Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Windfall by Krissi Dallas

Windfall is book two of the Phantom Island series by Krissi Dallas. It picks up right where Windchaser left off. (If you missed my review of Windchaser, click here) Whitnee Terradora and her friends are marooned on the mysterious White Island with Hot Island Boy (Gabriel) serving as their protector and guide. Everyone on the island, including Gabriel, seems to be keeping a host of secrets that not only frustrate but possibly endanger Whitnee and her friends. At the end of Windchaser, the group from the Mainland Beyond (aka our world) is visiting the village of Aerodora, home of those who are gifted with the life force of Wind. While there, they meet the Guardian of the island and hear of a prophecy that may or may not involve Whitnee in some way. From Aerodora they set out on a tour of the other villages: Geodora (home of the Earth-loving Geodorians), Hydrodora (watery dwelling place of the Water people) and Pyradora (nestled right up to a volcano - the ideal spot for any Pyra). They meet new friends, encounter suspicious characters, deal with danger, and play with all sorts of interesting powers. Oh and did I mention a little romance? Perhaps involving a Hot Island Boy? (wink wink)

I thought Windfall moved much faster than Windchaser (not that Windchaser was slow). The first book told most of Whitnee's backstory and got the main characters to the White Island; the second book is where (almost) all the fun happens. I loved the rich detail that Krissi poured into the sights, sounds, and smells of the tribal villages, especially Geodora. I found myself really wishing I could sit down to a Geodorian feast with beautiful flowers on my head and around my neck, the way Whitnee and her friends did. Yum! The last half of the book felt a little rushed to me, as events plunge headlong toward the dramatic and emotional climax. I think while I was reading a few chapters I almost forgot to breathe. I am now eagerly anticipating the third volume, Watercrossing (more information here).

Just as a reminder, I am a fan of Krissi's and I hope anyone reading this will support her by picking up (or downloading) a copy of her books! They are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere you buy books. Thanks and happy reading!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Windchaser by Krissi Dallas

I'm making life hard on myself this week. After writing a review of a book that was fascinating and brilliant but hard to talk about (Words by Ginny Yttrup), now I'm attempting the daunting task of reviewing a book written by someone I know. It's true that Krissi and I have never actually met, but Greg worked with her, I (usually) read her blog, and we're friends on Facebook, so I feel like I know her. I've followed the journey of Windchaser and Windfall from a single, self-published volume (Phantom Island: Wind) to the two volumes now published by Tate. I even have my own autographed copies of the shiny new books. I feel like I've shared a teeny tiny part of the whole process, which somehow makes reviewing them feel a little intimidating. So I guess I'll just do it anyway.

Luckily, I enjoyed Windchaser very much. It's a fun story with fun characters. Whitnee is a somewhat-troubled teenage girl who, along with her best friends Morgan and Caleb, is spending the summer as a mentor at Camp Fusion. The camp is a place where preteens who have gone through traumatic experiences can find hope and healing and a path to a normal life. Whitnee met Morgan and Caleb during her summer as a camper, after her father's disappearance. Years later, the three return to the camp to revisit their experiences there and to give back by helping other campers work through their own difficult times. One night they set out to explore the forbidden property across the Frio River and are rather dramatically transported to the mysterious White Island, where Whitnee suddenly develops strange powers and everyone seems to have been expecting her arrival. Whitnee must find a way to deal with these unexpected events, keep her friendships strong, and try to get everyone home, hopefully before anyone realizes they are gone!

There are several things I liked about this book. The characters are very real, and clearly very young. You get treated to some pretty awesome teenage camp drama (anyone else remember those days? I sure do!) before the setting shifts to the White Island. Whitnee's emotions are very turbulent as she deals with the confusion of being attracted to (gasp!) more than one guy, tension between her campers, and the pain of wondering what really happened to her dad. It's really easy to get caught up in all of it. In addition, Krissi has a definite knack for worldbuilding. You can see it during the camp scenes, but once the story moves to the Island, it really shines. You can almost get the feeling that this place actually exists somewhere; it's that real. The scenery, the people, the tribes, and the village of Aerodora: it feels like Krissi really knows these places and these people, and therefore the readers can really get to know them, too.

