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July 2016

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I get the distinct feeling I’ve done this before.

Well, July is just about done. The main thrust of the month for me has been Camp NaNoWriMo, in which I wrote 40,000 words—an amount which I’m quite pleased with, as it’s all gone into the second draft of The Teller’s Apprentice, my current writing project.

There was about a week in which I wrote nothing because I was sick. As a result I got to today and had to write 5343 words before tonight, as I don’t write on Sundays and tomorrow is the last day of the month. 5.3K is more than my usual cup of tea, but I managed it.

And with things apart from writing—this month I went on an adventure. With two of my brothers and a couple of friends I went on the buses through the city to visit a kid’s camp my older brother was helping to run. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like that, and despite a few planning deficiencies, I quite enjoyed the day.

Otherwise, life has been fairly normal. I’ve reread a few books, kept up to date with blogs and forums. Baby sister Rebekah is growing well. She’s had the same nasty cold I did, but she’s more or less over it by now, which is a relief. The younger kids have been excited today because another sister got the Lego set she’s been waiting for for months—very patiently too, I might add. All in all, life.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, I pray you’re doing well.

Matthew

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2016 in Randomness

 

She’s Here!

This is Rebekah Carolyn Sampson. She was born yesterday (6/6/16) at around 2 in the afternoon. Mum had an emergency caesarean section and is now recovering in hospital. These pictures are all I’ve seen of Rebekah so far, and I can’t wait until I can go to the hospital and hold her for the first time.

Proud big brother here. :D

Matthew

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2016 in Friends and Family

 

Reading

A World Without Heroes

Brandon Mull

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A World Without Heroes was a good book. Two teens from Earth, Jason and Rachel, enter the world of Lyrian and are thrust into a quest to find six syllables of an ancient word of the language of creation. When this word is spoken in the presence of the dark wizard Maldor, who rules much of Lyrian, it will destroy him and end his evil reign.

Jason was an excellent main character. He’s a typical high schooler who likes baseball and anatomy. (Maybe that last part isn’t so typical, but hey.) Though a bit confused by his entrance into Lyrian, Jason adapts to the new world well. The part which demonstrates this best (and my personal favourite part of the book) was when he enters Lyrian high society and pulls it off. The character arc was one of reinforcement rather than redemption, and I enjoyed seeing Jason strengthen as a heroic character over the course of this book—even when he faced the consequences of his heroic choices.

Rachel was a strong supporting character, brave and assertive. A note of warning: The way Rachel has been homeschooled is by no means the typical homeschooling experience. I myself am a homeschooler, and although I smirked at some of the descriptions of her life, no homeschooler I know goes on field trips around the world.

The villain, Maldor, was one unlike I’ve ever seen before. Sure, he’s a dark wizard and a dark lord, but not the typical cackling, evil tyrant. An evil tyrant, yes, but not a cackling one. What I found most compelling about Maldor was the way he controls the world of Lyrian—by withholding knowledge. Maps are forbidden, travel is discouraged, punishment is quick and ruthless. Yet he respects his enemies and, instead of destroying them, offers them pleasure and neutrality in the Eternal Feast. And, of course, a certain revelation Maldor brought up close to the end—perhaps The Plot Twist of the book—is another example of the complex character he is.

We saw several supporting characters come and go. Ferrin and his abilities as a displacer—being able to detach his body parts—were hilarious, and I truly enjoyed every scene of his. (I’ve imagined such abilities before, but I’ve seen very few stories which utilise displacing abilities.) I also enjoyed Jasher, Drake and the Blind King.

The lack of profanity and sexual content was refreshing. In addition, the main theme—the true nature of heroes—was one I enjoyed reading very much. Mull could improve in some areas on wordsmithing, foreshadowing and connectivity—the subtleties of writing, basically—but he is by no means a bad author, and I look forward to reading the rest of the Beyonders series and Mull’s other books.

Recommended.

Other books I’ve read or want to read:

 


Have you read any of these books? What else have you been reading lately?

Matthew

(For those interested, there are no news on Number 11. Mum and Dad have been in and out of the city—they’re out there now for an appointment—but the baby hasn’t started coming yet.)

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Book Reviews, Books

 

May 2016

I’m fully aware that I skipped the April 2016 summary post, but I have my reasons. Imagine me in dark clothing with a sinister smirk. May 2016 was a full month for me, which indicates why I haven’t posted recently, but I hope to start slowing my life down a bit soon.

