Fourth Son

Fourth SonFourth Son by Monica Poole
★★★★☆

Fourth Son is a bitter tale of a young man, Jahnes Tehrel, who faces saving his family from slavery after his father dies in a mining accident. His decision changes his life and those he loves the most. This book is an excellent examination of a society built on a brutal caste system of order that strictly enforces the hierarchy.

This is the second time I have read Monica Poole’s tale and will admit the second round was much better than the first (Note: never read this type of story when sick). There are many subtleties threaded through this story that could be missed if the reader isn’t paying attention. I want to give this book a five star rating but it falls slightly short. The beginning of the story builds very slowly using an overabundance of reflections. The sense of who the characters are, especially Jahnes, is masterfully developed yet I didn’t fall into the story through development of place.

I highly recommend this book with a note to the reader to push through the earlier chapters. You won’t be disappointed with the final ones.

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The Hundred-Year House

The Hundred-Year HouseThe Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai
★★★★☆

The Hundred-Year House takes a look at a family’s estate from the recent past (Y2K era) back to the 1900’s through the quirky characters that occupy it. This is a treasure hunt disguised as a book. Rebecca Makkai pulls the reader back through a century of people who lived, and some died, at the Devohr estate, and slowly unravels mysteries that have been secreted away for a century. The narrative is cleverly written. Don’t look for a “happily ever after” in this tale, but it does satisfy.

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The Magicians

The Magicians by, Lev Grossman
★★★★☆
The Magicians is a book not for everyone. Quentin, our main character, is magical, and missing something in his life. If he could only get to Fillory (a magical place found in his favorite books, and a very grown up version of Narnia) then everything will be OK. He first finds himself at Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic (think Harry Potter in a partying frat). After 4 years, he finally gets to Fillory. Throughout the story Quentin is forever longing for something that is just out of his reach that he never can grasp.

Lev Grossman is a master at opening Quentin’s mind and diving in to reveal those dark places that everyone lives in at some point or another. Grossman does such a wonderful job of writing that I couldn’t put the book down. He drew me in and I left only because I turned the last page. What is missed in the “feel-good department” it is made up through great writing.

Thea’s Tale

Thea's Tale (Sisters Of The Curse Book 1)
Thea’s Tale by Lisa Manifold
★★★★☆
This is a story of love, curses, and royalty. A fairy tale for everyone! Ms. Manifold weaves a new twist into the old German tale of twelve sisters who are cursed to dance every night until their shoes are torn and tattered. The original story is short(about 5 pages)whereas Lisa Manifold expands the tale to a full novel taking the reader into the sister’s castle to learn who these women are and what trials they must face as sisters and royalty who under a curse they cannot speak of.

The story was well weaved and presented. It took me the first chapter to get a feel for the rhythm of the writing and the formality of the dialog, making the earliest parts a bit bumpy to read. Once I got past this, the rest was a breeze and very enjoyable to read. Manifold creates tension and passion that seem to tumble together so well, and now I am looking forward to the next installment, Casimir’s Journey due out August 15, 2015.

99 Questions to Ask Your Character

Characters need to live and breathe through your story which, in turn, brings your story to life. If they don’t have odd quirks, a childhood, a family, nor any fears, hopes and dreams, then they are just letters on a page. Even with a well-developed protagonist your words will fall flat if your supporting cast is weak.

Recently I ran into a rough patch that I had struggled to get past. In my mind’s eye I had all my characters figured out. I could picture them in my head, yet when they landed on the page their form lost color and dimension. A fellow author suggested I sit and do a full character study of the four largest characters in the story.

As soon as I sat down to do this I was at a loss for the questions that needed to be answered. Thank goodness for the internet. I did several searches under “character traits” to see what came up. I found quite a few sites that listed many questions I could ask my character, and each site had some main themes as well. As I dug deeper I found that there was also great social media questionnaires that took my questioning to interesting places.

After a while it became quite overwhelming and I ended up with well over 200 questions that could be asked of my book characters. Some questions were the same, just phrased differently, and some were edging on TMI so I edited the list down to 99 of my favorites.

How does this work? Just put yourself in the mind, and body of your character then answer them as your character would. The questions are not in any particular order. I found that this randomness helps to generate new ideas and new ways to look at a character. Of course, not all characters need such in-depth exploration, but as a writer, you get to choose which questions need to be answered to bring each of your characters to life. Have fun!!

