Reviews

Book Review: Echoes by Miranda Marie

This book is amazing. I’ll just start with that. This book is wonderful. The style, the characters, the plot… It’s just wonderful.

I had the privilege of reading excerpts of this book, since Miranda (Mandy) and I are in the same writing group (which in no way affects this review, because this book can more than stand on its own), and I immediately fell in love with the poetic writing style and intricate characters. Every excerpt just piqued my interest more, and by the time I was finally able to buy Echoes I was dying to read it. Unfortunately, I’d made it a reward for reaching my goal of 100k for NaNoWriMo (which I didn’t come close to), so I waited to read it until sometime in December (although I did cheat on a couple of chapters on days that I met my daily goal. Shhh).

Now I’ve finally been able to read the whole thing, and I love it even more. Fair warning, the style isn’t for everyone, and it crosses the lines in genre, but Mandy did an excellent job executing it. The writing style is poetic and unlike anything I’ve ever read, told from a limited third-person POV that allows the reader to see Emma’s fascinating, unique way of thinking and seeing things. Emma sees symbolism in anything and draws incredibly poetic parallels between things in her description. It’s gorgeous to read, and even though there’s very little dialogue, you never really get tired of reading the long descriptions because they’re so beautifully written.

The characters are incredibly well-developed, the two most prominent characters (Emma and Natan) being particularly distinct from any other characters I’ve seen. Emma is shy, and her quirks are well thought out and shown clearly and in a way that makes her particularly stand out as developed and unique. She doesn’t talk much, but that doesn’t detract from her character (or the story, for that matter) in the slightest.

The character relationships are another thing I really admire in this book. The contrast between Natan and Adrae (and their relationship in general), (**minor spoiler ahead**) the way that Natan protects Emma, (**more major spoiler ahead. Highlight to read**) the relationships between Emma and those she knows from her old life, etc. Mandy is excellent at skillfully writing the dynamics between characters so that they seem real. (And you ship couples way easier than in the majority of popular YA fiction. Or anything else for that matter.)

Overall, Echoes is definitely worthy of five stars, and I highly recommend it. :)

The Greatest Showman Review

I never review movies on this blog unless I’m really impressed with the storytelling (and so far none of them have reached that bar), but The Greatest Showman was so stunning that I have to write about it. “Review” likely won’t be the best description of what you’re about to read, because this movie is beyond breathtaking, so be prepared for me to circle around to the same things and totally exhaust my vocabulary of positive adjectives.

I went into this movie knowing that it was going to be good. I didn’t go in with super high expectations, but I’d had friends tell me it was amazing, and I’d seen/heard ads on YouTube and Spotify that caught my attention, so I knew it was going to be good. Let me just say that it blew my expectations WAY out of the park. I mean… Stunning, breathtaking, gorgeous, incredible… None of these words even come CLOSE to describing this movie, it is just so absolutely spectacular.

I was hooked from the very first scene. You want a hook? Go watch that first scene. It makes SUCH and impact right off the bat, and the build-up is incredible. You can tell just from that first scene that it’s going to be gorgeous and amazing.

After that we watch a couple of the characters go explore an abandoned house and that’s when it really captured a sense of wonder and imagination. I don’t think I’ve ever watched or read something that so captured my sense of wonder. That’s when I first started tearing up, because it was simply gorgeous to watch, and the song they sing… Ahhhhhhhh. I fell in love with that song from the very beginning. I mean… Wow.

And the scenes on the roof with him and his family… They’re so beautiful. Visually, musically, and emotionally. Another time I teared up. Seriously, the sense of awe and wonder… It’s incredible to experience.

Then we get into the rest of the movie, and really all I can say about it is that it’s gorgeous to watch. The choreography, the music, all of it is simply breathtakingly spectacular. Like I said, I teared up multiple times through the thing. If you want an example of the way I was feeling – and honestly the best description of what I was feeling is “euphoria” – just watch P. T. Barnum’s face when he hears Jenny Lind sing.