A bit of background for those who haven’t met me in person: I have nine siblings. Perhaps the most important thing happening right now is that my mother’s in the city and expects to be delivering a new sibling any time soon. There’s a general air of anticipation here at home, and my parents and grandparents have switched houses until Number 11 arrives. Myself, I’m simmering with excitement and waiting to boil over when the call finally comes.

New additions to the family aside, let’s move on to what I’ve been doing this past two months!

Writing takes top of the list. For some weird reason.

  • As my most recent post attests, I entered Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Primarily to get the Scrivener discount, I accept, but I wrote more than 20,000 words of planning and outlining on two different projects: The second draft for The Teller’s Apprentice and a short story currently entitled The Sharakiva Games. That last one I’m not writing any time soon, but it was nice to have a break from The Teller’s Apprentice for a while.
  • In May I completed my outlining for The Teller’s Apprentice and, over the last two weeks, wrote 36,000 words. I discovered recently, however, that both my point of view characters needed much stronger motivations and goals—from which I get a feel for the overall story—and so back to the outline I went. I’m still working on revising the outline with those goals and motivations in mind, but I hope to restart writing again soon.
  • I found out that I can write 4000 words a day. Doing so takes its toll on me as the days pile up, but I’m hoping to improve my word count per day and keep the balance with my life and mood.

Reading is probably the most interesting part, I guess. For you at least.

  • As a summary from last post, I finished the Ranger’s Apprentice and Goldstone Wood series back in April. I snapped up both Songkeeper and The End of All Things when they came out and enjoyed them both. You’ll recall that I reviewed those two last books in April.
  • I started reading Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series but didn’t like the content. Then Karen Traviss’s Halo: Glasslands and got put off by the profanity. I’ll give the Halo universe another try with Halo: Cryptum, which is by a different author.
  • I read and loved Karen Miller’s Clone Wars: Wild Space! Obi-Wan Kenobi is my favourite Star Wars character, and the pressure he was placed under and the choices he made in his suffering were so compelling my heart was still racing when I finished. I also enjoyed Miller’s portrayals of Yoda, Bail Organa, Anakin, Ahsoka, and the Jedi in general.
  • I’m currently reading Brandon Mull’s Beyonder series. I finished the first book today and really liked it. I’ve posted a review to Goodreads, which I intend to transfer here sooner or later.

Life finds its place waaaay down here. Poor thing.

  • Aside from the announcement earlier in this post…little things. Little steps. I started making to-do lists and keeping a calendar of my events on my wall. I reinforced my writing craft. I wrote a blog post today. I turned on music and danced with my younger siblings. I started getting up earlier to an alarm. I started going for walks to figure out problems in my writing. I prepared and argued in a debate about physical education. Little things, little steps, but which are becoming habits.

And finally my plans for June.

  • Turn nineteen. Top of the list.
  • I intend to buy Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist when the ebook version drops to US$1.99. I’ve been waiting to read this book for a long time but haven’t been able to convince my library to buy it. To make matters worse, my older brother—who often drives into the city for work—has read it at the city libraries, and I don’t want to hear anything that happens until I’ve read it myself.
  • Brandon Sanderson’s graphic novel White Sand is coming out this month! I’ve read all the sample pieces I can find. Here’s hoping my library decides to buy it, because it looks quite expensive on Amazon.
  • Those two books above are on my calendar.
  • I want to finish Brandon Mull’s Beyonders series and read the other books of his at my library.
  • I want to finish my outlining and leap back into rewriting The Teller’s Apprentice, second draft.

What have you done in May? What do you plan to do in June?

Matthew

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Monthly Summaries

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Reading

It’s time for another post on books! Thus far I’ve read 13 books in April, including the three books I mentioned in my last post (The End of All Things, Songkeeper and Oakleaf Bearers). In the Ranger’s Apprentice series I’ve finished Erak’s Ransom and am now awaiting The Kings of Clonmel at my local ebook library, which should be available again in two days’ time.

Today I’m reviewing four books: Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Kinsman Chronicles and Songkeeper.

Darkness Reigns, The Heir War, & The End of All Things

Jill Williamson

The gods are angry.

Volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, ground shakers–everything points to their unhappiness. At least that is what the king of Armania believes. His son, Prince Wilek, thinks his father’s superstitions are nonsense, though he remains the ever dutiful First Arm of Armania.

