Sunday, August 31, 2014

Into the Woods

The cover to this book is what attracted me to it to begin with.  The branch like design made me wonder what it was about and what woods or trees could do with the story I read on the back cover.  I was drawn in based off the cover.  I did not expect the story that I found when I opened the book and began to read.

The story follows Detective Rob Ryan as he works on a case of a murdered child.  The case takes place in a town he grew up in.  He struggles with his own obsessiveness over this case and the possible link to another unsolved case involving 2 missing children, from the same area.  Could the cases be related, could this be a murder of convenience, or is someone trying to get a message across to the leader of a protest group.  There are so many questions that arise with this case including the possibility of cult related sacrifices because she was found placed on an ancient druid alter by an archeologist. 

The story opens up on the background of the missing children case.  Three children go into the woods and don’t return.  Once a search party is assembled they find one of the boys clinging to a tree, with blood in his shoes and brusies, and cuts.  The other 2 children are not found.  The young boy grows up hiding from the media and unable to remember anything that happened that day in the woods.  He grows up and becomes successful as a detective.  He is none other than Detective Ryan.  As our detective investigates the murder in his home town, he begins to remember little things about that day and the days leading up to it.  But he cannot remember what exactly happens.  As he becomes obsessed with the case, he throws himself at various different angles trying to find a solution to the case, even if it means grasping at straws.  Detective Ryan gets swept up into his own world that he makes mistakes and doesn’t pick up on subtle hints about the case.  He makes minor mistakes that come back to bite him in the butt. 

Once the detectives begin their investigation you as the reader find yourself trying to figure out who the murderer is as well.  There are numerous hints throughout the novel, that if you pick up on them you can figure out who committed the crime and why it happened.  Throughout the novel French drops little hints leading to the murderer while also leading away from that person.  The way French describes things is exceptional.  I was able to picture the small Irish towns and the places the detectives visited.  It was a great imagery based novel.  A lot of the time when a novel focuses a lot on images, the story gets lost, but this is not one of those novels.  This is one of those novels that makes you want more from the story, makes you want to know what happens next.

The backstory with the missing children seemed like it would be more important to the story line other than Detective Ryan’s connection to it.  I was a little let down the nothing progressed with it, such as them finding out some more information or even finding out where the children could have gone.  That is the only thing I would have to complain about this novel.  It let loose ends linger.  Maybe she addresses that in another novel, I might have to see.

Pros:Compelling story, great characters and imagery.
Cons: Questions linger on some of the storyline

Bottom Line: I would highly recommend this to anyone who needs a good read

Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Character Profiles

I stumbled upon and interesting blog recently: Creative Writing Now.  It was created by writing teachers as a free service to authors and poets to help hone their skills whether you are just beginning or are a seasoned writer.  There is something for everyone on this site; I found numerous things that are going to be helpful to me in expanding out of my comfort zone with my writing.

One of the posts that I found incredibly interesting and helpful was a questionnaire for writing character profiles.  There are things on the questionnaire that I didn't think about when I have written stories in the past such as "Consideration of other, how he/she views him/herself, how others view him/her"  and other things like temper and strongest/weakest personality traits are things I never really considered when I thought of my characters, but there are things that are incredibly important when developing your characters.  There are so many things that go into writing a character that people would love to read about (or love to hate) everything on this list brings those aspects out and into the character you want to develop.  It makes them more human in a sense.  The additional questions provided at the bottom are a little interesting because they are things that make up the character and who they are even if it doesn't come up in the story at all.