1. Describe yourself. Hair color, height, weight, eye color, scars, marks, figure, etc.
2. Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school?
3. Who are the members of your family?
4. If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?
5. What are you obsessed with?
6. What do you think about most?
7. What does your latest text message from someone else say?
8. Do you sleep with or without clothes on?
9. What’s your strangest talent?
10. Girls______________. (finish the sentence); Boys____________. (finish the sentence)
11. Ever had a poem or song written about you?
12. Do you have any strange phobias?
13. Ever stuck a foreign object up your nose?
14. What’s your religion?
15. If you are outside, what are you most likely doing?
16. What was the last lie you told?
17. Do you believe in karma?
18. What is your biggest fear?
19. What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
20. Who is your celebrity crush?
21. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
22. How do you vent your anger?
23. Do you have a collection of anything?
24. Do you have a secret? What is it?
25. What was your childhood like?
26. Do you prefer talking on the phone or video chatting online?
27. Are you happy with the person you’ve become?
28. What’s a sound you hate; sound you love?
29. What’s your biggest “what if”?
30. Do you believe in ghosts? How about aliens?
31. Do you have a phobia/fear? What is it? Where did it come from?
32. Stick your right arm out; what do you touch first? Do the same with your left arm.
33. Smell the air. What do you smell?
34. What’s the worst place you have ever been to?
35. Choose East Coast or West Coast?
36. Most attractive singer of your opposite gender?
37. To you, what is the meaning of life?
38. Define Art.
39. Do you believe in luck?
40. Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed?
41. What is your happiest memory? Saddest?
42. What does your house look like?
43. What was the last book you read?
44. What is your favorite scent/smell?
45. Do you have any nicknames?
46. What was the last movie you saw?
47. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
48. Have you ever caught a butterfly?
49. What does your bedroom look like?
50. Do you have any obsessions right now?
51. What’s your sexual orientation?
52. Ever had a rumor spread about you?
53. Do you believe in magic?
54. Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
55. Do you save money or spend it?
56. What’s the last thing you purchased?
57. Love or lust?
58. Greatest regret?
59. What is your most treasured thing?
60. In a relationship?
61. How many relationships have you had?
62. Does anyone hate you? Why?
63. Can you touch your nose with your tongue?
64. Where were you yesterday?
65. Is there anything pink within 10 feet of you?
66. Favorites: places, meals, things to do, outfits, animal?
67. What is your secret weapon to get someone to like you?
68. Who is your best friend?
69. What did you do last week?
70. What are your friends like? What are their best qualities?
71. What is your heritage?
72. If you could change yourself in any way, what would you change?
73. What were you doing last night at 12 AM?
74. What are you most passionate about?
75. Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend?
76. You can only have one of these things; trust or love.
77. What’s a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
78. In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
79. How can I win your heart?
80. What are you most afraid of?
81. What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
82. What size shoes do you wear?
83. What would you want written on your tombstone?
84. What is your favorite word?
85. Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word; heart.
86. What is a saying you say a lot?
87. What’s the last song you listened to?
88. Basic question; what’s your favorite color/colors?
89. What is your current desktop picture?
90. If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be?
91. What would be a question you’d be afraid to tell the truth on?
92. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what’s even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What is that power?
93. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
94. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
95. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
96. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
97. Do you have any relatives in jail?
98. Have you ever thrown up in the car?
99. If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

After the Storm

I have been away for over a month and thought this photo was a perfect way to return. My health has been a huge storm that seemed to never end, and now the clouds are  receding to the east with the sun breaking through in the west. What a wonderful feeling!

© KJ Scrim 2015

© KJ Scrim 2015

The Potter Books? Read.

Harry Potter, Books #1-#7
Harry Potter, Books 1-7
★★★★☆

In 1997 J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book that opened her world, and our’s, to things so magically wonderful. Over the course of seven books, eight movies, action figures, and theme park rides, the Harry Potter franchise has touched every corner of the world. In 1997 my daughter was only four years old, but by the time 6th grade came around she had her nose in the Harry Potter books and she only came up long enough to eat, take a bath, and go to school. Not only did she read all seven books twice (I think she actually read them three times), she saw all the movies (I enjoyed them right along with her), and then she went to discovered everything at the Wizarding World in Universal Orlando, Florida.

Here it is 2015 and I am proud to say that I have finally read all the books, once. The height of the Potter furor has died down a little bit and I felt, well, it’s about time that I find out what all the excitement was about. So, over the course of about a month I read all seven epic books. As mentioned, I have seen all of the movies so while reading the books I already knew many of the big moments in the plot so I need to say that reading a book post movie is not really the best idea. Yet, there were many instances that I actually understood some things that the movie just couldn’t bring out. It is great to finally understand the game of Quidditch. In addition, the book brought aspects of the story to life that the movie just didn’t have the room to squeeze in (like Nearly Headless Nick’s Death Day Party).

I found it interesting how J.K. Rowling would keep most of the text simple and easy to read for the young crowd she was writing for, yet the reader was respectfully challenged with higher levels of vocabulary and ideas.The progression of each book also grew more mature thematically allowing the reader to grow right along with Harry and his friends who not only developed as growing teens, but as people who were faced with horrendous choices in impossible situations.

