Thursday, November 1, 2018

Book Review: Robert Frost

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo 2018...but I'm not here to talk about that. Today, I am reviewing a book I recently read: Selected Poems of Robert Frost.

What is this book about? Poems. That seems pretty self-explanatory so I won't get into the definition of that.

First Impressions? I loved it. Quick disclaimer here: I can't write poetry to save my life and I am certainly not a competent critic of this particular genre of literature. I loved it because I enjoy the music of words, and the easiest place to hear that is in poetry.

Every poem was remarkably different, but if I reviewed each one I would be here for a very, very long time. Instead, I will simply say that I greatly enjoyed Robert Frost's poems. His mastery of the English language is something that makes my writer's heart cry with joy. It was beautiful, and moving, and surprisingly funny. Robert Frost was a witty man, folks. There's no two ways about it. 

I am, of course, a fierce lover of old writing. I find it far more beautiful than contemporary literature. Somehow in days gone by writers captured the music and power of words in ways that only a handful of authors seem to nowadays. Because of this, I was already inclined to like Frost's poems, and he certainly did not disappoint me.

Would I read this book again? All the time.

Would I recommend this book to others? Absolutely yes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

#Preptober 2018

National Novel Writing Month--otherwise known as NaNoWriMo--is nearly upon us!

Last year was my first time participating, and I loved it. I got a complete novel written, and it happens to be one of my works that I'm the proudest of (don't worry, there's been plenty of editing involved as well).

Because I wrote Return to Sherwood last November, I thought it only fitting that this year I write book 2 in that series; A Promise to Keep. Also, I haven't been able to get my creative self to sit down and simply write book 2 in the various months that I have tried to do just that, so I thought giving myself a deadline and the chance of public humiliation would be more likely to get it done.

November is filled with late nights of trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and October is the prep time before you get to those sleepless nights. So have I been prepping? No. I have not.

Let me explain; A Promise to Keep is a sequel to Return to Sherwood, so except for a few new characters we'll run into, I already have detailed Character Profiles for every named character in this story. I also have a rough outline drawn up because Return to Sherwood did not take the story as far as I originally thought that it would, so A Promise to Keep shares part of that original outline. Plus, since I have attempted to write A Promise to Keep over the last year at various point in time, I did make an updated, more detailed outline as well. I have Character Profiles, an outline, and I've done research on the time period already. What more could I possibly need? That is why I haven't been prepping for November.

What I have been doing is rereading Return to Sherwood to get back into the feel and flow of that story. Every book I write has a slightly different voice, and because A Promise to Keep and Return to Sherwood are so closely connected I want their voices to resemble one another.

I am excited for November and to see how much of A Promise to Keep I can get written. I am also looking forward to the camaraderie and even the stress of NaNoWriMo. There is no environment quite like it, and I love it!

In the meantime, Happy Writing, everybody!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Quarterly Writing Goals #4 [2018]

Okay, well, due to July being crazy this year...and just me being lazy, in general...I did not post my third quarter writing goals blog. Oops. Regardless, I did, in fact, have goals and I did do some of them.

But first things first! What are Quarterly Writing Goals? They are simply goals that I wish to accomplish that have to do with writing a book, editing a book, marketing a book, etc. I choose to charge myself with completing these tasks in three months time. I make goals because they keep me motivated and productive.

Man, I've got that spiel down pat.

So, those goals that I never posted...what were they?

1) Edit The Story of Gisbourne, which did, in fact, happen; 2) Publish The Story of Gisbourne, which also happened; 3) edit/rewrite Return to Sherwood, which I did most of; 4) Write the sequel to Return to Sherwood, which I did not do very much of; 5) Name the sequel--which I totally did! 6) the book launch for The Story of Gisbourne; and 7) social media and vlogs...which was as hit and miss as always.

So what are my goals for the end of the year?

Write A Promise to Keep This is the sequel to Return to Sherwood, which I only have a very wee little bit of actually written. I am planning on writing this novel in November for NaNoWriMo.

Explore IngramSpark This is the platform that I will now be publishing my books through. I want to get comfortable with the process--which is slightly different than CreateSpace--so that when I am ready to publish I know what I am doing. So, basically, research.

Update all the things Because I will be writing under a slightly different pseudonym in the future, I need to update my blog, social media, etc. to reflect this change.

Outline The Cure This is my fantasy novel that has been brewing for several years. I'm finally ready to write it. So when I'm not doing A Promise to Keep--which will be my November book--I'll be working on this novel.

Worldbuild The Cure This is a fantasy story set in an unknown world. I need to figure out as much as I can about that world so that I can write a story set in it that actually makes sense.

And of course, social media and vlogs.

When the new year hits, we shall see how much of this I actually accomplished (or if I added more to my list along the way, as I often do).

In the meantime, Happy Writing, everybody!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Mandi Grace

Major changes are coming.

I've already mentioned in the past how I am going to be publishing with IngramSpark in the near future, when CreateSpace and KDP finally become one entity. When I change platforms, I will also be changing something else: my pseudonym.

It won't be a massive change; I'm simply going from Amanda Grace to Mandi Grace.

The reason for this change? When I originally chose to write under Amanda Grace I did so because I wanted to use my own name. I was not aware, at the time, that there are multiple Amanda Grace authors. This has caused a little confusion, but more than that, being one of many is hardly what any author wants. We want to be unique and stand out; to be remembered. Because of this, I have been toying with the idea of altering my pseudonym for a number of years. The move to IngramSpark simply gave me the opportunity I'd been waiting for. Mandi is still my name, which is what I originally wanted, and there aren't any Mandi Grace authors (yet) to be confused with.

My Robin Hood series and my Dystopian trilogy will remain under the name Amanda Grace and will still be available on Amazon through KDP. However, when I begin publishing new novels through IngramSpark they will all be under the name Mandi Grace.

Due to this change, my blog, my website, and the rest of my social media will soon be updated slightly.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Top 9 (ish) Favorite Novels

My Top 9--because Top 10 lists are over-rated--favorite books of all time:

I have read hundreds of books over the years and I have enjoyed almost every book I've read, with very few exceptions (*cough*Eragon*cough*). This tendency to enjoy every book I pick up does not lend itself to making a list of favorites. I have too many "favorites" for that word to be properly used in conjunction with my list. Therefore, though I have compiled a list of books that I love, it is by far not every book I would call a favorite and certainly not in any sort of hierarchical order.

Also, after compiling my list, I noticed a distinct pattern. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but all things considered, I love Fantasy and Classics more than anything else.

So, without further ado, my Top 9 (ish) Favorite Novels:

#1 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This is a book I have probably reread more than any other. I first read Jane Eyre around the age of 12 and fell in love, though at the time I didn't really understand half of it. And I reread it at least once a year, sometimes more. I love everything about it. The characters, the writing, the humor, the angst...everything.

#2 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: These three--ahem, six--books will always be on my favorites list when it comes to books that I have loved. Tolkien's writing is by far my favorite and the one I look up to the most. He is the pinnacle of all things great, in my humble opinion, when it comes to writing. And everything about these books makes me fall in love every time I crack them open. It's a rich world, with remarkable characters, and it's fantasy--which is my favorite genre. Plus, it's Tolkien.

#3 Jane Austen: I couldn't name just one because I reread all of them annually--or even more often than that. I love every word she ever wrote. To be fair, I haven't completed reading all her unfinished works, but I'm sure I'll love those, too, when I get to them.

#4 North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: I love historical fiction, but especially when it was written in that time period. Classics are so much richer than modern day historical fiction; probably because they didn't have to do research, they simply wrote about their lives. However that may be, I absolutely adored this book on the first read and I love it more every time I pick it up.

#5 The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: This series of books has to go on my list because they are probably the most worn out books in my entire collection. As a child/teenager, I reread them almost every month or so, and even in adulthood I still read them over and over again. The best way I could describe sitting down to read The Chronicles of Narnia is simply the feeling of coming home.

#6 The Princess by Lori Wick: My favorite work by this author, definitely, and the only one I reread consistently. A modern-day royally arranged marriage...what could possibly go wrong? Nothing. Because this book is amazing.

#7 Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I only very recently read these for the first time and I instantly fell in love. The characters, the writing, the whole deal. I love it all.

#8 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: and once again, what could compete with a classic? This is just one of those books that make me happy no matter when I read it, any time of the year.

#9 Everything Ted Dekker ever wrote: Actually, if I'm honest, I haven't read all of his books yet. But I have been working my way through his long list of titles and have not yet come across a book that I could put down. Ted Dekker is the modern-day author version of Tolkien to me--the pinnacle of all things great.

