Monthly Archives: December 2014

Favorite Books and Authors in 2014

Well, it’s almost 2015. I’ve enjoyed discovering new books and new authors over the last year. And while not every book was published in 2014, I would like to share my top favorites in books and authors.

Favorite Books of 2014 (in no particular order)

The Secrets of Gwenla by Laurie Penner

Secrets of Gwenla cover

I LOVED this book. I was immersed in the characters and the story, which is an allegory but it definitely doesn’t suffer from heavy-handedness or preachiness, and I’m dying to find out what happens next in this series. You can read my original review here.

Duty: a novel of Rhynan by Rachel Rossano

Duty Cover

This is one of my favorite arranged marriage stories of all time. I love how it goes beyond “Will They or Won’t They?” This is a medieval-esque fantasy and it definitely has the feel of a clean medieval romance, which is also a favorite genre of mine. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series when it comes out. You can read my original review here.

The Ryn: Book One of the Eyes of E’veria by Serena Chase

The Ryn Cover

This is an excellent offering for the New Adult category. I loved the twist on the Grimm fairytale of Snow White and Rose Red and how familiar elements from that tale were woven into this original story. I’ve read and reviewed every book in the series so far but this first book is the one that completely won me over. I eagerly await the fourth book in the series due in 2015. You can read my original review here.

The Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

Wren (The Romany Epistles) by Rachel Rossano

Wren Cover

Another offering by Rachel Rossano and it is part of a nine-author series, which I did not realize when I first read it. However, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this one because it is a story that stands on its own. I love this story because it takes the idea of the female bounty hunter and prevents the clichés from taking over and the romance is very sweet. You can read my original review here.

Illuminated: Book One of The White Road Chronicles by Jackie Castle

Illuminated Cover

I truly enjoy this series, book two is even better than the first and I can’t wait to read the third book. This is an allegory that provides a nice visual of the Christian walk and the characters are relatable even the centaurs. Of course, bonus points for going beyond dragons to include centaurs and other fantasy creatures as well as making them three-dimensional. You can read my original review here.

The Land of Flames (The Karini and Lamek Chronicles Book 1) by Cynthia P. Willow

The Land of Flames Cover

This is a very sweet, funny, and family-friendly fairy tale. I loved the characters, especially Lamek who is adorably hilarious. I think this is one of those books that deserves to be placed next to The Chronicles of Narnia for young readers. You can read my original review here.

The Up-and-Comers of 2014

Resistance by Jaye L. Knight

Resistance Cover

This is another good entry for the New Adult category. I enjoyed the heavy world-building and I see a lot of potential in Knight’s work. Definitely an author to watch, especially with Book Two coming out in 2015. Read my original review here.

Dragon’s Touch by A.R. Johnson

Dragon's Touch Cover

I was literally blown away when I learned that this author is just sixteen years old because the sheer potential and talent I saw in this book was amazing. I think this young author will go far as she continues with her writing career and I look forward to reading Johnson’s next offering. You can read my original review here.

Favorite Discovered Fantasy Authors and Bonus Favorite Non-Fantasy Author/Series for the Year

I read a number of new authors this year. In fact, most of them are also Indie, which I consider great news because that is where I am finding some of the best Christian Fantasy. Limiting myself to the top four favorite authors, whom I enjoy for a number of reasons, they are:

(In alphabetical order)

Jackie Castle

Serena Chase

Laurie Penner

and Rachel Rossano

I love these authors. They all have differences in styles but they share the excellent world-building that breathes life into each story and allowing their faith to show through the story without drifting into sermonizing.

As promised, my bonus favorite author and series. Obviously I don’t read just fantasy. I also enjoy reading other genres; however, I’m limiting myself to just one author and her series.

I love a good cozy mystery, especially ones where I don’t know for sure how it will all end. I definitely got that with Julianna Deering and her Drew Farthering Mystery series. This series appeals to me so much because there’s mystery, romance, humor, and Drew goes on a journey of faith and grows as a character in each book, which also happen to be set in 1930s England. I have read all three, love them all, and I am eagerly waiting for more from this author.