Overall I loved this entire series of books. Although written to a young audience the Harry Potter series welcomes readers of all ages. The only fault, if one could be found, is the stretches that are just plain long. I found myself skipping over sections that were either repetitive (the obligatory restating of things early on in each book), or they just kept going on and on bringing the story progression to a stop. Thankfully these were just in a few places and the pace picked right back up. If you have not yet read this series of books then I think it is time you do. J.K. Rowling takes you into a magical world that, on the last page, you truly hate to leave.

 

When a Character Dies

A few weeks ago my husband and I watched Guardians of the Galaxy which is a slap stick sort of movie about a man who is determined to be a hero and save the universe, no matter what. The movie itself was light, and between fights, explosions, and narrow escapes the hero, Peter Quill, struggles with his past. (**WARNING** there are spoilers in this post).

In the opening scene, Peter Quill is a young boy in a hospital room with his dying mother. It is his birthday. She beckons him to come closer to give him his gift. Through his father’s encouragement he does take it but cannot open it before she dies. He runs from the hospital distraught. In the next scene he is a grown man fighting the evil forces of the universe still carrying his unopened birthday gift in his go-bag.

What is it about this opening scene that has me in a bit of a twist? The dying mother. Why? As writers, some of us feel this need to have a person die in our stories and, in general, that is ok. It adds tension, emotion, action, a plot twist, but as writers are we all thinking about how this could effect our readers? Do we write in a death without considering what that death might mean to someone outside of the characters in the story?

Early in November I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It hit me like a blizzard of boulders. Every emotion, thought, and feeling about cancer lead me to death’s door. The inner anxiety was deeply palatable. “Will I see my children grow? Will I see my son become a renowned musician? Will I read my daughter’s first published book? I’m going to die! No, I’m not going to die! I can’t die! I’m not ready to die!” On and on this inner dialog went, unrelentingly frightening. Now, it is March and I am more than half way through chemo treatments, awaiting surgery and radiation therapy, yet the inner voices have calmed down and I know I will remain among the living for many years to come.

In the opening scene of the dying mother in Guardians of the Galaxy she has cancer. She bore the ultimate symbol of a cancer patient, baldness. This scene was so quick, yet it hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. That could be me.  I have cancer and seeing a scene of someone dying from cancer was very unsettling. All of those emotions came rolling over me again and I asked myself, “Why couldn’t she have died in a car accident instead?” Yet, if she had died in a car accident, wouldn’t it hit someone else the same way and then they would have asked, “Why couldn’t she have died from cancer?”

My point is to ask you, the writer, to be aware of your reader and what tragedies may have touched their lives. When you add a scene of a dying mother, father, son, or best friend, be sure to consider the scene carefully. Think of your reader who may have stood by as their father tragically slipped away from Alzheimer’s, or a mother who lost the battle with breast cancer as her children helplessly watched. Bear in mind the pain and suffering that a loss brings in the real world, then when a character dies in your story give consideration to that death. Recognize that your character may have had a family, and give homage to their loss in some way. Peter Quill came to grips with his mother’s death and finally, after many years, opened his birthday present from her. By doing this the screen, the writers brought his mother’s death to a gentle and loving close. They honored not only the character, but the audience as well.

Vessel

VesselVessel by Andrew J. Morgan
★★☆☆☆
A strange vessel floats in orbit with the International Space Station. Things go into overdrive when communications with the station is lost. Sally Fisher, a SETI scientist and communications expert, is sent on an emergency mission to the space station to trouble shoot the problems. Meanwhile, on the ground, a feisty reporter, Sean Jacob, gets a tip that something isn’t quite right with ISS and starts to dig in places he shouldn’t. The reader is taken on a ride through this thriller with a great twist at the end.

Vessel, by Andrew Morgan, is a great story that is severely hurt by poor editing. It is one of those books that I’m frustrated that it made it to me (and all of the author’s fans) before it was fully edited. A good editor would have taken this adjective riddled story and tightened it into a great thriller that would have put me on the edge. Unfortunately, I had to drag myself through the wordy quagmire to get to the end.

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The Paper Magician

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
★★★★★
Ceony Twill dreams of being a smelter magician, yet her desires are thwarted by her assignment to the eccentric Paper Magician Emery Thanes. Her apprenticeship to a paper magician initially seems like an insult to her. After all, she was the top student in her graduating class so she should have been given her choice of any apprenticeship. She soon learns that there is more to being a paper magician than just making perfect folds.

This common story of magic, both light and dark, is presented in a fresh new way. Charlie N. Holmberg does borrow themes from other tales (magic schools are not a new idea), but she presents these in a way that feels new and inventive. It is a fun, fresh book for readers of any age.

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