Any writer wants to have a character that appeals to their readers and some of the most memorable novels/stories I have read all include powerful characters in one way for another.  The helpful questionnaire provided by Creative Writing Now, helps make you think of the character you want to create and aspect of that character that are portrayed through their dialogue and actions.  It is important to have those characteristics in mind even if readers don't see it as blatantly as they would other aspects; its part of what makes reading so enjoyable.  I am definitely going to be using this questionnaire for my characters and see how that changes my writing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Discussion

Not too long ago I had dinner with some old friends and had a great time catching up on life and things.  We talked about books we have been reading and discussed a few things about them.  But there were moments it felt like awkward as the book discussions got more in depth and "intellectual," and felt there was small judgment for some of the book I have read such as Harry Potter series.  A question was posed of "What is there that you can discuss about Harry Potter?"  There are plenty of things one can discuss about this novel and more.  I think you can make any novel into an intellectual discussion if you wanted to not just novels like "Atlas Shrugged."

It felt like regardless of the book you read, if it wasn't able to be discussed it didn't count as something intellectual.  Which I don't think is the case.  You can find things to discuss about any kind of book including "Hop on Pop" if you so desire.  If you put your mind to it you can find something in any book that can be applied to life or says something about society.  And that is what my friends wanted to book discussions to be, highly in depth and intellectual.  Where as I am content at reading my books for the shear fun of it.  The need for an in depth intellectual conversation tends to take away from the joy of reading, although sometimes having that is nice, but not with every single book we read.

We can't make everything we discuss or do intellectual and in depth.  There needs to be something to take our minds off of things, something to relax, distress, and just allow our minds to escape.  Reading tends to do that, but when we try to force discussion topics into our reading it tends to take away from that effect and turn reading into something completely different. A book discussion should be fun and enjoyable, not always highly intellectual and in depth.  Enjoy the book and time with friends.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence

I have to admit when I first started to read this book I had a very difficult time getting past the first few chapters and when I did, I was beyond glad I stuck with it.  Robert Pirsig explores how we live, and meditates on how to make our lives better while pursuing our passions.  The novel is through the eyes of a father on a cross country motorcycle ride with his son.  The novel become a personal exploration and a journey through philosophical questions.    Pirsig delves into the question of what is Quality, and what gives our live Quality?

This novel is perfect for anyone to read because of Pirsig's use of something personal and fundamentally universal.   This novel won't  have you debating Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, but provides you with questions and something to reflect on and question yourself.  Never have I read a book more thought provoking and rises questions about my own life I have never thought to ask or investigate.  Pirsig address the idea that we live in a world of both Romantic and Classical, or simply put, form and function.  One of the problems with the world that Pirsig presents is that function is essential to life, but it is form that is emphasized.   When form and function work together equally then the desired Quality is obtained.

Pirsig does an excellent job presenting his thoughts and ideas to his readers.   He draws them in with a very personal story of a father and son trying to reconnect.  Through his story we see an imperfect father striving to be perfect, to discover Quality for both their lives.  It is beautifully written and a novel should be read.

Pros: Thought provoking and compelling insight
Cons::It can be difficult to begin the novel
Bottom Line: Incredibly thought provoking and interesting.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shadow of The Wind

I picked this book up on a whim, I read the synopsis online and decided to check it out.  From the first page I fell in love with the story and the characters.  It is a story of a young boy who gets wrapped up in a book while mourning the loss of his mother.  After reading this forgotten book, he goes on a quest to find out more about the author Julian Carax, only to find himself in a web of mystery surrounding this author.  He surprisingly finds out that someone has been looking for the books as well, but not to collect and read them, but to destroy them all.  He goes around talking to people who have been in contact with the author in his past.  The more he finds out the deeper he gets and the more trouble arises for him.  He learns more people are intertwined with this author than he expected.  Along the way he realizes he is in love with his best friend’s sister, which is more of a side story than a part of the bigger story.   There are several other love stories mixed in this novel as well, which takes the story off course sometimes, but at the same time adds to the beauty.

This novel is full of all kinds of twists and turns that you don’t expect are coming.  Once you think you have something figured out, such as who the person destroying the books is, you find out you are totally wrong.  There is nothing that is predictable within this novel.  You can try, but you soon find out you are wrong.  Ruiz does a wonderful job describing the character’s appearances as they change as well as their surroundings.  He pulls you into the story and setting with his words and captivates you throughout the story, never letting go.  There are aspects throughout the novel that make you wonder what importance does it have to the story, then you read father and realize those minor elements are critical to the plot line.