Rules of Murder (A Drew Farthering Mystery)

Rules of Murder Cover

Death by the Book (A Drew Farthering Mystery)

Death by the Book Cover

Murder at the Mikado (A Drew Farthering Mystery)

Murder at the Mikado Cover

And those are my picks for favorite books and authors that I have read in 2014. I’m looking forward to discovering new favorites in 2015.

*Covers taken from each book’s amazon page. All rights to their proper owners.

Book Review Wednesday – Taerith

Taerith by Rachel Starr Thompson

Amazon Book Description:

When he rescues a young woman named Lilia from bandits, Taerith Romany is caught in a web of loyalties: Lilia is the future queen of a spoiled king, and though Taerith is not allowed to love her, neither he can bring himself to leave her without a friend. Their lives soon intertwine with the fiercely proud slave girl, Mirian, whose tragic past and wild beauty make her the target of the king’s unscrupulous brother.

In a land of fog and fens, unicorns and wild men, Taerith stands at the crossroads of good and evil, where men are vanquished by their own obsessions or saved by faith in higher things. The king’s rule is only a knife’s edge from slipping—and when it does, all three will be put to the ultimate test.

Rachel Starr Thomson is also the author of Angel in the Woods, Lady Moon, the Seventh World Trilogy, and other novels and short stories.

Taerith is one of the Romany Epistles, a nine-author series about nine exiled siblings abroad in a hostile world.

I picked up this book after reading the Romany Epistle by Rachel Rossano – Wren.

Plot – B+

The plot was good for the most part. I wasn’t able to predict every turn, just some of them. The only true trouble came from the middle of the book. The original plot that drove the story is resolved around the halfway mark (52-60%) and the minor subplot threads sort of drag along for several chapters. It does pick up again toward the end as the secondary plot is pulled together. Overall, I liked the ideas behind the main plot and the secondary plot but I wish it had been more tightly woven together so the pacing didn’t slow to a drag in the interlude between them. The book is one of a series but it can stand on its own well.

Content – A-

This is a clean book. There is no language, all cursing takes place off the page. Sensuality is nonexistent.

There is violence but it is not gratuitous. Actually, the first two fights written about are barely described. I don’t want gratuitous violence or bloodshed but I wish the description of how the fight took place had been more than something along the lines of “he attacked and his opponent fell” so I could better picture the fight and have a clearer idea of what’s supposed to be happening in that scene. Later on it’s revealed that Taerith has never killed a man and the impression is given that he doesn’t like to even wound to the point of bloodshed. Most of his action in the battlefield involved winding and knocking down/out opponents. I did like the struggle for him over whether he should take lives to protect lives  Characters die in battle, through starvation and disease, and murder. Vengeance is tackled and dealt with fairly. I liked how Thompson showed just how destructive a quest for vengeance can be to the person seeking that vengeance.

The romances shown in this book are…complicated. The romance shown at the end of the book is the one that didn’t sell me though. It felt too much like a convenience for the characters involved and not like a true love match, which is okay for the beginning or middle of a story but not so much for the end, at least for me. That said, I did like Taerith’s honorable love for Lilia a lot. Courtly love at its purest.

There is some magic in this world as shown through the presence of unicorns, who are implied to have healing gifts based on the one we are introduced to in the story. However, this is balanced by a very strong spiritual message. The image of Deus, or God, as a dove or winged man was an interesting portrayal. I thought the scenes involving the priest were good. I liked how he not only spoke about Deus but he also does things, lives out his faith. The salvation encounter for Taerith was well done, not in your face but it was clear that he had been touched/changed by the encounter.

Technical – B

This book had good bones. There were only one or two typos in it. However, the narration hampered my ability to get into the story. There is a lot of head-hopping, more than once this happens in the same paragraph, so it was hard for me to tell if I was reading Character A’s thoughts or Character B or C’s thoughts or if it was an omniscient narrator. I usually prefer character changes to occur in a more orderly fashion, e.g., with section or chapter breaks, to help keep the narrative puzzle from occurring. Because of the fluidity of the narrators, their individual voices became more important but they didn’t really sound different from each other even when moving from men to women or vice versa. I went into the book expecting two or three POV characters but there are a lot more. These details along with the fact that there’s a tendency to tell instead of show kept me at arm’s length from the characters so to speak. I couldn’t really sink into the story or their lives.

