Monday, January 27, 2020

When You Should Have Listened to Your Character...

Yeah, I think Emma was right. From the start, Emma kept wanting to tell Acktorek in 1st person. She wasn't very assertive about it, and I kept telling her "no." I got the story all ironed out (though there are a few little things I'm planning to change now), but sitting in classes at Realm Makers, I realized I really hadn't figured out the character voice. But...I didn't really make changes to it after RM. When the book was rejected based on the quality of the writing, it hurt. A lot. Mostly because I knew for this book the criticism was 100% fair. The writing was kind of bland.

I'd been working on book 2, figuring out the plot (just finished that, though I wrote up detailed summaries of the last few chapters instead of writing them in full), and Emma still wanted to tell the story in 1st person. So I decided to let her for half a chapter. And I told her I was right to not let her tell the story herself.


I went back to writing 3rd, and it was mostly bland, but I was figuring out the plot (which still needs work, but anyway). I had to figure out why people were vanishing into thin air: where they were going, if they were alive, if it was a natural phenomenon or if someone was causing it, and if someone was causing it, why. And I knew the writing wasn't very good.

Part of it was lack of worldbuilding. So I worldbuilt. Part of it was lack of understanding of my characters, primarily Emma. So I skimmed through books on neglect, abuse, and living with a mentally ill parent. And I kept writing 3rd.

Through research, living life, and rereading The Hunger Games trilogy, I gradually started understanding Emma better. (She and Katniss have a lot of wholly unintentional key similarities, though they still have many differences.) And Emma still wanted to tell her story.

Keep in mind, the only book I've successfully completed in 1st person is Espionage, and that's 1. a pretty straightforward storyline, and 2. narrated by Vannie Cumberland, the character who never shuts up. And Emma is the type of character who tends to shut out everyone, including me, even though she acknowledges she lives inside my head. She likes to tell me I don't understand her, but yet refuses to remedy the fact by letting me in.


But then late one night, I had an idea for a way to start the first book in 1st person. I wanted to try. Took a little while to get my computer to turn on (sooooooo glad I got a new one a few weeks ago...it's beyond amazing to use a computer that doesn't have speeds rivaling that of a sloth), but I got about half a chapter written. In 1st person. And I actually kind of liked it. And so did my sister, who gets more and more critical of books/movies/writing in general the older she gets.

So I acknowledged that Emma was probably right. I needed to understand her. I needed to know where she was going in her life. But I still needed to let Emma tell her story. Because no one understands Emma Edsel like she does herself.

Carla and Mitchell were still a consideration, whether to go back to 3rd for their chapters or try multiple 1st. I'm trying multiple 1st, and so far liking it, but I'm aware it's very difficult to do well so that people don't get confused (though interestingly, I've read two books that utilize multiple 1st in the last month or so). So far, they seem distinct from each other, and everyone has more of a voice than they did before, but we'll see.

At any rate, the lesson I've learned is that my characters do know what they're talking about. And I'm really looking forward to seeing how this draft turns out. And also fixing book 2, and plotting out book 3 where they go to rescue an Acktorek agent from space pirates. =D And it's (finally) going to be awesome.

Because I should have listened to my character.



P.S. Yes, I'm aware I sound like a nut when I talk about my characters this way. Go watch The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Fierce Heart Review


Essie would do anything for her kingdom…even marry an elf prince she just met that morning.

The human kingdom of Escarland and the elven kingdom of Tarenhiel have existed in an uneasy peace after their last wars ended with both kings dead. As tensions rise once again, desperate diplomacy might be the only way to avert war. If only negotiations between elves and humans were that simple.

When a diplomatic meeting goes horribly wrong, Essie, a human princess, finds herself married to the elf prince and warrior Laesornysh. Fitting in to the serene, quiet elf culture might be a little difficult for this talkative princess, but she’s determined to make it work.

With impending war and tenuous alliances, it will be up to Essie to unite her two peoples. And maybe get her hands on elven conditioner while she’s at it.

**************************************************

Oh, goodness, where do I even start? I heard about this one back at Realm Makers (it wasn't out yet), and thought it sounded like it would be interesting and wanted to read it, but boy, I had no idea how much I'd fall in love with this book. To the point where I stayed up until 2 in the morning because I just had to finish it and was rereading bits the next day honestly just wanting to reread the entire thing...but really wanting the next book in the series which isn't fully written yet.

Essie and Farrendel. They could not be more different. She's happy and talkative and oh so determined to do right by the people she loves...and determined to love her brand new elf husband who she just met. Farrendel Laesornysh is quiet and reserved and closed off, battle scarred, emotionally scarred by the things he's been through as well as things about him he has no control over...things Essie doesn't let define him, but he does. And, oh, yeah, she's a human princess and he's an elf prince and they just met, but they're getting married to achieve peace between their nations. Even though both of them have overprotective older siblings who are afraid this situation will only end by hurting their baby brother/sister.