Ruiz creates characters you grow to love and admire.  Characters you can relate to and grow attached to and want to know more about.  The villain character is exactly that, the villain, even though he is disguised as a man of the law.  Even the minor characters are ones that you want to see more of within the novel, characters you want to have a more active role in the story.  But then again maybe some become a major player in the story.  There are certain parts in the book that don’t seem to fit the story, but they fit the character background.  It is an interesting thing for Ruiz to do, but it fits and makes the story even more enjoyable.  This novel will keep you in suspense in wondering what is going to happen next.  When will the book destroyer be revealed?  What happened to Penelope?  What is hidden in Julian Carax’ past that everyone wants to hide?

If you like mysterious and suspenseful novels, then this is a good one to pick up.  I recommend it to anyone who wants a good read, they cannot put down.  This is NOT a book that  you can finish in one day, it takes several to get through the almost 500 page novel.

Pros: Not a storyline I've read before, unique and interesting
Cons:  There are moments in the story that don't seem to fit but doesn't take from the story.

Bottom Line: This is a definite book that needs to be read.
Rating 5 out of 5

Monday, August 18, 2014

Last Unicorn

I found this novel through finding the movie.  I wanted to read the novel before I watched the movie, to see what the author intended.  It is a beautiful tale about the journey of a mystical unicorn who desires to find other unicorns.  She finds it hard to believe that she is the last of her kind.  Along the way she runs into trouble with humans wanting to tame her as an ordinary white mare.  The while she tries to sleep a witch traps her for a circus show relating to creatures of the magical arts such as dragons, harpies and of course a young wizard who can see the unicorn for what she truly is, unlike other humans.  The young Wizard helps free the unicorn for her cage and the go off together to complete her quest.

 As they journey on, the companions come across a band of bandits who wish to be like Robin Hood.  As Schmendrick fools the band, the unicorn and himself are able to escape, only to obtain one more traveler: Molly.  Molly can see the unicorn for what she is, because she’s been waiting for her all her life.  Throughout their journey they learn more about what could have happened to the other unicorns and come across a village with a mysterious prophecy.  A village haunted by the castle and the king that rules them, the king has a being that serves him, the Red Bull.  From here the unicorn and her companions try to make it to the castle only to be attacked by none other than the Red Bull.  In order to save the unicorn from being killed by the bull, Schmendrick turns her into a human.  After this happens the unicorn and her friends make it to the castle, and enter the service of the king.  They spend countless months trying to figure the riddle out and find the unicorns.  Does the unicorn find her own kind?  Can Schmendrick find his own magic to turn the unicorn back into a unicorn?  Does the village’s prophecy come true?  All these are answered in the end of the story which I don’t want to spoil for all you fine folks.

 This was a marvelous story, I am happy I picked it up.  The images of the creatures and surrounds were very well done and I can almost picture them as I was reading.  The way the author tells the story, the reader just gets lost in his world.  He weaves a fantastic tale of friendship, courage, and the desire to know one’s own self.   One of the things I loved most about this story was the author didn’t take us into the mind of a human character, sure there are humans as a part of the story, but we get the insight from one of the most beloved magical creatures.  I also enjoyed that Schmendrick’s magical talents weren’t automatic; he needed to search within himself to find his power.   There was a lot in the story about searching within yourself for what you are looking for.  I enjoyed that aspect of the story.

 The only thing I was sad about was that I didn’t find this book before now.  Everything about it was wonderful.  Peter Beagle does an excellent job at describing everything as it happens.  You can picture the white mane of the unicorn, the frightening stature of the Red Bull, even the magic Schemdrick tries to cast throughout the story.  This is the perfect for a bedtime story for children who enjoy the fantasy and magical realm.  I will be looking for other books by Mr. Beagle.  This is a book you should pick up and read, then watch the movie.