So there you have it. My Top 9--or 30--favorite books. Who's counting? Obviously not me.

Happy Writing--and Reading--, everybody!

Friday, September 7, 2018

CreateSpace, KDP, and What I Know So Far

CreateSpace and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) have merged and chaos has ensued!

Okay, that is not accurate. However, that is how it has felt over the last week.

CreateSpace and KDP are both owned by Amazon, and as I understand it, Amazon simply wanted all their self-publishing platforms under one roof.

I was unaware that this change was taking place. My CreateSpace account didn't send me any messages telling me big changes were coming--there were no giant orange signs saying "road closed"--and I rarely visit my KDP account because I only have one ebook published through them. I have not received any emails about this upcoming change (although I have been told that others have). I came across a post on Facebook on Monday morning asking how other authors were handling the move from CreateSpace to KDP because of the closure and I had a panic attack. What closure? Why? When? Why wasn't I informed???

I have spent the rest of this week doing research and also complaining loudly to anyone who would listen--and probably many who would rather have not heard what I had to say.

I was not the only one complaining either. I have been roaming through various support groups and forums on Facebook, CreateSpace, and KDP, and what I discovered is that people are not happy. Many people are concerned about the move itself, as they have been encountering many issues with covers, interior files, and such being lost along the way. Some people have been given the option to move but when they try to follow the "3 simple steps" they simply can't--CreateSpace/KDP send them on an endless loop of pushing the same buttons and getting zero results.  Thus, panic and chaos and lots of yelling people. Well, yelling via the internet at any rate. I have not yet attempted to make the move (or even been informed of it by either company) so I cannot attest to the accuracy of these reported issues.

What I can say is that I am not a fan of KDP, which is why I stopped publishing through them after one single ebook and why I rarely check that account. I try to pretend KDP doesn't exist. So when I discovered this merge was happening, I was not a happy camper. However, after doing more digging into the situation and into KDP itself, I can say it's not as terrible as I first assumed.

Some people have made the move without the issues that others are reporting, and KDP is not as horrendous a publishing platform as I had made up my mind to believe--though I still believe CreateSpace was better and more user-friendly. KDP's cover creator is not as good as CreateSpace's, and KDP's royalty system--both payment and also royalty reports--is frustrating for me personally.

As I stated above, some people have made the move without the hitches that others have encountered. Whether I am one of the lucky without any problems or one of the many with a headache in exchange for my futile efforts, remains to be seen. Whether I will get informed, by either company, about this change also remains to be seen. That, in itself, is a major cause of my current frustration.

I will let my currently published books move over to KDP--because I have no choice--and they will remain available on Amazon throughout the entire process. My readers should not be affected by this change at all. I, on the other hand, am re-evaluating my life choices.

Also, I am looking into IngramSpark--another self-publishing platform--, and as of now, I am planning on using that platform for any further books that I publish.

Happy Writing, everybody! And good luck to any Indie authors struggling through this CreateSpace/KDP fiasco.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

3 Self-published Authors I Admire (And Why)

So, as the title might suggest, today I'm going to briefly talk about indie authors that I admire; either for their writing or for some other reason.

Number one on my list is Jenna Moreci. Oh good gravies, this girl. I cannot even put into words my love for Jenna. Of her books, I have only read the first chapter of Eve: The Awakening--because when I discovered her I was broke, and so far still haven't had the income to purchase unnecessary items such as books (I can't believe I just said books were unnecessary). But this isn't a financial blog post, so we'll move past that. The point is, I've read very little but I LOVED what I read. I was hooked, from page 1, and have been mourning the fact that so far I haven't been able to get my hands on the rest. So, her writing aside, the real reason I love Jenna Moreci is her YouTube channel. She is brilliant, witty, intelligent, and the source of the majority of my writing advice these days. I used to have other sources, but why would I need them when I have the Cyborg Queen?

Now, there is one thing about dear Jenna Moreci that I don't like; she uses explicit language...everywhere. All.The.Time. And that is not something my poor little ears need. So, beware when reading her books or watching her YouTube videos.

The next self-published author on my list is Mandi Lynn. Again, I mainly know her through YouTube. However, I have actually read a full novel of hers, as opposed to one chapter of Jenna's book. I enjoyed her novel, and I enjoy her YouTube channel. She is not on the insanely high pedestal that the Cyborg Queen is--how could anyone even come close--but she is on my list because she is more on my level. Someone that can serve as inspiration that I could reasonably imitate and someday (hopefully) attain. Unlike Jenna...whom I can never compare with in any way.

The last author on my list is Christopher Paolini. Granted, his books are now traditionally published, but Eragon started out self-published, so he totally counts. The reason he's on my list is simple--self-publishing can eventually lead to "making it big." He's nothing more to me than an example of what is possible--well, that and also the author of a series that I love (love is a strong should go read my reviews of that series to know how I really feel, which you can find here: My Reviews).

There you have it. 3 self-published authors I admire, and why.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bonsai Tree Update

Today I have tragic news...there has been an unforeseen my ROOM!

My first bonsai tree died a rather tragic death at such a tender young age of...however many weeks old he was.

I went on a trip about a month ago and was gone for two weeks--counseling at church camp. And whilst I was away, my poor bonsai tree died (to be fair, I did put someone in charge of him...). Despite this sad event, I have planted seeds yet again and am growing bonsai tree #2. We shall see how this goes! Hopefully better than the last one.

I have completed the soaking seeds, stratifying in the fridge, and planting stages. Now I wait for the little green shoots once more. And don't go on any trips until my bonsai is fully grown.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Heart of God

God loves you. God loves me.

Sometimes, in all of our mess, we can find this hard to believe. Maybe we're a Christian who has continued to sin in spite of our salvation and we are overcome with guilt. Maybe we aren't saved yet, and we don't think we ever can be saved because of all the horrors we have committed. We think to ourselves, "Obviously God wants to punish me for all of this sin. I deserve death and that's what He'll give me."

"'Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked?' declares the Lord God, 'rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? ...for I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,' declares the Lord God, 'therefore, repent and live.'" (Ezekiel 18: 23, 32)

Do you hear that?

"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

He doesn't want you to die in your sin. His desire for you, and for me, is that we would see the error of our ways and go running to Him for forgiveness. Because He can, and will, offer that forgiveness. He'll take us in His loving arms and clean our mess. Create in us something beautiful and glorious that will show the world exactly the kind of God that He is. A loving one.


Welp, that's my thought for the day. I realize I haven't blogged in ages. I was busy over the summer with counseling at church camps, and my niece being born--meaning I now have 2 charges to care for as a nanny. But still, those are just excuses. I fully intend to get back into this whole blogging thing. We'll see how long this lasts. Hopefully forever this time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My First-Ever Bonsai Tree!!

During the last month, I have been on a new adventure!

A friend of mine gave me a bonsai tree starter kit for my birthday last fall and I've finally pulled it out and begun growing my own bonsai! I have never done this before, so every step has been new and exciting and a little bit scary (in the sense that I really want this to work and am scared I don't have a green thumb). My little instruction manual is quite specific, and of course, I followed every single step to the letter of the law.

The process started by soaking the seeds for 24 hours (shown above...the five seeds are in the Ziplock filled with water). After that, the seeds were placed in a damp paper towel and put into the fridge for a week. And then finally I was allowed to plant them! 

Above is my planted seeds patiently waiting for the rain outside to stop so they can get some much-needed sunshine. :)

After one week I had a whole bunch of moss and nothing else, but after two weeks I finally had the little green shoots I'd been waiting for!

A few days later, it became excessively clear which plant I was going to keep and which to remove (you only need 1 bonsai, but you plant extra seeds to make sure you get at least 1. I ended up with 4 growing shoots from my 5 seeds. But only 1, as you can see from the above picture, actually wanted to be a bonsai tree. I'm pretty sure the others saw their brother growing so quickly and then immediately gave up and quit growing at all.)

That's what my bonsai tree looks like so far. I'm not sure how much longer it'll have to grow before I get into the detailed discipline that is trimming a bonsai tree. I'm excited though! I love exploring new things, and this one has been especially fun to do! :)

I also vlogged the whole experience, if you want to see me planting, watering, murdering young shoots that didn't make the cut, and all that: My Bonsai Vlog

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: Christy

Today I am reviewing a book most dear to my heart: Christy, by Catherine Marshall. I've read this book multiple times, so this isn't a fresh-faced review like most of mine have been.

What is this book all about?

Why did a nineteen-year-old girl want to leave her comfortable home to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in an isolated cove in the Great Smokies? Christy Huddleston, "eager to taste life to the full," wanted to do just that. From the moment she steps onto the station platform at El Pano that snowy January morning in 1912, her adventures begin. Not the least of which are the strange mountain customs that shatter Christy's illusions about life and make her face up to herself and what she believes.