I mentioned earlier that there’s very little description for the first two fights in the book, which are supposed to be important because they place Taerith in two key places. The second fight is literally three sentences revolving around Taerith “being prepared” and then he basically steps forward and in the next sentence the fight is over. I am a visual reader, so I prefer descriptions that engage me and let me SEE what the character is doing. In the same vein of telling and not showing, there is a lot of repetition occurring in the narration and there are some odd punctuation choices. Semicolons and colons being used when a comma and a transition phrase would have helped the flow. Or where a period would have sufficed.

Final Grade – B or 4 Stars

Overall, I liked the story of Taerith. I think that Rachel Starr Thompson has the talent of a great writer and I could see it even with the narrative gaffs. I couldn’t determine for sure whether this was Thompson’s first book but it did have the feel of a first or even sophomore novel where the author is still working the kinks out of her writing process. Because it is a nine-author series, the voice between books definitely changes but the ending of Taerith made me eager to read Aiden since that Romany sibling also makes an appearance. While I wasn’t drawn in to the point of devouring the book in hours, I never had to force myself to pick the book back up again. I would recommend this book to Christians looking for a clean fantasy with strong Christian elements and fans of medieval-esque fantasies. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

Taerith is available through Kindle and paperback.

Next – Luminosity: Book Two of the White Road Chronicles by Jackie Castle

 

 

 

“Do You Have an Encyclopedia for Your Books?”

“Do you have an encyclopedia for your books?”

This is almost word for word the question that my brother, who is not a big fan of fiction, asked me rather out of the blue today. He then went on to expound on the question by asking about entries for character profiles, world background, history, names, and creatures. For fantasy writers in particular, this “world encyclopedia” can take the form of Bestiaries or The Monsters of “” or Inside/Exploring the World of Narnia/Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, etc. I normally see these extras published after a series is truly established, such as between books two and three in trilogies or later on for larger series, or when the series has ended.

As for myself, I have a ton of background and the folklore for my series established and written down but I never even thought about publishing my notes in a sort of Bestiary or Encyclopedia. Now thanks to my brother’s impromptu question, I will start to seriously consider putting together something for The Therian Way at least. I also happen to be a total geek when it comes to my favorite fantasy books so I LOVE the behind-the-scenes for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia and I have many world-building (ranging from weapons to creatures) books that let me continue gathering all this information that helped to form the literary magic of the books and also for the more faithful adaptations into single books. This is especially true with Tolkien’s books because he built the world of Middle-Earth from languages to creatures and cultures and I am of the belief that you can’t really appreciate his writing genius until you read all the background material. And yes, I have read The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales along with The History of Middle-Earth.

Ahem, okay, let me rein in my geeky-ness.

As a pantster who only outlines as much as I need to in order to get my initial framework, I can go off on tangents in my note taking when I’m figuring out my next story because I’m building the world for my fantasy and deciding what rules apply and why. This leaves me with a LOT of background and history that I know about but it will probably never make it into its own story. Especially with Urban Fantasy, because I’m writing about an alternate timeline where specific events haven’t taken place and I don’t have a close mirror to our world when it comes to politics so I have some historical presidents, such as Washington and Lincoln, who are specifically mentioned at least in passing but there are far more fictional presidents and vice presidents…especially in the modern era. I also have events that played out differently than they did in history. All of this makes it fun for me but I can only slip so much history into these stories without messing up my pacing or slipping into longwinded speeches. But while I will occasionally venture into Historical Fantasy by going back to specific important events in the history for the world of The Therian Way and its characters, I will still have a ton of material where I, as the author, can see how all the threads connect. This material will probably never be seen by any of my readers, except some pieces I share with my brainstorming buddies, but I don’t consider that a waste. I NEED to know how the dots connect even if I’m the only one who sees some of the lines.