Pros: Great story; good moral
Cons: Descriptions tend to take away from the story
Bottom Line: Great story!  I recommend this to anyone who loves a good heartwarming story.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Splinterd

Alyssa Gardner is trying to hide from the no so secret fact that she is a distant relative of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Alice In Wonderland, as well as the whispers of the insects that inspire her beautifully morbid artwork.    While on a visit to her mom, she learns of a family curse and decides to find a way to break the curse.  She soon finds herself in Wonderland itself along with the boy of her dreams.  Throughout the novel they fight to discover the truth and lies being told by everyone in Wonderland.  She soon finds out the Alice who returned from Wonderland was in fact an imposter.  Alyssa is thrown into a whirlwind of adventure and emotional battles as she discovers her true identity and desires for life.

This novel is an interesting twist to a classic tale.  I admit when I picked up the book I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Many twists to classic tales always fall short or don’t seem to be their “own” story.  Splintered is different; it is in fact it’s own story with slight elements from the classic tale (but slightly altered).   Howard does a phenomenal job at throwing his readers into the world he created; a new wonderland.  The images of the characters we once loved have altered but in a way that makes a new generation love them all the same along with new creations to these characters such as caterpillar evolving into a beautiful mysterious moth.

The descriptions of the characters are beautifully well done that as you are reading the novel you can picture each unique character.  Alyssa’s development through the novel flows beautifully as she learns new things about her family, herself and wonderland itself.  You open the book and know immediately it is a story based off of Alice in Wonderland but can clearly see differences between the two stories that make each their own but also tie the two together.  It was enjoyable to have the story be generations in the future rather than Alice Liddell’s daughter or even granddaughter, but a distant relative.  The novel is marketed towards young adults, but I can see many adults enjoying this novel (series) as well.  I for one will be looking for the next book.

Pros: Unique take on a classic tale
Cons: Moments the story drags on

Bottom line: if you enjoy Alice in Wonderland or other stories like that then check it out.  It is a great novel.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Spiral Staircase

In the preface of the autobiography, Karen states:  “The cloister was a radical and daring solution. So while my peers opted out in hippie communes, experimented with mind-altering drugs, or tried to change to world politically, I sought intensity and transformation in the life of a nun.”   While most people view joining a onvent as a religious act, a way of becoming closer to God forsaking all things secular and embrassing the life. From the preface of the memoir and the statement quoted, the reader gets the feeling that Karen seen is as a rebellious act, something that went against all expectations of her from family, friends, and society.

One of the things that drew me in was the usage of T.S Elliots poem "Ash Wednesday," knowing the poem and seeing her usage made me wonder if the poem would have significance to her, and as I read the story farther it becomes evident that it does because she in fact quotes the entire poem.  Then she continues to quote the work throughout her story.

She goes in depth about her experiences after the convent as well as snippets into what she endured as a nun.  She describes in full detail what happened to her mentally, religiously and even physically after leaving the convent.  Her story of having blackouts and not knowing why and no one listening to her just bout broke my heart.  She displays a degree of strength throughout everything that I am not sure any of us would have, I know I wouldn't.  Despite everything she went through in her time in the convent and afterwards, she remains optimistic.

Pros:  Compelling look into someone's life experiences
Cons: None
Bottom Line: This is a compelling story and reaches out to anyone in any walk of life.  I completely recommend this memoir to anyone and everyone.  It is definitely on my must read list.

Rating 4.5 out 5

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Magician's Guild

For Sonea the purge was just like any other, that is until she threw a rock that broke through the magicians’ barrier. Now she is hiding from the out of fear that they want to kill her. How could she, a girl from the slums have magical powers? The magician’s Guild want to teach her how to control her power so that she doesn’t cause any destruction to herself or others. Sonea uses the help of the Theives to hide throughout the city, but each time she thinks she is safe, the magicians seem to be able to find her. She must decide if she wants to be apart of the Magician’s Guild or continue to live her life among those she loves in the slums.