I can't really do a "First Impressions" section since this is my fifth or sixth reading of this particular book, so instead, I'll do my overall impressions of this read-through. I simply adore this book. The story is captivating but even more than that Miss Alice's wisdom and Christy's grappling with what she truly believes challenges, encourages, and strengthens me in my walk with the Lord with every read-through.

The characters are vibrant. I feel like I am living there in the Appalachian mountains with these Highlanders. They leap from the page and draw you in to dwell with them in rustic cabins, watching beautiful sunsets and admiring majestic mountains while surrounded by barefooted children and a handful of chickens. That was an oddly specific description right there, but it's true.

And the way Catherine Marshall weaves Christy's questions of faith throughout the story amazes me. Many of Christy's questions are questions I've asked myself, and I can follow her doubts through to her certainty and believe it. A lot of times faith in "Christian Literature" I feel isn't handled well. It's either thrown in as an afterthought or it is unbelievable. Characters leap to conclusions or come to an understanding of Jesus without a natural progression. I, as the reader, cannot make those same conclusions. But that isn't true in Christy. I can follow the questioning of her faith and how she discovers what she truly believes because it unfolds in the most natural and real way.

One other thing I love about this book is how dated it is. I love, not only the very period way that the Highlanders talk (which is dated even for Christy's time) but the way the book itself is written. I'm a huge lover of classic literature, and though this book isn't that old, it shouldn't come as a surprise to me that a story written before the twenty-first century captures my heart in a way that no modern book ever has.

Would I read this book again? Obviously, as this isn't my first reading.

Would I recommend this book to others? Absolutely yes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: Blessed Child

Today I am reviewing Blessed Child by Ted Dekker. Boy, do I love this author!

Okay, what is this story about--before I start fangirling please--?

Whoever said that a straightened hand was more dramatic than a healed heart anyway?

A young orphan boy was abandoned during the midst of an invasion and raised in an Ethiopian monastery. He has never seen outside its walls--at least, not the way most people see. Now he must flee those walls or die.

But the world beyond is hardly ready for a boy like Caleb.

When relief worker Jason Marker agrees to take Caleb from the monastery, he unwittingly opens humanity's doors to an incredible journey filled with political intrigue and peril. Jason and Leiah--the French-Canadian nurse who escapes the monastery with him--quickly realize Caleb's supernatural power to heal. But so do the boy's enemies, who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Jason and Leiah fight for Caleb's survival while the world erupts in debate over the source of his power.

In the end, nothing can prepare them for what they discover.

First Impressions? This book is AMAZING. I was blown away.

Ted Dekker, as per usual, writes vibrant characters that leap from the page into my imagination and take hold there, proving time and time again just how real they are.

And again, as per usual, Dekker's suspenseful and intriguing story had me spell-bound and turning page after page after page.

Faith is a large part of a lot of Dekker's books, but this one was unique. The entire story is wrapped around the power of the Holy Spirit and what God can accomplish through you when you open up to that incredible power. I was humbled and challenged and encouraged in so many ways in my walk with Jesus while reading this book.

When Caleb is taken from isolation and introduced to Western culture, he begins to lose his sweet innocent faith. His journey from purity and certainty to temptation and doubt and then back into the arms of Jesus again paralleled my own in so many ways--and I am sure many other Christians' as well.

Aside from the faith aspect--which was basically the whole story--, the political intrigue was fascinating and nearly as interesting as Caleb's spiritual journey. Not quite, but nearly. Dekker had me on the edge of my seat throughout the book.

Would I read this book again? Oh my good gravies, YES!

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, yes, yes!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: Beyond the Horizon

I'm back with another book review! This time of Beyond the Horizon by Jesseca Wheaton. Jesseca is a new author I've discovered, and so far greatly enjoyed. I'm going to deviate from my previous format of doing reviews long enough to dive into something dear to my heart.

Jesseca Wheaton is an Indie author like myself, which is why I originally was interested in her work. I know how hard it can be to make your way as an Indie author and I love to support other people in my line of work. After that initial reason, however, I soon became intrigued by her books simply from reading their synopses. Let's back-track half a moment to say, I met Jesseca at the convention I went to earlier this year and that's where I first became introduced to her work and intrigued by it.

At any rate, showing my love for fellow Indie authors, I've read Beyond the Horizon.

So what is this book about?

Eliana longs to see the world beyond the mountains that tower above Salzburg, Austria, but knows that dream will never see such adventure--and neither will she.

Surrounded by a world of cruelty, she lives for the weekly visits of Aron, a boy she met on one of her rambles through the countryside.

But as the years pass and she begins to grow older, a new an unwelcome world is opened up to her. On a fateful night at a party she vowed she'd never attend, she comes face to face with a shocking truth. As the world around her teeters on the brink of war, Eliana struggles to figure out just where her loyalty lies; a decision that will drastically change the course of her life. Will she ever be free to see what lies beyond the horizon?

First Impressions: I loved it! It's a very sweet story.

This story is a Cinderella re-telling set in World War II Austria, and I thought Jesseca did a splendid job of transferring that story from fairytale to modern era. It wasn't cheesy, like most modern stories of Cinderella are.

The characters are delightful and quaint (I use that word in the best sense! i.e. picturesque, charming, sweet). The setting is intriguing. To be fair, it is a novella so we don't dive too deep into either character development or the politics and war going on at that time. However, I think it works well for this story. It's a simple love-story that happens to be set during World War II. The war adds a bit of suspense to the story but it doesn't overwhelm it because, as I said, we don't dive too deep into all of that.

The love story is believable, which is something I sometimes have trouble with in novellas simply because there isn't a lot of time to prove to the reader it is something they should believe in. Jesseca definitely convinced me of the love story.

One thing I had a small issue with was the faith element she has entwined in the story. It takes rather a backseat than otherwise, which is why when one of the characters comes to Jesus it sort of felt misplaced and out of nowhere. If I thought about it, I could see the progression. But that's the thing, I shouldn't have to think about it; the progression should feel natural and I should be able to follow it subconsciously. That was one of the very few things that bothered me about this book.

The other things that struck me at times was a few grammatical errors. To be fair, every book has them. Even Dee Henderson shocks me with one or two occasionally. No matter how many edits you go through, you're always going to miss at least one issue (I speak from experience). With that being said, there were enough of them in this small tale that it stuck out to me, and also momentarily drew me out of the story. It also seemed to say "self-published" or in other words "unprofessional" which is not something we Indie authors want our books to say. We deserve to be on reader's shelves as much as any traditionally published book. And Jesseca's story is no exception; I am glad to add it to my collection. I'm simply trying to be impartial and review this book without my "I love fellow Indie authors!" rose-colored glasses, so I have to say that the many grammatical errors did draw me out of the story and present the book as less than perfect.

Enough negativity, though! Back to the good stuff...

There was one major plot point that I saw coming a mile away, and I thought I had Jesseca Wheaton all figured out. And then she hit me over the head with something completely out of left field that I didn't expect at all. Kudos to you, Miss Wheaton! :) I was surprised firstly because I didn't expect a plot twist from her because I thought I'd figured her out, and secondly because I was reading a tiny novella and wasn't prepared for major plots twists because of that simple fact. I do so love when authors surprise me though!

Would I read this book again? Absolutely!!

Would I recommend this book to others? 100% Everyone, go read it!! You can buy it here: Beyond the Horizon on Amazon

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

TPA Homeschool Convention 2018

Or in other words, my first ever conference as an author...ever! :)

I had so much fun!

April 12th-14th I was off on a brand new adventure: sitting behind a table with my books displayed before me for the world to see, talking to complete strangers (terrifying experience, that), and making connections as an author.

My brother--I should say "one of" as I have many--was the one who convinced me to do this conference and helped me get it put together. My parents came on board and were an immense help as well. It was all crazy and new; ordering physical copies of my books (just how many copies does one need?) and creating business cards and paying for a booth space. And then the day of the conference arrived and it was talking to strangers and trying not to being a narcissist while talking solely about myself and my books.

Surprisingly--at least to me--I actually did sell books! And I made a few new connections with fellow Indie authors...and all-in-all I simply had a blast! I'm so glad that I went!

I'm excited to return next year to this conference, and I am excited to look into other conferences as well that I can go to. This is a new era for me as an author, and so far I am loving it!

That was a rather short recap there, but I really don't have a lot to say. I had a lot of fun, and I want to do it again! What I learned throughout the convention is that I need classes on how to talk to strangers, especially when all I'm doing is selling a product. It's just so awkward and embarrassing to talk to humans at the best of times, and then add that I'm selling something and it's just awful.

