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February 2014 Book Reviews

This month I enjoyed three great Young Adult books. All three were sitting on my kindle for a few months and in between packing, moving, and unpacking I managed to read these three. I am excited for next month with a wide open calendar to read lots of books!

Matt Archer: Monster Hunter by Kendra C. Highley - I reviewed Sidelined, a contemporary YA novel by Kendra a couple months ago. I enjoyed it, so I picked up the start of her Matt Archer series, a horror/urban fantasy series.  Matt Archer is an ordinary boy who gets picked by a magic wielding knife to hunt monsters in the middle of Montana. The concept sounds a little crazy, but if you are willing to suspend disbelief with the magic and fantasy in the backdrop of a modern society, this is a great book. The book is written so well- perfect for the younger teenagers which is the target audience. But even adults can enjoy the fun of this book. I can't wait to continue the series! 5 out of 7 stars.

In Your Dreams by Amy Martin is a solid YA debut. I love the character of Zip (although that may be just because of my love of basketball). She is a strong young teenage girl. When she meets Kieran, a new kid for the first time, she is intrigued by him, his story, and his narcolepsy. They quickly become friends and Amy discovers Kieran's secret- his dreams predict the future. I enjoyed how the author took this concept of dreams and put a fresh spin on it. I enjoyed the character development and interaction, along with the mystery and intrigue of the story. It's a great debut and worth the read if you are a sucker for good YA books. (Like me!) 5 out of 7 stars and it's free on Amazon Kindle.

 

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson - I absolutely loved this book. It was action packed, yet full of great themes to make you think. The characters were authentic and the world building was intriguing. The YA novel is set in a near future where ordinary people have gained super powers (think the TV show Heroes). These people are called Epics, but the Epics are terrible power hungry killers. The novel is centered on David, a seventeen year old boy, eager for revenge against an Epic named Steelheart, who killed his father. He joins up with the Reckoners, the only group of humans who fights against the Epics and they attempt to take Steelheart down. Like I said, the book is great- superbly written with a great plot. It's worth reading! 6 out of 7 stars (maybe deserves 7 stars, I'm still debating it.)

Rating System Guide

7 stars = Phenomenal book – one of the  best book’s I’ve read

6 stars = Great book – worth your time to read

5 stars = Solid book, if you like the genre pick it up

4 stars = Okay book, maybe lacking something in the way of language, character development, story

3 stars = I probably should have stopped reading this book.

1 or 2 stars = Serious issues with plot, structure, language, or not a book for me.

Indie Author Spotlight - Meet L.M. Sherwin

Night Bells CoverartPubtIt!Ver

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This month's Indie Author Spotlight features L.M. Sherwin. I read Sherwin's first novel, Night Bellsearlier this month and will review the book in my May book reviews at the end of the month. She's a great young writer and I'm excited for her to be on the blog today.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do outside of writing? What are your hobbies and favorite things to do besides writing?

Hi there! I’m L.M. Sherwin and I work full-time from home as an author, an administrator for a graphic design company called Maiedae, and as a lifestyle blogger. As you can see, I’m one busy lady! In addition to writing fantasy novels, I love to read fantasy and science-fiction books and watch those same sorts of shows/movies. I’m also very partial to reading health books and watching fun documentaries. A consummate language nerd, I study both Korean and Japanese in my spare time. Aside from my more “academic” pursuits, I love to do martial arts and take both Taekwondo and Hapkido. I attend four classes a week! I also teach yoga twice a week. I’m very active. I’m very big into drawing and digital artwork as well. :-)

How long have you been writing? What books have you published?

I’ve been writing since I was old enough to read. I would dictate my stories to my mother and she would always write them down for me. When I was old enough to write for myself, I knew I wanted to be an author one day! I’ve always loved writing and telling stories. When I got married to my wonderful husband (dubbed “The Philosopher” on both of my blogs), he encouraged me to pursue publishing—specifically self-publishing. I have three books currently available, two novels and a novella. My two current novels are a part of a series called Tales from Niflheim and are titled: Night Bells and Silent Shades. The novella is part of another series called Tales from the Moons of Kirovna. You can find my books at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. If you’re interested in checking out my first book, Night Bells is FREE in all of those places! Here’s the Kindle link. ;-)

What is your favorite part of writing a novel? 

My favorite part of writing a novel is most likely the revising//editing stage. I know that might sound weird, but during this stage, I get to go back and re-read everything I’ve written! If I’ve let the manuscript “lie fallow” for a while with my eyes off it, it’s always fun to dive back in as if I’m reading someone else’s story! Sometimes, I even forget things that I wrote, so it is like experiencing it for the first time and it is fun to read the manuscript with that perspective. It is also a great exercise to read your own work, make revisions, and edit because it helps you to have a more critical eye.