The next point of note that really, really sticks in my head is when they’re performing This Is Me in the ring, and you can just SEE all of the extra venom and vehemence in Anne’s dancing, and I would just like to offer the greatest kudos to Zendaya because that performance was INCREDIBLE. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one greater, honestly.

And the ending scenes… That ending was simple stunning, and I doubt I’ve seen or read a more satisfying, breathtaking ending to anything. It was… Yeah, I’m out of words. Just… You have to watch it to understand.

There is just so much that is spectacular in this movie, and no review anyone could write could possibly capture even a modicum of it. It’s truly something that you just have to experience for yourself, because it’s just so breathtaking and it’s such an impacting thing… It’s spectacular. It’s definitely not a movie you only watch once, and I’m so incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to watch it on the big screen. If you haven’t watched The Greatest Showman yet, I insist that you watch it at your earliest possible convenience, because it is the best movie I’ve ever seen, definitely my new favorite, and it’s just… I’ll refrain this time from using the same words all again, but it’s simply beyond words. English honestly doesn’t have an adequate word to describe this movie. Definitely go see it as soon as you can, whether that’s in theaters or after it comes out. It’s incredible.

14 of My Favorite Books

Books are a writer’s (or just a person’s) best friend. They provide inspiration, expand your vocabulary, introduce you to new characters and worlds that don’t exist outside of the imagination… So here’s a list of some of my favorite books. (All of the below book links are affiliate links.) Please note that while I would recommend the majority of these, they are simply my personal favorites and there are a couple that I can’t comfortably recommend.

#1 The Shannara series by Terry Brooks

This is an epic (in multiple uses of the word) fantasy series. There are around thirty books so far, and Brooks is still writing. I’ve read almost all of them, and they’re mostly clean. There is romance in them, but the only one I would be inclined to warn again is in Bearers of the Black Staff and The Measure of the Magic, and even that one doesn’t go far enough that I was particularly uncomfortable with it, though some people might be.

The series goes all the way from a post-apocalyptic world to at least a dozen generations down a line in a fantasy world. It’s really cool, and you get to see almost all of those generations. There’s a bit of a gap between the end of the post-apocalyptic world and the fantasy world, but after that the line is nearly unbroken. It’s really interesting seeing the world and the line develop as time goes on. If you’re looking for something to keep you busy for a while, definitely check out the Shannara series.

#2 The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

This is only the first of four trilogies I’m going to mention by Wayne Thomas Batson, because his books are awesome.

The Door Within is the first trilogy of his I read, and it’s really good. He’s a Christian author, and all of the books of his I’ve read are clean and have positive messages. The Door Within is an MG/YA portal-fantasy trilogy following a young man named Aidan as he finds a land he didn’t know existed and becomes a hero in a war between good and evil.

I love the characters in this trilogy, because they’re really real. They felt to me like family as soon as I read it, and coming back to reread it was like a family reunion, except without the awkwardness of having those relatives over that you see, like, once a year and don’t really know. It’s comfortable being with the characters, and the whole thing is just a really great read.

#3 Dreamtreaders by Wayne Thomas Batson

This is obviously the second trilogy I’m sharing by Wayne Thomas Batson. This one is my declared favorite series (though really, who can pick a favorite?), and the second trilogy of his that I read. It’s sort of a portal fantasy, but not exactly. The main character, Archer Keaton, is a Dreamtreader, meaning that he can explore the world of dreams and keeps it safely separate from the waking world. It’s super cool, and the characters are amazing. Kaylie… Dude, I love Kaylie. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean, but she’s the most precocious, amazing child character I think I’ve ever read.

#4 The Isle Chronicles by Wayne Thomas Batson

This one is a pirate trilogy (though it’s planned to be more than three books, I believe), but it’s nearly as good as the others. I need to reread it, ’cause it’s been a while and my memory of it is growing a bit hazy, but I do know I loved the two main characters and if you ever mention iguana soup I will immediately imagine a one-armed man running after iguanas on a beach.