My favorite moment of the weekend was when a lady realized my Robin Hood series incorporates the redemption story (a.k.a Jesus) and she asked if the books were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There's four Robin Hood books right now, so I can see how that could have made sense...but no. I did not retell the gospel books via Robin Hood. At any rate, it made me laugh.

Anyway, if I head to anymore conferences or conventions I'll be sure to update you all on that when it happens. :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Blink of an Eye

Today I am reviewing Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker. This is actually a reprinting of his book Blink. I'm not sure how much was changed between the two versions, but I do know that he made some edits to Blink and created Blink of an Eye just before the movie based on this book came out. I haven't read Blink, or seen the movie, but I did just finish reading Blink of an Eye.

Sorry if that was a tad bit confusing.

So what is this book all about?

The future changes in the blink of an eye...or does it? Miriam is a Saudi princess promised to another, a pawn in a political struggle that could shift the balance of power in the Middle East. Seth is a certified genius with a head full of numbers, a life full of baggage, and an attitude born on the waves of the Pacific. Cultures collide when they find themselves thrown together as fugitives in a high-stakes chase across Southern California. A growing attraction and a search for answers fuel their fight to survive...but with no sleep and a massive manhunt steadily closing in, their chances of surviving any future are razor thin.

This isn't in the description of the book (spoilers? What I'm about to say is in the description of Blink, just not Blink of an Eye for some reason...), but I'm going to add that Seth is given an incredible and unfathomable gift of being able to see the future. Not completely and not distantly, but he can at least see more than what is happening to him in the present.

First Impressions? I really enjoyed this story and I couldn't put it down.

It took me all of two days to read this book. I wasn't surprised by that at all, because Ted Dekker is, among every author I've read to date, the most skilled at creating irresistible page-turning stories.

The characters in this book are vibrant and leap off of the page. They all felt very real; beautifully so when it came to Miriam and Seth, the main characters, and rather terrifyingly so when it came to the antagonists. I believed this story because it felt just that; real.

I have already mentioned this, but I could not put this book down. The intense, spell-bounding tale of political intrigue had me turning pages at a rapid rate; and Seth's uncanny ability to see the futures--and yes, that is plural--had me on the edge of my seat. You might think a story about a boy who can see the future would be pretty straight forward--what could happen that Seth and we as the reader don't already know--but Ted Dekker just kept throwing plot twists in my lap and it was amazing. This was an incredibly fun read.

Now let's talk about the meat of this story: Faith. Seth is not a believer in Jesus and Miriam is deeply Muslim. They aren't particularly searching for the truth throughout the story, but they are struggling with what it means to love. Miriam is betrothed to another man for political reasons if nothing else, and has never even met him. Seth is just a college kid who is too smart for his own good. On this crazy adventure that they find themselves on, the two of them discover something simple. Love. I'm not talking about romantic love or any other specific element of that four letter emotion. Just love. I thought it was truly beautiful the way that Dekker didn't try and make the characters run into some sort of evangelical on their journey who would lead them to salvation; Jesus wasn't shoved down their throats. They came to their conclusions on their own in the most natural and simplest way possible. I loved it. I feel that a lot of times Christian fiction doesn't seem plausible. People become believers simply because that's what the author intended of them, but it doesn't feel natural. This story, however, felt more natural than any other I've read to date. And I loved it! I am an avid lover of Jesus, but sometimes Christian fiction is too preachy even for me. This story, however, was not that way.

I will also add that I found Dekker's take on the Muslim community refreshing in the sense that every one of them wasn't portrayed as a terrorist. They were people. Some of them radical in their faith, some of them simply deeply involved in it--as many Christians are in their own--and some of them simply going through the motions.

Now, with that being said, I know very little about Islam myself. I haven't studied the religion or culture, I haven't met many people who are a part of it. I can't say that a Muslim reading Blink of an Eye would agree that it is a realistic or authentic take on Islam. So take everything I just said with a grain of salt and the understanding that I'm not an expert on this subject at all. I was just relieved to find a group of Muslims portrayed as a group of people; some of them passionate about their faith, some of them less so. Each one of them unique; as real people are.

Would I read this book again? A thousand times, YES.

Would I recommend this book to others? Without hesitation. Please, go read it. It's AMAZING.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Review: True Courage/Kidnapped

I have another book review for you! This time of True Courage, the final (sort of) novel in Dee Henderson's Uncommon Heroes series. Technically speaking, this book is no longer available as True Courage, Uncommon Heroes #4. It has been renamed Kidnapped and removed from the Uncommon Heroes series. Why? I have no idea. I didn't do any research into that odd situation. On some level it does rather make sense, considering True Courage has zero characters or plot in common with books 1-3. They were military based entirely, and True Courage isn't. At any rate, the copy of this novel that I read is True Courage, not Kidnapped, so I'm reviewing it as True Courage. As far as I know, the only thing changed was the title, not the story itself, so this review should hold for both. Don't quote me on that though.

So what is this story all about?

Someone snatched his cousin's wife and son. FBI agent Luke Falcon is searching for a kidnapper and sorting out the crime. He's afraid it is the work of a stalker. He's afraid they're already dead. And he'll do anything required to get them back alive...he didn't plan on falling in love with the only witness.

First Impressions? This book was a lot slower to get into. To be fair, with any average novel I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but the fact it took two chapters for me to be hooked to a Dee Henderson novel struck me as odd. She usually catches me on page 1. However, once I was hooked, she delivered the same spell-binding, suspenseful, amazing storytelling she always does.

I know I say this with every Dee Henderson novel, but her characters are practically flawless. Not that the characters don't have faults but that they are written so well.

Her ability to string the reader along on an intense mystery of uncovering the truth before someone gets hurt is awe-inspiring.

I'm basically just a fangirl of Dee Henderson at this point. Expect zero intellectual or analytical breakdown of this book or any other of hers. I'm just here to rave about how awesome she is!

Because it took me two chapters or so to really get hooked on this story, I had half written a start to this review where I talked about how this is my least favorite Dee Henderson book and I was even bored by it....and then I got past the beginning and realized it could easily be a favorite Dee Henderson novel of mine. She's just that good. I don't think she's physically capable of writing a bad novel.

I will say, faith took a bit of a backseat in this one. Not that it wasn't there, because it definitely was. The two main characters have a very solid relationship with Jesus and that was definitely showcased. Usually in Dee Henderson novels the main character is struggling with a specific aspect of faith that they then deal with/learn through the tale. That wasn't the case in this specific story which is why I say it took a backseat. It was still very present, it just wasn't a plot point.

Would I read it again? Absolutely.

Would I recommend this book to others? 100% YES.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Quarterly Writing Goals #2 [2018]

First off, I want to explain why I haven't blogged since the beginning of this month. I have been sick off and on throughout the month of March, and haven't done much of anything productive at, that's why.

Secondly, March is almost over and that means it's almost a new quarter of the year...which means Quarterly Writing Goals! For those of you who don't know, what are Quarterly Writing Goals? They are simply goals related to writing that are meant to be accomplished within a three month period. Setting goals is an incredibly motivating activity that helps me get many things done within a set period of time. Without them, I am never as productive as I should be. If you are setting goals for your writing, it doesn't have to be quarterly. You can set your goals to any time frame that you find helpful. A month. A year. Anything in between. And you can set goals, quarterly or otherwise, for everything in your life, not just writing.

I post my goals so that I have some accountability and also a simple place to look back at them as the quarter goes on.

My writing/editing/marketing goals for January through March were these: 1) Publish Queen of Caradale...I DID! Yay! (You can buy it here: Queen of Caradale ) 2) Edit The Story of Gisbourne...I did, but I only got halfway through it. So I'm not marking it as done, but I did work on it  3) Second editions for Always in Shadow and Dusty...I did do this! Finally. That's been on my list of things to do...forever  4) Brainstorm/Outline the sequel to Return to Sherwood...I did not do this  5) Social media and vlogs...for January and February I was AMAZING! :) I was so proud of myself. And then March be fair, I was sick and physically unable to keep up most of the time...but there were a few days when I could have done something and didn't, so my sicknesses can't be my excuse for the entire month.

What goals have I made for the next three months you ask?

Edit The Story of Gisbourne  I need to finish my rewrites/edits for this so that I can get it to my editors for a "real" edit. I'm halfway through, so that's great, but I need to finish.

Edit The Story of Gisbourne  I know that sounds repetitive, but this second edit is the official edit for publication. I don't know that it will get done in the next three months, but I would like to at least start that process.