I did read (and review) the original version of this book and its sequel, and I appreciate the subtle differences. The biggest thing I noticed is that it seems a little more polished and cohesive, and I appreciated that. My favorite scenes, the ones I remembered best from the first reading, are all still there, so I was happy. This book does end somewhat suddenly, leaving you with the feeling that you're right in the middle of something, which is true. It picks up with Windfall, which I'm planning to pick up shortly after I post this review!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Words by Ginny Yttrup

First of all, I have to say that this was an incredible book. I have put off posting a review about it because it's a little hard to just talk about the book. It's the kind of thing that you really have to experience for yourself. That said, I'm going to give a review a shot.

Kaylee Wren is ten years old and lives in an almost unimaginably horrible situation. After being abandoned by her mother and trapped in a tiny shack with a man who abuses her terribly, Kaylee is no longer able to speak. Instead, she amuses herself by reading a dictionary and imagining what the words sound like. Sierra Dawn is a thirty-four year old artist whose past mistakes haunt her life. When the two meet unexpectedly, events are set in motion that will change both of their lives and lead them toward the healing that is found only in Jesus.

This is an intense book. It is written in first-person present tense, which really pulls the reader into the minds and hearts of the two main characters. It deals with some very difficult topics with great insight and sensitivity, and ultimately points to the peace, hope, and love that God offers each of us. Despite the heavy material, there are some sweet, light-hearted, and heart-warming moments, especially with the precocious and word-loving Kaylee. Yttrup is truly a gifted writer and this is a remarkable book. I highly recommend it, especially if you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse. In spite of the ugly beginning, it is ultimately a beautiful tale of redemption, healing, and hope.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Final update

Whew! November was certainly an interesting month. I think I can honestly say that I have never given myself a writing goal and then actually worked toward it before. In some ways I liked it and in some ways I didn't. I think I wrote some pretty awful stuff just so I could say I had written something. I did make significant progress in my novel, and had the joy of writing several scenes that had been stuck in my head for quite some time. Probably for years. I did not, however, "win" National Novel Writing Month by writing a novel of 50,000 words, and I didn't finish my book. I wrote 25,000 words and am now about 2/3 into my book. For me, that's pretty good progress in a month.

I learned a lot during this process. I learned that it really is a good idea to have writing goals and discipline. It's also a good idea, for me at least, to write first and edit later. NaNo forced me to just keep going, even if I'd just written something that I thought was really awful. Maybe when I go back later, it won't seem so bad. And even if it does, I can always fix it.

I am planning to try again and actually win next year. Next time, I'll plan to start a new novel instead of beginning the month 30,000 words into one, and see how that goes. Even though I didn't win this year, I am glad I decided to give it a try. I now have 55,000 words written, and am hoping to have a complete rough draft in another month or two.

Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Pressing on...

Well, we've passed the midpoint of November, so of course I should have nearly 30,000 words written so far.  I don't. I'm a little behind.  By about 12,000 words.  However, the good news is that I'm feeling better, I actually have about 45,000 words written in my story, I've passed the midpoint and I'm getting into some good stuff.  So even though I'm dreadfully behind, I am choosing to stay positive and believe that I can still finish this thing by the end of the month.  I've been wrestling with a particularly difficult plot element for some time now and I think I may have a solution for that.  Last night at church while I was sitting in the class I'm taking on worldviews I had a moment of inspiration (completely unrelated to the class topic) that provided a possible way to deal with my problem.  I'm very excited about it, even though it will require significant rewriting of what I've already written.  However, November is not National Novel Rewriting Month (I think that might be December, unofficially), so I'm going to move on with new words and fix my existing words later.