#5 The Berinfell Prophecies by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

Characters. Guys, I love the characters in all of Batson’s books, and this collaboration series is no different. I’ve only been able to read the first of these so far, because my library is lacking the second book, but I read the first one and it’s amazing. There are a myriad of characters, and yet I only ever mixed up two of them. They’re all distinct enough to tell apart, whether that distinction is in their voice, their appearance, or their personality. And I liked nearly all of them. One of them actually seemed like he could totally be the kid of my character Braedyn and my best friend’s character Jess, which was really cool, lol.

#6 The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

If you like seeing fairytales twisted into new shapes, you’ll like my short story series the Mirror-Hunter Chronicles- Hey wait a minute… We’re talking about other people’s books here. I meant you’ll like The Lunar Chronicles. Sheesh. The Lunar Chronicles is actually way better than the Mirror-Hunter Chronicles (and more than a thousand pages longer), and it’s a set of sci-fi fairytale retellings. All of the stories weave together, some of them aren’t really what they seem like at face value, and all of them are excellently written with incredible characters. This is another series that expertly balances a large cast of characters, all with distinct voices and personalities. Thorne and Cress are the greatest, with Iko next and everyone else behind them, but they’re all amazing and I love reading about them and what they get themselves into (and then out of). Plus the plot is really interesting, with twists and turns that most people probably wouldn’t see coming. (I’ve inherited my dad’s knack for seeing plot twists a mile away, which is both a blessing and a curse.)

#7 Graceling by Kristin Cashore

This is one that I can admire for the plot as well as the characters (not because any of the other plots are bad, just because I don’t tend to notice plot as much and this one caught my attention more than the others did), and which I can appreciate for having a deep, complex, personal villain. The characters all have their own struggles and strengths (as do the characters of all the past mentioned books), and the relationships between them are really interesting. (Ooh, I should have mentioned that specifically for The Lunar Chronicles, too. Character relationships are the best.)

The villain was possibly my favorite thing about this book, just from a writer’s perspective. He was terrifying (as much as I’m terrified by any villain in a book that’s not my own. If it’s your own there’s a whole different dynamic with that…), and best of all he was personal to the characters. He impacted them all personally in different ways, and so he seemed like more of a threat, even though he had very little “screen time.” You didn’t get the impression that he was just some faceless evil that had to be defeated. He needed to be defeated because he was hurting the main characters even when he wasn’t there. He was ever-present even if he wasn’t really there.

The worldbuilding was also really interesting, and I wished I could see more of it.

I’ve written a full review here.

(Warning: there are a couple of vague mature scenes, which may need to be glossed over depending on your sensitivity to that sort of thing.)

#8 Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Another that I can appreciate in all aspects (except, unfortunately, mature content). The plot is intriguing and mysterious, the characters are distinct and have fascinating relationships with one another, and the world seems – from what I’ve read so far – incredible.

I’ve only read the first two books of this series, and they do grow more mature as they go on. The first had a few crude comments in it, as well as some semi-graphic gore; the second one had a mature scene. I think there may be mild occasional language. I’ve heard that the maturity level goes up the further into the series you go, so use discretion when deciding whether or not to read these.

#9 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This is an old book, but a good one. The artistry of the fire motif had me hooked from the first paragraph. (No, literally, in just a paragraph I could tell that the fire motif was going to be amazing.) While the characters weren’t very deeply developed by current standards, they were still intriguing, and the message of the book was incredible. And I got through it pretty fast, too. I definitely recommend it.

#10 Echoes by Miranda Marie

Okay, so maybe I’m a tiny bit biased since I know the author and she’s an amazing person, but this book was just downright good on its own, no bias required. The characters are deep and complex; the relationships between them are dynamic; and the writing style, though not for everyone, is stunningly gorgeous. I mean wow. Like, take the description of Adrae’s otherworldly, stunning beauty and you have the description for this book. It’s gorgeously amazing.