When a messenger arrives and claims that the town of Farway has been swallowed by the earth, the king sends Wilek to investigate. But what Wilek discovers is more cataclysmic than one lost city. Even as the ground shifts beneath his feet, Wilek sets out on a desperate journey to save his people and his world. But can he do it before the entire land crumbles?

Williamson is excellent at worldbuilding and character motivation. Her world is fresh and tangible, her characters distinct and well-developed. Wilek is probably my favourite so far. Each character has a part to play in the story and a sense of closure at the end, and the character growth is very well done. One remarkable character arc was that of Oli Agoros, who regrets the life he’s chosen and the master he’s chosen to serve. At the end of the book he makes a decision to stop being controlled, and although it doesn’t solve every problem in his life, it’s a step in the right direction. I hope to see him grow in the next six parts of the Kinsman Chronicles.

The thematic conflict was well resolved. In Chapter 1, we see the superstitious Rosâr Echad sacrifice a criminal to the god Barthos in the Grey, which I believe is the same thing as Darkness in Williamson’s other series from this world, Blood of Kings. In the climax, Wilek is victorious over this. There are so many story threads from the first chapter resolved in the climax that I can just sit back and marvel. Excellently done, Jill Williamson.

The post-climax events of The End of All Things felt drawn out. After the climax, there is a lot to tie up, and the end of the book lacks the stakes that were resolved in the climax. Granted, this is written as one very long book, and there are smaller stakes at hand, but I still felt the end could have been clearer. On content, one of the villains is trying to seduce the main character so that their baby can fulfil an ancient prophecy, so I would recommend an older target audience for this series. 15+ or something. (As it was with the other series of Williamson’s I reviewed, Blood of Kings.) There is nothing in the books I found gratuitous, but be warned that there is a small amount of sexual content.

I would recommend this book to people of an appropriate age and maturity. As a token of how much I like this series, I’ve already preordered Parts 4, 5 and 6: Kingdom at SeaMaelstrom, and Voices of Blood.

Songkeeper

Gillian Bronte Adams

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War ravages Leira and the Song has fallen silent.

Freed from the hold of a slave ship, Birdie, the young Songkeeper, and Ky, a street–wise thief, emerge to a world at war. Hordes of dark soldiers march across Leira, shadowed by whispers of plague and massacres, prompting Ky to return to his besieged home city in hopes of leading his fellow runners to safety.

Desperate to end the fighting, Birdie embarks on a dangerous mission into the heart of the Takhran’s fortress. Legend speaks of a mythical spring buried within and the Songkeeper who will one day unleash it to achieve victory. Everyone believes Birdie is the one, but the elusive nature of the Song and rumors of other gifted individuals lead her to doubt her role. Unleashing the spring could defeat the Takhran once and for all, but can she truly be the Songkeeper when the Song no longer answers her call?

Songkeeper is an emotional book. Infused within its pages are hope and despair, joy and sorrow, horror and wonder. Her character development resonates. Her wordcraft is fine-tuned, melodious, evocative. Adams hits the perfect pitch of emotions in this book and ends on a note of quiet awe and longing.

The story was shorter than many other books in its genre, but Adams manages to develop her cast of characters well in that time. Amos, Birdie, Gundhrold, Ky, Cade—the characters we know and love from the last book—return. (And Meli. Yes. We saw more of Meli!) Adams introduces new characters. Migdon, who was remarkably well done from the very beginning. Sym, a strong and loyal young warrior. Inali, a young warrior-artist who has suffered so much. As the story goes on, we see more of where Inali has come from, and everything he does is so poignant, so relatable, so human. I hope to see him again in the third book.

We got to see the Takhran in this book, which I liked. There are many main villains who stand back and let their minions conquer the world for them. The Takhran doesn’t stand back—he stands out. He has an active plan and is following it. He takes precautions against the people he knows to be dangerous. And despite all his evil deeds and goals, the Takhran is portrayed as a person. Not as an inhuman force of evil, but a very human villain. Sociopathic in that he shows no conscience, but still human.

A few minor spoilers around the climax in this paragraph. Probably the largest issue I have with the book is the lack of closure. Songkeeper brings up a lot of questions and answers few of them. From the start we know that the Song has fallen silent, but the book refuses to explain why. The climax felt anticlimactic in that Birdie accomplishes nothing significant. A climax is where the story goal is completed, but in Songkeeper it’s almost as though Birdie fails her mission. She reaches where she needs to go and attempts what she needs to do, but the villain’s power is too much and she fails. I get that it’s the second book in what I expect will be a trilogy, which means Adams can begin at a low place in the third book and work up to a final victory, but still I felt the climax could have been improved here.

