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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review- The Dark Unwinding

It’s been a while since I posted a book review and since I just finished a book I quite enjoyed I thought I would share it with you.

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron drew me in right from the first sentence- Warm sun and robin’s-egg skies were inappropriate conditions for sending one’s uncle to a lunatic asylum. For the rest of the book the heroine, Kathrine Tulman, narrates a delightfully intricate tale full of mystery suspense. This book had great characters, plenty of plot twists, and a Victorian mansion even Dickens would have been proud of.

But, before I go into more details, I’ll let a professional tell you about the plot:
When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it. ~
Inside Cover Synopsis

Kathrine is a wonderful heroine who feels natural and human. Ms. Cameron does a great job depicting her actions as realist, showing us the why behind them. Even when making a poor choice, you can’t help feeling sorry for Kathrine and understanding why she’s making the choice she is. And, she’s backed up by a great cast of supporting characters- her uncle, the sweet, simple genius; Davey, the adorable mute boy; Mrs. Jeffries, the fierce and loyal housekeeper; Ben Albright, the jovial scholar; Lane, the serious companion. Everyone has a complex nature about them, all of them have a secret or a past waiting to be discovered. And, the author does a wonderful job giving you just enough to keep you interested but not enough to truly satisfy you. Even at the end, there are still questions being asked, making room for the sequel. But, she’s nice enough not to leave any of the big questions still hanging. Thankfully.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, since it’s a mystery and I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that it kept me guessing through the whole thing, not sure about anyone or anything. It has a lot of twists and turns and just enough eeriness to make it truly great. The back of the book called it “gothic” and I’ve seen it portrayed since as a dark and creepy mystery. This made me kind of wary going into it, but in the end, it wasn’t any of those things, not in the sense one normally thinks of them. It’s a mystery, and there are parts that are kind of intense, but I wasn’t scared once. And, as for dark, it’s not dark in a creepy sort of way. Just the right amount of eeriness.

As for things people might object to, that’s the best part, there were hardly any at all! There’s no language except a few mild words that are borderline swear words (like, Mrs. Jeffries question, “Who the devil are you?”). As for romance, it’s kept at a minimum- Katherine is obviously attracted to Lane and it becomes clear that he is to her, but they never take their attraction farther than a simple kiss. It’s all pretty standard and not taken past the point of comfort for conservative readers.

The only real objection I have to this book is Lane- he’s the caretaker of Katherine’s uncle but he’s only eighteen. I felt like the position was one that would be held by someone older, because it was implied that he has held the position for several years and it’s never cleared up why exactly he was chosen for the job. So, it seemed to me like the only reason he was so young was so that Katherine could fall in love with him. However, that said, he really is a good character, and slipped into his role rather well. Just, when he was first introduced I was rather confused. But, other than that, I haven’t any real complaints.

I would highly recommend The Dark Unwinding to young adults who are looking for a book filled with both complex characters and plot. It has the lightest of steampunk feels but is also firmly rooted in the historical fiction genre. I think it could appeal to readers of both kinds. It earns a five out of five stars rating from me!

How about you? Have you heard of this book? Or, do you have any recommendations for related books?

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Officially Official! [insert loud cheering and party noises]

Well, folks, today’s the day! My second book Why Rodney Never Should’ve Gone to the NAPIC officially releases today!

I can hardly believe it myself. No way on earth did I ever think this day would come. Never in a million years.

See, Kit Parker came to be because when I was about ten or eleven, Mom said, “Kit Parker. That would make a great name for a character.” And so, Kit was born. I quickly shaped an idea of a girl whose brother was a detective and so she got kidnapped a lot as a result of his work. I never had a story, just that. The girl who got kidnapped a lot.

Fast forward a couple years to me at sixteen. I wrote a dandy little opening scene about Kit getting kidnapped. Like, really dandy. I posted it for critiques on the writing forum I am part of and got a ton of positive feedback. So, I tried writing more, forming a story out of what I had. And, all I hit were dead ends. A lot of them.