I just love Essie and Farrendel so much. The way their relationship develops as they get to know each other, the way Essie's just so positive and determined, the way Farrendel comes to lean on her...it's just so...I don't know if I want to say beautiful because Farrendel has a lot of pain to deal with, but it's beauty coming out of brokenness.

And it's funny. All the stuff about elven shampoo and conditioner. XD I want some. And just Essie's personality and the way she interacts with elven culture is amusing.

Plus danger and action. Troll attacks and near deadly wounds and elf magic and I really can't wait for book 2.

And I'm trying really hard not to give major plot spoilers, so I don't know what else I can say except go read it. Go read it now. Steampunk fantasy romance. With awesome characters and a great story about how love is a choice, and go read it. You won't regret it.

Note: It's marketed as adult, but it's pretty clean, so I'd be fine handing it to an older teen.

Monday, January 13, 2020

It's All About Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing. It's an important part of telling a story well. If it's well done, you don't necessarily even notice it until the second read/watch, but it makes the story cohesive, and makes the plot twists, well, make sense.

I love it when I get surprised with a plot twist, but only if it actually makes sense. If a plot twist happens and I'm all, "Oh wow, I didn't see that coming, but now, looking back, I see how that works, how this was pointing to that, etc." then foreshadowing was well done, and served its purpose. Even if it could have gone a completely different direction—in fact, for certain kinds of books/movies, I think you should write it so that the story could go multiple directions—there has to be foreshadowing that makes sense. Because if a plot twist happens and there's no foreshadowing, or foreshadowing for something mutually exclusive, I go, "Huh? That doesn't make any sense. It just contradicts this and this and this." And that's not something you want readers/viewers to do.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and having lengthy discussions on the subject with my sisters, because of Star Wars. I loved The Force Awakens, left The Last Jedi disappointed though it's grown on me a bit since then, and I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker and think I like it best of the sequels. (I have to keep the Disney Star Wars separate from George Lucas's Star Wars for the most part in my mind—except The Mandalorian—because it's just not the same and I can't figure out where to put the sequels in my ranking of the other six.) But even though I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker and there were absolutely things about it that I liked better than The Force Awakens, there's something about the sequel trilogy as a whole that doesn't quite sit right with me, and never will. And it has to do with foreshadowing, and consequently, lack of continuity. (Note: I'm aware that Disney's treatment of Star Wars is super controversial, and people are going to disagree with my assessment. I don't want to devolve into arguing about this. This post is about storytelling and my perception of the strengths and flaws of the sequels from a writer's perspective, with a focus on use of foreshadowing.)

But before we jump into Star Wars, I want to take a quick look at Mockingjay.

MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS


When I first read Mockingjay, Katniss shooting Coin seemed to come out of the blue. It didn't bug me then, because killing Coin made sense. 13 wasn't really any better than the Capitol. It was a different kind of tyranny, but it was still tyranny. And in essence, Coin really isn't that much different from Snow. And then you look at the movie, where the foreshadowing—particularly in the scene with the vote for the symbolic Hunger Games—is so blatant, my dad called the assassination in the movie theater. It wasn't until my fourth official read of the book last month (I've spot read the book much more than that), as I watched the movies while sick, that I put two and two together about the foreshadowing. It actually is in the book, it's just a little more subtle.

It really starts, simply, with the militaristic/fascist control of the population of 13. Coin as an antagonist becomes extremely clear in Boggs's conversation with Katniss after Peeta's arrival in the Capitol.

"Sometime in the near future, this war will be resolved. A new leader will be chosen....you'll throw support to someone. Would it be President Coin? Or someone else?....If your immediate answer isn't Coin, then you're a threat."

And then as Katniss mulls over the double-exploding bombs and Snow's assessment of Coin, she's realizing even more how Coin has played them all, how Coin is just out to get power. And during the vote for the symbolic Hunger Games, it's painfully clear that under Coin, nothing has changed. "Nothing will ever change now. I weigh my options carefully, think everything through." And after she votes, she can feel Haymitch watching her, just as he did in the movie.

It could have gone two ways. Snow has been the villain from the start. Coin has been slowly but surely set up as a villain throughout Mockingjay. And so it's shocking when Katniss chooses instead to shoot Coin, but if you really think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.

END MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS
And honestly, whatever you think of Suzanne Collins's writing style and use of fragments, or the denouement of Mockingjay, which I absolutely agree feels rushed, she absolutely has a handle on foreshadowing and using every element, every character, every arc of a story to make a cohesive whole that thoroughly explores her theme.

