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 opinions...so 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.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: Eragon

It's a new year, and I've got big plans for my blog! I am going to be writing reviews of the books that I am currently reading throughout 2018; hopefully I'll read a lot of books so this will actually be interesting.

As I haven't finished any books yet in 2018, I'm going to start this series off with books I have previously read. I chose Eragon as my first review in this (hopefully) long series of book reviews because I am currently reading Inheritance and figured if I was going to review that book when I finished it I ought to have the first three books in the Inheritance Cycle reviewed as well.

Eragon was written by Christopher Paolini, and was written during his teenage years. I also wrote my first novels in the tender years of teenagerhood (and now I'm making up words...), so I understand both the experience of writing that young and also of looking back at said writing and acknowledging it isn't always that great. I will review this book based off of my experience reading it, and my understanding of literature, not based off of the author's age when the book was written. However, I do believe some grace can be extended for teenage writers...because, well, they're teenagers.

First, let's see what this novel is all about:

The book tells the story of a farm boy named Eragon, who finds a mysterious blue stone in the mountains. He doesn't know its origin or its worth, so he attempts to use it as payment to a butcher.  He discovers, however, that it is actually an egg when a dragon he later names Saphira hatches from the stone. The tyrant King Galbatorix finds out the location of the egg and sends terrible creatures, the Ra'zac, to seize it for him. By the time they arrive, Saphira is a growing dragon and she and Eragon flee together after Eragon's uncle is killed and they are forced from his home. They flee with a storyteller from their village, Brom, and decide to search for the Varden, a group of rebels who seek the downfall of King Galbatorix.

I'm going to start this review by saying I was instantly in love. The fantasy genre is my home. I love to dwell in the beautiful medieval settings surrounded by elves, dwarves, and all manner of magic. That is, without question, my favorite genre of all time. This love was born when I was a child reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and grew exponentially as a teenager reading The Lord of the Rings.

I came to the party late, not reading Eragon until 2016. This was not for any particular reason other than that I can't force books on myself. When I want to read a book, I will, but not before. And when I decided I was ready to read the Inheritance Cycle (with not-so-gentle prodding from my eldest brother), I was prepared to be swept off of my feet.

When I read the very first line of Eragon, I knew my hopes were being realized. I was in love.

"Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world."

And then I read the rest of the book.

I won't say I hated it, because I didn't. Yet I was sorely disappointed in the subsequent story after that first enticing line.

As a reader, I was bored. And I mean bored. I couldn't finish the book and set it aside for a good two months before picking it up again. The only reason I picked it up again at all is because I have this OCD problem where I can't leave something unfinished. I had to read it. And that resignation of duty was pretty much how I read the whole book.

Now before you say, "of course, you're one of those readers...bored with a book over 400 pages...." I can tell you straight up, I am not. Remember, I loved The Lord of the Rings, immeasurably so. I have reread them countless times. I have read the Silmarillion, not out of duty, but for the sheer joy of it. And yes, I have reread that book as well. I recently read a book by Jason Hough called Zero World that is 600 pages or so long and I couldn't put it down. Granted, that one is an entirely different genre...but still. It wasn't the size of the book that had me bored to tears. It was the content.

Every character felt flat. I couldn't connect to any of them. None of them leaped off the page to grab my attention. Not a single one of the characters felt three-dimensional to me. The moment I realized this book had failed me was when I was reading a particularly "intense" battle sequence and I legitimately did not care if the characters I was supposed to love lived or died. I had no interest in their lives at all.

The plot, such as it was, felt like so many fantasy stories poured into a bowl, mixed together, and then spilled all over the page with no real forethought or planning. Not to say the plot of the book wasn't planned out, as I am sure it was. As a writer myself I do understand the complicated process of outlining a novel. I meant the haphazard way every fantasy trope...ever...was thrown about in the reader's face every few pages had no forethought or planning. Or if it did, it was poor judgement on Paolini's part. I found it excessively annoying.

