What I’m Reading: Starlighter by Bryan Davis

Hello, everyone! It’s the third Saturday of the month, and that’s book review day. I read this book a couple months ago, mostly on a flight from Georgia to New Hampshire, so this review is really long overdue. But here we are!

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Information for Readers

Genre: Christian Fantasy

Age Level: YA

Content? Only a little; some blood. No swearing or anything like that.

The Story: Sixteen-year-old Jason Masters has always doubted the stories of humans kidnapped by dragons and enslaved in another world. But when his brother Adrian leaves to rescue them, Jason is framed for murder and must go after him. In the other world, Koren, a young woman enslaved by dragons, discovers her special abilities and a mysterious black egg prophesied to be the doom of humans. Now, Jason and Koren must work together to free the slaves and fight the dragons’ tyranny.

This was a very cool premise, and enough of it was left at the end that I really need to read the three sequels and find out what happens. This was just the beginning of the story, but it was a great start.

The Characters: I really enjoyed the characters in this book. Jason, Randall, Elyssa, Tibalt, Koren, Natalla, Wallace, Arxad, the dragon prince, Magnar, and Zena were all really interesting. Tibalt provided great comic relief. My favorite character was probably Jason; I enjoyed his heroic idealism. I liked all the characters though (except Magnar, that evil dragon), and I’m looking forward to watching them develop more in the sequels.

The Writing: Bryan Davis is quite a good writer. I don’t remember catching any grammatical errors or anything like that, which is always good. He’s also really good at deep third-person POV. And the worldbuilding of the two worlds was really interesting, particularly the blend of technology levels in the humans’ world, though this was a bit confusing initially.

Overall: Very good book; looking forward to the sequels! Definitely recommended.

What do you think? Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Do you want to read it? Share in the comments!

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Story Starters #7: The Fellowship of the Ring

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Good morning, everyone, and happy March! This month marks my first anniversary of blogging here at The Story Scientist, and I thought I’d recall where I began, with a book quote analysis of The Fellowship of the Ring. Today, I have rather less of the book to analyze for you all, since the first paragraph is only one sentence, albeit a long one. So let’s analyze!

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This is the version that I have.
  • When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. There’s quite a bit going on in just this one sentence. Firstly, we start with the character of Bilbo Baggins, which makes a good transition into The Lord of the Rings for those who have read The Hobbit. The mention of his “eleventy-first birthday” sets the time of the story as many years after the events of The Hobbit, and the mention of talk and excitement indicates that Bilbo has developed a reputation, which is developed in the next paragraph. And what better way to hook a reader than with talk and excitement? We know something’s going to happen, and setting this sentence as its own entire paragraph gives us a moment to take that in before moving on.

Today’s has been a very short analysis, but really, I love Tolkien (as you may have noticed by my having written two other posts about his books–do check them out if you haven’t read them). And so I leave you until next week.

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Goodbye!

What do you think? Have you read The Fellowship of the Ring? (If not, why on earth–I mean, I highly recommend it.) What do you think of its beginning? Are you hooked by this sentence? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Tell me in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Good morning! First, a quick note about scheduling. This post was supposed to go up this past Saturday, but I unfortunately got sick and couldn’t finish it in time. Sorry for that little slide in regular scheduling! Now on to the review.

Originally what caught my attention about Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas was the title and the striking cover. Then, since it’s such a popular book, I read a lot of contrasting reviews of it on Goodreads, and Victoria Howell’s review got me even more curious. So I read it last month to decide what I thought of it, and the winner is . . . mixed feelings! Here’s my full review.