MAJOR STAR WARS SEQUEL TRILOGY SPOILERS

Say what you will about the bad acting, awkward dialogue, and plot holes of the first six Star Wars movies, but there are two things George Lucas is good at: worldbuilding and story. The worldbuilding is honestly Tolkien-level, but we're here to talk about foreshadowing.

Each of the original six Star Wars movies has its own plot, but it's part of a whole. That whole is the story of the rise and fall of Darth Vader. George Lucas has said that the whole saga is about Anakin. And it is. It's the story of how he turned to the dark side and how his son brought him back to the light. The sequel trilogy is about... Well, I'm not sure just what the sequel trilogy boils down to, because each movie is so different from the last. They aren't super cohesive. And that really messes up the foreshadowing.


Rey's parentage is the big one. I'm not going to get into all the different theories...in a way I actually think it's very interesting for her to be a Palpatine. Lots of interesting psychology there, with great potential for themes of how it doesn't matter where you come from, it's the choices you make that count. But the problem is that until Rey's use of Force lightning to bring down the ship in ROS, there was no foreshadowing. The only other thing I can think of is the "you went straight to the dark" thing in TLJ, but I feel like I'm really grasping at straws there.

As we watched TFA in preparation for ROS, I realized that Rey's parentage was a big deal for the fans because the movie made a big deal about who she was. She didn't care who they were, she just wanted them to come back. But Kylo throwing a tantrum when he found out about "the girl from Jakku," Han looking away from her looking like he was going to cry when she told him her name, her clear connection with Leia, the way Chewie resists Finn but is immediately okay with her, Maz Kanata's "who's the girl?", even in TLJ Luke's "why you?" when questioning why she was the one they sent after him...those things foreshadow that her identity matters, and not only does it matter to our main cast, they know who she is. Only...they don't. I still think TFA points to her being a Skywalker. Not only does the family have a reaction to her, you've also got her skills as a pilot and mechanic. (Plus the fact that this is the Skywalker saga, so you'd expect the protagonist to be a Skywalker. And anyone that thinks Broom Boy is essential to proving Jedi don't have to have special heritage and Rey Palpatine undermines that doesn't get Star Wars. I mean, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Adi Gallia, Ahsoka Tano, Yaddle, Luminara, Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura, Plo Koon, Kit Fisto...They ain't Skywalkers or Palpatines.)

And now...what do any of those things mean? Why did Han react to her name? Why did Kylo flip out when he heard that BB-8 was helped by a girl from Jakku? Why did they send Rey after Luke? Um...fan theories are all we've got.

Because in TLJ, Kylo clearly didn't know any more about Rey's parents than Rey did herself. He made her say what she thought and then expanded on it, tearing her down and telling her she only mattered to him as a means of manipulating her. (Sorry, Reylo fans, abusive relationships just aren't romantic.) So why did he react to the "girl from Jakku"? No idea. 

Rey being a Palpatine...like I said, I think it's an interesting twist. But it's really not foreshadowed. First off, Palpatine has never been depicted onscreen as having romantic relationships. Searching Wookieepedia, I've found some things in Legends that depict alleged children of Palpatine, but it's ambiguous as to whether they were actually his, and there is one called Triclops who was a result of Palpatine's biological experimentation. In canon, all we've got is exactly what was stated in ROS. He's always been all about power, so I really can only see him having offspring as a way to gain more power. And, well, it's hard to talk about something that doesn't exist. All I've got for Rey Palpatine foreshadowing is the Force lightning incident—though Palpatine was not the only Sith to use that power—and "you went straight to the dark" which could just as well be because of Vader or because of...everyone having the potential for dark and light? I mean, the Rey's a Palpatine theory was floating around, but so was the Reylo Rey travels back in time and gives birth to Anakin and now Kylo is his own great grandfather theory. So...

It's possible that Rey's Force abilities caused her parents to take her to Luke for training and when Palpatine discovered her, they took her to Jakku for her protection and that's why everyone reacts to her, but while they never said she didn't train with Luke as a small child, there's nothing that indicates she did. But with the way, excluding Luke's "why you?" TLJ dropped all reactions to Rey, I don't know what else they could have done.

