December 20, 2012

Best Reads of 2012 (In my humble opinion.)

I've never done one of these posts before, and in all honesty it's making me very nervous since I'm absolutely positive I'll overlook a fabulous read that deserves mention. But, here goes anyway.
*Please note* Just because a title is listed under Best of 2012 does not mean necessarily that it was published in 2012. I just happened to read it in 2012. Enjoy!

Category 1: Non-Fiction
Title: Fearless - The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown
Author: Eric Blehm
Genre: Military/Biography
Publisher: Waterbrook
Pages: 253
Why is it a Best Read? This book made me laugh, made me mad enough to punch somebody, and brought me to tears. The story it tells is beyond inspiring, it is powerful. Every American adult should read this book. Period. Click Here to read my full review.

Category 2: Fiction
Title: The Legend of the Firefish
Author: George Bryan Polivka
Genre: Christian Fantasy
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Pages: 347
Why is it a Best Read? This book hooked me at page 1 and didn't let go for a minute. The fantasy world created by the author is very unique, full of depth and color. While a bit dark at times, the story nonetheless contains glimmers of unmistakeable light sure to intrigue the Christian reader. If you like Pirates of the Caribbean, you will love The Legend of the Firefish. Click Here to read my full review.

Category 3: Humor
Title: They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?
Author: Patrick F. McManus
Genre: Outdoor/Humor
Publisher: Owl Publishing
Pages: 228
Why is it a Best Read? You can always count on Pat McManus for hearty laughs and unforgettable stories, but this book is the best one of his I've read since A Fine and Pleasant Misery. It had my entire family rendered helpless, laughing so hard none of us could breathe, much less move. I think 'Sneed' was my favorite story of all the ones in this book - the author's hilarious recollections of the game warden he lived in fear of as a child. Click Here to read my full review.


I'm going to be taking a break from blogging for the next several days. I want to really relax and enjoy my time with family to the fullest, so I'm eliminating any and all distractions I possibly can. I may post again at the end of next week, or I may not be back until after the first of the year, we'll just have to see.

So until then, have a blessed and very merry Christmas!

December 17, 2012

Movie Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey! (And a Giveaway)

*Warning: May Contain Spoilers! If you're interested in the giveaway, but don't want to read the review, just scroll down until you see bold font.*

While I wasn't able to go to the midnight premier as I had originally hoped, I was able to go see The Hobbit on its second day in theaters. Definitely the earliest I have ever gotten to see a newly-released movie. I hope I don't get uppity...
But enough of that! I'm sure you're all dying to hear my erudite and witty opinions of the film, right? (Or, more truthfully, I've already exhausted my entire family with my ravings and swoonings and shriekings and carryings-on and just need someone new to blather to.)
So here goes:

I was rather uneasy about the whole idea of The Hobbit being made into a trilogy of movies, and apparently my unease was shared by quite a few people. But after seeing An Unexpected Journey, I am no longer worried in the least.
There was quite a lot of filling in and fleshing out done, with a few additions that weren't in the book, but in my opinion it didn't harm the story in the least. (Like the air raid scene at the beginning of the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - it just helped ground the story and set up a rich, well-developed stage.) And, it's going to make for an absolutely fabulous trilogy of movies!
Much of the additional material ('additional' meaning 'not in the book') was for the purpose of setting The Hobbit up more solidly as the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, making it a little easier for viewers to see how events are leading up to the War of the Ring. There were plenty of fun references and remarks included, too, that are only meaningful if you've seen the Lord of the Rings movies or read the books, which makes it fun.
There were other things added or expanded upon too, most of it for excitement and/or action purposes. For instance: for a resident of Middle Earth, it's perfectly natural that you should have a pack of orcs hunting you for no other reason than you tromped through their territory. But for a movie viewer, it's more exciting if the orc leader has a long-harbored grudge against the leader of your party and is hunting him down for vengeance. As I said earlier, I don't think it harmed the story at all.
I have to say, in spite of how many times I've read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I never really grasped just how cool dwarfs could be. I absolutely love what Peter Jackson and the production team have done with the dwarf characters in this movie (and I'm totally going to have to write a story about dwarfs now!). And of course, the hats must go off to the actors who have done such amazing jobs with their roles!
I have this thing about dark, brooding characters, so naturally Thorin Oakenshield had my full attention from the get-go. But I also love the light-heartedness of the brothers Fili and Kili, which they blend perfectly with their skill as warriors. Oftentimes in characters of that type, one side is overdone while the other is left wanting, or else the transition from 'fun' mode to 'battle' mode seems awkward and unnatural. Not so with these two. They make it perfectly natural, and in fact remind me a little bit of my own brothers. : ) And of course, what's not to love about sweet, unassuming Bilbo Baggins? I love, love, love the honesty and sincerity that Martin Freeman has brought to his character, blended so well with Bilbo's feelings of inadequacy as a member of Thorin's party.
And Bilbo's speech at the end of the movie... one that wasn't in the book but is so good that it could have been... just made my heart melt. Gotta say it.
The cinematography of the movie was just as amazing as it was in the Lord of the Rings movies - sweeping landscapes that leave you totally convinced Middle Earth is a real place that is out there somewhere, panoramic shots of mountains, amazing CGI settings and graphics, and great action shots and sequences. There was just one kind of weird, distracting thing I noticed, when the dwarfs have all been captured by the goblins and the goblin king is taunting Thorin. The camera is cutting back and forth between them during their exchange, but every single time it cuts to Thorin his head is down, and he's slowly raising his eyes to fix the goblin king with a withering glare. Don't get me wrong, he's got glaring down to an art and the whole slowly-raising-his-eyes-which-are-blazing-with-hatred thing made for a great shot... the first time. The third and fourth times, it started getting a little weird. Probably just an editing error, and really nothing that even matters in light of the rest of the movie's sheer and massive epicness, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.
And the soundtrack... oh, the soundtrack! I had chills listening to the dwarfs sing 'Misty Mountains' around Bilbo's hearth, the battle music was amazing, the Ring theme came in at just exactly the right moment, and the Shire theme (also coming in at exactly the right moments) was as heart-tugging and beautifully sweet as ever.

Which brings me to the second part of this post: The Giveaway!
The Ink Slinger is having a giveaway of The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtracks, and you're invited to enter! I'm not familiar with The Dark Knight soundtrack, but it's by Hans Zimmer so it has to be amazing. And I am here to testify that the Hobbit soundtrack is one you will definitely want to add to your collection. So Click Here and get over to the Ink Slinger to enter the giveaway. And if you haven't seen The Hobbit yet, get thee to a theater and do so with all haste!

December 13, 2012

Book Review - 'Resurrect'

Author: David E. Stevens
Genre: Action/Thriller
Publisher: Monarch Books
Pages: 374

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this book when I requested it, since I don't have a lot of experience with this genre. But I have to say, it kept me engaged and intent from the first to the last page. The author doesn't waste a minute getting to life-and-death action, and rarely stops for a minute for the rest of the book.
In all honesty, were it left to me I wouldn't categorize this as a 'Christian' book. Sure, one of the central characters claims to be an 'Evangelical Christian' (though she doesn't exactly behave like one), there are a few references to faith and spiritual issues throughout, and I expect that the author is probably working towards some kind of faith-based conclusion over the course of the trilogy as a whole, but by itself Resurrect comes across more as just a good action/thriller. Not that I have a problem with that, per se, it's just something that I think readers ought to be aware of.
This book was very frank and no-nonsense in presenting the facts, which makes for a very clear and vivid read... though at times it got a little overly frank for my personal tastes. Some parts of it were also a tiny bit over-technical, leaving me feeling a little like a deer in the headlights, but I was always able to follow the important facts of what was happening. (I do have to mention, though, that I was greatly disappointed when the author - who should know better - called a magazine a 'clip'. Ach!)
But on the whole, this book was a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat adventure from start to finish. Let me know when they decide to make the movie! Seriously, in spite of the few overly-frank moments, there was nothing that I considered unclean or indecent - even when one of the characters takes off on a profanity-laced tirade, the author simply says that he 'let loose a string of expletives' without reproducing any of them. You have to admire an author with that kind of taste. And the humor sprinkled throughout the book was absolutely delightful.
I wouldn't recommend the book for young readers; it was definitely intended for an adult audience. And, it did rather end on a cliff hanger. But I've already recommended it to my 21-year-old brother, and personally I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!


I received a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for my review. A favorable review was not required, and my opinions are entirely my own.

'Up Next' - Writer-style Blogger Tag!

I originally came across this list of tag-style questions on the blog of Grace Bridges, and after answering the questions herself she invited others to pick up the baton and do the same. So I am, since it sounded fun and, amazingly, this was one list of questions that I haven't been sent yet.
Here goes:

What is the title of your next book or work?

