The Mandate of Heaven, by Rob Flanigan

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4 stars

 

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A Chinese takeover of Disney rife with political satire…what could possibly make the Magic Kingdom anymore magical?

 

Bert manages to spend more time at Disney than he ever dreamed possible, thanks to a very unusual set of circumstances. Much of it is very familiar to him—considering it is the life’s work of someone that stole his life’s work. Not even the Happies Place on Earth ™ is immune to corruption and wrongdoings.

 

This was an unusually creative storyline with some unique imaginings. The author certainly channeled their inner dystopian master; there’s many parallels to the current state of things in the US. Some of it feels like satire—the author’s way of inserting their own, personal opinions into the narrative.

 

The dialogue was done well. And while I enjoyed their interactions, there were some moments where I felt disconnected from their relationships. Description was mostly well-done. There were a few areas where it became muddled, but overall it was satisfying.

 

Plenty of humor reined free in a narrative of such serious subject matter. There was still plenty of time set aside for the magic of Disney, and the importance of family. It was explored on two different fronts, and created a wonderful way for the two storylines to overlap.

 

I rather enjoyed this rendition of Disney. It had many good, creative points, and a different approach to villainy. A somewhat slow read at times, but still an entertaining one.

 

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Nosferatu Chronicles: Origins, by Susan Hamilton

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Vampires are not my thing. I’m going to go ahead and get that out of the way. Nosferatu and the original Dracula were alright, but I lose my taste for even them after the Twilight fiasco.

These vampires—Vambir, these alien freakin’ vampires—are totally my thing.

First of all, let’s talk about how we have sci-fi vamps. Second, let’s talk about how well they’re integrated into the era of Vlad the Impaler and the legend of Count Dracula. And Nosferatu. And modern vampires. Origins progresses history with the evolution of vampires. Not only was a thorough explanation given for the transformations, but they were all so integral to the plot.

Not only was the story seamless, so were characters. There was a wide array, and each of them had distinct personality—which, like everything else, served the plot well. Dialogue read easily and naturally.

It was filled with wonderful tension, suspense, and political intrigue. Every moment was carefully planned, and not a page was wasted getting there. Character development was on-point. Perspective switched were excellently placed. Each one allowed for the story to be told in an interesting way. It also utilized the ‘two sides to every story’-type narrative incredibly well.

This was a good book. A really good book. It gave me hope for the vampire genre. When I was it was hard to put down, I mean it. This was a really good book.

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Grains of Truth, by Elizabeth Ferry-Perata

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4 stars

 

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As promised on the back cover, Grains of Truth nearly moved me to tears.

A novella about love, loss, hope, and ultimately the demons locked inside us, Grains manages to shed light on the negative impact depression can have, and how it affects family and friends.

The characters were certainly relatable. Writing style gave them a “real” voice. I liked their personalities, as well. They were well-suited for their small-town backdrop.

It’s hard to write a plot twist that genuinely surprises me, and this one succeeded. Not prepared for it, but happy that the author took the time to challenge just what constitutes a happy ending.

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Scent of Rain, by Anne Montgomery

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4 stars

 

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I wish more people would recognize and acknowledge what danger cults and sects of extremist religion present. Scent of Rain is a novel that touches on such subjects, told through the eyes of a young girl subjected to the horrors. It presents the stomach-churning truth of child abuse suffered at the hands of extreme Mormonism.

While the story of Rose yearning for escape from her fundamentalist home is fiction, the surroundings are not. My husband is an ex-communicated Mormon (not one of the extreme groups, thankfully) and so I was announcing details to him as I read. He just looked at me and replied “yeah, that sounds right.” The novel seems to be an avocation for awareness of the subject, and it does so by not sugar-coating the details. Child brides, abuse, murder, xenophobia, molestations—I was disgusted and angry while reading. Not at the book or the subject matter in a sense, but the fact that these things still happen in the modern era. I’ll leave things at that to avoid sparking a controversial debate.

I liked the cohesiveness of the characters and the various developments they achieved throughout. Free-will and free-thinking are presented as powerful allies when all seems lost. Personal strength, conviction, and faith are all tested to the breaking point. It aids in not just the story, but in spiritual growth and personal development. Obedience is a subject to be used with moderation, and the author does a good job demonstrating how obedience without question can be such a dangerous and disgusting thing. Hence why cults are seen as such reprehensible things, usually.

This book excels in bringing out emotionality and conveying exactly the kinds of thoughts the author wanted. Now, there is some editing to be done. Mostly technical, though. This novel feels more like an exposé piece than a traditional novel, and so some of the missing elements are easily overlooked and forgiven.