Then there's Palpatine coming back. I actually really like that. I haven't read any books involving this storyline, but in Legends, Palpatine did create clones of himself and transfer his soul to them. So involving him feels very Expanded Universe, and I love that. (Yes, I'm one of those fans who's annoyed the EU has been relegated to Legends status. I still want to be Darra Thel-Tanis, and I'll never get over her death.) But...where was that foreshadowed? In an interview, J.J. Abrams mentioned that, when you look at all nine episodes, it would be stranger not to have Palpatine be a part of the sequel trilogy. I absolutely agree. Palpatine has been the one pulling the strings since before TPM. But...the first indication we got that he was a factor in the sequel trilogy was the Palpatine laugh in the trailer for ROS. I haven't come up with ideas on how they could have foreshadowed Palpatine's involvement, but it should have been. Because while I absolutely accept Palpatine being behind it all, the way it came out of the blue makes it feel like they just pulled out an old big bad now that Snoke has met a premature end. I have to say, though, I was and still am super excited about Palpatine being in ROS. And he's just as "strike me down" obsessed as ever. XD

Sure, George Lucas changed things partway through. Like how Leia remembers her mother who died in childbirth. And I've heard that Luke's twin was originally supposed to be someone other than Leia (which makes the kiss in ESB less creepy). But I've always taken "There's too much of his father in him." "That's what I'm afraid of." to reference Vader, "there is another" foreshadows Luke's twin, Leia, and you basically know where everything in the prequel trilogy is going, not just because we know the end of the story, but because it builds naturally towards that end...albeit with a heavy dose of cringeworthy dialogue. Anakin murdering the Tusken Raiders, including women and children? Makes it very believable that he would slaughter Jedi younglings. The first six are faaaaaar from perfect, and I'm not even a prequel hater, but they do a better job paying off foreshadowing than the sequels do.

And lest you think I'm hating on the sequels, I love Rey, Finn, and Poe (I'm a FinnRey shipper and I will go down with that ship), "Chewie, we're home," was the line I chose to quote when stepping into the Millennium Falcon for the first time, I played "Rey's Theme" in a piano recital a few years ago, and joining the Resistance on Batuu was one of the highlights of my last Disney vacation. But I'll be looking elsewhere for good examples of foreshadowing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Crossways is Available on Audio!

The Crossways is finally available on audio! It's super exciting to me to have this one done and out in the world. I feel like it took forever, since I had a lot of voice issues where I couldn't record last year, but it's done, and it's available, and I've just got one more Time Captives book to go! Check it out!


Monday, January 6, 2020

I Went to Galaxy's Edge!

I know I normally do a year in review for my first post of the new year, but most of this year isn't one I really want to relive (putting my dog down, several members of our extended family being diagnosed with cancer, etc.), so I'm going to talk about our Disney trip instead. I'm not going to give you a park by park complete rundown like I did two years ago, since I figure you don't really care that I rode Soarin' 8 times, or that my sister and I rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 3 times in a row. Instead, I'm going to focus on the new/new to me experiences. Namely Galaxy's Edge and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Disney is awesome.

Note: my youngest sister isn't in any of the pictures because she had finals the week we went, and so had to stay home, but she got her own trip during fall break, so I don't feel sorry for her.

Christmas party first, because Galaxy's Edge is the BIG DEAL, and I'm saving it for last.

This was the first time we'd ever been to the Christmas party, so we weren't entirely sure what to expect. If we were to do it again, we'd have a better strategy, I'm sure, but I definitely enjoyed it and I'm glad we did it.


They give you complimentary cookies and hot chocolate and cider that's really just apple juice and eggnog which I passed on. The cookies were tasty and the hot chocolate was good and I had way more sugar than I normally do and I didn't feel so great afterwards, but who cares, it's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party!

They do some special ride overlays, most of which were brand new this year. They do Jingle Cruise even outside of the party during Christmas, so that wasn't new, but I still like it, and it's really something when all the people in line are singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" together. The attractions with special Christmas party overlays, all new to this year, were Tomorrowland Speedway, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Space Mountain, and Mad Tea Party. We never do Mad Tea Party because spinning, so I don't have anything to say about that. Christmas lights and music were great at Tomorrowland Speedway. I love walking around Tomorrowland listening to Mannheim Steamroller. I did ride Space Mountain for the first time in almost ten years, since it had Christmas lights and music, but nope, still don't like it. Yes, with the flickering Christmas-colored lights, you can somewhat see the track, but it still kinda made me feel sick. Sorry, Space Mountain lovers. My favorite Christmas overlay, though, was the Laugh Floor. It's all the same animation as the regular show, so often the lips don't match, but I don't even care. Lots of Christmas-oriented jokes, a fun holiday twist on an attraction I already love. Favorite quote: "He sees you when you're sleeping, he sees you when you're awake...Roz is Santa!" XD In general, wait times are down during the party, but while it's nice to walk right on Pirates of the Caribbean (I love that ride), if I went again, I would just do the non-themed attractions before the party actually starts. There's just so much else to do.


