Monday, December 13, 2021

Top Twelve Books of 2021

Sorry, even with omitting rereads and combining series into single entries as per usual, I just can't get it down to ten this year. I've read so many good books this year that I want to tell y'all about. And I'm also going to have honorable mentions because I can't not. Before I get to my list, though, I want to mention my rereads of the year, because obviously they're good enough to get attention: Ranger's Apprentice, The Lunar Chronicles, The Hunger Games trilogy, and Percy Jackson, all on audio through my library. They're great stories that were definitely worth the revisit.

Now to my top twelve new-to-me books of 2021.

12. Balance Point by Kathy Tyers

The New Jedi Order series has been rather hit or miss writing-quality-wise so far, but I consider this one to be solidly in the better half of the series. Plus, Kathy Tyers is a Christian, a Realmie, and an Enclave author, and how cool is that? Balance Point is somewhat towards the middle of NJO, and one of my favorites partially because of the author, but also largely because this is the book where Luke and Mara find out they're expecting Ben. Ben Skywalker is precious to me, and Kathy does a really good job writing Luke and Mara. After all, she shipped them right off when she first read The Thrawn Trilogy. This is also where Han and Leia reconcile after Han's difficulties dealing with Chewie's death, and there's great stuff with the Solo kids too. It's well written and on the whole, Kathy does a good job with the characters. It's a good one.

11. Traitor by Matthew Stover 

Matthew Stover has the kind of talent writers dream of. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what about his writing is so good, but his talent seems to be well recognized among both the fandom at large and the other Expanded Universe writers. This is the story of Jacen's experience as a Yuuzhan Vong POW, and it just really delves deep into who Jacen is, philosophy, emotions, torture...all the things. What really floors me is how he can effectively switch between past and present tense in a way that feels totally natural and really packs a punch and is just perfection. I'm not sure many—if any—other authors could pull that off. And for Stover it works so well. It's a very character-focused book, which I love, really explains a lot of what Jacen does in the future, and is just good. The bit where Jacen went home to his family's apartment on Vong-formed Coruscant and sat there lethargic and hallucinating his dead brother broke me.

10. Soulminder by Timothy Zahn

This one was rather different. It's not exactly a novel so much as several stories about the same topic. Dr. Adrian Sommers, who lost his son in a car accident, devotes his life to developing Soulminder—a technological marvel that temporarily captures the human soul to be reunited with the body once the body has been repaired. A device that could have saved his son’s life. But not everyone thinks of Soulminder as simply a medical miracle. There are other ways to use it, and the ways it is corrupted get worse and worse. Sommers was warned that Soulminder could become a demon. And now he has to decide what to do about it. It's odd, but fascinating, and really makes you think deeply about your immortal soul, ethics, death, and what it truly means to be alive. It's also the only non-Star Wars Zahn book I've read and I do believe I should read more.

9. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Full disclosure: This one made me cry. I was 100% bawling in the car on the way home from teaching violin while I was listening to this book. Rose Howard has high functioning autism, a single dad who doesn’t understand her and only gets mad when she acts like herself, a beloved uncle, a beloved dog named Rain (reign, rein), and an obsession with homonyms and prime numbers. (I personally prefer numbers that are a power of a whole number, but that’s okay. Rose can like her prime numbers.) Rain gets lost during a hurricane and Rose has to find her. But what ensues, well, some things happened that I wasn’t expecting and there were jaw drops and tears. While I was driving, mind you, since this was my car audiobook. I don’t want to give spoilers, but read this book. The ending felt a tad abrupt, but that’s really the only complaint I have about it. I love Rose and I love Uncle Weldon, I can’t stand Rose’s dad, and I have so many emotions about this book. So just go read it.

8. The Messengers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Did Margaret Peterson Haddix release a new book? Yes? Then obviously it's on my top books of the year post. I reread the previous books in this series via audio in preparation for the release, and I'm glad I did. This series, like the rest of Haddix's books, is fabulous. Secret codes, mysterious events, the kidnappings of children with the same names and birthdays as the three main characters...putting duct tape over my mouth right now because if I say anything else I’ll definitely tread into dangerous spoiler territory. This one was very good and I feel like it was especially relevant. Seek truth. Make your own choices. Don’t blindly believe what your leaders say. Don’t live in fear and despair. And love others. Help them. Because nothing combats fear and lies like love and truth. Is it the strongest book of the series? No. Ending series still isn't Haddix's strong suit, though I'd certainly argue that this book was a far better ending than the final book of The Missing (which is still my top favorite Haddix series despite the last book having a different protagonist than the first seven). And while I may not have talked up Haddix books on here the way I have others *cough* Elven Alliance *cough* y'all definitely need to check out her books. There's a reason she's one of my favorite authors and I already have her next book on hold at the library even though it doesn't come out until March.

7. Hunger by Jill Williamson

Now, I probably should have reread Thirst before I read Hunger. I had to pull it out a few times to refresh my memory. ("Wait, how did Hannah hurt Eli's hand again?") But even so, it was great. Having read The Safe Lands now, it was really cool making all the connections about why different things became the way they were, how different family lines ended up in different places, etc. I'm not quite sure what to say about this book that won't spoil it and/or The Safe Lands, but disease, questionable “government,” danger, intrigue, PTSD, drama 🙄 Jaylee 😜, Eli is awesome, I love Hannah, and go read these books and The Safe Lands. Because they’re awesome. I wanted to reread Safe Lands after this, but I'd have to get the first two from the library, and I've had so many new-to-me books to read I just haven't gotten to it. Plus, I do most of my rereading on audio these days. Hint, Jill?

6. Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham

So far, this is my favorite NJO book for a couple of reasons. (1) It's character-driven and well-written. The writing of some Star Wars books is mediocre at best, but that's certainly not the case with this one. (2) The author read the Young Jedi Knights series before writing this and it shows. There are certainly times when characters get mischaracterized in SW, particularly when children's book characters are brought into the adult books. Not the case in Dark Journey. Elaine Cunningham showed herself to have an in-depth knowledge of the Solo kids and their friends. (3) Hapan politics is fascinating. Hapes is a mess of power plays and backstabbing and assassination attempts, and it makes a fascinating and dangerous setting for Jaina to work out her grief over the loss of her brothers...a grief that leads her towards the Dark Side. (4) Jag Fel is back! I've loved Jag since I first met him in Fate of the Jedi (yes, I read SW ridiculously out of order), but when early in NJO he told off crooked, conniving, self-centered, just plain awful politician Borsk Fey'lya, he cemented himself as one of my favorite SW characters. Jag is just 😍. Plus I'm a big fan of Jaina Solo. Even though she's spiraling into a dark place in this book. I mean, she just tragically lost both her brothers and she's too much like her father to handle it well. (Apparently the GR reviews of this one are mostly bad? Whatever. I loved it.)

5. Dangerous Secrets by Mari Mancusi

I may be a little stitious because after starting off 2020 with a Frozen II tie-in novel, I wasn't sure I wanted to start off 2021 with a Frozen II tie-in novel. But my love of Frozen won out and I got it from the library anyway. Did it cast bad luck on 2021? Maybe. 😂 Anyway, this is my favorite Frozen book I've read. I mean, I've only read three, but still. This is the story of Iduna and Agnarr, Elsa and Anna's parents. It took me a few chapters to get into it because it started off just rehashing backstory from Frozen II, but once it got into original material, it was fabulous and amazing and I loved it. Iduna is keeping the secret that she's actually Northuldra, but she can't do that forever. Especially since she and Agnarr are becoming more than just friends. It was just a really good story, it really pulled me into the world of Frozen, and I'd consider it a must-read for every Frozen fan.

4. Apprentice by Kristen Young

Realmie book! The instant I saw this book in the Realm Makers bookstore, I knew I had to have it. The cover just spoke to me. Then when it won several Realm awards and they read an excerpt during the announcement, I doubly knew I had to have it. I didn't get around to it until Thanksgiving break, but then I read it in two days. And now I desperately need book 2. Apprentice Kerr Flick remembers everything... except for anything that happened to her before she was five. She wants to be the best of the best in the Love Collective, and her perfect memory may get her there, but then she starts having strange and frightening hallucinations that threaten to disrupt her understanding of all she knows. It's a dystopian, and as a dystopian reader, it's pretty obvious what the Love Collective truly is, even if it isn't to Kerr Flick, but that didn't matter to me. I still loved it to pieces and dreamed about the characters the night I finished it. Sif! 😭 And I need Elite

3. Escape From Falaise by John Flanagan 

New Ranger's Apprentice book? Of course it's on my list. (I feel like if you've been following me for a couple years and have a general knowledge of what books came out in a given year, you can pretty well predict a good portion of my list.) I may have told multiple professors about this series the week it came out because I just couldn't help myself. I may also have jabbered on about the series to coworkers. I wouldn't say Escape From Falaise is the strongest book in the series since at times it felt a little rushed, but I still loved it and read it in two days during Thanksgiving break. Will and Maddie and Halt and Horace! I love them all so dearly and any time I get to spend with them is well worth it. At the end of the last book, Will and Maddie were captured while trying to rescue a kidnapped prince, and this book sees them out of that cliffhanger and through the end of the adventure. I definitely listened to the "one more chapter" lie way too many times when I was in the middle of this book, but I was on break. Sleep deprivation is okay. Also, if you haven't read Ranger's Apprentice yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?

2. Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

I cried. And then I walked up the stairs and handed it to my mom, and she cried too. Megs Devonshire’s little brother George, who has a terminal heart condition, becomes captivated by the new book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and has to know where Narnia came from. Since Megs goes to Oxford, he begs her to find out. Jack and Warnie invite Megs over repeatedly to tell her stories of their lives, but it doesn’t explain Narnia to her…or does it? It may not be able to be explained in a concrete, mathematical manner like Megs wants, but it’s life changing nonetheless. I read this book in a single day, the last day of Thanksgiving break, and I loved it so incredibly much. As a Narnia and C.S. Lewis fan, it filled something in me I hadn't realized needed to be filled, and it's just such a beautiful (and heartbreaking) book. Narnia fans everywhere, do not miss this book.

1. Troll Queen and Pretense by Tara Grayce 

I don't yet have a copy of Pretense, so this photo will have to do. ESSIE AND FARRENDEL ARE SO ADORABLE AND EDMUND AND JALISSA ARE SO ANGSTY BUT THEIR STORY IS PERFECT AND ALL THE DANGER AND INTRIGUE AND ALL THE FLUFFINESS AND YES, ALL CAPS ARE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Ahem. I can't say a ton about the storyline without giving spoilers for earlier books, but Elven Alliance remains amazing, I read them as quickly as is possible, and I want a Farrendel. Farrendel as a college student is adorable and Farrendel excited about becoming [redacted] is even more adorable and I love it so much. Also, I really like the fake dating trope, which is how Edmund and Jalissa's story plays out. And...okay, I'm having trouble determining what would be spoilery and what wouldn't, so I'd better put some duct tape over my mouth now just in case. Read Elven Alliance. And fangirl over Farrendel with me.