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Information for Readers
Genre: Fantasy
Age level: YA–I’d say 16 and up. See notes about content.
Content? Quite a lot: violence, mild swearing, fairly graphic descriptions of dead bodies, and a fair bit of innuendo.
The Story: After a brutal year in forced labor, eighteen-year-old notorious assassin Celaena Sardothien is selected as a competitor for King’s Champion. After each test, contestants are eliminated–and some start dying gruesome deaths in between. Celaena, Crown Prince Dorian Havilliard, and Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall must figure out who (or what) is behind the deaths before she becomes next on the hit list.
This was an interesting and suspenseful storyline with a lot going on. The subplot of the love triangle held my interest as well, though it was a bit stereotypical.
The Characters: There were rather a lot of these, between the contestants (of some of whom it was said “there were five soldiers” or whatever, but still), some of the noble sponsors, a ghost queen, the living king and his minions, a visiting princess, and of course, Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol. It could be a little confusing at times, but I was mostly able to keep track of them. Generally, I liked Nox, Nehemia, and Chaol the best; Chaol was easily my favorite.
A lot of the reviews I read differed in their opinions of Celaena, and on reading this book, I can see why. There’s a lot going on within her character. She’s an assassin who lost her parents at a young age, likes to read and play piano, and is a kick-butt heroine but loves clothes and candy. I guess all the contradictions and complexities made her realistic and multidimensional, but at times, it felt a little forced. I did like the way she grew over the course of the book, from thinking she couldn’t care for anybody at the castle and she’d run away at the first opportunity to walking away from that opportunity because she’d grown to care for Dorian and Chaol. I think that was a nice arc. I guess I liked her, but she wasn’t my favorite lead character ever.
I can say something similar for Dorian, except I liked him less. Upon reflection, I feel like he’s sort of a good-looking scuzzball who happens to be a noble prince. I thought Chaol was the more worthy member of the love triangle.
The Writing: As I mentioned, there was a lot going on in this book. It was all woven together very skilfully and always kept me interested to go to the next page or chapter. The worldbuilding was also good; I liked all the political strife going on between different countries, and the fact that that played into Celaena and her friends’ characters as well; for example, Celaena’s friend Nehemia is the princess of Eyllwe, a recently conquered country, visiting to learn more about her conquerors–supposedly. And Celaena herself is not from Adarlan originally. So generally it was a well-written book.
Overall: I thought this was a pretty good book, and I enjoyed the story but felt iffy about some of the characters. I probably won’t be reading the sequels, just because there are so many other things I’d rather read and only so much time to read them. But overall, pretty good.
What do you think? Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Of the characters? Tell me in the comments!

Story Starters #6: Starlighter

Blood match. The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy.

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Hello, all! It’s the first Saturday of the month (February already!), so as is routine, I am analyzing the first paragraph of a book. Today, I have selected Starlighter by Bryan Davis, which I was delighted to get for Christmas (look for my review next month!). And without further ado, let’s analyze!

  • Blood match. The first sentence of a story always has to hook the reader (you can learn more on this blog), and in this case, it’s done perfectly. It gives us some idea of what’s going on while enticing us to learn more. It’s also a thought, so we know we’re starting with a character right from the get-go, which is not always the case. It leads right into the next sentence.
  • The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Ah, here’s our point-of-view character. Just from this sentence, we can glean a bit about Jason: he’s a warrior of some sort, a swordsman, and the cadence of the words indicates his excitement; he’s probably young. (Given that this is a YA book, we’d probably already know that, but we can pick it up from the sentence, too.) We also learn about our setting and situation from this sentence: Jason is at a tourney, right in the ring, as a competitor, so this world has at least some medieval elements. If we like medieval fantasy, as I do, this encourages us to read on.
  • Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy. Here we learn more about the situation. This must be a pretty important, well-publicized tourney, if there’s a crowd. And “potential for bloodletting” raises the stakes for Jason; what if he gets hurt? It heightens interest for the reader. Finally, as with the previous sentence, we can get some of Jason’s excitement (and nerves) from this; the simile of a beating drum mirrors how Jason’s heart is probably beating faster in this situation. This wraps up the first paragraph with a quick, neat hook, character and setting introductions, and high stakes, making it a great enticement to read the rest of the book.

That’s it for me today! I’ll be back next Saturday with a science post.

What do you think? Did you notice something else about these three sentences that I didn’t cover? Have you read Starlighter? Tell me in the comments!

Story Starters #4: Dreamlander

Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this one was sure trying its best.

