Sunday, July 23, 2017

Things I Learned in Florida

Last week, I spent seven days in the Ocala National Forest in Florida, helping at a summer camp as part of a missions trip with my church. It was my first time going to Florida, and while I didn't go to a beach or Disney World, what I did experience was amazing. I would definitely go again, so here are a few things I learned (and should remember) about the Ocala National Forest and Florida.

The team that went. 
  • There is no dirt. The dirt is sand.
  • It's either hot or hot and humid. Nothing else.
  • Gators croak and dig deeper in the water if you throw rocks at them.
  • Kids are kids no matter where they are from or what kind of life they live.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Florida has deer and squirrels.
  • Florida also has snakes, lizards, toads, and bugs everywhere, so watch out.
  • There are also bears.
  • Don't think about what's in the lake water.
  • Palm trees can be short and tall.
  • The lizards are fast.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Cockroaches like to hang out in bathrooms.
  • Mosquitoes are bigger and darker, which makes it easier to squash them.
  • Don't touch the mossy vegetation hanging from the trees because there are probably ticks.
  • Hot dogs are God's favorite food because they are made from a little of every creature He created.
  • Don't lose your team flag.
  • Be flexible.
  • Wear sunscreen and bug spray or you'll regret it.
  • It thunderstorms every day.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Bring extra clothes, especially underwear. 
  • If you have to use the bathroom, you aren't sweating enough.
  • Don't slide, you might get a splinter.
  • It takes longer than an hour for 40+ girls to shower, even if they are short showers.
  • Everybody is somebody. There aren't any nobodies.
  • Dirt is good. But we aren't not dirt. We are gifts from God.
  • Follow the instructions.
  • No PDA (pronounced: Puh-dAH)
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Bring your water bottle everywhere.
  • Andrew. Amber. Michael. Matthew. Come here. Sit down. Get back here. Listen. Get off me. Don't hit.
  • You can bribe kids with single digit dollars into doing almost anything.
  • If you don't like what's for dinner, eat it with a smile anyways.
  • Water is your favorite drink and whatever is being served is your favorite meal.
  • Say Amen.
  • The Forest is loud. It is also quiet.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Girls talk a lot.
  • If you sneak out, you will regret it.
  • If you are wet, wait about ten minutes and you'll be dry.
  • Most bugs in Florida want to bite you.
  • If a big white van pulls up, get in.
  • The sky is blue, even when it's thundering.
  • The sky is also huge.
  • The Forest in Florida is basically a jungle and a forest smashed together. Meaning you can get attacked by a bear and trip over vines and jungle-y ferns at the same time.
  • Bugs literally drop from the ceiling. So do children.
  • There are gigantic red ant things and gigantic red wasp things. Both sting. 
  • Pool sticks are for playing pool. Not hitting.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • The best way to arm wrestle is to scream.
  • If your feet can't touch the bottom of the lake, find someone who is taller than you.
  • If you hear Pastor Dave's voice, stop talking and listen.
  • Breakfast is at nine. If you're late, your breakfast is cereal.
  • Drive 75 mph in a 55 mph zone. 
  • Make sure your navigator knows he or she is the navigator.
  • If you feel something land on your legs, smack it.
  • 3AM doesn't exist.
  • Drink lots of water.
Dinner after the camp week was over! Do we look tired?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Beautiful People: July 2017


For some writers, July means scrambling to write as many words as possible for Camp Nanowrimo. For me, it means I'm in the depths of editing--at least this time. And surprisingly, it's going well. Maybe it's the story, maybe it's my motivation, maybe it's something else entirely--either way, I'm going to keep at it while it lasts. So for Beautiful People this month, Sky and Cait decided to feature questions not about characters, but about the authors to commemorate Camp Nanowrimo's craziness!

So sit down, grab the closest mythological beast (for cuddles, obviously), and learn about me, the author.

Questions

How do you decide which project to work on?

(Me, basically)

Usually, the project picks me. Whatever story (or character) won't leave me alone is what I focus on. But sometimes I have to postpone stories in order to edit or move forward with long-term projects. (I still keep a notebook or computer document handy to write down any ideas that come my way, though. Don't want to lose those!)

How long does it usually take you to finish a project?
What is this word... finish?


Just kidding! It really depends on the story. If I'm participating in Nanowrimo, sometimes I can finish a first draft in a month. If I'm working on editing, I have no idea how long it'll take, considering I've never finished editing a project yet. But mainly, it depends on what story I'm telling, what part of the process I'm focused on (read: drowning in), and what else is happening in my life.