So, the story went on hold for a few years. I’d open up the document with the intro every once in a while, thinking maybe I’d work on it some, but always I kept hitting those dead ends. Over and over again.

And, finally, fast forward to November 2nd, 2013. I had gone to the library the week before and checked out a stack of YA novels. And, on that day in November as I sat reading one of them (I don’t even remember what book…) it hit me. Every good YA character has a voice. They’re a teenage with all the teenage feelings and emotions. Kit Parker had always been nothing more than a cardboard cutout. She was never a real human being.

And so, I put down the book and opened up my laptop. Starting a new Word document, I began to type: One of the downsides of being kidnapped every other weekend is that your teachers never believe you when you say that’s why you didn’t do your homework.

I wrote almost 2,000 words that day, Kit and her personality just pouring through my fingers onto the keys. I had a new story and I was so in love with it and its main character.

It was a hard, bumpy month. I decided participating in NaNoWriMo was the perfect way to see I followed through. Some days were better than others. And, there were times when I would have to give Mom and Dad basic plot points and say, “Okay, now how do they get out of this?” They knew a lot about what happens in this book before they read it. I also had Catsi, a girl from the writing forum who thought my idea was wonderful and asked me to send her what I had written. So, I did. And I continued sending it to her as I wrote. She kept telling me how wonderful it was and I know part of the reason I finished was because I had someone to push me and remind me how good my story was, even when I doubted the truth of that.

And then on November 22nd- so, just 20 days after I started the thing- I finished it at just over 54,000 words. That’s an average of 2,700 words written a day. My head spins just thinking about it.

But, it resulted in a book I was proud of. I gave it to Mom and Dad to read as well as posted a bit of it on the forum. I got positive feedback on all accounts and then a good friend of mine, Haley Rose, asked me if I wanted her to critique the whole thing for me. I told her she didn’t have to, but I wouldn’t say no to a critique. So, she did. And after she sent me the critique she told me how amazing she thought my story was. And, she has kept telling me these last several months.

So, since everyone seemed to think it was a good idea, I began prepping this book for publishing.

And now, here we are today.

As I started out by saying: Never in a million years did I ever think Kit Parker would be an actual, published book. And, now, it’s turned into a series. I’ve got the second book written and plans for four others. A six book series, all because Mom made one little comment about a name being good for a character.

Which is why I tell young writers not to be discouraged if they have an idea but can’t seem to write it. I tell them about Kit and how hard it was for me to be stuck and not know what to say about her. I wanted to badly to tell her story. But, I realize now that until last November, I wasn’t ready to tell it. And, maybe God give her to me all those years ago to give me a passion for her when I was ready. Maybe having her stew in the back of my mind for so long was what gave me the push to continue even when it was hard. Because, this was Kit and I was actually writing about her. I couldn’t give up on this story.

So, that’s the story of how Kit Parker came to be. I hope you all enjoy her story and I look forward to seeing what all of you think!!

Why Rodney Never Should’ve Gone to the NAPIC is available exclusively through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rodney-Never-Shouldve-Gone-NAPIC/dp/1495480992/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399899330&sr=8-1&keywords=why+rodney+never+should%27ve+gone+to+the+napic I’m not going to lie- I hope you all will buy copies and review it. Your support means the world to me!

Thank you!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Woman Who Learned Better -- And, Why She's Dangerous

This post contains mild ranting

My parents went out of town this weekend, leaving me alone. Since I was kind of bored and had nothing better to do (haha, okay, not true- I’ve always got better things to do, I was just being lazy) I got on Netflix and started browsing. I came across a TV show (which shall remain nameless as I’m about to bash it and hate doing that when the thing is named) and began watching the first episode.