Brainstorm/Outline the sequel to Return to Sherwood  I am planning on writing this book for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, so this needs to get done ASAP

Write Return to Sherwood sequel  As I mentioned above, I plan to do this for Camp NaNoWriMo, so I'm not too worried about it getting done.

Social Media and Vlogs  This time, for sure, it will happen. I will be on top of it. (I was doing so well this quarter! I'm so sad I got so sick this last month...)

Well, those are my goals for the next three months. Here's to hoping I actually get them done! :)

Happy Writing, everyone! :)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: True Honor

What am I reviewing today? That's right...another Dee Henderson book! I hope you all aren't getting bored with this, because we've a ways to go yet. Thankfully I, for one, am still loving reading these books. :) Today I am reviewing True Honor, the third (and possibly final) book in Dee Henderson's Uncommon Heroes series. I say "possibly final" because there is a book 4, or was, but it was later removed from the series and renamed.

So what is True Honor all about?

Darcy St. James retired from the CIA two years ago with an Intelligence Star for Valor. The cold war was over; she'd won her war. Then September 11 happened. Friends died. And her nation needed her network of contacts and her street smarts back. Darcy is hunting down a man who knew September 11 would happen--and chose to profit from the knowledge.

Chief Petty officer Sam "Cougar" Houston is busy: the intelligence Darcy is generating has his SEAL team deploying around the world. As one of the squad's snipers, he's taking on the enemy one man at a time. And he can't afford to take Darcy's contacts at face value--one of them wants her dead.

First impressions? I loved this book. I do believe it may be my favorite (if one can choose a favorite) of the Uncommon Heroes series.

As with every Dee Henderson book I have read, her characters are vivid and engaging. The plot in this book was more suspenseful than the last two, which may be why I've decided it's my favorite. Romance only does so much for me. :P

The faith of Darcy and Sam is expertly weaved throughout the story, like any other Henderson novel, and I love it. It's very real. It doesn't feel forced and pushed onto the story; it's organic, like any other relationship in the book. Dee Henderson's ability to portray faith in her stories is something I envy and aspire to have.

I have reached a new height in my Dee Henderson novel reading experience. I have something to complain about! Throughout the series you only spend time with people essential to the plot. The only reason people move into the main characters lives is because of plot. To be fair, this is rather true of any story. However, in this particular series is is noticeable and annoying for several reasons which I will attempt to explain. (some possible spoilers ahead...)

First of all, best friends change. In book 2, True Valor, Tom "Wolf" Yates and Bruce "Striker" Stanton are very much best friends. By the end of the book they are contemplating having a double wedding with their respective girlfriends. In book 3, True Honor, Bruce never makes an appearance (because the plot never calls for a parajumper) and Tom's best friend has become Sam Houston, one of the main characters...because...plot.

As for the double wedding, it's never outright agreed upon, but the last lines of book 2 are a conversation between Bruce and Gracie discussing having that double wedding so it is implied to the reader that it is going to take place. The opening of book 3 is Tom's wedding. First of all, it isn't a double wedding, but I could easily get over that. Secondly, Tom's best man is Sam...not Bruce, the one man the reader knows to be his best friend, but Sam, a person whose name we know but nothing else and he's acting like he's always been Tom's best friend. I found that remarkably inconsistent and it bothered me.

The second thing that bothered me was that Grace never made an appearance. I would have been happy even if we didn't see her but at least heard her mentioned...even just once. Joe and Kelly from book 1 are in True Honor several times, but never Gracie. Tom and Gracie are cousins, but their relationship is very close in book 2; they are more like brother and sister. A very close brother and sister. We don't even hear mention of Gracie at Tom's wedding. Later in book 3, Tom and his SEAL team are able to get a message to home during one of their deployments. Tom sends a message to Jill, his wife, but nothing for Gracie. Jill's bother, for the record, is Bruce (who at this point should be married to Gracie). It wasn't a huge deal, but it was just one more moment where characters who weren't essential to the plot were left out. It happened often enough that I noticed it, and that isn't a good thing to notice about a story.

But, on the bright side, the story as a whole was amazing! :)

There is also a note from Dee Henderson at the end of this book explaining that during the writing of True Honor, September 11 took place. Since that event is an integral part of this book, I can imagine a lot of rewriting took place. And more than that, this must have been an incredibly emotional book to write during 2001. My respect for Dee Henderson increased quite a bit while reading her note at the end of True Honor. I don't think I would have completed this book had I been the one writing it, or if I had, I would have come back to it years later and not persevered right then.

Would I read it again? Absolutely.

Would I recommend this book to others? 100% YES. Like I said previously, this is my favorite of the Uncommon Heroes series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Benefits of Reading

Why is reading good for you?

Over the past few days, listening to my niece beg me to read her story after story, I've been pondering the positive effects of reading extensively from a young age, and now I'm here to share my thoughts with the world. :)

One obvious reason reading is good for you is that it improves your vocabulary. The more you read, the more words you know. And if you are taking the time to look up any words that you don't understand, that helps too. This is true for any age. At a young age, like my niece's, stretching her vocabulary is good for her brain development.

Reading can also improve your writings skills. This isn't exactly relevant for my niece yet, seeing as she isn't even 2, but in my own life I have definitely seen the proof of this fact.

Reading can improve your imagination. As a person who uses their imagination daily, I personally think this is vitally important. :)

Reading can introduce you to cultures outside of your own, providing an education that will hopefully serve to make you a more open, loving individual. One that enjoys the various things that set people apart rather than viewing them as bad.

Books also serve to teach many life lessons, often in very subtle ways that aren't preachy in a way that would turn off a reader. This leads to readers being healthy, contributing members of society. (if they take those life lessons to heart, that is)

Scientifically speaking, studies do show that reading can slow the progress of dementia and Alzheimer's through keeping your brain active. Basically, if you exercise your brain, it works much better than if you don't. Reading can also improve your attention span, reduce stress, enhance brain function, etc. I don't have the knowledge myself to go into detail about all that, but I'll give you a link to an article about it that I found fascinating and helpful.  6 Scientific Reasons Reading is Amazing for Your Health

I for one, if you haven't already picked up on this, am a huge reader. I don't choose to read because of all the reasons listed above, I simply love reading....almost as much as I love writing. There have been times, however, that I have read with the purpose of perfecting my craft (writing). 

What about you? Do you love to read? Do you know of other benefits to reading that I haven't mentioned here?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review: Jennifer

Once again, I am reviewing a book by Dee Henderson. If you haven't already picked up on this, I am currently trying to work my way through all of her books. I don't have reviews of every one that I have read because I started reading her books long before I started doing reviews. Someday I might go back and review those other books, but for now I'm busy enough writing reviews as it is.

Jennifer--An O'Malley Love Story is a short, background story for one of the characters in Dee Henderson's O'Malley series. And yes, I have read the entire O'Malley series. They were the first Dee Henderson books I read, and to date are still my favorites.

So what is Jennifer all about?

It's a summer of change for Jennifer O'Malley. the busy physician has a pediatrics practice in Dallas, Texas, and meeting and falling in love with surgeon Tom Peterson is adding a rich layer to her life. She's sorting out how to introduce Tom to her family--she's the youngest of seven--and thinking about marriage. She's falling in love with Jesus too, and knows God is good. But that faith is about to be tested, and in a way she didn't expect. The results will soon transform her entire family.

Look, you get a picture this time! :D

First impressions? I loved it! It was a very sweet story.

I knew the outcome of this story because it is a tiny little prequel book to the O'Malley series, all of which I have previously read. I know the rest of Jennifer's story. It was still delightful to read this part of her life though.

Because it is a novella and not a full length novel, Dee Henderson doesn't go into a lot of depth throughout the story. We don't get to know a whole cast of characters. We have Jennifer and Tom and a handful of other names who pop in and out a few times when necessary to plot. Even so, Dee Henderson still manages to do what I have come to know her for: write vibrant, memorable characters that you won't soon forget. Even if they only have one scene.

The romance between Jennifer and Tom is sweet, perhaps even more so because I knew the later part of their story from the O'Malley series but did not know how their relationship came to be. It was delightful to watch their friendship blossom and turn to love.

This story is unlike the rest of the O'Malley series in that it doesn't involve crime and murder and suspenseful plot. The heart of this story is a gentle romance, and the main challenge is Jennifer's decision what to believe about God. She is not a Christian when the book begins, like every other O'Malley in their respective books, and the unique journey she goes on to find the truth is profound and yet simple. Dee Henderson weaves these two elements, the sweet love story and the simple faith in Jesus, throughout the novella in a rather winsome and delightful way.