This is also a good time for an announcement: If you usually read these posts when they magically appear as a note on Facebook, this is probably the last time you will be able to do so.  Facebook has announced that they will no longer automatically import blog posts into notes.  So beginning with my next post, I will be sharing via a link on my Facebook page and I would be so happy if you would follow those thinks and continue reading the random meanderings of my mind.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNoWriMo: 10,000 Words In

When I started National Novel Writing Month 10 days ago, I anticipated there would be some obstacles I would have to overcome in order to finish.  I did not expect to immediately get sick with a lingering respiratory infection or hit a wall (figuratively) about 5,000 words in, but so far that is what has happened.  In spite of those things, I have reached the 10,000 word mark.  I'm a little over 5,000 words behind my target word count at this point, but I am comforting myself with the knowledge that I have never written 10,000 words in 10 days or less at any other time in my life.  Also, I'm not hopelessly behind.  I'll just have to step up my game a bit in order to catch up.

One thing I have learned so far is that writing is hard.  It is one of the most natural things in the world for me to do, but it isn't easy.  I confess I often read books and find myself thinking, "I could have written this better."  It's one thing to see ways that an existing story could be improved, but it's quite another to invent a story completely out of my own head.  It's a challenge, but it's a fun and exciting one, and I am loving it.  Most of what I'm writing right now is pretty bad, so none of you will be reading it any time soon (and you can thank me for that, trust me), but I'm confident that it will improve in the rewrite process.

Now that I'm starting to feel better, I'm looking forward to charging ahead and getting caught up, and then finishing this thing.  10,000 words down, 40,000 to go.  Obstacles?  Bring 'em on!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Challenge Accepted

For most people, November brings to mind images of family time, a chill in the air, football, and turkey. I have recently discovered that for the writing community, November means National Novel Writing Month: a totally insane writing frenzy during which both first-time and experienced authors take the plunge and attempt to write a novel (or 50,000 words of one, which really isn't enough words for anything but a children's novel) in one month. It's exhilarating, scary, and exhausting...or so I hear. Although I had heard of NaNo before, I had not participated because honestly, it was too scary. But then last month, the writer's chat that I have recently joined picked NaNo for a topic, and I was intrigued. Then I was excited. Then I was terrified. Then I was hooked.

I have been writing for years - mostly in secret, because apparently writing is not something that rational people do for a living - but I have never finished a novel. It's sad but true. Recently I've realized that starting in on a story, then setting it aside for a year or two, then coming back to it and deciding I have to rewrite it before I can continue, then setting it aside again, then starting back and rewriting it again was really not getting me anywhere. I got over that and decided to start a different story. Now I'm 30,000 words into it, which is more words than I've ever written in a single story before. So here's my confession: instead of starting again with a totally new story, like you're supposed to do in NaNo, I'm going to start from where I am in my story and finish it. 80,000 words should do nicely. When I first started thinking about doing NaNo, I was going to follow the rules and start fresh. But I like this story, and I really just want to finish one before I start on something new. I think in some ways it will make the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month more difficult, because I'm already dealing with some plot hang-ups and wondering just exactly where I'm going to go from here. Still, 50,000 new words is 50,000 new words, and that's what I'm going to do. I wrote 1,000 this morning. Only 49,000 more to go. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer

If you know me, you know that I often have little good to say about Christian fiction.  You may also know that I'm way too picky for my own good and that I don't like to waste my time reading something I seriously doubt I'll enjoy.  As a result, I don't read Christian fiction often, and I'm especially leery of authors that I haven't read before.  Having read my share of "prairie romance" (think Janette Oke) as a teenager, I have avoided the Amish sub-genre entirely because there are so many of them for one thing, and for another the covers bring to mind such classics as Love Comes Softly and A Woman Named Damaris.  Yikes.

That said, you can imagine my excitement when I opened a box of books to read for a project I've been working on and found Beside Still Waters, which pictures a girl in a kapp with a quilt on her lap.  Still, it had to be a read, so I took a deep breath, asked for good wishes on Facebook, and dived in.  What I found was a well-written and touching story that I was happy to have read.