The parade was fabulous. (No, I'm not just saying that because it's the only parade Kristoff is actually in...) There are a lot more characters, it's all Christmas themed, and, well, I like Festival of Fantasy, (the normal afternoon parade) but this one is just better. I loved it. When you've been as many times as we have, though, you can tell when they've repurposed floats from old parades.


They had a Christmas show in front of the castle, which was nice, and special Christmas fireworks and projection. This was the first year they didn't do Wishes during the party, which is kind of sad because I still miss Wishes, but the fireworks were pretty special. And I'm glad that no matter what they do to change the fireworks show, they always manage to work in Tinker Bell somewhere.


We also did some characters, and this is what, in hindsight, I wish we'd made more time for. But since we didn't know what to expect, it is what it is. They have A LOT more characters around than normal, and most definitely characters you can't generally meet otherwise. I.e. the princes are around. On a normal day, you'd be able to meet Aladdin and Jasmine together, and sometimes in some locations Beast will be with Belle. But the other princesses never have princes with them. And they do during the Christmas party. My mom and I got to meet Rapunzel and Flynn, and Tiana and Naveen. Now, I can't stand Naveen in the movie because he's a jerk, but the Naveen we met was pretty awesome and funny. It also helped that the little girl just ahead of us was hilarious. Apparently, if he eats cookies, he'll get a stomach ache, and if he drinks water, his teeth will fall out. XD


So all in all, I really enjoyed the Christmas party, and I'd recommend going at least once.

Quick note on Toy Story Land, since that was new since my previous trip. It's okay. The theming is very well done, it's just the best ride there is still Toy Story Mania, which I've loved since I first went on it, so it doesn't feel like a whole lot of new exciting stuff to me. But the area is very well done and Toy Story Mania is just as fabulous as ever. (Maybe it's just that I had a lot of motion sickness issues during this trip due to a mild cold, so it was harder to enjoy some things...some people really like Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers...but also, compared to Galaxy's Edge and Avatar Flight of Passage, well, it's not their most amazing work.)


Okay, so now Galaxy's Edge. AKA the most immersive thing Disney has ever done. Also, I'VE BEEN TO A STAR WARS PLANET! Yes, it's one invented solely for the park, but it's SOOOO well designed. It really feels like you're in a galaxy far, far away. Well, if you ignore the other tourists in modern clothes, that is. So much attention to detail. Everything just looks like Star Wars. I wasn't super duper impressed with the shops in Galaxy's Edge itself, I still prefer Tatooine Traders, but they were well designed to add to the immersive experience. There are astromech droids and land speeders around, the font on everything, including cast members' name tags, is designed to look like Aurebesh (I had to Google what it was called, so I feel like I have to turn in my nerd card), but still be readable, even the bathrooms are incredibly well themed. And it's just awesome to see stormtroopers walking around harassing people ("What are you doing with that datapad?"), Kylo Ren getting onto people, Rey running around hiding from the First Order...It's just so cool!


And when you walk up to the Millennium Falcon for the first time. There is nothing like it. Nothing like going inside the Falcon for the first time. Nothing like stepping inside the cockpit. Nothing like piloting the Millennium Falcon, even though it's really more like crashing it and you feel seriously motion sick the whole time. (Pro tip: if you're a Star Wars fan who's prone to motion sickness, take some Dramamine or something and ride the Falcon anyway. It's absolutely worth it. And the times when I'd taken something for motion sickness, and also was a gunner instead of a pilot—don't know if that was a factor—I did much better.) The whole experience is just mind blowing. And if you can get on it multiple times on your trip, do it. Not just because who doesn't want to fly in the Falcon as many times as possible? but because the more times you ride it, the better you understand your mission. My sister wanted me to mention...there's a lot of screaming on this ride. Not because it's a scary ride where people freak out. Because everyone's yelling at the pilots. As you continually crash into things. It was awesome.


The food is certainly interesting. We ate dinner there our first day at Hollywood Studios. It all just looks so...different. They did a good job making it look like it doesn't belong in our world, even though what I ate was just ribs, vegetable mashed potatoes, and a blueberry muffin. The ribs were spicy, and I'm not a huge fan of spicy, but it was still really good. And the immersiveness continues in the restaurant, with cast members directing you to the hydration station and giving you a cargo slip with your order. They really went all out. And blue milk, which I absolutely had to have, was also interesting. At the first sip, I wasn't sure, since I didn't know exactly what kind of flavor to expect, but I ended up really liking it. It's basically a non-dairy blue smoothie. Pretty tasty if you like smoothies, and if you don't, well, blue milk is still a Star Wars classic.


And then there's Rise of the Resistance. When we planned this trip, we had no idea it would coincide with the opening of Rise of the Resistance. But I'm glad it did. Even though we had to get to the park 3 hours before park opening on day 2 of the ride and it took us 5 tries to ride it twice. 