#11 The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers

All right, so picture this: The biblical David in a fantasy world. That’s what this book is, and it’s awesome. I’ve read it two or three times (three, I think) and I enjoy it every single time. It never disappoints or misses the high expectations that memory gives it. The world is fascinating, particularly when you understand the story that he puts into it, and the new take on David is really interesting.

#12 The Truth series by Dawn Cook

(I apologize for the blurry pictures on some of these things.)

I’ve read this quartet (is that the right word if it’s books?) two or three times. It’s a fantasy series in a really interesting world that you only really see one corner of, and I love the majority of the characters. There was only one that I really disliked and found annoying, and that was the villain of Lost Truth. Otherwise, they were all really cool, and the plot is interesting.

#13 Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker

This one is historical fiction that felt to me like contemporary. It’s a great book by a homeschooled Christian author (in other words, similar to me), and this book was the most relatable that I’ve ever read. Like, even down to some of the minor details. I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t written on psychic paper. (Kidding, obviously.)

I wrote a full review here.

#14 The Fault In Our Stars

To even things out (and obviously because it’s a good book), The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. This is a beautifully written book in an entirely different way from anything else I’ve read. Hazel’s voice comes across more thoroughly than I would have thought possible, and the philosophy is really deep, even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of it.

Some of the writing techniques that Green employed I found really interesting, and the end of The Imperial Affliction was an excellent use of a plot device within the confines of fiction, lol.

(Content warning: There’s one mature scene, as well as occasional language.)

Book of the Month Review: Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker

This book… Oh my gosh… I’m half convinced that Rachel Coker wrote Chasing Jupiter on psychic paper. I relate to this book so much in so many areas. My feelings about this book can be summed up as follows:

I can’t believe that when I got this book I started reading and thought it was awful! WHY, Younger Self?! WHY?! This book is now in my top five favorite books. It made me FEEL, okay?! Very few books can do that! The only two other books that have done that (I think) are The Giver by Lois Lowry and Heartless by Marissa Meyer. But anyway…

This book was beautifully written, the main characters were well-developed, the MC (Scarlett)’s struggles and feelings were super relatable (her relationship with her best guy friend, okay? I relate so much!), and Cliff was just the most adorable kiddo ever! He and Cor would get along so well. ^-^

So I guess I’ll start with Scarlett’s overall life. Her brother is considered odd by everyone around, as is her grandfather, her parents aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, and she has a hippie older sister who’s quite independent. She has a lot on her shoulders, and she doesn’t understand why things are so hard and won’t get better. (ME, PEOPLE! I totally relate to that hopelessness!) She also has no friends, because her brother is weird and she sticks up for him.

She becomes friends early on with a boy, Frank, who sees past hers and her brothers’ peculiarities, and Frank is seriously the sweetest guy ever. ^-^ Her relationship with him is so relatable, though… Seriously, this relationship is the part of the book that makes me feel like Coker was writing about me. She and Frank ask each other random questions all the time, they joke around… There are some exact quotes that I’ll mention, because I was just like “O-O MEEEEEE.”

…A smile broke out on his face, slowly at first but then blossoming into a full-out grin. He had a wonderfully handsome face when he smiled, like the difference between a small flame and a blazing fire.

*******

Maybe that’s what our friendship was. It was the feeling that we didn’t have to think or explain. We could just sit in the darkness and watch the tadpoles just as easily as we could lie out in the heat and breathe in the smell of peaches and gravel, all without saying a word.

There was another one, but now I can’t find it. Oh well.

The emotions were beautifully written all around. Anger, love, frustration… Her relationship with Cliff (her brother) was amazing. I wish I were that gracious with my siblings. She gets frustrated with him, too, but for the most part she’s gracious with him and is able to effortlessly show him that she loves him.