Would I read this book again? Undoubtedly.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. Along with the rest of the O'Malley books.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review: True Valor

I have another book review for you, and this time it is True Valor by Dee Henderson. This is the second novel in her Uncommon Heroes series.

So what is this book about?

Lieutenant Grace "Gracie" Yates spent her deployment catapulting off the deck of the USS George Washington in an F/A-18 Hornet. A self-assured naval aviator, she was flying to keep the peace while being ready for war.
Major Bruce "Striker" Stanton, Air Force Pararescue Jumper, had been pulling pilots and Special Forces soldiers from behind enemy lines for twelve years. Bruce knew Grace was too good a pilot not to draw the tough assignments. She was on the front lines. If she got in trouble, his unit would get the call.
With demanding jobs, deployed to different locations, they kept their relationship alive by writing love letters. In the face of danger, they both leaned on the truth that God is sufficient no matter what the circumstances.

First impressions? I loved it!

With the risk of getting redundant in my reviews, let me just say Dee Henderson's characters are as fascinating and vibrant as they come. She's exceptionally talented in bringing people to life on the page.

I loved the pacing of this book. It is a military romance novel with plenty of war-time shenanigans to keep you worried for your favorite characters, but what I especially loved was the letters that Gracie and Bruce wrote to one another. They are interspersed all throughout the book and, in my opinion, well placed. You can't go too far without reading one of the letters, but they never feel intrusive to the rest of the story or out of place. I loved them. As for the war-time shenanigans, that was well-paced as well. I was more prepared this time around to read a military romance and so I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I came into book 1 with the expectation that it would be like Dee Henderson's other books, but it's not. These military novels are different, but just as good.

There is a lot of military jargon in this book, as well as in book 1, and I can't say I understood it all. However, Dee Henderson does a good job of explaining things to the reader in a subtle way (i.e. through dialogue and exposition) so that through context you have a pretty good idea of what is going on even if all the fancy words are unfamiliar. She also includes a glossary at the front of the book to explain all that confusing military jargon, too, which is very helpful.

As with most Dee Henderson novels, I loved the spiritual side of things as well. Dee Henderson is remarkable at weaving her character's deep love for God into their whole lives. It's rather inspiring--both the talented writing and the deep love for God.

Would I read it again? 100% yes.

Would I recommend this book to others? Absolutely. It's Dee Henderson;  you can't go wrong with that. :)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Launch (Queen of Caradale)

Today I'm going to talk about book launches. Not because I am an expert on the subject but because I am doing one right now (which you can find here: Queen of Caradale Book Launch )

Despite the fact that I am about to publish my seventh novel, I have never done an official book launch for any of my books. I'm about to change that.

I've decided to do a "real" book launch--as in, gathering people to tell them about the book and get them excited. I've launched my books in the sense that I publish them...therefore, by default, I've had a book "launch". This time, however, I'm doing something more official. Queen of Caradale is going to be published in March and so I have decided to try something new, come out of my comfort zone a little, and do a book launch.

There are multiple ways to do a book launch, so let's look at those for a moment.

First of all, you can have an in-person book launch where you invite a bunch of people over (to your house, to a chosen venue, etc.). People gather, maybe you eat some snacks, you talk about your book, hopefully sell a few copies...maybe sign them if that's what people want. Because this type of book launch involves interaction with people, this is not what I chose to do. I know it's rather silly of me, but human interaction is something I find uncomfortable. So instead, I chose to do the second type of book launch: virtual.

I am doing my book launch on Facebook. I have invited lots of people to this event, I'm posting games and fun things for them to do to participate and get excited about the book. And then, on the official publication date, I'll let everyone know Queen of Caradale is available and hopefully some of them will choose to buy it.

As I said previously, doing a book launch is a new experience for me. I'm learning a lot, mostly from trial and error as I make mistake after mistake. There's been a lot of laughter involved as I have pulled various family members into the creative process and we make this thing happen. I am enjoying learning how to do book launches, and I'm also enjoying the fun and laughter of doing this with my family.

I've been publishing my books for a number of years, but I am still learning new things about the industry and new ways to market my books, and I am loving it. :) Even though it's a bit uncomfortable to do new things and step outside of my usual routine, I'm glad that I am. This experience, doing the book launch, has certainly been different--but I'm loving it. And now I'll be more confident when my next book is published. :)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: True Devotion

Today's book review is of a book by Dee Henderson called True Devotion. This is the first book in a series called Uncommon Heroes which follows the stories of various military men and women.

So what is this particular military novel about?

Kelly Jacobs has already paid the ultimate price of loving a warrior; she has the folded flag and grateful thanks of a nation to prove it. Navy SEAL Joe "Bear" Baker can't ask her to accept that risk again--even though he loves her. But the man responsible for her husband's death is back; closer than either of them realize. Kelly is in danger, and Joe may not get there in time.

First impressions? I liked it.

As with every Dee Henderson novel I have read, the characters leap off of the page in a vibrant way that I've rarely seen before. They are all very real, relatable, likable people.

Another of Dee Henderson's strengths is how she effortlessly and tactfully weaves the characters' faith throughout the story. Every one of her novels has demonstrated this, and True Devotion was no different. Each of her characters goes through their own journey, fighting questions about resurrection, trust, mercy, and various other inquiries about God that have them struggling. Each character goes through their own spiritual transformation throughout their respective books, and it's quite fascinating to read. It also makes her readers ask questions in their own lives and develop a deeper understanding of Jesus.

Dee Henderson's ability to tug the reader along on a suspenseful journey trying to uncover the truth before time runs out didn't falter on this novel. She is incredibly talented in that regard. I will say this though; this first of her military novels was not nearly as suspenseful or page-turning as all the crime novels of hers that I have read. Had I read this one first, I might have enjoyed it more, but because I'd read the "I can't put this down" crime novels first, I was a little disappointed by this one. Not enough that I didn't enjoy it immensely, but enough that I could definitely tell which novels I enjoyed more. This story focused more on the love-story than the previous books of hers that I have read, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, I don't read Dee Henderson for a purely Romance novel, I read them because they're Romantic Suspense, and her mysteries are killer. That probably also added to my slight disappointment in this book as a whole. It was more Romance than Suspense. But again, that's a purely personal preference.

Would I read this book again? Absolutely. I really did enjoy it quite a lot.

Would I recommend this book to others? 100% YES. It's Dee Henderson. You can't go wrong with a Dee Henderson novel (even if it isn't my favorite).

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: Inheritance

My book review today is of the novel Inheritance, the fourth and final book in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle.

So what is this book about?

Not so very long ago, Eragon--Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider--was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chance.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaesia? And if so, at what cost?

My first impressions? It was an enjoyable read. I had fun, and towards the end I reached a point where I couldn't put the book down. So yes, an enjoyable read.

It wasn't the bore that Eragon was, which is a relief. I didn't expect it to be, because Brisingr was one that I actually enjoyed very much so I expected to like Inheritance as well. It was still nice not to be proven wrong.

The characters are all interesting, and I actually cared what happened to them this time around. Paolini even managed to bring me to tears at one point, which pleasantly surprised me. I don't necessarily like crying, but the fact that I cared enough about these characters to cry during an emotional scene was a refreshing change to the way I've been viewing this series previously.

I loved this book, I won't lie. The story was interesting and and kept me turning pages, the characters were vibrant, the book as a whole was well paced. I was never bored, that's for sure. Paolini also managed to surprise me in a specific plot twist (which I won't go into detail about because of spoilery reasons...). The previous three books have felt rather predictable, and though most of this book was as well, there was a major point that took me by surprise and I appreciated that. The story has come a long way from Eragon, and being surprised by a plot twist was just one more example of that.

I will say that Paolini's descriptions and convoluted prose still isn't my thing. The writing certainly isn't as stiff as Eragon was, but I'm not a huge fan of his prose. Also, his choice of words when describing things often takes me out of story for a moment while I do a double-take, so that can be distracting and put a damper on the experience as a whole. One such instance was during a one-on-one fight scene where he described the two men wrestling each other, trying to kill one another, in this way: "their embrace as intimate as any lovers" lovers usually try to kill each other? I wouldn't personally know, but I imagine not. Or maybe fighting is more romantic than I assumed? I don't believe the answer to either of those questions is yes, so why he described that fight in such a manner, I don't know.

One other complaint I have is a simple one of continuity. Fair warning, I'm about to rant. Now, for any avid readers of the Inheritance Cycle, please correct me if I am wrong. I want to be corrected. I want there to be an explanation to this, because right now it just drives me crazy. I hate things that don't make sense.

Here's what I'm talking about, in a nutshell: (I suppose I should put a SPOILERS warning here...skip this paragraph if you're concerned about me spoiling things for you...)