I have one quibble about the covers in this series. The font used for the Orphan’s Song cover is not the same as the one used for Songkeeper. I am a graphic designer and a perfectionist. I notice. I agonise. I hope the third book will use the same font as either one of them. *silent pleading*

Just a funny story about the Songkeeper Chronicles: A few years ago I planned a series called the Song Chronicles. Very similar in structure to Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper’s Curse of the Spider King, the series focused around a girl known as the Keeper of Songs in her home world. It had dinosaur people, language and song magic, and an ancient group of warriors called Blademasters who found and trained the Keeper of Songs to fight evil. Very much like the Berinfell Prophecies down to the unfolding claws of Drefids. I gave those to the dinosaur people…yeah.

Also, the last scene of Songkeeper has strong similarities to the end of The Teller’s Apprentice, the project I’ve been working on for the past year. The scenic structure is practically identical in both, although mine is much more drawn out.


Have you read these books? Tell me what you thought of them!

What other books have you been reading recently?

Matthew

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Book Reviews, Books

 

March 2016

Happy April Fool’s Day! Last night and this morning provided a lot of laughs for me. A younger brother stuck my mouse to the mouse pad with blue tack, and my sister hung a pink and blue dress on the clothes hooks I recently put up in my room. My older brother also switched around the drawers at my computer. Here’s a few of the pranks I pulled:

  • Hiding my dad’s biking/running gear in the washing machine
  • Replacing my dad’s phone with a toy one and his computer mouse with a Lego rat
  • Putting a tiny computer screen on my dad’s desk in front of his much larger one
  • Removing the refill from a brother’s pen
  • Pulling out all the plugs on another brother’s computer
  • Changing my mother’s desktop background—a picture of our family—to the same picture with my youngest brother’s face pasted over everyone else’s
  • Texting “Happy birthday” to a friend

And a few more, which were funny but not quite appropriate for public mention. All in all, today has been a great day for laughter and pranks, and I’m happy with what I’ve done this April 1st. That doesn’t mean I’m going to refrain in the American April 1st, though… Hey. It’s only once a year. Might as well play it to the fullest.

But anyway. Let’s move on.

March has been an intense month for me. Since August 2015 I’ve been recording how many words I’ve written each day, and this month I’ve found that I do well writing 2000 words daily. Take a look at this snapshot of my records. (As you can see, Friday is consistently my best writing day, and Thursday my worst.)

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Writing

  • I completed the first draft of The Teller’s Apprentice at 9:30 pm on the 29th! This developmental draft has ended with a massive 192,027 words and has taken me thirteen months to write—and the story I’ve written is a third of the story I originally planned with the OYAN course. I am so glad the thing’s done. Now I can leap into planning, reviewing, editing, revising, cutting and organising for the second draft. Which is shaping up to be much different from what I planned. Heheh.
  • I’m currently working on outlining 600 years of history for the Teller’s Apprentice world, Valdegurd. Since the story focuses a lot on story and history, this project is important to me, and I’m loving what I’ve got out of it so far.
  • Recently I’ve discovered that freewriting—taking a topic of my books and writing freely—is one of the best ways for me to develop my stories. Ideas come best to me when I’m putting them down on paper, and as I write more ideas flow and connect.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is this month! I may enter to work on my Histories of Valdegurd project, but we’ll see.

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Reading

  • I discovered the entire Sherlock Holmes bibliography in the public domain on Wikisource and read the entire The Return of Sherlock Holmes collection in one day.
  • I’m currently reading the Tales of Goldstone Wood series for the second time in a not quite chronological order: Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Shadow Hand, Goddess Tithe, Starflower. The next one on my list to read is Dragonwitch.
  • April offers new opportunities for new books! Part 3 of Jill Williamson’s Kinsman Chronicles, The End of All Things, is coming out on the 5th, and Ranger’s Apprentice #4: Oakleaf Bearers is becoming available in my library’s ebook collection on the 4th. I’m also eagerly waiting for Gillian Bronte Adams’ Songkeeper, book 2 in the Songkeeper Chronicles.