It’s easy to see that this novel was difficult to write, and kudos to the author for sticking with such a dark subject matter. I liked the very explicit, in-your-face presentation of the facts interwoven with the narrative itself.

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In the Glow of the Lavalamp, by Lily Wilson

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This is one of those books that, based solely on the title, I would pick up off the shelves without hesitation.

I would not have regretted it.

It was a collection of other peoples’ tales of embarrassing, bad, and hilarious sex. The author prefaces the novel by explaining that it’s a universal constant, and if you think you’re not included, well, that’s probably why your calls aren’t getting returned.

There’s plenty of humor to downplay the uncomfortable feelings usually associated with talking about sex. There were tales that turned traditional norms—both the acts and the kinds of people involved—on their heads.

They weren’t all about sex, either. Some were just plain humiliating stories that would let the reader know someone was having a worse day, or just provide a laugh that someone somewhere, desperately needed.

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Superhero Syndrome, by Caryn Larrinaga

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To summarize this novel in a few words: a romanticized Kick-Ass with an actual superpowered origin story.

Tess finds herself with a new lease on life when her debilitating and mysterious illness is cured. She gets involved with the vigilante subculture of her hometown. Costumed vigilante, at that. Oh—costumed vigilante with superpowers.

This was a novel that captured the origin story formula perfectly. The sequence of events leading to the birth of her superpowers, the reveal of the bad guy—it was all purposefully and meticulously placed. Great pains were taken to remain loyal to the classic way.

It was really the interactions of the characters that gave me the Kickass vibe. There’s definitely other overtones involved, but that’s the one that stands out. As such, character interactions were well-done and their relationships meaningful.

One thing I did have a problem with was how easy things felt for Tess. In a few ways, she felt more like a Mary-Sue. The speed at which she gains control over her powers, the ease at which she accomplishes her goals—nothing really felt like a challenge for her to overcome and so some of the intense scenes felt a little flat.

Regardless, the entire thing is well-written. I wouldn’t mind seeing a proper comic adaptation. It definitely pays tribute to the genre, and does it well.

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Devourer: A Minister Knight Novel, by Nicole Givens Kurtz

 

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4 stars

 

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Oh, man. The past few books I’ve read, Harkworth Hall and Anarchy, have made good on delivering some aspects of diversity. I’m very happy to announce that Devourer does so as well, and the author makes sure there’s no misinterpreting that fact.

A great evil is coming back to Veloris. Skin, once called a Devourer, seeks to protect a former lover from the evil, and as such, save the world. Of course she fails, and is not set on a dangerous path that could potentially end the life of everything she’s ever loved.

When I started reading, I noticed that the world building was really spaced out, like I’d been dropped into the second or third novel in the series. Lo and behold, I had. There were things that made more sense once I realized where I was at in the series, and yet I still feel like I missed critical bits of information. I would definitely start with the first of the series to familiarize yourself with what kind of world you’re dealing with.

The writing style was pretty good. Description and detail felt on the level, though perspective switches felt awkward and abrupt mid-chapter. It ended up being a little jarring. Hopefully it was just the formatting of the copy I received.

Betrayal, redemption, and forgiveness were heavy themes throughout and the aided in character development. Each of the characters had their own storyline to accomplish. Their stories served to aid the plot and their development, too. For the most part, the characters felt different from each other and three-dimensional. There were a few spots where their individual voices sort of started to blend together, but they managed to come back and right themselves.

There were a lot of good qualities contained within this novel. It’s an interesting story with a diverse cast of characters, something that’s pretty important to me as a reader. Magic and science-fiction can be combined for a good backdrop, which is exactly what this novel manages.

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Anarchy: Strange Tales of Outsiders

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I will give this book praise for having the single-most accurate and descriptive title I’ve seen in a while. Tales of outcasts indeed; this book gets weird.

 

A collection of short stories and poems from days past, Anarchy presents some very off-the-wall storytelling that mainly features a cast of LGTB+ characters—which is awesome, by the way. I don’t think I can express that enough. The author touches on taboo subjects, but they fit well within both the theme and story. Punk, in fact, is the overarching theme of the book, and I will say that this novel delivers an actual punk experience.

 

There’s a lot of good story elements contained within. There’s also quite a few editing and polishing opportunities to be had, as well. The author has a unique take on horror, and I would love to see more edited versions of all the tales, really. There are places where storylines could be clearer, description a little more active, and some more depth added to the characters so the reader has a stronger connection with them during their strife.