Honorable mention goes to the Unblemished Trilogy by Sara Ella and Brand of Light by Ronie Kendig for being awesome, though it was a little difficult to keep all the characters straight, and to Bluebeard and the Outlaw and Stolen Midsummer Bride by Tara Grayce for also being awesome, if a little short. For the full list of books I've read in 2021, click here.

Monday, November 15, 2021

My Brain is a Series of Gifs


It's...been awhile. Partly because school, partly because at the beginning of October I got Covid, and then once I was better I had to play catch up on life/school and now it's getting towards finals and yeah. It's been crazy.

So yes, I survived Covid.

Sorry/not sorry for all the gifs. If you can't spam people with gifs, what's even the point in life? Also, this is the state of my brain right now, and I don't even have as many papers to write as my sister.

Ahem. I mean my experience with Covid. Actually, while I was pretty miserable for a few days, it wasn't like I was being tortured with The Machine.

Fever: not fun. Stomach ache: also not fun. Exhaustion: not fun either. The migraine that messed up my stomach again when I thought I was on the mend: super annoying. Strange/reduced smell/taste: bizarre. But I only ran a fever for about two days as opposed to over a week last time I had the flu, and also, I got bronchitis last time I had the flu and no secondary infection with Covid. And thankfully, my taste and smell seemed to go back to normal after a week or two. But it was weird while it lasted. And hey, I'm recovered now and yay for natural immunity.

Um...what else has been happening? School. I'm pretty much done with my argument paper about speculative fiction in the Christian community. It's been a fun paper to write. And for some reason, even though I never used to be able to write with the TV on, with this paper, I can't seem to write without it. Cue the Merlin binge.

Best. Show. Ever.

Should I ramble on about this show and how absolutely, positively fantastic it is and how much I love these characters, especially Arthur because in spite of his flaws he has such a good heart and he grows so much and is one of my all time favorite fictional characters? No? Maybe? Or, well, I've done that a couple times already. It's seriously the best show, even though it throws me to go back to the beginning and see good Morgana again. 

I was also watching it while writing a history paper about how the Magna Carta challenged King John's absolute power...while watching Uther exercise his absolute power to sentence Gwen's father to death for consorting with a sorcerer. And all I could think was

Uther is so awful.

Though NO ONE is as bad as THIS guy.

He's seriously THE WORST. All the hatred for Agravaine for manipulating Arthur into making horrible decisions, keeping Arthur and Gwen apart, sabotaging Camelot, getting Gaius kidnapped and tortured, making Arthur doubt his true friends, and just being an all round horrible human being.

Okay, I meant to have a more profound, coherent blog post than this. But this is apparently the state of my brain right now. (And also dreams that are basically modern AU self-insert Star Wars fanfics where Jacen Solo holds me hostage and I escape him by going into a library where my dad rescues me...even though I avoid both modern AUs and self-inserts like the plague. Modern AUs are stupid. And my brain is a strange place.) 

Anyway, Thanksgiving is next week, and I always hate to be like this because Thanksgiving isn't about shopping, but it does mean I'll have several of my books on sale (or free!) on kindle for Black Friday/Cyber Monday. And like most years, there's a group of us involved in the sale. So stay tuned!

And Acktorek-wise...Covid derailed my series planning, but that's on my Christmas break to-do list...along with watching Lord of the Rings. Extended edition, naturally. I might have mentioned I'm looking forward to Christmas break in several different German assignments. I know it'll go by way too fast. But I plan to enjoy every second of no homework and no 8 am classes.

Because once I get to Christmas break, for this semester, at least

So, um

Monday, September 20, 2021

I Still Exist!

Sorry I've been gone so long. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on here before, but I've never been good with change or disruptions to my routine. And starting college has definitely been a major change in my routine. Especially since this night owl scheduled herself 8 am classes every day. 35-40 minutes away on a good traffic day, leaving early enough to beat the rush hour traffic. Knowing that she'll get migraines and/or stomach aches if she doesn't get enough sleep which means going to bed several hours earlier than she likes.

Wasn't I brilliant?

So yeah, it's been a pretty major change and a little overwhelming, and a lot of other things going on including routine but expensive car repairs and finding out I have osteoarthritis in my right foot (yay, ballet!). But I think I've finally started to settle in and get a handle on what I'm doing (I say as I just finished a 4 test week that had me swamped). Hey, I've started sneaking in a few minutes of reading when I'm waiting for my classes to start, I'm on my fifth Ranger's Apprentice audiobook of the semester (commutes are good for something), I'm loving my statistics class (who knew? actually, I was really looking forward to that one), and in general I like being in school. Which I guess is a good thing given that I'm getting a degree in education so school will be my life.

Writing? What's that?

Okay, so I haven't exactly been writing other than adding bits and pieces to random fanfics, BUT that isn't to say I've been ignoring Acktorek. See, going to Realm Makers always seems to tell me I'm missing major pieces in my current WIP. And while the sessions didn't point out all of the missing pieces, they started a snowball effect of noticing all the pieces I don't have. One of the big ones was a series goal.

See, this episodic series format is TOTALLY different from anything I've ever written before. The only series I've written was Time Captives and that actually wasn't intended to be a series. It was one book that kept ballooning until I had to split it into first two then three (two really didn't work structure-wise). Also, Acktorek wasn't originally intended to be a series at all. It started out as a short story from a writing prompt, became a non-serious novel project just to learn to have fun writing again no-stress, then became a serious novel, then I decided to leave it open for a sequel in case I had ideas, then I had a tiny spark of a concept idea and jumped into a sequel knowing next to nothing about what I was doing with it. Sounds like a terrific process, right? Nope.

