Book Review: Look Up!

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lookup-ccIn a fast-paced world that often makes us forget our humanity, we need to be reminded that life is more than work and paying the bills. Life is about breathing and soaking in the magic that comes with being alive. Jennifer A. Payne’s book, Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, offers both an exploration and reminder of how nature can save us from ourselves.

A simple walk through the woods is all it takes. Payne’s meditative journey begins on a wooded path surrounded by trees and with a question, “And how have I missed this before?” The wind through the trees and the crunch of leaves beneath her feet suddenly became the missing pieces she craved.

Look Up! is unique in that it combines quotations from the likes of Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau with spiritual thinkers such as the Dalai Lama and Krishnamurti. In between lines of poetry and philosophical ponderings are Payne’s personal essays that explore her meditative journey to reconnect with nature and ultimately herself. Her candor and wit makes her personal journey relatable and universal to anyone who feels overwhelmed by the pressures of modern life.

Payne’s use of diverse perspectives serves as a reminder that meditation isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing. For some achieving total mental stillness is a possibility, but for others the mind never stops ticking. In one of her personal essays, Payne puts out the idea that a constantly ticking brain isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of meditation.

Meditation is all about slowing down and redirecting all of our energy towards something that isn’t a to-do list. If we take the time to slow down and simply be, we might just learn something. Dragonflies and even a mushroom can carry a valuable lesson that is worth seeking and contemplating.

In addition to carefully selected quotations and essays, Look Up! includes beautiful photographs of Payne’s interactions with wildlife. Everything from raindrops on water to slithering snakes to autumn leaves elevates this little book into something very special. It truly invites the reader to take a personal journey. Whether it’s on an actual trail or vicariously through the pages, the meditative path is one worth pursuing.

I read Look Up! in three sittings, but I highly recommend treating it as a daily, weekly, or monthly devotional. It’s divided into months and seasons reminding us all that a journey takes time and patience.

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Click on the image to purchase Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness

Visit Jennifer A. Payne via her blog: Random Acts of Writing [+art]

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c.b.w. 2014

Clearing The First Hurdle

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When I sent my manuscript to my editor, I made a mental list of things I’d be willing to fight for if they disappeared or were changed beyond recognition. The list is actually very short, seeing as I walked into the process determined to stay open-minded to change.

In reading chapters five through ten, I knew one of my list items was on the horizon. And it wasn’t just any list item, it was one of my favorite parts of the entire story. As soon as I saw the heading for Chapter 10, I took a deep breath and hoped my original vision was largely intact.

Chapter 10 is a turning point in the story as this is where Ian’s secret is forced out of him. He can’t hide anymore and Amanda learns the truth behind his presence in her life. This moment between them is both emotional and magical.

What makes this particular part of the story so important to me is somewhat sentimental. It’s the first conversation I ever “heard” between my main characters, Amanda and Ian. There voices chimed into my imagination with such shocking clarity, I felt more like a transcriptionist than a writer.

The question, however, was whether my editor would see it the way I do. Her changes through chapters five through nine were relatively subtle (and extremely well done) and that gave me a little boost of confidence as I jumped into Chapter 10. That being said, I still made sure I wore my thick skin before reading even a single line. Thick skin is an important wardrobe accessory for any writer reading through edits!

After the first big breath at the start of the chapter, I don’t think I exhaled until the page before Chapter 11. Then, it took every bit of control I had not to jump up out of my chair and do a happy dance. The dialogue was relatively untouched and my original vision remained totally intact. The changes she made were quiet, yet powerful in that she made what I wrote flow with a little more elegance.

Now, I can relax a bit as one huge item on my list made it through my editor’s radar. Another big list item is coming in Chapter 12 and I’m still wondering what happened to my missing 23 pages and 7,000 words! But, for now, I’ll just bask in the fact that one hurdle has been cleared.

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c.b.w. 2014

The Flashback Conundrum

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As I embark on writing the sequel to The Muse, I find myself in the middle of an artistic quandary. Writing a series is tricky business, particularly when it comes to reminding the reader what happened in the previous book(s) in a subtle, yet effective way. It’s all too easy to alienate readers with overwhelming reminders or lose them by providing little or no details to jog the memory.

Having read multiple Young Adult series books, I’ve taken note of how each author handles the  “flashback conundrum.” The methods vary greatly from series to series, which makes me seriously question how I should handle the flashback conundrum that inevitably plagues every series.  Ultimately, it comes down to how much an author trusts the reader. In the YA genre, we are dealing with a generation with short attention spans, but also fangirl mentalities that forget nothing. It’s a paradox with no simple solution!

The methodology of crafting a series flashback seems to break down into four categories:

Snapshot Flashback

This method involves inserting nuggets of information within the first few chapters or the entire sequel in small doses. Flashback details are carefully chosen and strategically placed to keep the reader apprised of necessary information without detracting from the story as it pushes forward.

Best example: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga

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Prologue Flashback

Some authors choose to remind readers of key storyline details by crafting a prologue that directly states prior events or utilizes a similar story layout or literary technique to pull the reader back into the world that was created in previous volumes. In a sense, it works like a mnemonic device to trigger the memory.

Best example: Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush Saga

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Information Dump Flashback

This style of flashback tends to be unpopular, but unfortunately it still pops up in a number of series. The author essentially dumps large blocks of information either at the beginning of the sequel or in chunks throughout the installment. Most readers find this annoying and very distracting. I’d have to agree.

Best example: Luckily, I haven’t come across the information dump in recent YA reads, but it is very present in just about every Dan Brown book involving Robert Langdon since The Da Vinci Code. The Lost Symbol is the worst offender.