However, I will probably put together and release my own bestiary. I’m enough of a mythology and cryptozoology enthusiast that I always have an interesting assortment of creatures who may share nothing more than a name with a beast of legend. 😀 And even an encyclopedia for the different worlds I create might be beneficiary to my readers because if you have that, then I can, theoretically mind, worry a tad less about how I’m going to rehash the events of past books without eating into the actual plot’s momentum. Because my series have strong interconnecting arcs from book to book, there will always be some recap but an encyclopedia would allow me to avoid inserting a long recap in the front of my books. The long recap can work but I know that sometimes you just want to get on with the story. An encyclopedia can be a happy medium.

Although I would caution authors about keeping an eye on the spoilers when you write entries for key characters or legends. For example, instead of writing something that reads “Character A – A marvelous person. Saves the day against these bad guys and that monster along with this monster in Books One, Two and Three,” have an entry more along the lines of this:

Oberon – Race: Fairy. Age: ?

The King of the Fairies. Husband to Titania. Ally to Humans. Appears in Books One, Three, and Five as well as in the novellas X, Y, and Z.

In other words, use your encyclopedia as a hook, especially when it comes to characters or key creatures/monsters. It should be like the book summary. You give just enough information to grab a reader’s interest in reading upcoming books and how “Oberon” will be involved in those books after they’re already familiar with his behavior in previously read books.

Have you written or considered writing and publishing an encyclopedia/bestiary for your series? Or do you prefer to keep your encyclopedic world-building entries for your eyes only? As readers, do you like knowing how all the dots connect? Or do you like to imagine your own lines?

 

Setting the Mood…

Setting the mood for your writing can be difficult. Maybe you work best in utter silence. Maybe you prefer the atmosphere of your local coffee shop. For myself, I prefer to work with my music. But it can’t be just any music. It must be intent and fast-paced because it’s difficult to write an intense battle scene when a slow song comes on or a love song, which usually wrecks the mood.

My favorite writing music includes soundtracks such as the official scores to all three Lord of the Rings movies along with The Hobbit movies. When I get tired of my own music, I use Pandora to rotate through soundtracks and trailer music. My other fallback is YouTube and the epic music mixes.

These are two of my favorite mixes (I used them throughout NaNoWriMo) –

The general mood setter for The Therian Way…

And my go-to inspiration for the atmosphere during an intense fight is…

So how do you set the mood for your writing? Do you have a specific place you like to use? Best music for fight scenes? For romantic scenes? What music is guaranteed to pull you out of the mood? Do you like music with lyrics or is it instrumentals and vocalizations only? ‘Tis the season for Christmas music. Does it help or distract you while writing? Maybe it puts you in the mood to write Christmas-themed stories instead of the thrilling adventure currently happening in your fantasy.

Book Review Wednesday – The Land of Flames

The Land of Flames (The Karini and Lamek Chronicles Book 1) by Cynthia P. Willow

Amazon Book Description:

Enter a world of fairies, dragons, dwarves, and elves in The Land of Flames, a magical world where possibilities are endless and truth makes a difference.

Ocamar, the villainous dragon king, and his dragon clan, have overtaken The Land of Serenity and everyone in the land is in jeopardy. The only hope seems to be with Rumbleflin, the oldest and wisest of the elves, who plans to lead an army rebellion.

To add to the conflict, Ocamar and Rumbleflin have been harboring secrets from one another for years, and what happens when those secrets are revealed will have a major impact on everyone.

Can an army of fairy-tale creatures defeat a clan of dragons and restore their Land of Serenity?

I was a little surprised when I finally got to read this book, but it wasn’t an unpleasant one.

Plot – Grade A-

The plot was relatively straightforward and the unexpected twists were a bit easy to predict, at least for me. However, this did not detract from the simple enjoyment of the story. The characterizations of each character were well-done and helped breathe life into the plot. And while I could guess at some things, I must admit that the cliffhanger presented by the preview of Book Two DID catch me by surprise. While this is a trilogy, the plot can stand on its own and is a complete story in and of itself while leaving a few plot threads hanging loose to carry over to the next book.

Content – Grade A

This book is meant to be family-friendly and it lives up to that label with the absence of language and sensuality. There is some violence but it is bloodless and while there are deaths, some of which are revenge-motivated, these take place off-screen and, in two cases, are related by another character. Definitely G-rated.