Life

  • Life has been…mainly focused around writing and reading this month, to be honest. So, Number 1: I finished my first draft!
  • Now that I’ve finished my developmental draft, however I intend to come out of my writer’s cave a little more. On the 31st I spent part of the afternoon organising games after our local writer’s group, which is composed of a few homeschooling families with children and teens aged from like one-year-olds to young adults almost 20.
  • This year is the second year I’ve done ballet, and I’m planning to do the Grade 5 ballet exam at the end of the year, which I chose not to do last year. I have two ballet lessons a week, one by myself and the other with a class of three girls, two of whom also go to the aforementioned writer’s group.

Plans for April

  • In April I plan to be a little more social than I have been in March.
  • Reading! The above books will be available soon, after which I hope to read the rest of the Sherlock Holmes bibliography, the rest of the Ranger’s Apprentice series and the rest of the Goldstone Wood series. Let’s see if I can get through them all in April.
  • As far as writing goes, I want to freewrite a lot, plan a lot, finish my Histories of Valdegurd project and sort out my ideas for the second draft of The Teller’s Apprentice. Which is likely not going to have the same title as the first draft.

What have you done in March? What do you plan to do in April?

Matthew

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Monthly Summaries

 

Liebster Award

I’ve been waiting for another tag recently, and Bonnie of Bonnie’s Blessings has just tagged me with the Liebster Award. I don’t understand the award part of it—it just looks like a tag to me—but I’m happy to do it nonetheless. Please be aware that I am in a sarcastic, satirical and critical mood and will therefore not be a good little boy and answer the questions just as they are.

Rules. All tags must have rules, I guess. I must first link back to the person who tagged me. Look in the first paragraph. Then I must answer all 11 questions. That’s down below. Next I must tag 11 bloggers who have less than a thousand readers. I object to the phrasing used here. Is it a thousand readers or a thousand followers? I officially follow one blog but read many more. It is nigh impossible to judge readers, so I will adjust the criticised statement to “11 bloggers who have less than a thousand followers”. Fourth I must ask these bloggers 11 questions, and lastly I have to make these people aware of their fortune through social media. (BTW. If you want a nice numbered list of the rules, pinch them off Bonnie’s post.)


 

1. What is the scariest thing you have ever done?
I…don’t know. I am not the sort of person who treats scary things as thrilling challenges. Does reading scary books count? Imagining scary book ideas? I recall being scared the first time I abseiled. And trying to phone people. (I do not like ringing people up.)

2. If someone asked you to give them a random piece of advice, what advice would you give them?
You don’t find time. You make time.

3. Who are some famous people (currently alive) that you would like to meet someday?
What constitutes a famous person? There are some people I know of and respect and would love to meet in person, so I’ll go with them. Daniel Schwabauer. Brandon Sanderson. Christopher Hopper. Probably a few more who I can’t think of at this point. But really I’d prefer to meet the friends I haven’t spent time with in person.

4. Do you like to plan things out in detail or be spontaneous?
Oh, I plan my books out in detail. And then I’m spontaneous when I write them. Basically I build upon my plans with spontaneity. (I find the fact that I do so quite amusing.)

5. What is your favourite joke?
I have no favourite joke. I appreciate most jokes, but I do not have a favourite one.

6. Who or what in your life has influenced you the most?
That’s really not a fair question. How am I meant to calculate the influence of everyone and everything I have encountered? My parents, my siblings, my grandparents and my extended family have all served to shape me into the person I am today. So have the authors I’ve read, especially Bryan Davis, Jerry B. Jenkins, Anthony Hope and Brandon Sanderson among others. My faith. My church. The Bible. What has had the most influence on me this year is the study How to Develop a Quiet Time by Eddie Rasnake. Even my own writings have helped to shape me. I’ve learned things about myself from The Teller’s Apprentice. I am who I am because of many influences, not just one.

7. Do you like spicy food?
If you would like to know the answer to this question, you may come to my place for lunch one day.

8. If you could try out any job for a day, which job would you pick?
I would argue that trying out a job for a day would not give me an accurate impression of the job. Most if not all jobs would be new and exciting the first day. It’s the persistence and discipline in a job that shows you what the job is actually like. Still, I would like to see what it’s like being a wilderness guide.

9. If you could learn one random skill, which skill would it be?
A natural proficiency at phone conversations.

10. What is the biggest personal change you have ever made?
I can think of a few.

11. If someone were to make a movie about your life so far, what would that movie be called?
I’m pretty sure the title would be chosen by the producer, not me. Why don’t you ask him? I’m thinking Matthew Sampson: The Greatest Author of All Time, but I’m open to suggestions.