I want it to be a series because I love the concept, I love Emma and Mitchell, and I have tiny sparks of ideas that I want to develop into full novels. Like space pirates. But even aside from my book specific villains not having a well-defined plan (obvious issue), I realized I really needed something more coherent to tie everything together.

I started looking at series that I enjoy for guidance. Primarily Timeless (somewhat similar concept except time travel, not world travel), and Jedi Apprentice (one of the major inspirations behind Acktorek the company and the concept of the series/structure). I also looked a bit at Jedi Quest, Young Jedi KnightsMonk, and Ranger's Apprentice, though not as much. Some things I noticed were the existence of overarching storylines, recurring villains and other characters, multi-episode/book story arcs and a finale that brings it all together (sometimes that finale is for the series overall, sometimes it's just for the story arc...or sometimes both). 

For instance, in Monk, it may not be explicitly mentioned in every episode, but a series long storyline is Trudy's murder. There are pieces along the way that drive it forward, but it's not actually solved until the series finale. 

In Timeless, they may be in a different time period with different supporting characters in each episode, but you've got a recurring villain (first Flynn, then Rittenhouse and I'm not going to explain that any better because MAJOR spoilers). You have continuing storylines, like Lucy trying to get her sister back after she was erased by their first trip. You also have Wyatt trying to Back to the Future his dead wife back to life. (And things get way complicated and are not at all what you thought they were, but anyway.) And something the writers said about how they chose where to send them stood out to me. They looked at where they needed the characters' emotional arcs to go in that episode and then picked a time period/historical event that could do that for them. 

Jedi Apprentice has multiple story arcs: Xanatos (which has a couple of mini arcs within it, like Melida/Daan), Jenna Zan Arbor, Tahl's kidnapping...and a couple of other books that are more like standalone adventures (my favorite was The Fight for Truth because of baby Siri, but I also liked how the last book brought things full circle by placing Obi-Wan in a situation reminiscent of Melida/Daan and showing how much he's grown and matured since the early part of the series). Then Jedi Quest picks up some of those threads from the previous series with Xanatos's son Granta Omega being the recurring villain, working alongside Jenna Zan Arbor (and Zan Arbor then was a fairly major factor in Last of the Jedi). Not every Jedi Quest book contributes explicitly to the Granta Omega story, but those that don't are still crucial in developing Anakin's emotional journey as well as his relationship with his friends Tru Veld and Darra Thel-Tanis and his rival Ferus Olin, which contributes immensely to the final book titled—wait for it—The Final Showdown. (Super obvious title aside, that book destroyed me as a kid, and again rereading it as an adult, and every time I reread the ending when I pick it up for a moment at the library. I'm never going to get over it. Or the end of Secrets of the Jedi.)

All of this is to say, I've been thinking about how episodic series actually work, and what makes them coherent stories even when each installment takes place in a different time or on a different planet (or in a different world). And I've been brainstorming how to accomplish this in Acktorek based on unexplained things in book one, background worldbuilding I did for the post-RM rewrite of book one, and other things that pop into my head. I'm not going to say what I've come up with because (1) it's not solidified yet, and (2) *River Song voice* spoilers, but I'm coming up with stuff. Hopefully it will revolutionize the series and make things really work (and be amazing, obviously). And you're not going to know where it's all heading for awhile because I'm not going to spill, but it will be heading somewhere. (And then maybe I'll rework a plot I came up with for a different project as a next generation story. I'm actually pretty excited about the idea of doing that.) Don't know how long it'll take—I'm not the fastest writer even when I'm not in school—but things are happening, if slowly and not in ways that are easy to see and measure.

And now I'm going to go read because every once in a while I manage to find a little time to do something fun.

Ta ta for now!

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Mysterious Benedict Society Show Review


The Mysterious Benedict Society season one is complete!

I first read the book years ago and loved it, then listened to it this year to refresh my memory in preparation for the show. I can't say the details of the book are completely ingrained in my head—twice isn't quite enough for that—but still, it's a book I love and I was anxious to see a well done adaptation.

There will be two parts to this review: Spoiler Free and Spoiler Filled (where I'll mostly be talking about specific changes from the book and how I felt about them. Don't worry, I'll give a warning before I head into spoiler territory.

First, what it's about, for those of you who may not know. 
After winning a scholarship competition, four gifted orphans are recruited by the peculiar Mr. Benedict for a dangerous mission to save the world from a global crisis known as The Emergency. Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance must infiltrate the mysterious L.I.V.E. Institute to discover the truth behind the crisis. When the headmaster, the sophisticated Dr. Curtain, appears to be behind this worldwide panic, the kids of the Mysterious Benedict Society must devise a plan to defeat him.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the show. Hollywood has a strong history of completely ruining books, totally missing the point, and stripping out the heart of the story. (A Wrinkle in Time 2017 comes to mind...) This show stuck to the heart of the book, to the message of it, to the main point. It had the same quirky feel, most of the main characters were true to their book counterparts (I'll get into the ones that were not in the spoiler section), and most of the major plot points were the same.

The kids were well cast. The only one I wasn't sure of for a while was Kate, because I just wasn't feeling a lot of emotion from her performance or seeing a lot of variety of facial expression, but she grew on me. And, I mean, she had her bucket! The bucket's a pretty big deal when it comes to the Great Kate Weather Machine. Reynie was great (I've always felt like I related to him the best), Sticky was pretty spot on, and then there's Constance. Constance was fabulous. They did age her up from the book, which I understand was quite necessary and they completely avoided specifying her age, but man. That personality was spot on.