There is some romance, mainly rising from Lamek and his amusingly charming infatuation with Karini. It’s amusing and sweet and I rather hope that Lamek gets the girl in the end.

Now this is a fairytale complete with witches and wizards. It’s written so there IS magic and there are brooms, wands, and spells used by the witches and wizards. For myself, none of it is written in a way that causes me to hesitate. The source of their magic is not discussed even it is required for the magic-users to have a wand in order to work their spells. Spiritually, the book is a bit on the lighter end of the spectrum, I think the most straightforward acknowledgement  was a character uttering a “Thank God!”

Technical – Grade A-

This book has a rather simplistic tone to it, which suits the feel of a children’s fairytale, and half of the time it meant that I was reminded of the classic The Chronicles of Narnia. While the age range on the book’s amazon page is 6-18, the narrative’s style is definitely aimed more at the younger readers. The book is superbly edited and I didn’t see any obvious errors or typos. My only quibble, which is an extremely minor one, is that ‘beautiful’ felt a bit overused.

Final Grade – A- or 4.7 Stars

Overall, this book was a pleasant read. It didn’t quite attain the same feel of The Chronicles of Narnia, which I personally love, but it was a near miss. I would recommend this book for families looking for a family-friendly fairytale to add to their reading list. Recommended for ages 6 and up.

The Land of Flames is available through Kindle, paperback, and Audible.

Next  – Taerith by Rachel Starr Thompson

 

In the Wake of a Month of Novel Writing, I am…

Thankful. Exhausted. Ready to write more, lol. 🙂

So, after participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated), I am put in mind of several things.

First, I must say thank you. Thank you to my family for being supportive of my desire to write and to write Christian Fantasy when so many other writers struggle with families who consider writing just a hobby or a waste of time. It would be extremely difficult for me to continue if you guys weren’t even a little supportive of my work, so thank you. Even if you don’t always get some the writerly things that come out of my mouth. 😉 Thank you to the various other Christian writers I have met and who have been more than willing to help encourage a fledgling author and work with me in figuring out the occasionally overwhelming details that go along with indie publishing. Special thanks goes out to WD who has been among the first to hear most of my wild schemes for new novels and spectacularly evil plot twists and cheers enthusiastically for these schemes. And finally, thank you to my Lord and Savior for giving me the call to write for You and cultivate my wild imagination into a tool for You and Your work.

Second, I must say that writing a first draft of a complete novel, which went beyond 50k, was an insane amount of work. I am so glad NaNo is over. 😉 However, the task of churning out a novel in a month and succeeding gives me the boost of confidence I need to complete the next first draft over a two to three months timeframe. I already completed the most challenging time crunch so I don’t really have much of an excuse as far as “it’s too much to write for that amount of time” (any monkey wrenches Life throws my way don’t count) because I know I can do it in an even tighter timeframe.

Third, while I definitely needed a break after typing that last sentence for the novel, I’m also eager to jump back into writing. This ties in with my second point since every completed project (no matter how ugly it currently is due to a dramatic need for editing) helps spur me on because if I’ve done it once or twice or however many times before, I can do it again. Do I want to write another novel in a month? Not this year. 😉 But, setting any goal regarding my books from plotting to writing to editing and meeting one or more goals definitely helps me to keep on writing.

Whether you participated in NaNo or sat it out, whether you are penning the first words of the story or touching up the final edition before publishing your novel, whether your goal is to write and publish one novel a year or to write and publish five or more, setting goals-daily, weekly, monthly or even confirmed, hopeful, and dream goals-and then meeting the goal should always give writers a sense of accomplishment. It doesn’t matter if I am making as much of a profit as other writers or if I’m still on the brink of publication because I need or want to add a couple more rounds of editing just to make sure my book is as polished as it can be while other writers don’t need as many editing rounds and are comfortable with a shorter editing timeframe. What matters for me is that I have completed the hardest part of the writing process: actually finishing the first draft. I am a writer. I am an author and I am writing for myself and for Him.

December is the last month of 2014. And even as I’m spending time with my family and celebrating the birth of Christ Jesus, I am also looking forward to what adventures God will send me on in 2015. I’m also eager to get back to my review books. 😉