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Good morning! It’s the first Saturday of the month (how is it December already?), and that means I’m analyzing the first paragraph of a book, today, Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you may have noticed that I’ve ranted about this book before (a couple times). I read it a few months back and absolutely loved it, so why not make an excuse to look at it again?

Now, on to the sentence-by-sentence breakdown! It’ll be short today.

  • Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. As Weiland herself teaches on her award-winning blog, a book needs to hook the reader from the first sentence. As soon as we read this, we’re left subconsciously wondering, “Wow, why would the main character be thinking about this?” And we get our answer in the next sentence.
  • But this one was sure trying its best. This is a great second line to set up a wonderful hook. It leads into a major premise of the book (the idea that we live a second life in a different world, reflected in our dreams). It also gives us a better glimpse into the voice of the main character, Chris, whom we meet by name in the next paragraph.
  • The shortness of this first paragraph deserves special mention. While some books do well with longer, descriptive intros, I find that a short first paragraph has a special kind of punch to it, something that, when done well, can really hook the reader. That’s what we see here.

That’s all for me today! What do you think? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Do you like short first paragraphs, like this one? Does this want to make you read this book? (You really should read it. It’s awesome.) Or have you read it already? (In which case, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!) Tell me in the comments!

Story Starters #3: Redwall

It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny  noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights.

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Hello, all, and happy November! It’s the first Saturday of the month again, which means it’s time for a story starter post. This month’s subject, Redwall by Brian Jacques, was one of my favorites when I was younger. My library had (still has) a whole bunch of them, and I absolutely devoured them. They’re great books. 🙂

For those who don’t know, in Story Starters I analyze the first paragraph of a novel. I had a bit of trouble deciding what to count as the first paragraph of Redwall; there’s a poem on the page before the paragraph I listed above, but it’s one of three paragraphs that come just before the actual beginning of the story. I concluded that, since this is the first prose paragraph we actually read, that’s the paragraph I’d put. So let’s do a quick sentence-by-sentence analysis.

  • It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. This first sentence does little more than start introducing us to the setting; it’s summer. This will be built on in further paragraphs.
  • Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny  noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights. As you can probably tell right away, this second sentence is much longer than the first. The contrast draws the reader in to this beautiful description of the setting. We get to like Mossflower right away (besides which, it’s such a great name for a setting). The mention of twilight provides a good avenue to introduce Redwall Abbey, the principal setting, in the next paragraph.

Well, this month’s was a short post, but I’ll be back next week with a science post. See you then!

Have you ever read Redwall? Did you like it? Are you planning to read it? What did you think of this (albeit short) excerpt? Tell me in the comments!

Story Starters #2: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

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(Just to forewarn you, Mr. Tolkien is perhaps entirely responsible for my love of fantasy. I might gush a bit. And now that you’ve been warned, let’s all gush together. :P)

Hello, and welcome to the second installment of my “Story Starters” blog posts! On the first Saturday of each month, I analyze the beginning of a book, any book, and today, it happens to be a very good book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

 

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Yes, that’s right: the hobbit.

So let’s jump right in and do a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the first paragraph!

  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This one is pretty self-explanatory. As we’re reading the first sentence (unless we’ve seen the movie first, precious), we are sitting here wondering: what the heck is a hobbit? It’s a great hook; it poses a question that we, the readers, would really like answered. Tolkien gets to that by paragraph three, but he has to give us some hints first, which leads us to sentence two.
  • Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. The first thing that jumps out at me is how long this sentence is. Grammatically, it makes a great contrast with the first sentence; it’s long and meandering and draws us in by Tolkien’s vivid imagery. And it gives us some great hints about what hobbits are not, and by the end, something of what they are. The mention of comfort particularly strikes me as foreshadowing the main character and theme of the book in the very first paragraph. (My analytical writer brain is geeking out right now. I mean, isn’t that foreshadowing just awesome?!?)

And that’s it for this extraordinarily short post. I hope it had enough insights to make up for its brevity.