 

And now for my questions. Should you read this, consider yourself tagged. Bwahaha. Have fun. Please observe my love of satire.

  1. What is your full name?
  2. When is your birthday?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. What is your family like?
  5. What faith do you profess?
  6. What is your secret dream?
  7. What is your secret fear?
  8. Who do you want to be like?
  9. What is one thing you’ve never told anyone?
  10. What is your calling in life?
  11. Why do you believe I am a stalker?

Matthew

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in Tags

 

Best Books of 2016 (So Far)

December last year I discovered the revolutionary idea that I can in fact buy books on my Kindle account for cheap prices. Being a miserly sort of person when money is concerned…I haven’t done that much. I used to let my mum buy the books and wait eagerly for them to arrive in the mail…ah, those were good times. But times are changing, as times are wont to do. I have an iPad and a smartphone with which I can carry a bunch of books wherever I go.

Granted, I prefer to read a real book, a flesh-and-blood (well…paper-and-ink) book with real pages rather than text on a backlit touchscreen. Still, I find there are advantages to reading on my phone and its small screen. There isn’t much text on each page, and because of this I read slower. I read every word. I don’t skim like I am prone to do, and I guess I enjoy the book more that way.

Enough about my reading habits. Here are the best books I’ve read so far in 2016.

Orphan’s Song

Gillian Bronte Adams

Who Will Keep the Song Alive?

Every generation has a Songkeeper – one chosen to keep the memory of the Song alive. And in every generation, there are those who seek to destroy the chosen one.

When Birdie’s song draws the attention of a dangerous Khelari soldier, she is kidnapped and thrust into a world of ancient secrets and betrayals. Rescued by her old friend, traveling peddler Amos McElhenny, Birdie flees the clutches of her enemies in pursuit of the truth behind the Song’s power.

Ky is a streetwise thief and a member of the Underground—a group of orphans banded together to survive . . . and to fight the Khelari. Haunted by a tragic raid, Ky joins Birdie and Amos in hopes of a new life beyond the reach of the soldiers. But the enemy is closing in, and when Amos’ shadowed past threatens to undo them all, Birdie is forced to face the destiny that awaits her as the Songkeeper of Leira. (Goodreads description)

Orphan’s Song is the most recent book I bought, but the one that takes first place for me. The prose itself captures the quality of a song—melodious, lyrical, wrought with the loving care and concern of a master wordsmith. Adams’s characterisation is deep and multisided—no one is who they appear to be at face value. One minor character I noticed in particular—Madame, Birdie’s stern and harsh mistress. That kind of character I’ve seen before, but Adams also shows Madame’s tender side with her husband and sons. Even though I dislike Madame as a person, I love her as a character, because Adams captures her humanity perfectly. So it is with the rest of the characters…Birdie, Amos, Ky, Cade, even the antagonists Carhartan and Hendryk.

The story contains common tropes such as an abandoned infant who turns out to be someone special, but I thought Adams used this well-worn plot very well. Her characters and prose make the plot sing, and while it’s still a common trope, Adams’s version of this common trope is one I heartily recommend. Many of the plot twists I guessed before the author revealed them, but only a few authors have been able to spring surprises on me recently. There are two POV characters in this story: Birdie and Ky. I have to say I liked Ky’s story better. The rawness, the intensity, the struggle for life itself, Ky’s victory over the mantra pounded into him that everyone has to “look out for themselves”…this was done so beautifully. (And is there anyone else out there who wants to see more—much more—of Meli?)

What struck me about the story was its brevity. Oh, I’ve heard the quote by Brandon Sanderson. “I’m a fantasy author. We have trouble with the concept of brevity.” Haha. I myself most strongly agree. But Orphan’s Song was not like this. It was a short book. Not a short story, but a short book. And what really struck me was how well Adams told her story in the shortest amount of words possible. A wordsmith creates, but a wordsmith also excises a story’s flab with a knife sharper than a surgeon’s. Adams did this very well. I know that for my stories I need to work on cutting words to get to the heart in a similar manner.

Overall, this is one author I’m going to follow. This book I highly recommend. Its sequel, Songkeeper, comes out in April.

Blood of Kings

Jill Williamson

Half of the kingdom is shrouded in Darkness. On the side that still sees the sun, two young adults struggle to understand the magical abilities thrust upon them.

It’s called bloodvoicing. Some say it’s a gift. One of the newly “gifted” wish it had never come.