First off, getting to the park 3 hours before it opened was an extremely good thing. Thank you to our travel agent friend Kristi McKoy for the advice! Ordinarily, they don't let you into the park that early. But because it was only the second day Rise of the Resistance was open, they were not only letting people in, they were already running rides. It was unofficially open. They currently use a boarding pass system for the ride, just as they did when the Millennium Falcon opened. Google isn't telling me how long they'll be doing boarding passes, though it is telling me that later in December, they stopped releasing boarding passes prior to the official park opening. I actually really like the boarding pass system. Basically, once you get in the park, you sign up for a boarding pass via the Disney Parks app, and when it gets to your group, you go get in line. Early on, once you checked into the attraction, you could get a second boarding pass if they were available, but they stopped allowing that after our trip. It probably made latecomers to the park mad that people were getting extra passes, and therefore they were gone faster—sometimes before the park officially opened—but honestly, if you're not always getting to the parks before opening time, you're sabotaging your vacation. And the great thing about getting there so early was that there was little to no wait on other popular attractions like the rides in Toy Story Land, and even Millennium Falcon was a much shorter wait than what we did earlier in the week.


Now, Rise of the Resistance itself. It broke a lot. Constantly. Like I said, 5 tries to ride it twice. But the upside of that is that if you made it past the preshow, they gave you a paper fastpass to get back on Rise of the Resistance (the fastpass line basically put you right into the preshow) and a multi-experience fastpass that could be used on other attractions, including the Millennium Falcon. So we were able to ride the Falcon and Toy Story Mania an extra time for our trouble. Blessing in disguise, though it did get kind of frustrating. When you see the cast member in normal clothes carrying tools through the star destroyer, you know your interrogation is going to be "rescheduled." :P

 
 

But once we actually got on the ride...It's a pretty cool ride. My only criticism is that the effects used to make it look like a lightsaber is melting through metal...well, doesn't look very realistic. The lightsaber itself is cool, but you can tell nothing's actually melting. But even the preshow experience is cool. You're in the base on Batuu at Black Spire Outpost, and they've got all kinds of cool things in line, like Finn's bacta suit, and x-wing pilot uniforms, and then you go into a room where you get a hologram transmission from Rey telling you Batuu is no longer safe and you're evacuating. Poe and two other x-wing pilots are going to be protecting your transport, a transport piloted by Nien Nunb. You are then rushed past Poe's x-wing into the waiting transport, which gets caught in a tractor beam and pulled into a star destroyer. Once in the star destroyer, you're really just in another line, but it looks so realistic, the stormtroopers, First Order officers (when they're not scrambling because the ride isn't working), and just all the design is so immersive it almost doesn't even feel like you're just standing in a line at Disney World. You go into a cell, and then the rebels break you out and it's crazy and Kylo and Hux are around and Finn is there and it's just so awesome. Aside from the obviously fake melting metal, they really did an amazing job with this ride. And apparently, it's actually a part of the sequel trilogy timeline of events and sets up for Rise of Skywalker, which is really cool. I love it all so much. And our second ride, it broke down just as we were pulling into the unloading area, so we just barely made it through and it was great. The whole experience is just so surreal.





All in all, Galaxy's Edge was pretty amazing. I know there are a lot of people thinking it doesn't have enough from the movies, but you're going on a smuggling run for Hondo Ohnaka of Clone Wars and Rebels so that Chewie can get parts he needs, and you're joining the Resistance and ESCAPING FROM A STAR DESTROYER WITH THE HELP OF FINN, so I'm pretty satisfied with it. Of course, I would always love there to be more, and I wish custom astromech droids were less than $100, because if they were, I would totally have one, but I loved Galaxy's Edge. I'm now torn between Rise of the Resistance and Jedi Training for my dream Disney job, though I do miss the traditional Jedi robes in the training show. What can I say? I've been a big Star Wars fan since I was 13. On that note, this was my favorite thing overheard at Disney. It was near Jedi Training. "Anakin just can't stop fighting kids, can he?"

Disney is the most magical place on earth. I love it so much. So many things about our trip were great, like Ming-Na Wen (Mulan, and she's totally proud of that role) being our narrator at the Candlelight Processional. Still my favorite thing they do at EPCOT. So if you haven't been to Disney, you need to go. Just do it. But do it right and make sure you have a good strategy because a good Disney trip does take effort. And it's so worth it.

"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse." —Walt Disney

Monday, December 16, 2019

Sounds of Christmas

Music has always been an important part of my life. Whether it was Greg and Steve, Cedarmont Kids, Michael W. Smith, John Williams, or Vivaldi, music really means something to me. And there are particular songs that mean Christmas to me. So let's take a journey through Christmas music.