What do you think? Isn’t Tolkien a genius? Have you read The Hobbit? (If not . . . *shakes head* Just go read it, okay?) Do you have any further analysis that perhaps my tired brain didn’t pick up? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

Story Starters #1: By Darkness Hid

A short introduction today: You may have noticed that this is not my usual post. Usually, I post about book quotes on the first Saturday of the month, but to be honest, I’ve gotten a bit bored with that, since it’s difficult to find good book quotes that I’m not saying all the same things about as I analyze them. The first paragraphs of books, however, are all different, and I think it will be interesting to look at how different stories start off. Hence “Story Starters.”

Onward to today’s selection!

Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic. He clutched a wooden milking pail at his side and held a flickering torch in front to light his way.

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This is the first paragraph of the first book in Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings trilogy, which I highly encourage you to check out if you haven’t already! We begin following hero of the book Achan on his journey as he heads out to the barn to milk the goats. This beginning is really descriptive, meant to get us into the world of the book and the head of our main character. Let’s go through it sentence by sentence.

  • Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. We start right off with our main character’s name. We know whose point of view we’re in right off the bat, which keeps it clear for us who we’re following. His stumbling hints at his lower rank in society; if Williamson had portrayed him as more confident, striding, perhaps, instead of stumbling, we might have gotten the impression that he was higher up than he is. And lastly, the darkness and the barn give us the first hints of a setting. We get into this more in the next sentence.
  • The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic. This sentence tells us more about the setting. It’s morning, and since we already know from the last sentence that it’s dark, it must be early morning. This, combined with the reference to Achan’s clothing and his discomfort at the cold, confirm that he is some kind of lower servant sent to do a menial task at the crack of dawn.
  • He clutched a wooden milking pail at his side and held a flickering torch in front to light his way. This sentence just gives us more information about what Achan is doing (it later turns out he’s milking goats) and the tools he uses to do it. At this point, the reader has already guessed from the castle-like building on the cover that this will be a medieval-style fantasy, and the primitive tools Achan is using help confirm that. So more details about the setting are conveyed here through what Achan is carrying.

Tell me, have you ever read this book? Did this beginning make you want to read it? What do you think of my new first-Saturday blog posts? Tell me in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland

Hello, all! It’s the third Saturday of the month, which means I am writing about what I’m reading. More properly, today, what I read a month and a half ago. I am an avid reader of K.M. Weiland’s blog Helping Writers Become Authors, which you should go check out for helpful writing advice as soon as you’ve finished this post, so I put her fantasy book Dreamlander on my reading list and got it for my birthday. I read it in less than a week and absolutely loved it. So since I already had last month’s review lined up, here is Dreamlander‘s review today!

 

 

The Story: Chris Redston, Chicago journalist, wakes up in another world after having strange dreams about a woman warning him not to come to her. He finds out that all humans actually live in two worlds: Earth and Lael. When they are asleep in one world, they are awake in the other, living another life, but believe they are dreaming.

Chris is the Gifted, one in a generation who crosses between the worlds, and can bring things with him. Before being properly instructed in this power, he brings across a warlike leader, Faolan Mactalde, who died in Lael years before, resurrecting him in Lael–and causing the worlds to start breaking apart. Now, Chris must do all he can to defeat Mactalde and restore the balance of the worlds.

I loved this story! The conception of the two worlds and the nature of dreams was so original. There was a lot of politics going on in Lael, as well, and I loved how Weiland wove happenings in the two worlds together. I would like to say more here, but it really falls into the next two sections, so just read on.

The Characters: Weiland really hits character arcs on the head. I loved watching Chris grow into a leader, and watching the Searcher, Allara Katadin, grow with him. Chris was my favorite character, since he was just so relatable and fun to watch and an all-around nice guy, but there were many other great characters: Orias Tarn, Captain Quinnon, Pitch and Raz (the Riever comic-relief duo), Allara, Mike, and even Mactalde. All were quite compelling; only Allara’s characterization might have felt a little forced.

The Writing: So . . . K.M. Weiland is an amazing writer. It was awesome to see all her wise advice about story structure and character arcs and common writing mistakes written into a novel. Dreamlander is one of the best-written books I have ever read. The pacing was superb, the prose excellent, and the plot intriguing and suspenseful.