I recently read your first novel Night Bells. I enjoyed the story greatly and loved the names of the characters and places. How do you develop names for character and places for your novels?

Night Bells CoverartPubtIt!VerI’m greatly interested in many cultures in our world and my books are heavily influenced by those interests. For names of both characters and places, I base them in the cultural frameworks in which I’m interested. Most of the names in Night Bells come from Norse-derived cultures like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. For a novel I’m currently working on, my names come from German culture. If I have to make up names, I try to fit them within an existing framework or within a new language-framework that I’m creating specifically for a book.

As a Christian, how does your faith influence your writing?

My faith pervades every part of my life, so it is inevitable that my faith would show up in my novels. I don’t write “explicitly Christian” novels, but my Christian perspective finds its way into my stories (sometimes on purpose). My faith influences my writing most directly in my characters’ lives and choices. The morality decisions my characters face will often fall under what I personally feel convicted is right under my Christian religion. Sometimes, though, I will purposefully create a character or situation that challenges those thoughts and perspectives. I do this to make sure I’m fairly representing variety in the worlds I make and to also challenge myself to think about life in ways different from my own beliefs. I do this NOT to take away my own Christian faith but to make it stronger. I was heavily influenced, growing up, by Christian authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Francine Rivers.

Finally, I'm always looking for recommendations of great self-published books and indie authors. Do you have any recommendations for self-published fiction books or indie authors to check out? 

Absolutely! One of my favorite indie authors of all-time is Lindsay Buroker. She is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! Her Emperor’s Edge series is one of my favorites! Her blog is so, so helpful, as well. You’ll not only love her books, but her website. She is always helpful to new and up-and-coming authors, so if you don’t check her out, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Some other notable indie authors that are terrific are Daniel Arenson and Kendra C. Highley. There are plenty others out there, too! Get to reading! These guys are GREAT!

Thanks again to L.M. Sherwin for stopping by and answering some questions. You can learn more about her by visiting her links below. Or go pick up Night Bells! It's free on all e-book platforms!

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Indie Author Spotlight - Cole Crook

coleToday's post features author, singer, and songwriter Cole Crook. Cole and I share many similar writing influences and I'm excited to feature him this month! His responses are thoughtful and insightful so read on!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? What creative endeavors are you working on? What are your plans for publishing your work?

Whew! I’ll do my best to give a little insight into each of these openers. It’s been a while since someone has simply asked me, “Who are you?” but I’m happier than I’d like to admit that you did ask that; because it’s one of my favorite questions. I ask it of myself all the time. Even more, I would gladly pay a stranger to wake me up each morning by leaning over my bed and asking, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” I think we could all ask ourselves those questions more often.

Raised Roman Catholic in the beautiful city of Louisville, KY I’d moved on to the more advanced religion of synthetic euphoria by sixteen after my parent’s divorce. For nearly a decade I lived the life of a managing addict, in and out of trouble, rehab, and jail. To make a long story inadequately short, I was reconciled with my biological father in Alabama, and God used it as a catalyst into an ever-surprising, adventurous, at times seemingly dull, and yet colorful life of following Jesus; the Great Adventurer. “The Way,” as early believers referred to it, is merely Following the Adventurer into a sacrificial life of being a life-giving lover of people.

I have a beautiful wife of 3 years, a miniature schnauzer named Olive, and we built our first home back in July. That was my last full month as the pastor of Mill Creek Church, which was unbelievably challenging, yet so fun! Proceeding that position I worked as a youth pastor, college pastor, and worship pastor; those experiences helped reveal the purer passion of my heart – or God’s next assignment – to reach a wider audience through writing, speaking, recording albums, an adoption advocacy project well under way, and leading worship for churches every now and again.

Throughout the past year I’ve experienced the most radical shift of worldview, (and thus, personality and opinions) than ever before in my life. I confess that it is a click away from fundamentalism and heavily reformed theological thinking (though not an abandonment of all their beliefs or bitterness towards them.) And a click towards a life that’s honest. I responded to a Literature professor of mine after she said that I “am talented,” that my sole talent is being uncomfortably honest. And maybe it’s a calling more than a talent – and there are heavy traces of that in all my work. The willingness to paint a detailed picture of my thoughts and experiences – the beautiful and the ugly and the sacred – because I have to. And I think it’s going to resonate deeply with a large amount of people who aren’t sure how to merge their secular life with their sacred life – because despite all our cultural ingrained peculiarities – all of my life is one person.

Currently, I have an EP out (which you can download at Cole Crook on Bandcamp) entitled {Dear Redemption,} – as its title track is somewhat of a letter to God of desperation and hope. I chose the four songs out of the many I’ve written because they are the most meaningful to me as a person. And more music will be coming soon.