Okay, I'm not sure how much more I can say without a spoiler tag, so here's just some generic comments. It's clean, quirky, fun, relevant to today even though the book came out nearly 15 years ago, enjoyable for all ages, and on the better end of book to screen adaptations, even if it's not at the top of the scale.


Like I said, the casting of the child characters was good. Each child did a good job embodying the heart of his or her character. Constance especially. She's supposed to be obstinate, stubborn, and, well, in the book she's two. Obviously, they couldn't pull that off, but she still managed to embody Constance Contraire's essential contrary characteristics and just make me feel that she is Constance. Number Two, Rhonda, Milligan, and Miss Perumal were well cast as well. The only thing I'm not sure I care for with the casting of Number Two relative to Mr. Benedict is that she doesn't look significantly younger than him. In the book, both Rhonda and Number Two passed Mr. Benedict's tests, but he couldn't put together a team before they grew up, so he ended up adopting them. TBH I thought Kristen Schaal was older than Tony Hale, but she is younger...just not enough for it to make sense for Mr. Benedict to adopt Number Two. So I guess it's a good thing they never really explained why Number Two and Rhonda are there.

Mr. Curtain, or rather Dr. Curtain as they call him in the show, well, he's different. In the book, Mr. Curtain is in a wheelchair and always wears dark glasses so no one will be able to tell when he falls asleep due to his narcolepsy. In the show, no wheelchair, no glasses, and not only do they not really touch on his narcolepsy until the last episode, when Sticky says that his trigger is anger (as it was in the book) Reynie corrects him that it was actually feeling vulnerable. I feel like they tried to humanize him, particularly by making S.Q. Pedalian his adopted son. In the book, S.Q. was an adult executive who was very loyal to Mr. Curtain, didn't see his evil, and wasn't particularly bright, likely all because of being repeatedly brainswept (having his memories erased). In the show, he's a kid, Mr. Curtain's adopted son, and I guess he is still pretty loyal to Mr. Curtain, but a little more willing to see that something's wrong. They also changed up Mr. Curtain and Mr. Benedict's backstory by having them together in the orphanage until they were twelve, at which point, Mr. Benedict was adopted and Mr. Curtain wasn't. This did create some interesting drama between the brothers, and illustrated how even from a young age Mr. Curtain was all about controlling others, but it completely contradicts The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. I don't know, I'm not really on board with the changes to Mr. Curtain and S.Q. It kind of worked, but I would have preferred for them to stick to the book on that. Also, just in general, it seems like they forgot about narcolepsy all together for several episodes. Mr. Benedict should have fallen asleep a lot more than he did, and Mr. Curtain shouldn't have waited until the finale to show any signs of narcolepsy.

I did like how they added a storyline about the adults. The book is primarily from Reynie's POV, so from the time the kids arrive at the L.I.V.E. Institute until the adults actually join them on the island at the end, we really don't know what they're up to, other than watching from shore and sending the kids messages via riddles in Morse code. So it was cool for them actually to have stuff to do. I felt like it added to the story rather than detracting, and it felt authentic to the tone of the whole story.

TBH, I didn't really like the whole tetherball storyline. It wasn't in the book, and it served to make Martina Crowe a sympathetic character. See, in the book she's a dedicated messenger and she hates the Society, mostly, I think, because she feels threatened by how well the boys are doing and how quickly they become Messengers. She's a minor antagonist to them (minor because Mr. Curtain is obviously the primary antagonist). In the show, Kate fake-befriends her to get her keycard (rather than using a code found on a note S.Q. left for himself), then betrays/frames her, then Kate confesses and that makes Martina decide they're friends after all so she helps defend Kate in the finale. It was kind of weird. I don't want Martina to be good.

Which somewhat leads into another change I was disappointed about, though maybe I shouldn't have been? See, in the book, when Kate gets back from her scouting mission, her sneakers are wet, so Reynie spills orange juice on them so there's an obvious reason for that. Jackson and Martina, trying to track down a spy (Kate), don't find the clues they're looking for in her bucket, so the kids think she's safe. Until it's mentioned that Jackson lost his licorice, which is on the bottom of Kate's shoe. The kids pass it around to get it away from Kate, but Constance eats it, and looks a little green, which they blame on a fake stomach bug the boys supposedly had earlier in the book. Which gives the kids the idea to make everyone get a "stomach bug" to ensure that Sticky and Reynie are the only Messengers available for use in the Improvement wherein Mr. Curtain will boost the power on the Whisperer and totally control everyone. They...skip all of that by having Sticky be Mr. Curtain's favorite Messenger. I guess maybe they thought everyone at the Institute puking was a little gross or something, but I was disappointed they changed it.

The Whisperer was (mostly) done very well. The only thing I didn't like about what they did with it was that they had it get to Sticky to the point that he was turned against the Society for about an episode and a half before he snapped out of it. But it was that perfect soothing that's actually secretly sinister and Constance breaking it by simply being her obstinate (and also somewhat psychic) self was fabulous.

All along the way, though, there would be little things out of the books that made me very happy. There were almost no changes to the tests at the beginning, even down to Number Two mistakenly saying that children caught cheating would be executed. 😂 Reynie gave Mr. Curtain ribbon bookmarks so they could spy on his notes, they had to help the girls cheat in class, they did get rid of the mud in the Waiting Room but I guess that's a minor thing, a lot of the riddles were from the book, Milligan was very Milligan and while they didn't delve into his proper reunion with Kate what they did give us was sweet, Miss Perumal still wanted to adopt Reynie, they broke the Whisperer and Mr. Benedict got Mr. Curtain's men to stand down by pretending to be his brother, Mr. Curtain got away so he can wreak havoc in the next installment...