The worldbuilding was also fantastic. I really loved the uniqueness of Lael. It was sort of a medieval fantasy world with a steampunk vibe. I mean, hydraulic pistols, skycars, swords, and castles? Yes, please. It gave the air of an evolving world, not one in unnecessary stasis, especially when Chris brings over an Earth pistol to fight with (one that gives him more than one shot at a time) and Quinnon mentions how he’ll have to start giving those to his men, or something to that effect. It was just fantastic to read.

Overall: I loved this book. Five stars!

Have you ever read Dreamlander? Do you think you’ll try it now? (Do, please, I highly recommend it.) Do you like fantasy worlds that are evolving, and not in stasis? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

Beautiful People August 2016

Hi, folks! It’s August already, which means it’s time for another Beautiful People post. What is Beautiful People, you ask? It’s a link-up put out by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. They make up ten questions once a month, and we writers answer them for our characters. The whole point is to get to know our characters better.

This month’s Beautiful People is the appearance edition. My most distinctive character in Windsong (which you can read more about here if you want) is the protagonist, Crow. I already did Beautiful People for him once, but he’s my favorite, so he was bound to come up again anyway. I have also found a new photo for him (see below).

Crow:
Being a medieval fantasy character, he is not this modern-looking. There is also a major feature missing here, which I’ll get to in a minute.

 

1. Give a brief overview of their looks. (Include a photo if you want!)

(See above photo and read on!) Crow has black hair, dark gray eyes, and tanned skin from several years outside. He also has a number of scars from his traumatic past as a slave. The most prominent is a reddish one that extends from his right temple down his cheek, neck, and the right side of his chest, a permanent reminder of the wound that nearly killed him.

2. Share a snippet that involves description of their appearance.

“What happened here?” she [Krina] whispered.

“I don’t know.”

She looked up. A young man stepped out of the river. His black hair was slicked to his forehead, and his soaked clothes stuck to his wiry body. He carried a sword; its point dragged on the ground behind him. He lifted it and held it in front of him, staring at her with dark gray eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked.

(Sorry about the font difference; it doesn’t seem to have merged when I copied it from Scrivener.)

3. What is the first thing people might notice about them?

The scar. Also the perpetual intense look in his eyes.

4. What are their unique features? (Ex.: freckles, big ears, birthmark, scars, etc.)

Well, in addition to the scar mentioned quite a lot above, he, er . . . has other scars. There are scars all down his back, arms, and shoulders from where he’s been whipped. Basically, I’ve tortured him a lot.

5. How tall are they? What is their build? (Ex.: stocky, slender, petite, etc.)

He’s about 5’6″ at the start of the book, at age sixteen. Apparently above, I described him as wiry, but that’s really not right. Crow is more of a stocky, muscular type.

6. What is their posture like? How do they usually carry themselves?

I’ve never really thought about this, but I’ve always pictured him standing up straight. He likes to look down at as many people as he can.

7. Your character has been seen on a “lazy day” (free from usual routine/expectations): what are they wearing and how do they look?

Well, he looks rumpled, because he’s sleeping or just woke up from sleeping (usual routine is hunting in the forest by himself), but he’s wearing the same thing as ever: dirty, worn-out shirt and pants, things he’s snuck in and taken from the nearby seacoast village.

8. Do they wear glasses, accessories, or jewelry on a regular basis? Do they have any article of clothing or accessory that could be considered their trademark?

Not really. During the story, he picks up a sword, and he also carries a small knife and a bow.

9. Have they ever been bullied or shamed because of their looks? Explain!

Not so much because of his looks, but the slavedrivers certainly bullied him anyway, and younger slaves were sometimes a little nervous around him because of his scar.

10. Are they happy with how they look? If they could change anything about their appearance, what would it be?

He’s not particularly happy about being scarred (once he starts thinking about it, he decides it makes him ugly), but he feels it’s a part of him. (Of course, though, he would love to go back and never be a slave in the first place, and change his looks that way.)

That’s it for today! Come back next month for another Beautiful People post!

Did you do Beautiful People this month? (Post your link in the comments if you have!) If you haven’t done it before, do you think you’ll try it now? Tell me in the comments!