I'm currently working on two new books, one on my own and one co-authored with my fellow Lost Scribes, but I'll go with my personal work: Empathia's Hope. Bear in mind, this is a working title, subject to change later on.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A blend of desperate desire to become involved with what was then the just-launched fiction project Avenir Eclectia, a fascination with archaeology, and a weakness for reruns of Secrets of the Dead. I had been trying to think of something to write for AE for a few days when a Secrets of the Dead rerun about the Roman cities Pompeii and Herculaneum (buried by the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius) came on, and it made me realize that on a volcanic planet like Eclectia, there could be lots of buried cities with lots of buried secrets to go with them.

What genre does the book fall under?

'Science Fiction' pretty well covers it, though there may be a slight tincture of Science Fantasy. We'll stick with Science Fiction, though.

What actors/actresses would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have not the first nor faintest idea. I can't really think of any actors or actresses who resemble my characters as I imagine them. I have friends who I've already picked out to play the characters in the book trailer... does that count?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

(Advance warning, I really stink at writing these.)
A young woman made cynical by years of hardship and heartache doesn't appreciate being told by a wealthy celebrity archaeologist that she should look at the bright side of things, and likes it even less when he begins digging up the hopes and dreams she buried long ago.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I take issue with the narrow and restrictive parameters of that question.

How long did it take you to finish the first draft of the manuscript?

Still in progress.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

How about Avenir Eclectia Volume 1? That's a perfect fit! : )

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Michael L. Rogers and his ideas about Empathia, Grace Bridges with her suggestion that I expand what started as a short story series into a full book and her support of me as a writer, my own beliefs about the importance of hope and optimism in bad circumstances, various ideas about relationships familial and otherwise, and the general awesomeness of the Avenir Eclectia world. I love writing there!

What else about the book might pique the readers' interest?

Well, it includes art, history, archaeology, a bit of Indiana-Jones-style mystery (only with fewer chase scenes), a generous sprinkling of Atlantis-esque flavor, some hard truths about love and life and doing the right thing, brushes with telepathic sea life, and touches of humor. So unless you're just a dyed-in-the-wool hater of science fiction/fantasy in general (in which case I would have to ask how you came to be reading this blog), there is something in Empathia's Hope for you!


I think originally this list of questions was supposed to be passed on in the fashion of Blogger tag, but I think that instead of tagging anyone I'm going to follow Grace's example and just extend an open invitation to any writer who wants to participate.
Leave a comment letting me know if you do. I'd love to read your answers!

December 10, 2012

Merry Christmas, Writers!

In the residual wake of NaNoWriMo, we writers could all use a little TLC, right? Well, TLC is just exactly what the gals over at Charlie and Me are giving away.

Hop on over to their blog now and enter to win the Writers' Care Package giveaway. I've been following their blog for some time now, and I can tell you they're a great source of entertainment, encouragement, and good old-fashioned writing fun. So writers, don't miss this giveaway!

December 7, 2012

December 7 - Never Forget

I'm guessing none of us have to be reminded what happened on September 11, 2001. Maybe not all of my readers are old enough to remember it well. Maybe some of you were too young to be allowed to watch the horror unfold live on television. But you all know what happened. You all know the story of an unprovoked attack on American soil that cost the lives of so many American people.

But another date that is equally as important to remember, and yet one that a tragic number of people don't remember, is December 7, 1941 - the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Over 2,000 Americans were killed in the unprovoked attack - the event that led the United States off of the sidelines and onto the stage of World War II. Estimates place the number of American casualties at well over 400,000 over the remaining duration of the war.

I'm not one for dwelling in the past, for holding grudges, or keeping old wounds open. I believe that the past is just that: the past. I am, however, a strong believer in the importance of keeping the things of the past in memory, and learning from them.
I believe in remembering the mistakes, the crimes, the horrors, the victims of the past, so that we can be vigilant in making certain they never happen again.
I believe in remembering the warriors and heroes of the past, so that we can honor their sacrifices as they deserve, so that we can learn from their examples and rise to follow their path.