On the whole, The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+ was an enjoyable, satisfying adaptation. Even if they deviated from the storyline and certain character portrayals at times, they did appear to understand the true heart of the book and Mr. Curtain's plot, as well as who each of the four kids truly is.

Yes, I'm going to nitpick the differences. Always. The Hunger Games movies are pretty darn high on my book-to-screen satisfaction scale and I still nitpick the changes they made with those (particularly the omissions of Madge Undersee and Delly Cartwright and how splitting Mockingjay into two parts totally messed up the story structure...and how they made Gale a nobler character by totally changing the reason he was whipped in CF).

Even so, this is an adaptation I'd watch again. That's definitely a recommendation from me, since I flatly refuse to rewatch Johnny Tremain, Ella Enchanted, The Secret of NIMH, Caddie Woodlawn, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, A Wrinkle in Time (2017), The Westing Game, The Tale of Despereaux, won't even try Percy get the picture. This show isn't perfect, but it's still a good one. The book is still better, as it always is, but this is a good adaptation that hopefully will lead to more of my beloved Society. 

P.S. I don't honestly know how much I'll be blogging going forward. School starts in a week, and until I'm in it, I don't know how much I'll be swamped with homework. Also, with that limited time, working on Acktorek 2 will be more of a priority than blogging, which I'm sure Acktorek fans will appreciate. But I'll try to pop in here once in a while to let you know I'm not dead. 😉

Monday, July 26, 2021

Realm Makers 2021 Recap

Realm Makers was awesome! Still one of the best experiences of my life. There's nothing quite like Realm Makers. 

Before the conference started on Thursday, I, my sister, and our other roommates, Jaye L. Knight and Tricia Mingerink, went over to the St. Louis Science Center. It was cool and we had a good time hanging out. Then it was time for the conference!

Frank Peretti's keynote was really inspiring, and I had no idea he was so hilarious! He talked a lot about having a long term perspective rather than being focused on the difficulties of our current circumstances and really, about how God knows what He's doing. The things that seem bad now may actually turn out to be the best things for us. We don't want to end up marrying Hephzibah. 😉 It was also really great having a mentor session with Frank Peretti. Tricia hadn't gotten an appointment, so I invited her to come along to mine just as she'd invited me on her appointment to see Jill Williamson last time. I really enjoy doing mentor sessions together. It's a lot of fun. And we had a good conversation that reminded me to go back to the basics when plotting my stories. I really think I've been overcomplicating things.

With Frank Peretti after my mentor session

Kara Swanson's Shadow launch party was a lot of fun, though I didn't get any pictures. I still need to read Dust, but I'm certainly planning on it! It's been on my (way too massive) library to read list for awhile and I'm looking forward to it. So many books, so little time!

I went to all of Caleb Breakey's marketing sessions, and they were good. The biggest takeaway I had was that we should all be ourselves. God made us unique from each other. He put His thumbprint on each one of us. We can admire other authors, but we can't be them. We have to stick to the truth of who we are. If we try  to be someone else other than who God made us to be, we'll only be miserable.

Also, I met Nadine Brandes!!! She is so super awesome! I even got a hug. 😊 Yes, I carted all five of her (not exactly small) books to St. Louis and had them signed. I had to! My backpack was a lot lighter once I took them and my signed Frank Peretti books back to the room...  Seriously, though, meeting Nadine was one of the big highlights of the whole experience.

Nadine is so awesome!

Speaking of meeting authors...

My sister and me with Dave Wolverton/David Farland!

This is Dave Wolverton, author of The Courtship of Princess Leia and Jedi Apprentice: The Rising Force! I've met a for real Star Wars author! We didn't realize it was him beforehand since he was listed as David Farland, which is the name under which he writes fantasy. But yes, it's the same guy, and yeah, we were totally fangirling over his Star Wars books when we went to meet him. I haven't been able to watch his sessions yet (he was in the room they were having trouble streaming and I've been too busy playing with our new kitten to watch them even if they were available last week, though as of yesterday, they're finally up), but my sister went to them and they sound pretty awesome. He was really cool and my only regret is that I didn't realize ahead of time who he was and order a copy of The Courtship of Princess Leia to have signed.

My favorite sessions were Carla Hoch's. She's hilarious ("No one's getting stabbed sloppy on my watch." "This is a bullet wound. It's all cleaned up and ready for church.") and super informative. She taught three classes on wounds and fighting and they were all really spite of some graphic wound pictures. 😝 She initially took one self defense class because she needed to write a fight scene, and then she just kept on taking classes on all kinds of different fighting techniques and learning about all kinds of different injuries. She wrote Fight Write to share her knowledge and help other authors with their fight scenes, and I can't wait to dive into it! Also, I had a really productive mentor session with her where she helped me brainstorm some much needed worldbuilding for Acktorek: The Vanished. She's great.

At my mentor session with Carla Hoch

Of course I have to talk about the awards banquet. It was so much fun! SOOOOOO many people stopped us for a picture. It was great. I even had a little boy (who was dressed as the Eleventh Doctor) ask me "Are you Obi-Wan?" Certainly made me happy. 😊 And mostly it was fun because it was a thing we did together. I mean, the four of us did a lot of things together (including eating at Fuzzy's probably a few more times than was good for us), but doing a group cosplay is tons of fun. And there were lots of other great costumes as well. My favorites were probably Kate Wetherall, Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope, and of course Baby Toothless and Family (Hiccup and Astrid). I mean, how can you really beat a baby dressed as Toothless? It was the most adorable thing. And some really awesome-sounding books won awards! Between my sister and I, we brought several of them home, and I can't wait to dive into them!