Do you have any routines to put you in the writing mood?


Ha ha. Just kidding. Not really? I just have to be focused. So if something is distracting me or I need to do something first, I have to do that in order to focus on writing. Most of the time.

What time of day do you write best?
I'm most productive at night, when it's quiet, but I'm usually always writing. Even if I'm not writing on my computer or with a pen to page, my mind is dwelling on writing, forming stories and worlds, learning about characters--it's all there.


Are there any authors you think you have a similar style to?
According to the "I Write Like" website, I have a similar style to... Agatha Christie


Not sure that I do, but okay then. I'm not sure who I have a similar style to, though. (If anybody has read my work, let me know in the comments who I'm similar to!)

Why did you start writing, and why do you keep writing?
I can't recall why I started. As a wee child, I must have had an idea and decided to write it down. But I keep writing because it's the best way I can communicate. It's the best way for me to express myself. And it's the best way to make me feel alive. (Annd....)


What’s the hardest thing you’ve written?
That 20 page lit theory paper in college was a disaster.

(Me, when I finished)

Is there a project you want to tackle someday but you don’t feel ready yet?


I have a lot of projects I'd like to tackle someday. My idea bank won't stop. I have plenty of Pinterest boards to help me gather ideas for when I'm ready. A lot of ideas--like the Airplane Novel or my fairy tale retellings or my Peter Pan retelling--would require more research and re-reading stories. Other stories, like my space opera and my superhero novel, just require having time to do so. (And probably the best mood/frame of mind to do so.)

What writing goals did you make for 2017 and how are they going?

(Me explaining my 2017 goals)

I never publicly announced any writing goals for 2017, but I think the big thing I want to focus on is editing and rewriting my library novel. I'm in the depths of editing now, which requires re-reading the story and figuring out what needs to be fixed and improved. So I'd say so far it's going well. A lot better than earlier this year when I found it difficult to write or edit anything. If I could finish this story up enough for beta readers by the end of the year, that would be stupendous.

Describe your writing process in 3 words or a gif!


Okay, okay. Just kidding. It's more like this:

(Three gifs, sue me.)

What does your writing process look like? Let me know if you're participating in Beautiful People!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber

Ever since I read the Storm Siren trilogy by Mary Weber, I've been waiting for another book by this lovely author. When I learned she was releasing a YA science-fiction novel, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, I was stoked and placed the book as one of my most anticipated reads for 2017. I finally finished the book toward the end of June (come on, I had to read all the library books I had checked out first), and while the ending left me eagerly anticipating the sequel, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. (And the cover is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm still not over it.)

Synopsis

Sofi Snow, an online gamer and hacker, assists her brother Shilo in the Fantasy Fighting arena, which consists of real and virtual games put on by Earth's ruling corporations. When a bomb takes out part of the arena--and supposedly her brother with it--Soft sets off to find answers, clear her own name, locate her brother, and effectively disappear. But to do so means confronting the Delonese, an alien race that live on the ice planet that currently orbits Earth, and teaming up with someone from her past--someone who hurt her. 

My Thoughts

This book had it all: a female character who is good at hacking and gaming, diverse characters, sibling relationships, excellent world-building, and a focus on real-world issues that are often times overlooked or left unaddressed. I was thoroughly impressed with how much was packed into this 350-page book and how well Mary Weber addressed all those issues.

Sofi Snow is a badass. She not only escapes confinement with practically nothing, but she can navigate a computer system with just as much ease, and that's awesome. I'm glad there's a least one book out there with a female character who thrives in the gaming/hacking world. It was a nice change of pace than other YA novels. Miguel was an interesting character. I liked that he was bilingual and had crazy colored hair. I knew there was much more to him than surface level, so I enjoyed watching his character unfold and reveal itself in surprising ways.

The world-building was definitely interesting and well-developed. There was a lot of cool technology incorporated, yet it still felt reasonable and believable. The government system, the games, even the strange aliens and their world was incredibly detailed and thought out. The reason I'm so wary of a lot of YA dystopian is that I feel like the world-building is only half-there (and the plot is only half-there as well). But that is not the case with The Evaporation of Soft Snow. This world feels alive and lived in, it feels like a natural progression from our world.


Of course there were a few things here and there that didn't work for me. Sometimes there was too much information or too much going on that I couldn't keep up. It also referenced Miguel's blackmail photos for ages without revealing even a hint of what it could be. (I honestly prepared for the worst and was surprised when it wasn't as bad as I had thought.) But she does an excellent job touching on a lot of real-world issues. From human trafficking to mental illness to how girls are treated because they're friendly (not flirty), this book highlights a lot of issues, both big and small. And I'm thankful that Mary Weber chose to include these things instead of ignoring them. The book also as a largely diverse cast, which she based on people from her own life. I think that was important and impactful as well.