 

I love weird, off-the-wall tales. I love it when stories push the limits—sometimes for the better, sometimes not, but the point is that an effort was made towards individuality. The literary world is so saturated with the same formula over and over again. It gets boring. That being said, there’s still some work to be done on this one. I think there’s a fair amount of potential.

 

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Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo: Why Editing is the Devil

There’s a lot of advice running around the internet as to whether or not an author should self-edit during the initial writing process. Keep in mind that different methods work for different people, so what I’m sharing below is what worked for me and why. Arguments could be made both ways, but the important thing is to find what works best for you.

 

For me, self-editing turned out to be my biggest weakness. To break it down simply: I got too distracted by trying to make things look presentable. I hyper-fixated on everything that was wrong with what I’d written, and I eventually discouraged myself from continuing. “You can’t even get this sentence right; you really think people are going to want to read this?” was a familiar mantra. I’d get to maybe 15,000 words and stagnate, eventually losing all desire and motivation to carry on.

 

So, when NaNoWriMo started, I vowed I was going to get it done. It was easy for me to see what I needed to do in order to make my word counts. Doing it was going to be the problem. Because of that, I had a shaky start. the words came slower because I was trying to incorporate everything I thought I wanted. Occasionally I found myself going back and tweaking some things just to make them match what I wrote further on.

 

Not good.

 

Eventually I lightened up and I kept the bare-bones descriptions, the skeletons of dialogues, and flatbread characters. It was like a crack appeared in the dam. Words began to trickle out faster.

 

Then I hit the writers mortal enemy: the block. I had a scene coming up that I could see in my mind’s eye, yet had no idea how to articulate it into words. Pretty sure I stopped writing for a few days after that. I started adding up the deficit I was going to have to make up on my days off. Panic settled in around 10,000 words or so. I had two days off coming up, so I thought whatever, I’ll bust it out then. I figured maybe taking a few days off would replenish the urn of inspiration.

 

No such luck. The moment I sat down I knew I was doomed. I was getting angry. I was starting to see the discouragement coming. I was disgusted with myself. Finally I got fed up enough that I outlined the scene as an actual paragraph, and moved on to the next scene. Or, as I’m going to demonstrate below, when my scenes began to contradict things that I wrote earlier, I wrote notes to myself to go back and fix areas later. Sometimes it happened right in the middle of a paragraph.

 

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Some of those notes happened to refer to scenes I hadn’t written, but now wanted to write based off ideas that were literally just written down. I chose this particular paragraph because it also demonstrates my lack of caring when it came to how well-written things were (i. e.: word vomit).

 

Now, for me, this switch was easy enough to flip. I managed to shut my brain up long enough to look at an annoying, glaring error and continue on.

 

Some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve found a couple of things that might help those that need a little extra motivation, or maybe a heavier, more disciplined hand. These are the two easiest that come to mind while also maintaining the low price of: free.

  • BlindWrite blurs out your words as you go so you can’t judge what you’ve already written
  • Earnest locks you out of editing, formatting, grammar/spellchecking, ect…

 

RescueTime and Freedom are both paid, internet browser writing apps.

 

Freedom is also available for free in the Apple App Store. so is Unplugged and Focus Keeper.

 

Much like the time-constraints of NaNoWriMo itself, I’ve found that setting a timer will increase the likelihood of me just writing. Some people perform well under applied pressure.

 

Now these methods aren’t for all people. Some manage to make it through NaNo just fine, editing the whole way. Ted Boone’s managed to finish several rounds of NaNo, all the while editing his novel as he went. If you’re struggling one way, try it the other. If you’re struggling that way too, try a blend of both. Find what works best for you and stick with it.

 

PREVIOUS: WORD VOMIT                                                    NEXT: OUTLINES ARE GUIDELINES

 

Harkworth Hall, by L. S. Johnson

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4 stars

 

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It’s hard to craft such a full story in so few pages. One with such awesome character development and plot twists. I positively loved this from start to finish.

 

Caroline Daniels, a young woman whose ambitions defy the stereotypes of her era, gets sucked into a bizarre mystery that has just the right amount of supernatural.

 

The storytelling and writing style felt well-adapted to mimic a journal or something written in 1752 England. Very well researched, I felt. The world was just as alive as the narrative.

 

I absolutely adored the characters and their relationships. I was especially fond of the love story managed through all the life-threatening detective work. It felt paced right, the characters had chemistry—anyone who reads my reviews knows that I critique the romantic subplot harshly. This one gets the highest praised for how well-executed it was.

 

Best news of my life: there’s going to be a follow-up. I. Can’t. Wait.

 

Buy it here!