Marianna Sommers has always felt that her life is shaped by the tragedy that took the lives of her two sisters on the night she was born.  In an attempt to fill that void, she tried to be the perfect daughter, perfect sister, and perfect Amish girl.  She also dreams to be the perfect Amish wife to Aaron, the good Amish boy she's adored forever.  However, her parents have plans to change all that, moving the family from their established community in Indiana to the wild and sparsely-populated mountains of Montana.  Although Marianna dreads leaving everything familiar and comfortable, her parents have grown weary of the way the close-knit community is so involved in - and critical of - the details and problems of their lives.  Montana offers an opportunity for a fresh start.

In Montana, Marianna finds that while she must adjust to many changes, they are not all bad.  In the remote West Kootenai area, people must help each other, both Amish and Englisch.  Marianna finds it suprisingly easy to make friends with the Englisch restaurant owner, Annie, and the very helpful and attractive Ben.  It is not long before she finds herself questioning all she has been taught about God and the ways we should relate to Him.  In her own special spot beside still waters, and through the midst of unexpected circumstances, Marianna encounters the peace of God in a much more personal way than she ever would have imagined.

This book is a well-written and enchanting glimpse into the heart of a simple Amish girl who simply wants to live the best life she can, without knowing exactly how.  I found my heart aching for Marianna at times, as she dealt with the pain of her family's past and the confusion of trying to live in one world while her heart was drawn to another.  Having never experienced the genre before, I can't say whether it's a good Amish book, but I can definitely say that it is a good book, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel ... and learning which man Marianna chooses!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Confessions of a Shopaholic - the movie

I decided to watch this movie on Friday evening while Greg was out of town. It had been sitting on our shelf for about a month and I figured I'd better watch it so that I could send it back to Netflix (or whatever they are now) and get something more interesting, like Thor or X-Men: First Class. So I popped it into the player and prepared myself for a slightly-lame, feel-good romantic comedy.

About 40 minutes into it, I was thinking, "I can totally see where this is going."  I even posted that on Facebook, adding that romantic comedies are supposed to be cute, predictable, and awkward.  This one was living up to expectations.  The main character had woven such a tangled web of poor choices and deception that everything was going to unravel by the end of the movie, but somehow true love and the human spirit would prevail.  And that's exactly what happened, but I was pleasantly surprised by the result. 

In Confessions of a Shopaholic, Rebecca Bloomwood is a less-than-perfect heroine who (pretty much literally) stumbles into a job working for a mostly-perfect boss at a finance magazine.  Rebecca, whose true ambition is to work for a fashion magazine owned by the same company, writes witty, down-to-earth financial advice from a fresh and vibrant perspective.  Trouble is, she's up to her ears in debt and is being stalked by a collector because of her inability to pass by a clothing or shoe store without going in and buying something - or a lot of somethings.  As her column grows in popularity and her working relationship with her editor (played by the charming Hugh Dancy) blooms into something more, Rebecca's double life becomes harder to maintain.  Eventually, she must deal with the consequences of her lies and lack of self-control.

I liked this movie because I thought it had a great message.  There are times when Rebecca is not a very likeable character, but there are other times when you have to ache for her because she clearly has no idea how to deal with the mess she creates for herself.  In the end, she learns an important lesson that I think is often lacking in today's culture: personal responsibility.  The film is rated PG and is very clean, so I would recommend watching it with preteen girls (and older), and using it as an opportunity to discuss how Rebecca's choices hurt herself and the people around her, and how she was able to turn things around and make it right.

One more note: This book is based on the Chick Lit novel of the same name, which I haven't read.  I prefer to watch the movie before I read the book when possible, and now the book is on my "to read" list.  I may review it in the near future. :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This is who I am

Who am I?  Such a little question, but the answer can be so many things.  Who I am is more than the things I do, the (sometimes stupid) things I say, how I spend my time, or the people in my life...although all those things make up who I am.