Now, we have to talk about that ending. That ending. Mary Weber's first book, Storm Siren, ended on a pretty huge cliffhanger that left me screaming. I never thought she would do that again, but I was wrong. (Why was I wrong? Why didn't I see it coming?) The Evaporation of Sofi Snow ends. It just ends without a significant resolution, without even a warning. It ends. And I am so angry! Now I have to wait almost a whole year to find out what happens next. (The agony!)

Overall, I enjoyed The Evaporation of Sofi Snow. It's similar to Ender's Game, The Hunger Games, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, for all different reasons. (Which sounds pretty awesome to me.) I liked the characters, the world-building, and the story. I liked the focus on family, on forgiveness, on doing the right thing, making the right decisions. There are a lot of twists and turns with this story, and it definitely did not disappoint. Mary Weber, you rocked it once again!


~I purchased The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber and chose to write a review of it of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~

Friday, July 7, 2017

Book Review: The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

Owlcrate's June theme was "Make It Out Alive," which centered around dystopian and survival stories. I have to say I was genuinely surprised with the book selection for this month, and I can definitely say it was my favorite part of the box. The book was The Sancastle Empire by Kayla Olson, a dystopian survival-thriller for fans of Lost and The Hunger Games.

Synopsis

When the Wolfpack takes over the world and its resources, Eden loses everything--her home, her family, her freedom. Her father, however, tells her about Sanctuary Island, the last neutral ground left on Earth. Determined to find both answers about her father's disappearance and a safe haven away from the Wolfpack, she escapes along with three other girls. But when they get to the island, things aren't what they seem. The island is full of deadly traps and new enemies, including the people Eden has come to know and care about. 

My Thoughts

I stayed up late finishing this book, and when I turned the last page and closed the book, all I could think was: WOW. I was surprised while reading The Sandcastle Empire. I've been wary of dystopian novels ever since The Hunger Games prompted tons of YA dystopians that were half-baked ideas of disappointment. But The Sandcastle Empire is far from disappointing or half-baked. It's clear while reading that Kayla Olson took her time developing the world, the characters, and the plot of her book. The Sandcastle Empire was terribly beautiful.

The world-building was believable, despite how scary that is, and how everything is explained over the course of the book worked well. We didn't get all the information right away, which made the book feel like it had a slow start. But this book is far from slow. There's a lot of tension and thrills throughout. Sanctuary Island is one creepy place, and it was intense to read.

The characters were also well-developed. I could easily tell the difference between the four girls, and later the three boys, after a only few pages of their introductions. Eden's first person POV was stunning. I never felt annoyed that I only had her side of the story. Her thought process was beautiful and full of so much meaning. The Sandcastle Empire also did an excellent job portraying anxiety and characters who help one another with anxiety. It was empowering to read.


The entire plot and story unfolded in an organic, logical way. Everything seemed to connect and work together to build upon the conflict and resolution. There was a little bit of romance, but it worked well. It wasn't the focus. There was a connection between characters. It happened. But the entire book didn't revolve around character A and character B getting together. There were more important things to do than finding a boyfriend or sleeping with someone. So I'm extremely satisfied with that. (Honestly, give Kayla Olson bonus points for writing a YA novel without all the typical YA tropes.)

The Sandcastle Empire is a slow read that builds, but in the best possible way. This is not a book to rush through; it's a book to take in, to let the words sink into your bones, and to think about what's being said. For now, it's a standalone, and I'm also grateful for that. I would like to spend more time with these character, to learn what happens after, but I'm also okay with the book being done and over. We'll see, though!

Basically, this book surprised me in the best possible way. I couldn't put it down. I read half of its 455 pages in one sitting, and I stayed up late trying to finish the rest of it. It was that good. The Sandcastle Empire reminded me of Lost, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Maze Runner all wrapped up in one, but it's definitely more than that. And I think I enjoyed it more than any of those other titles. I'm grateful this book was in June's Owlcrate because I'm not sure I would have picked it up otherwise, but you definitely should read this book. It was well-written and kept me on the edge of my seat. It already jumped high on my list of Best 2017 Reads. Kayla Olson is someone to keep your eye on.


~I received The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson in the June 2017 Owlcrate box. I chose to write a review of the book of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~