I was interested in the story line, but as I began to read the novel, I found the storyline to be lacking in places. It just seemed like a large story of hide and seek. There are several holes in the story that the reader can’t help but catch on too. For example the magicians spend weeks hunting for Sonea only to remember 3-4 weeks into it that they can track her by sensing her magic. If the group can do that, why didn’t they do that in the first place? Sonea is a character I am unsure on to begin with. She relies heavily on other people throughout the novel, and doesn’t do much for herself or really think for herself. She just does what others tell her to do, not really a strong independent character.

The story seems to just drag on and not really go anywhere, seems to be stalling the story to make it longer. The characters don’t seem to develop on their own, and need the assistance of the reader to understand the transformations they are going through. Sonea is supposed to be a girl from the slums, uneducated and unsophisticated, but she speaks as well if not better than the magicians. She comes off as a weak character because she relies so heavily on other people to know who to trust, what to do, what to think. She doesn’t seem to have a mind of her own in the novel, which doesn’t really appeal to me as a reader. She wants people to constantly do things to make life better for others, but she is unwilling to do anything herself to change her situation or that of those she loves.

The author uses a lot of description throughout the novel to the point where it seems the novel is all description. There isn’t a whole lot of dialog, but when there is, it is done well despite the “dwells” speak very refined and don’t have slang terms that one would assume they would in comparison to the Magicians. There are a lot of good things within the novel and things that aren’t so good, but that comes with any novel. It’s all subject to the reader’s preferences. While I may not have been 100% happy with this novel, it is a good start to a series. It sets the stage for what may come later, even if it doesn’t give much backstory to the characters, that just might come later. I will continue to read the series and see where life takes Miss Sonea.

Pros: Great storyline and plot development
Cons: Poor character development, story begins to drag on in places
Bottom Line:  Its a great novel for fantasy lovers of all ages

Rating 3.5 stars out of 5

Friday, August 8, 2014

Facing Your Giants

The Bible talks about a young boy named David who fought and defeated a giant named Goliath with nothing but a stone and a slingshot, and his faith in God.  We each have a Goliath in our lives that takes one form or another; we know what it looks like.  How it presents itself. Sometimes it could be looming bills we struggle to pay or grieve over the loss of a loved one, unbreakable habits and more.   Everything we struggle with throughout life is our own personal Goliath.  The basis of the book is that if you focus on your giants, your Goliath's; you stumble and fall.   But if you focus and rely on God you will triumph over them all.

Once again Lucado causes his readers to re-evaluate their lives and how they deal with aspects of their lives.  Relying on God through troubling times or when we face our struggles is something very important for Christians to follow.  we spend too much time focusing on how overwhelming our stresses are, or our fears, failures and doubts effect our lives now and our relationship with God and other people.  Max Lucado paints a picture, a vivid picture of David and how he appeared trembling before the 9 foot giant.

Max Lucado shows David's focus was on God and not the fears and doubts he had to have had swarming in his mind.  This is how out lives should be lived.  How we should face the giants in our lives.  Max's writing brings the story to life and makes the readers see David's life within their own.  We all struggle with fears and doubts but when we rely on God we can succeed the way David succeeded against Goliath.


Pros: Helps you view struggles and trials in life differently
Cons: Not everyone is going to agree with what he says
Bottom Line:  It is worth the read and you will learn something from reading it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Waking Lazarus

All Jude Allman wants is to be normal.  Not to be known as the man who comes back to life.  Every so often since he was a young child Jude has died, only to come back to life a few days later.  He has managed to blend into the world around him under a different name of Ron Gress.  His whole life begins to change when he meets Kristene.  He slowly begins to taste copper at random moments or sees visions when he touches a person.  What could all that mean?    As Jude/Ron tries to figure his life out, someone is kidnapping children from neighboring communities.  Could the abilities that Jude/Ron has discovered help find the person responsible for the abductions?