Do you ever wonder who you are?  Or who you are meant to be?  Or do you think you know, but are you afraid to admit it to anyone else?  Because putting it out there, saying "This is who I am," can be a scary thing.  What if you make that announcement and then no one likes it?  Or likes you because of it?  Or what if you don't even like it very much?  Or you wish you were more than who you have become?  What then?

In thinking about this, I can't help but think of the ultimate "I AM."  He wasn't afraid to put Himself out there.  All throughout the Bible, God tells us who He is.  He is holy.  He is righteous.  He can't stand sin, but in His grace He provides a path for the sinner.  When Moses asked Him, "Who should I say you are?" He answered: "I AM WHO I AM."  Unapologetic.  Unafraid.  He simply is who He is.  And yet, He cares for each of the people He created so much that He gave each of us an identity, too.  We are made in His image.  As His Holy Spirit flows through us, we reflect that image to the world around us.  We are not cookie-cutter copies, but something different.  Something richer and so much more creative.  God is so infinite that we can all be made in His image and still be individuals, with a unique set of gifts and personality quirks that can all be used for His glory.

So who am I?  Can I tell you a secret?  I have always known who I am, but it has always scared me.  For years I tried to be something else, anything else, as long as it fit into whatever I thought was "normal."  I took my identity and called it a dream, an ambition, something that I would maybe do someday if I had enough time or money.  I set it aside for awhile because I knew there were other things God wanted me to do, but it never changed.  Now I've grown up a bit, I'm a little braver than I used to be, a little more confident that God has a plan and He can do whatever He wants to in me, and a little more willing to step out of "normal" and into the unknown.  I believe that God is giving back what I gave Him years ago.  I don't know what He'll do with it, but this is what I know: I am a writer.  People can attach any number of labels to that.  I might be a good writer, or a bad writer, or a crazy writer, or a novel writer, or a freelance writer, or maybe even a published writer, but none of that changes who I am.  Of course I am other things, too.  Look on Facebook, Twitter, or my profile on this blog and you can see all those other things.  But the scary secret is out.  The truth is, whatever else I may also be, I am a writer.  Always have been, always will be.  I have always known.  Now you know, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What’s not to love about green chile?

I have been loving my NM green chile this year. I know Puebloans love their Pueblo chile, but I’m a New Mexico girl. Give me some hot long greens straight from Hatch, and I’m in chile heaven. So far this year I’ve enjoyed my green chile fried in rellenos, diced on a baked potato, cooked into breakfast burritos, and sauced up and smothered on those breakfast burritos, then topped with cheese. If you’re blessed to have access to some green chile, here are some “recipes” for you. “Recipes” is in quotes because I have a terrible tendency to never measure anything. Perfectly fine in cooking, not so much with baking, which is why I am a good cook but a mediocre baker.

(Only New Mexicans know how to do these right. I never trust a relleno outside of New Mexico)
2 whole green chiles, slit up one side, most of the seeds removed
About ½ cup flour
Seasoned salt
Baking powder
Sliced cheese (preferably Jack, but Cheddar works too)
Vegetable oil

Whisk egg with a little milk. Mix flour, seasoned salt to taste, and a dash of baking powder. Stuff chile with cheese. Dip in egg mixture coat and coat with flour mixture, then repeat. Fry in hot oil until lightly browned and crispy. Serves one.

Breakfast Burritos
1 lb. breakfast sausage
8 eggs
1-2 diced green chiles
Shredded cheese
About 6 flour tortillas

Brown sausage. Whisk eggs with green chile and a little milk. Add to skillet with sausage and cook, mixing with sausage. Heat tortillas one at a time in a clean frying pan. Fill with sausage and egg mixture, sprinkle with cheese, and fold burrito. Serves about 6.

Notes: You can add potatoes (cook them with the sausage) and reduce the number of eggs if you’d like. I have nothing against potatoes, I just usually don’t have them. Also, you can use corn tortillas instead of flour. I call these "breakfast tacos" and I think they're quite tasty, too.