There are certain songs that are acceptable before Thanksgiving. Namely songs from the Nativity Ballet. As soon as festival season was over, we started rehearsing for the Nativity. These are the ones I danced to, and thus the ones I love the best. I still remember my parts in "No Eye Had Seen," "Christmastime," and "All is Well." I never did "Gloria," aside from it being used for curtain call, but it still means Nativity to me.











Closer to Christmas, we expand our selection. Some of the others are still Michael W. Smith.





And what really sounds like Christmas is Mannheim Steamroller. We would sometimes turn it on while decorating the Christmas tree, and it just sounds like Christmas to me.












So there you have some of the songs that sound like Christmas to me. What are your favorite Christmas albums?

Merry Christmas and I'll see you in 2020!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Top Ten (Twelve) Books of 2019

I'm just going to admit upfront that I can't pick just ten this year. Even with honorable mentions (which I still have). So I'm not going to try. Quick apology to Full Ride, Children of Jubilee, and most of all Redeeming Love for being read last December after I published my top ten list, because they deserve top ten recognition. Also quick apology to whatever I read between the writing of this post and December 31 for not having a chance at top ten status.


I probably should have reread the whole series before diving into this one, but I didn't have time for those big books during NaNo. So I didn't probably get full enjoyment out of it, but I still really very much enjoyed this book. It was both great and heartrending to see the Society struggling with what their lives will look like now that they've grown up and been given great opportunities for their futures, but I'm not going to say what they decide. Tai (new character) is super cute, Constance is as grumpy as ever, and I love Reynie, Sticky, and Kate so much. The plot was a little confusing, but enjoyable, and I probably would have understood it better if I'd reread the series. But I enjoyed it enough to expand my list to 12.

11. Return of the Temujai by John Flanagan

There was a new Brotherband book this year! Now, Brotherband isn't quite as good as Ranger's Apprentice, obviously, but I still enjoy the series because John Flanagan is awesome. This is definitely one of the better Brotherband books, and I kind of stayed up late the night before NaNo started finishing it. Because it got to a point where I just couldn't put it down. It got pretty intense. The Temujai are trying to attack Skandia and take over! It's up to the Herons to stop them. And the poor, poor Heron. It wasn't quite as sad as Tug, but it still made me so sad. Gotta love Thorn and Hal and Ingvar and Lydia. And of course Kloof.

10. The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale

We're back in normal "top ten" territory with The Books of Bayern. The Goose Girl was a random read I picked up while visiting a new library because it's by Shannon Hale, and I love Princess Academy. I really enjoyed The Goose Girl, and I was pretty emotionally invested. Poor Falada. I mean, I knew it was going to happen because I read through the Grimm version before I read the book, but it was still horrific and heartrending. That said, it was more of just a "like" than a "love" until I read Enna Burning. I wasn't expecting to like it as much because Enna was the main character and not Ani/Isi, but I actually ended up liking it better. Since it was an original story and not a retelling, I felt like she had more freedom and thus it was a better book. I started River Secrets, but had to return it unfinished because Camp NaNo.  So then when I was working on my costume for Realm Makers, I discovered the library had River Secrets and Forest Born on eaudio with a full cast. So I listened to those and loved them so much. Even though each book has a different main character, something which will normally (and almost did) turn me off, they are all amazing, always involve characters that were a part of things from the beginning, and really build off of and tie in with each other. And the Full Cast Audio productions were amazing.

9. Duel at Araluen by John Flanagan

I admit, this one would rank a bit higher if Halt had been in it and if Will had been in more than just the ending, but it was still a really good book and I love seeing Maddie and her parents and their whole family dynamic. Plus plenty of Gilan and lots of danger and sneaking around and Horace being proud of his little girl but also afraid for her safety. And Cassandra having to defend her right to the throne, and Horace and Maddie letting her, but being absolutely ready to step in if need be. And I really do love these characters. I just need another Royal Ranger book, one where Maddie and Will and Halt and Horace go on a mission together because that dynamic would be amazing. Especially if Gilan popped in once in a while. :)

8. Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This is the book that finally pulled me out of a major book hangover. I can always count on Margaret Peterson Haddix to give me a great un-put-down-able story no matter how I'm feeling. This book was such a perfect blend of ordinary troubles of a middleschooler who had to move away from her best friend after they had a fight and adjusting to having a new baby brother, and the bizarreness of people who appear and disappear at the house next door. Marin, the MC, isn't the only person who can see them. Charley can too, but he isn't exactly the most friendly, normal kid. I don't really feel like I can say a whole lot more without major spoilers, but it's so raw and emotional and beautiful, and the ending was perfection. Plus, I also loved how normal and natural it was that one of the first things they did moving to a new state was look for a church.