Invisible Flashback

There are a number of YA authors that implicitly trust their readers to remember every detail, look it up on wikipedia, or take the time to comb through the previous books. Little or no references to previous novels are included as readers are just expected to know everything.

Best example: Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series

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Authors of all genres have grappled with the flashback conundrum as there are undoubtedly far more than four methods. Still, the question remains which method is the  most effective and least annoying to readers? There is no easy answer as readers are as diverse as the books they read.

To all readers and writers out there, I put the question in your hands …

 

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c.b.w. 2014

Book Review: What I Was

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what_i_was_1At the cusp of adulthood, we are all looking for one thing: identity. Some find it quickly, while others linger in a fog of confusion. Meg Rosoff captures this enigmatic aspect of life with a powerful and emotional tale of self-discovery and friendship.

Near the end of his life, “H” reflects on his troubled youth. Bouncing from one boarding school to another, he finally lands at St. Oswald’s on the eastern coast of Britain. Despite being well aware that this is his last chance to prove to his parents he can rise to their expectations, he questions whether his path in life involves learning Latin, mastering maths, and wallowing in a second-rate boys school.  H is lost in a world constantly trying to force him into a life of conformity and he has yet to decide if he will join the masses or step outside the box.

Framing H’s dilemma is a beautifully crafted atmosphere of fog, chilly wind, mist and gray skies. Rosoff brilliantly allows the scenery to mirror the melancholy and isolation breathing inside of H as he struggles with the pain of growing up. The drab walls of St. Oswald’s could almost be the pale skin of a young man trying to find his place in the world.

As the tide begins to shift, so does the trajectory of H’s existence. One day, while walking on the beach, he meets Finn. What follows is an infatuation that drives H to break every rule in order to spend time with the young man who lives in a hut on the shoreline.

Finn is beautiful and everything H wants to be. Independent. Alone. Free. H’s emotions are intense and all-consuming, but much like everything else in his life they are hard to define. The question of whether it is love, friendship, or envy is never answered, as H himself is unable to sort through the feelings driving his connection to Finn.

The relationship between H and Finn grows into one of comfort of companionship, but forces beyond their control pull them in different directions. Both find themselves fessing up to truths they’d rather forget and making choices that can’t be avoided. While this sounds like a typical coming of age story, Rosoff crafts a brilliant twist ending that leaves both H and the reader with a surprise neither saw coming.

Final Verdict: On goodreads, I gave this book (a rare) 5 stars. If it’s not on your shelf, if should be.

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c.b.w. 2014

Favorite Thing Friday: Last Books

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Any reader of a series has mixed feelings about the last book. This is especially true of Young Adult readers that spend large portions of their lives immersed in other worlds built of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance. We don’t just read these books, we live them. Even those of us well into our thirties. There’s something to be said for the magic and escape only Young Adult series books can offer.

Sitting on my bookshelf is no less than thirteen series of Young Adult novels. I anxiously wait for the next book in each series to come out and I buy it the day it hits stores. In many cases, I drop whatever I’m currently reading, so I can dive right into the newest addition of a given series. That is until the series concludes with the last book. Part of me is ready to read it in one sitting, but the other more powerful side is hesitant to even crack open the cover.

Over the last year I’ve made a pile of books, each of which are the last book of a series. They sat and collected dust as I found myself wedged between two very strong emotions. On one end there’s the uncontainable excitement of finally learning the fates of much beloved characters. One the other end is the sadness of having to bid them goodbye. Thanks to the evidence of dust, its easy to guess which end of the dichotomy rules my psyche.

Once the dust layer started evolving into dust bunnies, I knew it was time to get over my crippling hesitance. Since January, I’ve managed to clear four last books from the pile and it’s been an interesting experience of highs and lows.

Allegiant (Divergent Series) by Veronica Roth

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The first foray into last books almost doomed my mission from the start. I loved the first two books of Roth’s thrilling Divergent series, but the last book left me feeling cheated and angry. I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed with a book at every level (i.e. character development, end of story, legacy, etc.). The silver lining: It was super easy to let go considering the entire series was essentially ruined.

Beautiful Redemption (Beautiful Creatures Series) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

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This last book more than made up for the disaster of Allegient. It offers a satisfying ending to a fantastic series in that it gives the story a solid ending without becoming predictable. My only complaint was the use of multiple points of view (I hate that. See One YA Reader’s Desperate Plea), but ultimately the story was strong enough to overcome that one little glitch.

Rapture (Fallen Series) by Lauren Kate

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Another fantastic last book. Not only does it deliver on wrapping up multiple story lines, but it includes a completely unexpected plot twist. In addition, the last chapter is perhaps one of the best endings ever conjured. Beautifully done.

Clockwork Princess (Infernal Devices Series) by Cassandra Clare

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Clare certainly knows how to weave a mesmerizing tale, but she does get a little carried away in some places, (i.e. scenes that go on much too long, repetitive dialogue, etc). This is somewhat forgivable as her characters are interesting and very likable. The final book offers a satisfying ending, but the epilogue left me scratching my head a bit as it diminished the emotional conflict of the entire series.  Still, it was a pretty darn good book!

Currently, I am immersed in the final book of Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush SagaFinale. So far, I have no complaints. One of Fitzpatrick’s strengths is character development in that she allows her characters to grow without letting them grow too far out of their skin (a common problem in YA).The story is progressing nicely and I am becoming more and more curious of how it will all end. For that reason, last books are my favorite thing this week!

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Next on the list is City of Heavenly Fire (Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare. It won’t be released until later this month, but I am anxiously awaiting its arrival, (even though this series was technically supposed to end two books ago). I promise no dust will be collecting on this last book!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2014