Rex, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka before the banquet
AKA Tricia, Addy, Me, Jaye

The book festival was fun too. Chocolate covered strawberries and meeting Sara Ella who was also really awesome and hanging out with my friends and chatting with fellow Realmies and just wishing it wasn't all about to end. Then Addy, Jaye, Tricia, and I went out to the fountain to chat about everything from our characters to the Bible, again, trying to forget that it was coming to an end.

With Sara Ella at the book festival

The worst part of Realm Makers is saying goodbye. It's a really unique group of people, and there's really nowhere else that's just as (if not more) focused on building your faith as on building your writing craft and author platform. And Jaye and Tricia are some of my very best friends. I'm very glad we text each other all the time, but it's not the same as hanging out in person for days, talking about everything under the sun, learning new things, meeting cool people, and building up and supporting each other. But alas, the time always comes to go home.

Last picture before going home 😢

Still, I now know that I am capable of driving halfway across the country, even through cities (though I'm still not sure I'm ready to tackle downtown Atlanta...metro is enough for now). I may not like it, but I can survive. And audiobooks like William Shakespeare's Star Wars and Thrawn: Alliances make the drive much better.

And then last Tuesday we got a kitten! I know it's not really Realm Makers related, but I have to mention him, because he's super cute and 100% the reason I haven't gotten much done this week. He's sleeping on me as I'm writing this, and it's the sweetest thing ever. His name is Pippin after Peregrine Took, his birthday is Star Wars Day, and even though I've never been much of a cat person, I already love him dearly. 

Pippin watching The Clone Wars 😍

Monday, July 12, 2021

Costume Pictures, Realm Makers is Almost Here, and I Actually Wrote Something!

 Yeah, I don't have a fun, snappy title for this.

Anyway, I passed my last CLEP test last week, so I've gotten back into writing. It's not going as fast as I wish it would, since I'm blazing a new trail right now, but it's interesting, and, as my friend reminded me, "books are written one word at a time." Still, I'm determined to finish this draft of The Vanished before I start school in mid August. I really want to have it done by then. And maybe this time the second half will work well enough to just edit.

There's my writing update. Can you tell I've already killed my brain with studying? 

Anyway, Realm Makers is THIS WEEK!!! I CANNOT WAIT. 

But I know what you really want to see after that title. Costumessssssss.

I finished them! And of course my sister and I had to try imitating the poses from the Revenge of the Sith promo photos. Which was fun. If you're on my email list, you've already seen some of these, but I have more. Here ya go. Let me know in the comments what you think!

Monday, June 21, 2021

Interview with C.E. Stone, Author of Starganauts

Today C.E. Stone is visiting my blog to talk about her new Christian space opera, Starganauts! I haven't read it yet, but it sounds pretty cool. I mean, how could it not? She was inspired by Star Wars and LOTR. 😊

First, a little bit about the book.

Kaity Anderson was a new bride on her wedding day. Samantha Harris was an engineer who had given up all to follow God.

Kaity’s reception is ruined when an alien gunship incinerates the surface of Earth. Rescued from the apocalypse by a strange prophetess, Kaity, her husband, and five others are drawn across the galaxy. While the prophetess promises God has a plan, Kaity grows increasingly desperate as their chances of survival—and water supply—dwindle.

Samantha didn’t ask to be God’s prophetess. Yet once she answers the call, the Spirit leads her to an inhospitable world with Kaity and several of Earth’s survivors. Hounded by the master of the gunship, the Earthlings search for water as their alien pursuers and dehydration close in. Only God’s promise of a future in a distant city gives Samantha any hope of survival. But could the answer to all their problems lie in eight, mysterious orbs? The discovery of these crystals will change their lives—and the destiny of galaxies—forever.

Thus begins Starganauts, a clean, compelling Christian space opera adventure by C.E. Stone. Fans of Star Wars and Star Trek will enjoy this series that explores how God’s plan prevails, even against impossible odds.

And now for the interview!

Where did you get the idea for Starganauts?

I can’t give you a single source. The idea first came to me as I was playing Legos as a child, and grew as I continued watching many sci-fi shows and movies. Star Wars, Star Trek, Starcraft, Lord of the Rings, and Titan A.E. all influenced it. I grew up with the first 2 franchises, which cultivated my love of sci-fi. “Knights of the Old Republic,” in particular, inspired some of my characters’ backstories. The Lord of the Rings inspired me to create an expansive history and universe. The video game Starcraft influenced my actual stories and peoples, as I literally created Starganauts stories using their world-builder and making mock video game campaigns. Titan A.E. is where the premise comes from: the end of Earth was their beginning.

Which of the characters is most like you?

Kaity Anderson. I’ve often been described as empathetic, cheerful, and an encourager. I like to be there for others in hard times. Yet I’m timid by nature, I don’t like being in the spotlight, and change is hard for me. My character Kaity is very much like this. She’s a quiet, behind-the-scenes encourager. She likes to make sure everyone is okay, and she prefers a predictable life. Indeed, the only great differences in our personalities are that I’m a fairly content/cheerful person and I don’t have trouble letting go of the past. Kaity is discontent, struggling to accept reality and move on from the loss of what she wanted her life to be.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? The easiest part?

Figuring out the science. I have a great love for science, and God’s creation continually blows my mind. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory for scientific facts! I can read about infrared sensors and 100% understand how they work, in the moment. 15 minutes later, I’ve forgotten most of what I just read, so I have to reread everything again to incorporate scientific elements into my story. I lean heavily on my husband to help me, because facts and data are my weakness. He’s got a brain wired for science, and will give me answers that often blend actual science with theoretical. It helps immensely when I’m writing space opera.