Roran goes to the city Aroughs in Chapter 12. He arrives in Chapter 16. At the very end of Chapter 17 we learn that Murtagh and Thorn are at Dras-Leona with the Varden. We spend Chapters 18-22 with Roran and his company sacking Aroughs...and then in Chapter 22 when Roran gives his report to Nasuada--all of which we see--he says "I'm not about to stay here, injuries or no injuries, while my wife and unborn child sit camped less than a mile away from Murtagh and his dragon!" How in the name of anything did Roran know about Murtagh and Thorn? He wasn't with the Varden when they discovered that bit of information. It is possible Nasuada mentioned them, except that there is no part of the conversation between Roran and Nasuada that we don't see. The only part that isn't written out word for word is when Roran faints, but he couldn't have learned of Murtagh and Thorn then because he was when on earth did he learn about them? How does he know they are there? He has had no communication with Nasuada or Eragon since he set out for Aroughs and they didn't run into Murtagh and Thorn until after his departure...ugh. I hate inconsistencies. Can you tell?

Aside from that one apparent error that drove me crazy early on in the book, and my dislike of Paolini's descriptions and prose, I don't have a lot of complaints about this book. And for the latter complaint, it really wasn't as much of a bother with this book as previous ones. So all in all--aside from my rant--I have little negativity to offer. I loved this book.

I loved the story, I loved the characters. It was good book.

Would I read this book again? Undoubtedly.

Would I recommend this book to others? Definitely.

I've come to a point where I've decided recommending Eragon and Eldest to people is a necessity that cannot be avoided, because I whole-heartedly want people to enjoy Brisingr and especially Inheritance. You can't do that unless you know the full now I'm changing my tune a bit and saying, yes, I might very well recommend Eragon and Eldest. But only as a whole series. On their own, I still say no, not worth the read.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: Father Brown

Today I am reviewing short stories by G.K. Chesterton, specifically a collection of works called Favorite Father Brown Stories.

So what is this story/these stories all about?

Father Brown is a Roman Catholic Priest and amateur detective who solves mysteries and crimes using his intuition and keen understanding of human nature.

First impressions? I love these stories.

The writing is what I would describe as delightfully quaint. It puts me in mind of simple English countrysides with gentle rolling hills dotted with sheep or something along those lines. That is literally the image that the style of writing puts in my head.

These are mysteries, requiring Father Brown, the police, and the reader to catch a criminal or unravel the secrets of unexplainable events before the end. The stories are sweetly simplistic and yet still manage to be enthralling at the same time. It isn't the same sort of page-turning suspense as a Dee Henderson crime novel, but it is uniquely fascinating.

The characters are all rather simplistic in that there isn't a lot of backstory or character development, but this rather adds to the delightfulness of the story rather than hindering it. They are well-rounded enough for a short story, and if there was more backstory or character development it would rather clutter up the story than add substance.

The writing style is, as I've said, delightful in it's simplicity. This perhaps sticks out to me because I am currently reading Paolini's Inheritance Cycle where nothing is allowed to be stated plainly so the uncluttered, straightforward prose of G.K. Chesterton was a refreshing change. Another thing I enjoyed immensely was the very British-ly dry humor. I love a good dry wit, and I find it most readily among the English. It made me quite happy to read it, but I suppose that's merely a personal preference.

I also love the way that Chesterton describes things. It's never the obvious description and it often makes me chuckle. He really is quite the delightful writer.

Father Brown is a bit like Sherlock Holmes and Father Gilbert all rolled into one, both of whom I love so of course I couldn't help but love him too.

If I have any complaints about these stories it is simply this: There aren't enough of them. I definitely wanted to keep reading when I came to the end of the book.

Would I read this book again? Absolutely.

Would I recommend this book to others? Definitely.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review: Full Disclosure

I'm back with another book review! Today I'm reviewing Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson.

I loved this book, unequivocally.

So what is this book even about?

Ann Silver is a cop's cop. As the Midwest Homicide Investigator, she is called in to help local law enforcement on the worst of cases, looking for answers to murder. Hers is one of the region's most trusted investigative positions.

Paul Falcon is the FBI's top murder cop in the Midwest. If the victim carried a federal badge or had a security clearance, odds are good Paul and his team see the case file or work the murder.

Their lives intersect when Ann arrives to pass a case off her desk and onto his. A car wreck and suspicious death offer a lead on a hired shooter he is tracking. Paul isn't expecting to meet someone, the kind that goes on the personal side of the ledger, but Ann Silver has his attention.

The better he gets to know her, the more Paul realizes her job barely scratches the surface of who she is. She knows spies and soldiers and U.S. Marshals, and has written books about them. She is friends with the former vice president. People with good reason to be cautious about who they let into their lives deeply trust her. Paul wonders just what secrets Ann is keeping, until she shows him the John Doe Killer case file, and he starts to realize just who this lady he is falling in love with really is....

First impressions: I enjoyed this book immensely. It was definitely a page-turner.

I started reading Dee Henderson's books roughly a year ago and I haven't been able to stop. They're amazing. This is just one more example of just how incredible she is.

Dee Henderson's characters are all well-rounded and very real, down to the last side-character with only one scene. She brings every person to life in a remarkable way that, as an author myself, I envy greatly. Her characters don't just jump off of the page. They live.

Her descriptions of people, places, and objects create a delightful world for these incredibly real characters to live in. It's grounded, it is realistic, it is funny and dark and beautiful and very much a picture of the real world. Obviously I love Dee Henderson and could get very fan-girly in my review, so I'm going to move on to another subject before I lose my dignity.

It is a suspense novel, and boy does Dee Henderson master the art of keeping a reader on the edge of their seat. She's done this with every book of hers that I've read so far, so I wasn't surprised when I couldn't put the book down. Her murder mysteries always tend to surprise me. I think I know where it is headed and then out of nowhere she hits me over the head with a plot twist that leaves me reeling.

Another thing I loved about this book is that I could relate to one of the characters on a very unique level, in a way that I never have before when reading books.

Ann Silver, one of the two protagonists, is an author. I have read other stories before about authors and only partially understood them, but Ann Silver...Ann Silver is me. Every description of her actions, her personality, the way she talks and thinks and lives...aside from the fact that she is a murder cop, which I am definitely not, I felt like I was reading a story about myself.

There were several passages in particular that seemed to not be describing the main character but rather be describing me. One such example is this passage from Chapter 9,

"'One piece of good advice about Ann. When it's silent and you make a remark and she looks startled that you interrupted her, just repeat the remark or question and don't take offense. She's busy in her mind. The quieter she is, the more likely she's listening to dialog, or watching a scene unfold, or having an internal conversation. She goes somewhere else as easily as I breathe. Bothers people who don't know her well. She's just listening to a few things the rest of us don't hear, sometimes misses the first of what you say . . . There are days there is nothing in particular on her mind, and others where she is so busy creating she can't write it down fast enough. You can tell with just a bit of noticing what kind of day it is. When she goes to get a drink and stands with her hand on the soda can for a minute or two before she remembers to open it, you can bet someone you can't see interrupted her'"

The vivid characters, the suspense of the murder mysteries, the plot twists, all that and more coupled with the fact I related to the main character more than I have with any other book I've ever read...ever...made this book a definite favorite.

I don't have any complaints about this book. The writing was great, the suspenseful plot was everything I would have wanted it to be, the characters definitely came off the page, and I related to the MC more than I ever have before. It was practically perfection.

Would I read it again? Most definitely.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review: The Alchemist

Okay, so this one technically isn't a book. It is a single short story that is a small part of a larger collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I haven't read the whole collection, however, so I'm only reviewing the one story that I did read.

To begin with, this was my first introduction to H.P. Lovecraft. I have never read anything of his before, and until this past Christmas when my sister was given the collection of his works, I didn't even know he existed.

So what is this story about?

The story is recounted by the protagonist, Count Antoine de C-, in the first person. Hundreds of years ago, Antoine's noble ancestor was responsible for the death of a dark wizard, Michel Mauvais. The wizard's son, Charles le Sorcier, swore revenge on not only him but all his descendants, cursing them to die on reaching the age of 32.

First impressions: I loved this story! I'm very glad my sister showed it to me, because I really enjoyed it.

It is a short story, so obviously it doesn't go very in-depth with either character development or setting, background, etc. However, Lovecraft does a brilliant job of bringing the small world to life despite the limited number of words. His characters do not feel underdeveloped in the slightest, and his descriptions are vivid and memorable.

Lovecraft's style of writing is delightfully witty yet dark, and I found it very reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte. Considering Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite novels, it is little wonder I enjoyed this story so much.