The book does have its flaws. The biggest one was that I felt like Scarlett’s sister, Juli, didn’t really have much of a purpose in the book and was really underdeveloped.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Another was that when she develops a crush on Frank, the pastor’s wife suggests that she tell Frank. That’s mostly just a minor annoyance, but it kind of precedes my next comment…

I was reading over the reviews on Goodreads and someone said it was unrealistic for her to be thinking of marrying Frank after just a few months and a crush on him. While I do understand that, to an extend, I also know that my brain works exactly that way. When I have a crush on someone, I tend to think forward to how they’d be as a husband. My brain totally skips over the whole dating/courting aspect of it, because I don’t see the point of having a crush on someone if that relationship won’t go somewhere in the long run. But that was basically a tangent.

***SPOILERS COMPLETE. PROCEED.***

The foreshadowing in the book was also really good. She follows the Checkov’s Gun rule quite well, and the Checkov’s Gun rule is that if there’s a gun on the table in act one it needs to go off in act two. Obviously it doesn’t only apply to guns, but that’s the basic theory. Rachel Coker did that very well.

Overall I thought this was an excellent book, it made me feel a lot, I read it all in one sitting (it’s only 221 pages), and it’s a new favorite. Definitely giving it five stars.

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Book of the Month Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I started this book sometime before August (or maybe during August) and finally finished it on September sixteenth. It was very, very good, and I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

My favorite thing about this book was the characters. They were all well-written, well fleshed out, deep, enjoyable characters, with the possible exceptions of Giddon and the Leinid crew. Giddon seemed rather shallow to me, but even at that he was still well-written for who he is, I think. Po was certainly my favorite character; he’s fun to read because he’s clever and witty and flirtatious and he’s a good guy. That’s basically my checklist for if you want to write a character I’ll love reading. Jest from Heartless, Po from Graceling, Celaena from Throne of Glass, Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles… Yeah, it’s a long list. So of course I like Po. Bitterblue was my second favorite character. I couldn’t tell you quite why. I think because she’s so intelligent and understands so much about the characters around her. Katsa, the main character, comes in third. Though she was deep and complex, her personality wasn’t a favorite of mine, personally. She’s rather distant under most circumstances and takes a while to open up to other characters, and I tend to prefer reading characters who connect easily with other people, for some reason. She did connect very well with some of the characters around her, but her general character is aloof and distant.

I judge the worldbuilding as about a four out of five. I could tell that the world was well thought-out and deep, but I thought in the book we really only get to see the tip of that iceberg and I really wanted to see more. Leinid was the most fleshed-out of the kingdoms, and also my favorite. I’m sure that the former contributed to the latter, but it doesn’t help any that the other two countries that were really mentioned weren’t really very likable for… reasons. The two of them fed into each other, I think. I tend to like reading a deep world, so maybe I’m just looking for more from the book than is normal because of that. I do see that it has a lot of depth, just not a lot that we get to see in this book. Maybe in the other books there’s more detail given.

The plot also gets a four out of five. I really love the idea of Graces. I found that fascinating. I love Po’s Grace in particular, but all of the three showcased were fascinating to read and fit their characters well and just blended to create a really interesting story. The main plot was really interesting, as well. I felt that the antagonist was well-developed, just like all of the others, and even though he isn’t really seen much, he was really interesting to read when he was “on screen,” and even when he wasn’t. I love villains who personally affect the good guys. The antagonist did that with Katsa and Bitterblue, and to some extent with Po as well, more through Katsa and Bitterblue than as directly. He played with Katsa’s mind, both intentionally and not so intentionally, and we get to see her confidence falter as she’s faced with something she’s never faced before.

Unfortunately I must include a warning that there are about two scenes and a sentence that are rather inappropriate. It really disappoints me that so many of the really good books I’ve read have scenes in them that have to be skimmed. Why can’t people write clean fantasy with the same depth of worldbuilding and characters?

Other than those couple of spots, though, this book was great. I don’t feel comfortable recommending it because of those few scenes, but I really enjoyed it.

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