The easiest part was world-building. I’d already created a rich history, distinct worlds, and varied aliens over 7 years of Lego play. It was super fun finally realizing all these cultures and planets on the page. I also enjoyed updating some of my sillier childhood ideas, making them sound plausible or even cool. I enjoy world-building and, if anything, I have to scale back from including TOO much detail. 😂

What is your favorite thing about writing?

Writing is a way I connect with God and glorify Him through my words. My favorite moments are when I’m typing away and the Holy Spirit suddenly fills my mind with an idea. I know it’s totally not what I had planned, but I go with it…and the result is an incredible scene. Consequently, my favorite thing about writing is being inspired by the Holy Spirit. And those exact scenes are often the ones that touch people the most.

What do you hope readers get out of Starganauts?

That God works through even the most impossible odds. He is living and active in our lives, and has a plan and a purpose for us. That He can bring beauty out of the deepest tragedy and that He loves us, not for what we accomplish on our own strength, but for the simple fact that He made us. Our identity rests securely in Him.

Those are the messages I hope to convey as an encouragement to fellow Christians. For those who aren’t believers, if they do read my book, I hope to demonstrate that Jesus is real, relevant, and that His grace and mercy are only a prayer away.

Thanks for interviewing me and for your fantastic questions!

You're welcome! It was great to have you!

Make sure you go check out Starganauts!  

Monday, May 24, 2021

Why I'm Going To College

I had this whole post written up about why I'm going to college, how it's never too late to follow your dreams, yada, yada, yada. And now that I'm ready to make the official announcement...I'm not going to post it. Because as time has gone on, I've felt the conviction that I just need to be real with y'all. This is not my dream.

See, if my life went the way I'd planned it, I'd have gotten married at 22, started having kids pretty much right away, I'd be selling lots of books, have a solid, steady music studio, and be looking forward to being a homeschool mom once my kids get old enough. As it is, I'm 25 and still solidly single and childless, book sales are difficult to sustain, between COVID, kids growing up, and families moving away my music studio has dwindled (though I'm still incredibly grateful for the students I still have), and being a homeschool mom is nowhere in sight.

I've never been against college as an institution. All I've been against is shoving everyone into college when that's not the right path for everyone. I believe we should all discover what God wants us to do, and then get the training/jump through the hoops to do that. For some that's college. For others it's technical school. For some that might look more like learning a trade in an old fashioned apprenticeship-style method. For some that might be getting married at 22, becoming a mom right away, and using abilities in the arts to work from home.

And there might be different methods for different stages of life.

I know I wasn't supposed to go to college straight out of high school. For one thing, if I had, I'd probably have majored in something like creative writing, which tbh, would be pretty useless for paying rent and putting food on the table. And I'd still be looking at going back now for something more useful. I've learned a lot in these past seven years since my high school graduation. I've learned a lot about violin, about writing, about book design, about people, about teaching, about life, about myself, and most importantly about God. And I've learned it in a way that I couldn't have if I'd gone straight to college. So while I often wish that I'd come to this decision sooner so I wouldn't have to go through college now, I don't regret the path God has taken me through, particularly in the last six years since we moved from my childhood home. Has it been easy? Not at all. Has some of it been painful? You bet. But I look back on all the people I've had in my life in these years (even if only for a short while), at the things I've done and learned and the lives I've touched at the library, of the various music students I've taught, of the friendships I've built, of the books I've written, and I wouldn't exchange it for anything.

But it's time to move into that next stage of life.

I'm not giving up writing. I'm never giving up writing. In fact, I firmly believe that God prevented me from pursuing this path two years ago when I first started to seriously consider it because I would have been giving up writing and running away from everything that was making life difficult and painful. Now, I have a different attitude. Writing is a calling God placed on me when I was a child, and it's something that I can't walk away from. But so is teaching. And while I love teaching music and intend to keep doing it as long as God allows, I know it's not the extent to which I am supposed to teach.

So what am I doing and why?

I'm going to Kennesaw State University, starting this fall, to major in elementary ed, with the intention of completing the degree in three years. I'm also planning to CLEP out of several classes this summer, so even though I don't technically start until mid August, I'm already studying.

And why? Well, I can't deny that part of it is financial. Reality is, as much as I love the library, it just doesn't pay enough to sustain a single income household, and I don't think it's right for me to expect my dad to foot the majority of my bills indefinitely just because my life choices result in an income too small for me to live on my own. Being female doesn't give me the right to expect someone else to pay for my life, particularly as a single woman. We're not called to idleness. I mean, look at the Proverbs 31 woman. She had several successful home businesses.

But the bigger thing is, this is where God is leading me for this next phase of my life. How long will it be? I have no idea. Does God have marriage and children in my future at all? I also have no idea. But what I do know is that God has given me an ability and a desire to teach children, and that in more than just music, and I can't just let that fall by the wayside because God hasn't put me in a place where I have my own children to homeschool. So it's time to jump through those hoops and get the training needed to teach elementary school. And it's time for me to really trust God that He knows what He's doing with my life, even if it's the complete opposite of what I always expected.

And don't worry, I'm still working on Acktorek 2: The Vanished, albeit slowly. I really can't make any promises on timeline, but I'm not going to abandon it and I really am hoping to somehow get this one out while I'm still in school. But again, I can't make any promises because I just don't know how things are going to play out.

In closing, I want to share with you a song that's really meant a lot to me over the last year or so. God really does know what He's doing.

Now I'm off to go relearn logarithms for this algebra CLEP.