Would I read this story again? Absolutely!

Would I recommend this short story to someone? Definitely.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Choosing a Pen Name

I'm taking a quick break from book reviews so you don't get too tired of my brazen today I'll be talking about the process of choosing a pen name.

As an author, how do you choose the perfect name to write under?

The first thing you have to decide is whether or not you are going to be using your own name. If you are using your own name, then you get to play around with it and have some fun. Do you want to use your first and last name (Amanda Hutchinson), your first and middle name (Amanda Grace), initials (A.G. Hutchinson) or some other combination? Have some fun with it until you come up with the perfect name that you love.

If you are not going to use your own name, there are two things to consider. First of all, do you already have a name in mind? If so, great. If not, my second question is this: How do you name your characters in stories? My advice would be to use the same method you use to create names for your characters to come up with a name for yourself. Everyone tends to have their own process of naming their characters, so I can't say "do this" or "do that." My process for naming characters involves learning what makes the character tick, what their identity is, how they would label themselves. And then I find names with meanings that correspond to that. So, for a pen name, I would think about what makes me uniquely me and then find names that have meanings that encompass whatever that is. And for surnames I just love to look at lists of surnames and match first names up with several different surnames until one sounds great.

Obviously I didn't use that second method for choosing my own pen name because I used my own name.

After you have chosen the perfect name, either your own or one you've made up, there is one final step: Google it.

You want to be unique and to stand out from other authors. That isn't going to happen if there are fifty other people writing under the same name that you are. So google it and see if there are other authors writing under that same name. If the first thing that pops up is a book written by someone else, go back to the drawing board and come up with a new name. 

I didn't do that last step when I first started writing so I was unaware that there are a dozen or more authors who write under the name Amanda Grace. Trust me, you don't want to be one of the crowd. You want to be unique. So make sure whatever name you are hoping to write under isn't already being used.

Happy Writing, everybody!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: Brisingr

Today I'll be reviewing the third book in the Inheritance Cycle, Brisingr, written by Christopher Paolini.

I'm going to get the complaints out of the way first, but since I criticized Eragon and Eldest shamelessly, I am definitely going to be praising this one...because I LOVED it.

Before we begin, what is this book all about?

Oaths sworn...loyalties tested...forces collide.

It's been only months since Eragon first uttered "brisingr", an ancient language term for fire. Since then, he's not only learned to create magic with words--he's been challenged to his very core. Following the colossal battle against the Empire's warriors on the Burning Plains, Eragon and his dragon Saphira have narrowly escaped with their lives. Still, there is more adventure at hand for the Rider and his dragon as Eragon finds himself bound by a tangle of promises he may not be able to keep. 

First is Eragon's oath to his cousin, Roran: to help rescue Roran's beloved from King Galbatorix's clutches. But Eragon owes his loyalty to others, too. The Varden are in desperate need of his talents and strength--as are the elves and dwarves. When unrest claims the rebels and danger strikes from every corner, Eragon must make choices--choices that will take him across the Empire and beyond, choices that may lead to unimagined sacrifice.

Eragon is the greatest hope to rid the land of tyranny. Can this once simple farm boy unite the rebel forces and defeat the king?

My biggest issue with Brisingr, and indeed all three of Paolini's books that I have read, is that Paolini has a habit of going into immense depth with unimportant descriptions of foliage, faces, buildings, etc., and ignoring important things. By important, I mean things that ought to carry incredible emotional weight for the reader. For example: we've been waiting for Roran and Katrina to end up together since the very beginning of book one. That wedding should have been a monumental occasion that melted our hearts and gave us all those wonderful feelings of things longed for finally achieved. Yet once again, Paolini rushes through the wedding and immediately follows it up with a battle...because that's all he apparently cares to write about.

I still don't particularly like his flowery prose either. It's just too stiff for my taste. Let's keep in mind this is someone who reads Shakespeare for fun sometimes. It isn't prose that bothers me, it's Paolini's prose.

However, on a brighter note, the characters didn't fall flat for me in this book! They were engaging and enjoyable to read about, and I actually cared what happened to them this time around which is a major step forward. How much of that was improvement in writing on Paolini's part and how much was simply the fact that I had now spent 1400 pages with these characters and couldn't help but eventually learn to care for them, I don't know. I like to think it was the former though.

I liked the pacing of this book as well. Eragon and Eldest bored me at times (okay, all the time) but Brisingr did not. Were there slower passages? Of course. Yet they weren't too long and the fast-paced events weren't too crammed together either. I felt the whole book was very well paced.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book to read.

Would I read it again? Likely.

Would I recommend this book to others? Definitely. Although whether or not they want to read the first two books is entirely their choice. Paolini does include recaps of previous books at the beginning of each book in the Inheritance Cycle, so I'd say the first two books aren't necessary to reading the third.

I have yet to finish the fourth book, so we'll see what my opinion of that book turns out to be...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: Eldest

I'm back with another review! This time of the second book in the Inheritance Cycle, Eldest.

Before I begin, I do want to clarify one thing. I am writing reviews from my perspective as a reader, not a writer. This isn't a professional critique; this is a reader saying what she did or did not enjoy while reading a particular story. With that being said, I am a writer and that simple fact often influences the way that I read and enjoy stories. So there are going to be complaints and praises that arise from my writer half being a critic, but for the most part the point of these reviews is to share what I thought as a reader.

So let's get started!

First of all, what is Eldest even about?

Darkness falls...despair abounds...evil reigns...

Eragona nd his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the mighty forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesmera, land of the elves, for further training in the skills of the Dragon Rider: magic and swordsmanship. Soon he is on the journey of a lifetime, his eyes open to awe-inspiring new places and people, his days filled with fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and nothing is what it seems. Before long, Eragon doesn't know whom he can trust. 

Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle--one that might put Eragon in even graver danger.

Will the King's dark hand strangle all resistance? Eragon may not escape with even his life...

I approached reading this book with some hesitation. I wasn't the biggest fan of Eragon, so I didn't have high expectations for this novel. That was lucky for me, because once again, I couldn't read it.

I was bored. Consequently, I stopped reading.

Eldest sat on my shelf, daring me to read it, for several months. I'd only read about a fourth of the way through it and I had no inclination to pick it back up. Were there a few things that I had enjoyed? Yes. I didn't hate the story. I had actually started to at least be amused by, if not enjoy, the characters. Yet it still held zero appeal for me.

Eventually I did pick it back up because, being me, I simply had to finish it. I can't leave things undone.

The first half of the book bored me to tears. There were pieces of it that I did enjoy. I wasn't miserable reading it by any means. Yet when I didn't read it, I wasn't miserable then either. I wasn't in love. I didn't hate it. I was apathetic. Completely and totally apathetic. This book inspired no emotion in me at all, other than boredom.

At least for the first half of the book that was true. The second half did actually pique my interest. I started to enjoy reading it. The characters still felt two-dimensional, the dialogue was still stiff, the plot was as contrived as it comes, Paolini's prose was cringy at best, but it was growing on me. I genuinely enjoyed the second half of the book.

I have come to the realization that I don't like Paolini's style. That doesn't necessarily mean it is bad, that simply means I don't like it. His long-winded flowery prose isn't something for the ages like Shakespeare, it simply frustrates me in its ridiculousness.

Another thing Paolini seemed to do a lot throughout the book was state the characters' emotions or the expected response of the reader. I kept feeling like he was saying, "you're supposed to be happy now" or "you're supposed to cry now" rather than letting the story speak for itself and evoke those emotions from his readers. Part of this might stem from the fact that his descriptions of emotions and his writing of emotional scenes seems hurried. It is like he doesn't know how to convey the emotion he wants or to cause the reader to feel it, so he rushes past those scenes and gets back to a good old fight scene. To be fair, I do enjoy his fight scenes. Yet I felt very put-off by his rushing through scenes that could have potentially been what drew me into the story if he hadn't been in a rush to get back to his battles and dragons and what-not. He may not have been intentionally skimming over emotional scenes at all, but that is certainly how it felt while reading it.

My final thoughts on the book: the first half was "meh," for lack of a better description, and the second half was "this is an okay book."

Still, was it worth reading to get to the end and simply realize the book had been "okay"?

I will say that the book was okay-enough at the end that I was interested in the story and that Paolini left it on a big enough cliff-hanger that I wasn't totally against reading the next book. So there's that.

Would I read it again? Probably not. Would I recommend this book to others? Probably not. As with Eragon, unless they are avid fantasy readers, I wouldn't suggest this book to my friends.

Not to worry, my lovely readers! The third book in this cycle is Brisingr, and I can say without hesitation that I thoroughly enjoyed that one.