This book became a sensation when I was a teenager and everyone I knew was reading it. After having read it, however, I cannot understand why. Fantasy lovers can perhaps try to enjoy it simply because it is a fantasy novel that will pull on all their familiar heartstrings because it is just that. Familiar. Where is the originality, I wonder?

And yet people really do love it. So maybe being the same as every story that came before really is enough.

But it wasn't enough for me. I was more bored than I can adequately explain.

And I haven't even discussed the writing...

I won't go into too much depth on this subject. Suffice it to say, the writing wasn't great.

The reason I don't want to talk about this aspect of the book as much is because I was also a teenage writer and so I understand. The book I wrote at 17 can hardly compare to Paolini's first novel, so I don't feel it would be fair to complain about his style of writing at a young age when my own was worse. All I will say is that it is long-winded and very cliche.

My overall thoughts on Eragon are this: it is a boring book that leans heavily on old fantasy tropes to pull the hearts of its readers and not on original content or amazing characters or dazzling new worlds.

In conclusion, I did not enjoy reading this book and I would not recommend it to my friends unless they are avid fantasy readers who don't mind wasting a few hours (and I do mean wasting).

If you find this critique of Eragon harsh, I would recommend you don't read my coming review of Eldest. However, if you stick around long enough, you'll hear me sing a different tune. Spoiler alert! I loved Brisingr.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Quarterly Writing Goals #1 [2018]

It's a brand-new year! Can you believe it? I can't. The passage of time will never cease to amaze me. The way minutes drag on like hours and days pass by like minutes. This is not, however, a philosophical or poetic post about time, so I'm going to leave that subject before I get lost down this rabbit hole.

A new year means several things, one of which is new goals. I don't do New Year's Resolutions specifically, but I do make myself Quarterly Goals to help me stay on track and get things accomplished and this happens to be the beginning of a new quarter!

Last quarter, I had 9 goals related to writing/editing/marketing and such. My goals were to: 1) Edit Queen of Caradale...I did my portion of this, and several of my editors have done theirs, but I'm still waiting on the last one. So not fully done, but basically done. 2) Edit The Story of Gisbourne...this I did not do at all. 3) Publish Queen of Caradale...this also did not happen because I haven't gotten all the notes from my editors. 4) Finish Kaelyn...I didn't write in Kaelyn at all, but I'm okay with that. This is a side project at the moment which is waiting for the proper time to write it and that time hasn't come. Therefore, this novel is going to be put to the side until future notice. 5) Update the second editions of Dusty and Always in Shadow...this, I did not do. 6) Outline Return to Sherwood. This definitely did get done. 7) Write Return to Sherwood. Also definitely done. 8) Stay on top of author social media and post weekly vlogs....this was hit and miss, as per usual.

If you can't already tell, this was not a great quarter. On the one hand, NaNoWriMo was absolutely brilliant and in that regard I feel like I ended the year on a high note. :) But on the other hand, NaNoWriMo was basically the only thing I actually accomplished last quarter, so none of my other goals got done.

I won't bemoan the past, however. It's a new quarter and I've made new goals.

Publish Queen of Caradale  This will hopefully get done this quarter, as soon as my editors are through with it. I'm marking March as the tentative release date. Yes, the whole month, not a specific day. I just won't know until my editors are done.

Edit The Story of Gisbourne I am going to stop putting it off and actually get this done so it is ready for publication after Queen of Caradale.

Second Editions Again, I will stop being lazy or procrastinating and actually get this done this quarter.

Brainstorm/Outline the sequel to Return to Sherwood I have started a little bit of research and brainstorming already for this nameless novel, but I would like to have a solid outline to start writing the book as soon as  Queen of Caradale and The Story of Gisbourne are published...if not before.

Social Media/vlogs I would like to think that someday I will be diligent and disciplined enough to be consistent with both of these things...

So those are my goals for this first quarter of a brand-new year! Look out, 2018, I'm coming for you! :P

On a different but related note, I am also hoping to read at least 50 books during this year. I wasn't keeping an exact count last year, but I read somewhere around 40 books by the end of 2017.

Happy Writing and Reading, everyone! (and Happy New Year, too!)