I’m also writing a semi-autobiographical non-fiction novel (my main outpouring of creative energy at the moment) which is a fancy way of saying it is a book composed of a series of personal essays with a common theme. Each story is a progression of the failed methods I’ve employed to avoid uncomfortable realities, suffering, and ultimately; reality itself. It’s a pretty honest book.

Publishing is rarely on my mind. Not because I don’t want to be published. Precisely the opposite; I want it too badly until it takes authenticity out of my efforts. Despite my best effort to follow Anne Lamott’s advice to never write because you want to be published, I found it difficult not to let the eyes of my heart dart in ‘that’ direction, especially early on in the writing process. I am working with an editor from Canada, named Rachel. (Rachel’s really awesome.) I have some optimism that this will develop into a good partnership, and that working with an editor earlier in the process will have saved time and money when it hits the shelves. My peers and others who have an understanding of the book seem to be surprised at what is on the page so far, so with a little luck and a lot of work, maybe I can find a publisher by this time next year or sooner.

MORE THAN ANYTHING

I want to have a humble heart that produces words for the love of those who read those words.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Having written! That’s a truer joke than I wish it were. I like the discoveries. Epiphanies through the ancient art of penciling what is most important to us. Anyone who writes on a subject they’re not deeply passionate towards at the time, is writing with an incorrect motive in my opinion. Naturally, I love writing because it’s a job that follows my heart’s direction, rather than my heart’s direction being maneuvered by my career or finances or uncertainties concerning getting published etc…

Who are a few of your favorite authors? What draws you to their work?

There are three authors that immediately come to mind so I must mention them first, although, it seems less than helpful because most readers (and especially writers) are already familiar with them. But Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, and C.S. Lewis are my biggest influences. I’ve read nearly all of their books and only wish that there were enough material so I wouldn’t run out.

As a more unique list of writers I really enjoy, there is Rob Bell, Tim Keller, Madeleine L'Engle, Lois Lowry, G.K. Chesterton, Suzanne Collins for her work with the Hunger Games trilogy, and I read the Message Bible daily right now for my annual NT exegetical devotional time.

I’m drawn to writers who run towards the tension – the paradoxes – and do their best to express how some level of transcendence exists around us that we’re naturally blind too, but have begun to notice more little by little of God’s craftsmanship in the story of humanity. Some glory – or God – in everything. Because he made everything.

We are the observers of the universe. We are the seers of God. The stewards of all that is Earth. In Lewis’ memoir ‘Surprised by Joy’ he says Joy, is a byproduct of focusing on an object of delight. And the only object capable of producing genuine Joy – an inextinguishable peace with reality – is the triune Creator God who sings the universe’s existence into being and breathed spiritual life into our lungs found in Genesis 1:1. That’s an earth-shifting realization: You can’t have Joy while focusing on Joy, because Joy is produced through our focus on the object, which produces it. Joy doesn’t produce joy. If you focus on your joy, it will vanish in the same moment.

Rob Bell is the Lewis of our generation (IMO). Although he is more controversial than Lewis was, much of this can be attributed to our generation’s greater complexities, integrations, and information tsunami. So naturally, writers of spiritual books (including myself) are more prone to controversy than ever. This valuable wisdom from the Apostle James is now, more than ever: Be slow to speak and quick to listen.

Lastly, Adair Lara from San Francisco wrote a book called ‘Naked, Drunk, and Writing’ that has been more helpful than any other book on writing I’ve read. It even beats out Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’ in terms of what it did for the quality of my writing immediately.

Besides writing you are also a singer-songwriter. What are your musical influences and how would you describe your music?

Yes, that’s correct. The first writing I did for pleasure was song lyrics. Not sentences. And I still find song writing to be incredibly therapeutic. Perhaps, in retrospect, that’s the sole reason I wrote songs from the beginning: I needed therapy but didn’t know it. Coincidentally, I decided to begin playing guitar, and it just kind of… happened. But most importantly, writing songs opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of reality. By finding methods to be deeply known and expressive through media, that is interesting AND helpful, I felt as if I’d landed in myself for the first time in my life.

I was most heavily influenced by the bands I was listening to while playing venues in my early twenties. Some of those bands are still around like Band of Horses and Jimmy Eat World.  Others such as Copeland, Mae, and Brand New are finished, but I still listen to them almost daily. Manchester Orchestra is by far my favorite band. Andy Hull is musically unmatched in their genre right now. In 2002 I bought The Format’s debut album ‘Intervention and Lullabies’ who’s lead vocalists is now the front man for F.U.N. FUN’s debut album blew me away – before it got radio burn (which is like carpet burn but when radio stations over play a song until you want to strangle yourself with the telephone cord at work) – moving on… and The Format was a nice peak into what would become the main focus of my music interest (indie-epic-pop-alternative-rock songs with big hooks). Those make me happy on the inside.

Thanks to Cole for his great responses. Check him out at http://www.colecrook.com/.