I have rather recently become a passionate student of World War II. Shortly after I began studying the subject, after getting just a glimpse of the horror that it truly was, I made a personal commitment: that I would be one of the ones to be vigilant, to learn from the horrific examples of the past, and to stand up and do everything in my power to prevent such a thing ever happening again.
World War II - the Holocaust - the deaths of what is roughly estimated to be over 2.5% of the world's population at the time - could have been prevented if ordinary people with wisdom, courage, and foresight would have stood up, opened their mouths, and simply said "No."
And we today have advantages that the ordinary people of the late 1930s didn't have: we have far greater freedom of information to see what is happening in the world around us, and we have the example of the past from which to learn.
Let us never forget the sacrifices and heroism of the brave warriors who have come before us. But more importantly, let us never forget the events that made their sacrifices necessary. Let us never make the same mistakes that would lead us down the same dark path. If we fail to learn from their sacrifices, if they paid with their lives to preserve our freedom, only for us to turn around and forget them a generation later, then their sacrifices were for nothing more than to buy us a bit of time.

Never Forget.

December 4, 2012

NaNoWriMo is over. Now what?

It's a rhetorical question, really. Everyone knows that once NaNoWriMo ends we all just catch up on sleep and then go back to life as normal, right?
Only it doesn't exactly work that way. Because for a writer, the wild and wonderful month of madness that is NaNoWriMo has a direct impact on what constitutes 'normal'.
Before NaNo, we didn't have the novel that we spent the month writing. Now that it's over, we do have it. We've been on a journey, met and come to know characters we didn't know before, experienced an adventure we'd never experienced before, and learned things about ourselves as writers and people that we didn't know before.
Post-NaNo Normal is not the same thing as Pre-NaNo Normal.

So what do we do?
Obviously we can't go back to something that doesn't exist any more, so the thing to do is embrace and dive into what normal has become.

For me this year, Post-NaNo Normal means that the pesky inner editor whom I have been unable to rid myself of since finishing the editing of Son of the Shield back in July, is finally silent and subdued, leaving me free to finish the first draft of my WIP, Empathia's Hope, without her snarky fatalist input harping on every sentence, demanding perfection before allowing me to move on.
It means that I now have a completed first draft of my first independently authored steampunk novel.
I've explored character personality types that I had never explored before, and experimented with story twists I'd never worked with before.
It's opened up new ideas, new ways of looking at stories and characters.
A month of no-editing-allowed has gotten me ready to dive back into my WIP at full throttle and turn a half-finished first draft into a FINISHED first draft in short order. It's reminded me how much fun it really is to just roll with the story's adventure, leaving editing for later.
It's reminded me how much fun it is to just make stuff up and go along with it like it's all part of the plan. It's reminded me that writing was fun before it became work.
And that is something I am more than happy to go back to.

What have you taken away from NaNo2012? What are you looking forward to now that it's done?

December 1, 2012

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...

So here is a picture to sum it up:

Yep, I won! In spite of all my own expectations, I managed to hit that magical 50K mark with fourteen whole minutes to spare before the stroke of midnight.
Of course, the story itself is a total disaster and didn't really end, it just stopped - in quite a state of disarray, too.
Thaddeus, Fu-han, and Cole all got suspended from coming to St. George's Academy, while the school authorities try to figure out how they're going to explain away all the unexplainable stuff that has been happening at the school since Reuben Clark's arrival.
Fu-han and Jen must have gotten their issues resolved one way or another. I don't really know, since I don't speak Chinese, but I assume so since they decided to get married.
One of the bad guys died as a result of the fire that almost killed Thaddeus, and the other bad guy is currently recuperating from some rather serious injuries, after which he will be transferred to a cell somewhere and promptly forgotten about. (Unless I need a bad guy from the past to return for a sequel... wait, what am I saying?! No more sequels!)
I seem to have mislaid Lorena Cavitt, the St. George's Academy teacher that Ann Morgan captured after finding out she was an anarchist agent. I put her in Jen Qiao's care in Chapter Seven, but she disappeared after that and hasn't been seen or heard from since. I can only assume that she'll surface eventually.
But, on the whole, I'm perfectly satisfied. I didn't set out on November 1st to write a masterpiece, I set out to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and that's what I did. The editing, rewriting, (and plotting) can come later.
Thanks so much to all of you who dropped by during the month to offer encouragement or just track my progress. It's been fun, and I appreciate every single one of you!
That being said... I am completely exhausted, and why on Earth am I still sitting at a computer pecking on the keyboard? I happen to know that there's a box of butter pecan ice cream in my freezer, and if there were ever a moment when a dish of butter pecan ice cream was needful, I would say it is now. So I am off to set the universe back in balance by doing what needs to be done (i.e., eat a bowl of ice cream). And then I think I'm going to drop into bed and go to sleep... for a very, very long time...
Happy NaNoWriMo 2012, everyone!