Green Chile Sauce
(This is NM-style green chile sauce with no meat)
About 1/4 cup olive oil
About ½ cup chopped onion
About 1 tsp minced garlic
About 1 Tbsp flour
About 1 cup chopped green chile
About 1 cup water

Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet. Add onions, then garlic, and cook until transparent. Stir in flour with a wooden spoon and cook for a minute or two. Add chile and water and cook until the sauce has a nice sheen. Add water in small amounts if sauce is too thick. Sauce can be used to smother burritos (be sure to top with shredded cheese), or in enchiladas, or really however you want to use it.

Note: All the amounts are approximate because I sort of just toss stuff in the pan until it looks good. Feel free to adjust as necessary. You can also add salt if you'd like.

Feel free to comment with questions, or to let me know if you tried one of these. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Time for another confession: Mythology fascinates me. I have pretty early memories of reading the sections on Greek gods in my illustrated encyclopedia. (Yes, I spent many happy hours reading that encyclopedia. I doubt this surprises anyone) The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters sparked my interest in Egyptian archaeology and mythology. So naturally when I discovered that the author of the delightful Percy Jackson series, which moves Greek gods and goddesses into modern America, had started a series involving the Egyptian pantheon, I just had to read it. I was not disappointed.

The Red Pyramid is written as a transcription of a recording by Carter and Sadie Kane, a brother/sister duo raised separately following their mother's tragic death when Sadie was six. While Carter followed his globe-trotting American archaeologist father on various research expeditions, Sadie lived in England with their mother's parents. Six years later, during their Christmas visitation time, their worlds are blown apart again - literally. During a visit to the British Museum, their father Julius performs some strange ancient magic and releases five imprisoned gods including the evil and powerful Set, Lord of Chaos. Set imprisons Julius in a magical sarcophagus, and it is up to Carter and Sadie to find and free him. There is quite a bit more to the story, of course, including a long-lost uncle, a mysterious guardian cat, and a host of enemies like ancient magicians and minor gods. Add some great unfolding destiny, off-beat humor, and the possibility of mass annihilation to the mix, and you have a really fun, action-packed thrill ride that spans the globe, stopping at several well-known landmarks across the way.

I really enjoy Riordan's style. He writes with fast-paced, slightly-sarcastic humor that I appreciate. I also like the way he describes places. Whether it's Central Park, the Cairo airport, or White Sands National Monument, you get the feeling that he's actually been there. Without wasting words on flowery language, he paints pictures of people and places in such a way that reading his books is almost like watching a movie. It's fun.

So if you think ancient mythological gods and goddesses make for good entertainment, check out The Kane Chronicles. I'm looking forward to reading The Throne of Fire, the next installment in the series.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Green Bay Packers: World Champions!

I love football. I didn't grow up watching it, but I learned to love it during my freshman year of college and have loved it ever since. And for as long as I have been a football fan, I have been a Green Bay Packers fan. People sometimes ask me why, and I can't really give a reasonable answer. But then, what part of being a fanatic is reasonable? It defies reason or logic. At the time, the Packers were popular in the town where I lived because their colors were the same as the local high school team. Plus, the Packers had the best quarterback in the league. I love good quarterbacks, and Brett Favre was fun to watch. So the Packers became my team. I've never been to Green Bay or even to Wisconsin, but I do own a cheesehead.

I have always watched Packers games with passion and enthusiasm. Greg used to laugh at me because I would get angry and yell at the television when the opposing team made positive yardage. Now I only yell when the opposing team gets a first down. I think Greg still laughs, but I try to ignore him. I admit I'm a fairly recent convert to Packer fandom, having only been into football for about ten years. Still, I've had memorable moments. I watched the Monday night game when Antonio Freeman made that ridiculous catch and Al Michaels exclaimed, "He did what?!" I watched another Monday night game, right after Brett Favre's father died, when the team rallied around him and they all played truly inspired football. I endured all the Brett Favre drama of the last few years. And tonight, I watched through moments of delight, anxiety, and finally triumph as the Packers beat the Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV, their first Super Bowl win since I have been a fan. Congratulations, Packers! I am so excited!