. They grew up together as kids, and they both ran away from home, joined by the adviser's older sister. Both were searching for something, and they wouldn't let each other go alone. The sister, naturally, wasn't about to let her younger brother, who was born very ill, run off to who knew where, and so she joined them. I love the relationships between the villains. The emperor and adviser are like brothers to each other, and they've helped each other get to where they are today. While they can rub each other the wrong way sometimes, they would do all they could to help each other out.

The emperor.
The adviser.

4. The Mysterious Benedict Society kids.
The way these four became like family to each other is adorable. They each have their own unique abilities, and they use them to help cover where the others lack. Mr. Benedict brings them all together, and he's like a grandfather-figure to them, and helps them hone their abilities.

5. Phil and his team in Agents of Shield.
This. I love seeing the way the agents have developed a kind of familial system, how they watch each others backs and support each other, or call each other out on something if needed. You can even kind of see a parent-child pattern going on too, which is adorable and funny. Daisy (AKA Skye) pointed it out in season 1 when May and Phil argued in front of the others. She titled them mom and dad, which was a somewhat accurate image. May and Phil are the leading forces of this SHIELD team, and they provide a source of mentoring when it's needed.

5B. Mack and Fitz/Daisy.
Later on in the AoS series we meet Mack. (Warning: spoilers ahead if you've not seen past season 1) When Fitz's brain is damaged after Ward's attempt to kill him and Jemma, Mack becomes a kind of big brother to him. Mack was able to help Fitz communicate, and let him take his time to say what he needed to say. Mack is the same way with Daisy, in a way. He becomes her big brother, giving her a nickname and having her back as she begins to form a team of inhumans. Overall, Mack is basically the older brother-figure for a lot of the agents, and he's awesome for it.

6. Tadashi and Hiro in Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6 is an adorable movie, and I loved seeing the relationship Hiro and Tadashi had. Tadashi looked out for Hiro, even when it seemed Hiro had pushed Tadashi's last buttons to make his temper snap. Tadashi tries to redirect Hiro's restlessness to things that are productive (and legal). They bickered, sure, but they loved each other far more.

7.My novel's 8 brothers.
In my novel, there is a family of 8 brothers. About fifteen years before the start of the novel, their parents started a rebellion against the king (who is now emperor). The rebellion failed hardly before it was able to really take off. But now, fifteen years later, the boys have become men, and it's time for them to step up. But before this, they have all had to work to support each other. But even when they argue (the oldest brother and youngest brother tend to have the biggest strain), there's nothing they wouldn't do for each other. I've loved watching their interactions and relationships unfold.

The two bottom middle guys are supposed to be blonds, though.

8. The Leverage Team.
This group is similar to Agents of SHIELD. There's a parent-child kind of structure going on here. Nate and Sophie are essentially the dad-mom duo of the team, the overall masterminds of their cons. They direct the others and keep them all from killing each other. Elliot has his moments of being a big brother to Parker, which shows a gentler side to his usually gruff and tough demeanor. While they have an eventual romantic arc developed between them, Hardison can be another big-brother character for Parker, but he's usually the brother that gets roped into his sister's less-than-legal antics in an effort to keep her from getting killed. And Parker is just that really, really disturbing sister that can scare the daylights out of everyone in the family, but she's just so adorable no one really wants to discourage the behavior and they just force a smile and go "Yay! Good for you! :3" There are a lot of ways these characters can bug each other to death, but they have each others' backs when it really counts.

9. The Masons in Falling Skies.
I know I already fangirled about this family in a different post, but the Mason family is one of my most favorite fictional families ever. Tom is a very supportive father to his three sons, but he knows when to put his foot down and be firm with them. The brothers, Hal, Ben, and Matt, have the usual sibling bickering now and again, but they also display affection for each other, giving each other high-fives in passing, and just in general acknowledging each other, even if they simply are on scene to walk by. Hal and Ben have a lot of conflict later in the series, but they also know to protect each other, and cover for where the other might be lacking.

Images found via Pinterest.

So there you have it, some of my favorite fictional families! :3 What are some of your favorites? :D Tell me in the comments!