This was an interesting novel.  The character development was well done, especially Ron/Jude character.  Reading the development of Rachel was exceptional.  We watch as she begins to see him in a different light, see him as the person he is and not who she thinks him to be. The parts with the kidnapper were confusing with the references to the Hunter and The Normal and acceptance etc.  It seemed like there was something more complex within the plot of who the kidnapper was than what was presented.  It was difficult to understand what was actually being said in those sections, and honestly I skimmed through them faster than the other parts of the novel. 

It was fairly well written with great descriptions of the characters and setting.  There were things that were almost predictable, but others that threw you off guard.  Might just be typical to have some things expected while others. The story is interesting with an interesting characteristic that the main character poses.  T.L Hines does a good job getting his message across and relating the story he wanted. He does an excellent job at capturing his audience and holding them with the story.  It's a good novel to pick up and read.


Pros: Great story idea and character development
Cons: Story progression can be slow and a few unanswered questions
Bottom Line:  It was a good read; it is enjoyable. 

Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Five Love Languages

Everyone expresses how they love in different ways.  Dr. Gary Chapman defines for us 5 different love languages we use to express love to our spouse, children, parents and friends.  Though knowing how our loved ones express love and feel loved are an important part of knowing how to convey our love for them.  If we don't know their language and how to use their language we struggle with displaying how much we honestly care.

Dr. Chapman goes into detail over each of the love languages to help readers learn their own language and how to express love in their partner's language.  He even has a test in the back of the book to help determine what each other's love languages are.

Content:

The love languages are Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Service, Physical Touch and Quality Time.

Words of Affirmation:

Words of Affirmation are the words we use to express ourselves as well as the tone that we use when we talk to our loved ones.  It could also be words of appreciation.  It could be something simple as "I appreciate that you take the garbage out" or "Thank you so much for doing the laundry."  If you say those in loving kind tone it conveys love, but if you say it in a sacrastic mean tone it conveys rejection and judgement.

Receiving Gifts:

This could be seen as a visual aspect of love.   Receiving gifts doesn't mean going out and buying huge presents all the time or even buying anything.  A gift could be something so simple as picking flowers out of the garden, or your spouse's favorite candy bar.  Often times those who feel loved through the expression of gifts often feel the lack of gifts reflects a lack of love.

Acts of Service:Many times people feel loved through acts of service such as doing the laundry or mowing the lawn.  That act can seem so simple, but it could mean the world to the person you love.  To someone who loves through acts of service, they see it as you taking time, effort and energy to do something for them.  Doing a chore that is humbling can be an expression of love and devotion.

Quality Time:Quality time and quantity time are two different things.  It is not how much time you spend with someone its how you spend that time together.  Just sitting next to each other is not qaulity time, it needs your focus and attention to be placed on your spouse.  Going for a walk and talking can be quality time, an intimate dinner for two, or sitting on the porch in each other's arms is quality time.

Physical Touch: 

Many people think physical touch is sexual, but in the expression of love that is not the case.  Physical touch is anything from placing your hand on her should to holding hands, and hugging, and inclduing sexual intercouse.  Some people feel most loved when they feel that touch from their loved ones even if it is a brief brush of hands or a hand on the back leading her out the door.  A simple touch can go a long way.

Chapman's book helps readers learn what their love language is and how they feel most loved.  It also goes into detail about how to learn your spouse's love language and then tips on how ou can express love through their love language.  Reading the book together as a couple could be a relationship saver.

I have learned some people have more than one love language.  I personally have two love languages.  A person can express love in many different ways not simply one.  I have learned in myself that I need to hear words of affirmation, physical touch and qualtiy time to feel loved.  But when it comes to expressing love, I express it through all five love languages.

I believe if you read it once, you should read it again in a few months just to brush up on the knowledge and help yourself be in tuned with your language and your spouse's language. 



Pros: Helpful in learning what your love language is and that of your spouse.
Cons: Heavy in Christian references

Bottom Line: I  highly recommend this book to any couple because it helps you strengthen your love for each other.

Rating 5 out of 5 stars