Basic gist of the show is that rich, spoiled city girl moves to a small town. You can guess what happens- she has to change and become less of a rich, spoiled city girl as she tries to fit in and make this town her home. It’s actually kind of a common plot, one you see used over and over again in literature. Real writers (and readers) call it the Man Who Learned Better plot.

Except, as I sat watching this show, my writer brain started working and I realized something:

We don’t have many Man Who Learned Better plots anymore.

We have Woman Who Learned Better.

I’ve recently started really getting into YA fiction and while I really love it as a whole, there is one major flaw that is in serious need of mending- we tend to create girls with problems who need perfect men to save them. Or, we have girls with problems who don’t like the imperfect men who save them but then have to come to the conclusion that they can’t expect their man to be perfect.

Either way, you don’t often see a new book or movie with men who need to change. It’s always the girls.

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie about a rich, spoiled guy who moves from the big city and falls in love with a small town girl- once he realizes that drastic change is needed in his life before he can be a complete person? Like, you know, that he needs to stop being a jerk so that he can be a functioning human being that people actually like?

I didn’t think so.

Generally, it’s the girl who moves from the big city. It’s the girl who has to stop being spoiled and selfish and rude. It’s the girl who falls for the small town resident, who’s perfect in every way. Or, not perfect, but part of her changing is realizing that imperfections are a part of who people are, and even if he does act like a jerk sometimes, she needs to accept that as who he is. Forget that she just went through major character change because she can’t act like a jerk.

It’s very rare in modern YA to see an Ebenezer Scrooge type story, where a guy is so extremely wrong and horrible and needs to undergo intense character changes. And, that’s really, really sad.

I think, part of the problem with modern YA is that a lot of it caters to females. Or, at least, it seems YA books are about females. True, guys can read YA fiction, but it isn’t generally about guys. Out of the five books or series that come to mind when I think of popular teen fiction- Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, Twilight- only one of those series has a boy for the main character- and there’s debate over whether Harry Potter belongs in the YA or the children’s section!

So, we have an entire section in our literary field that- for the most part- caters to insecure teenaged girls- because, I have yet to meet a teenaged girl who isn’t insecure about something- while, at the same time, indoctrinating them with this idea that in a relationship, it is she who needs to change and never the guy. She is being taught- subliminally, so that she doesn’t realize it- that her man either needs to be perfect or she needs to adapt to accept his imperfections. Because, heaven forbid someone write a book where both guy and the girl need to change and adapt because that would be much too much like real life! (actually, Mary Connealy has written books like this and that’s why I love her, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Think about it- even these wonderful new books that people are claiming to be so awesome because they have strong, independent heroines, still feature this perfect guys or guys the girl needs to accept. Love triangles work so well because of this. Girl is in love with Hunk and can’t stand Annoying Guy. Annoying Guy becomes her partner on the journey- whether that journey is an actual journey or just a class project. Girl realizes that Annoying Guy isn’t so annoying. Girl and Not-So-Annoying Guy hook up. Everyone lives happily ever after- even Hunk, even though Girl dumped him for Annoying Guy.

And, that, my dear readers, is a basic breakdown of the romantic subplot of nearly each and every YA novel on the shelves today. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of writing this way too. I think it’s part of how we’re wired these days. And, I seriously hope I can unwire myself and begin writing books where the guy- along with the girl- both have to change. Because, I think that’s a much better message than the one we’re presenting girls with right now.

And, please note that I said this is most YA fiction stories. I recognize that not each and every story out there follow this pattern. Just most of them. For example (even though neither of these are strictly YA) Tangled features a guy and a girl who have to change as do most of Mary Connealy’s books (I say most because I haven’t read them all, but the ones I have read revolve around this theme).

Yeah, sorry, that was a bit of a rant. But, what can I say? I did warn you…

How about you? Would you agree with this assessment? Can you think of any modern stories that feature a couple that has to grow together rather than one person changing?

Also, don't forget: 5.12.14 -- my book releases next week!! *WOOTWOOT* I'll post on Monday about how to order copies and such!!