7. The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Yup, another Haddix book. Have I mentioned she's one of my favorite authors? This one is the first book in a new series (not sure how many books it's supposed to be), and the new one doesn't come out until next April and just AAAHHHHH!!!! It was such a cliffhanger. Finn and Emma and Chess live with their mother and have a good, secure life, but then they see on the news that three children with their exact names and birthdays have disappeared. Then their mom starts acting strange, having to leave them with someone the children don't really know, and they can't get ahold of her and mystery and science fiction and danger and that cliffhanger! The next installment of Greystone Secrets can't get here fast enough.

6. Romanov by Nadine Brandes

See, this book (and Risked by Margaret Peterson Haddix) are the reasons why I just can't really get that into Anastasia. And yes, I'm aware that Nadine herself likes the movie, but when you've read two really good books about the Romanovs that don't completely destroy history, how can you properly enjoy something that didn't even try to preserve the real story? Romanov is historical fantasy, and it's a very interesting retelling of the story of the Romanovs. The fantasy elements are relatively light until about...three quarters of the way through? And at that point, things really get interesting. So many feels and I love Zash, and it's just so good.

5. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Okay, so this book gives me mixed feelings. On one hand, it's an amazing historical fantasy about the Gunpowder Plot and I love the stories and the characters so much, but on the other hand, I stayed up for hours reading it for comfort knowing that the next morning we were putting my dog down and I don't think I can ever separate it from that experience. That was February and I know Sophie was old and suffering, but I still miss my dog terribly. Fawkes, though, was a fabulous book. I love Thomas and Emma and I love the way she wove in so much true history with a fantasy twist, and that cover is absolutely gorgeous. Read my full review here.

4.  The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers

This is the book I read instead of working on Acktorek. Oops. When I start a Francine Rivers book, it's just too hard to stop. Dynah has a perfect life: she's attending a Christian college, is engaged to a man studying to be a pastor, is a proper good Christian girl...and then she gets raped and everything falls apart. Pressured to abort her child from all sides (even and especially Christian ones), Dynah struggles to know just what she is supposed to do. It's a heartrending, multi-generational story that is just so important and meaningful, and I've just got to say, Francine Rivers is a good writer. She does a very good job dealing with tough topics in an inspiring way. Highly recommended, though not for anyone younger than sixteen.

 3. Beyond the Tales by Tricia Mingerink

Dagger's Sleep played a part in my major book hangover a few months ago. It's a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but not really in the way you'd expect. The worldbuilding is rather Native American, but they have castles, so there's a bit of medieval mixed in too. And the prince is cursed to sleep for one hundred years after pricking his finger on his own dagger. I just love Daemyn and Rosanna (the cursebreaker) so much, and Tricia's a beary good writer. Then you've got Midnight's Curse, which is a Cinderella, but again, not in the way you'd think. The glass slippers could be a dream come true, or her worst nightmare. It picks right up shortly after Dagger's Sleep, continuing that story while seamlessly telling another. And there'd better be another book coming before long...and the next Acktar book, of course. ;)

2. No Man by J. Grace Pennington

My heart. First off, I was so extremely excited to finally get a new Firmament book this year! I wasn't expecting it and we got it, and I reread the series within a week, and binging Firmament like that is just...all the feels. It was a really good decision to binge it, since she draws in elements from previous books because, you know, they lived it and it's still affecting them. Plus, Gestern did very much leave us hanging. I love Andi so much. And the rest of my Firmament family. I wrote a full review of it wherein I fangirled like crazy, so I won't rehash all of that, but I can never love Firmament enough. And so far as I know, the next book should be the one where we see Elasson again, so squeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

1. Blood of Kings Trilogy by Jill Williamson

Meet the series that gave me the biggest book hangover I've ever had. Achan and Vrell and I love them so much and I never wanted to say goodbye and I need more of them and I totally want to name a daughter Averella now and these books are so beyond amazing and Jill is a fabulous person too and I love her and you need to go read these books right now. Seriously. Do it. Yes, up until the end of By Darkness Hid I still liked Replication better, but then everything changed and I just can't be coherent about it. Go read what I said earlier this year. Magical telepathy that follows the royal bloodline, princes and knights and squires and strays and adventure and danger and a darkness that's spreading over the land and deceit and hidden identities and just go read it already. And then come back and tell me that I was absolutely right and it was amazing and you're going to be recommending it to all your friends now.


Honorable mentions, because I have to: the original Box-Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner which can be found on archive.org, Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos, Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler, and, yes I'm going to include The Flash series by Barry Lyga as it's a fabulous tie-in to the CW show and I really enjoyed it.


What are your top reads of 2019?