Jill Williamson’s award-winning epic fantasy series, Blood of Kings, tells the story of Achan, an orphan who’s been a stray all his life. When an enigmatic knight offers to train Achan for the Kingsguard, he readily accepts. But his new skills with the sword do not prepare him for the battle raging between the voices in his head.

Vrell Sparrow is not who she seems. She masquerades as a boy to avoid marriage to a powerful prince who seeks to exploit her. But Vrell feels called to help a young squire who recently discovered his bloodvoicing gift, even if doing so puts her in the path of her enemy.

While Achan learns to use his new ability, Vrell struggles to shut hers down. All the voices strive to learn Achan and Vrell’s true identities—and a different kind of voice is calling them both to adventure, romance and a truth that just might push back Darkness for good. (Amazon.com description)

Having read Jill Williamson’s posts on the Go Teen Writers blogs for a long time now, I felt as if I already knew her style and story before I read these books. I’d seen the outline for By Darkness Hid before reading the book, and I’d read a lot about these characters and this story…but still, reading them for the first time was not disappointing. I loved seeing what I’d already heard come to life in these stories and find out what really happened along the way. Williamson’s worldbuilding is—as would be expected given her repeated posts on the subject at Go Teen Writers—superb. The depth she’s put into each part of her world is incredible, and the reactions of the POV characters are done very well. Sitna, for example, the place in which Achan’s story begins, feels so real, so familiar…we’re experiencing Achan’s home through his eyes.

What struck me in this series is the convergence in the storylines of the two POV characters, even when Achan and Vrell are acting completely independent of one another. An example early of this is when Achan hears the gossip among serving women about Lord Nathak, lord of Sitna Manor, and how his proposal for marriage has been rejected again by the Duchess of Carm. That same duchess and her continual rejections of Nathak play a large role in Vrell’s story. This convergence also sets the stage for plot events later in the story. I really enjoyed seeing how Williamson worked these plot events into the story.

Not everything about the series I liked. The intensity of the romantic material in To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won was what I disliked most. The mistakes of the main characters are dealt with in an excellent way by the end of the series, but there were parts especially in the second and third books which I felt were not my kind of story. Like Mistborn: The Final Empire, which I reviewed recently, I’d say the appropriate target audience would be 15+. Still, despite the flaws, I would still recommend this series to people of an appropriate age and maturity.

The Reapers Trilogy

Bryan Davis

Reapers is a dystopian tale with a supernatural twist. Taking place in a futuristic, urban setting, this first book in a planned trilogy will appeal to readers of The Hunger Games and similar fast–paced stories for young adults. Along with a blend of real life and imagination, it delivers action, danger, and suspense through the adventures of three teenagers—Phoenix, Singapore, and Shanghai—Reapers who collect the souls of the dying or already dead and transport them to the Gateway where they will travel to their final destination … or so they are told. (Goodreads description)

(Okay. I’m cheating. I read this series in December 2015. So it shouldn’t really be in this blog post.) I admit that when I first heard that Bryan Davis was writing a series about ghosts, I was reluctant to read this series. I mean…he’s always written weird things, but ghosts? Reapers? Death? I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this series very much. Reapers is probably his fastest-paced book yet—Davis’s skill grows with every book he publishes, which is something to aspire to.

The strong point of this series is Davis’s mastery of character motivation and how it drives the plot. The heroes are active in working against the villains even when the villains think the heroes are working for them. To power along the story Davis uses unique plot twists—who would expect the main character to explain his plan to the villain?—and crippling dilemmas—how do you choose between friends?—and does not let the characters off the hook because of their choices, which makes the emotional impacts heartrending. If you’re the type of person who cries over books, then weigh carefully whether you want to read this series.

As would be expected, death takes a front and centre role in this series. Davis mitigates the violence by using sonic guns, which do not draw blood, but still the sheer amount of death is not something that can be taken easily. Near the start of Reapers a group of criminals and rebels are executed on-screen, and a death camp plays a large part in the first book. The death and despair contributes to darken the mood of this book. In fact, I attributed a colour scheme to the mood: Dry, dead yellow. And black.

One thing I found irritating was that Davis did not explain what an Owl was until the second book. I mean, I can understand his conviction to have his characters explain nothing they have no motivation to explain, but surely he could have slipped in a description of what an Owl could do sometime earlier? Motivate someone to explain? Have a less informed character ask what an Owl was?

Despite the darkness and death, I enjoyed the books very much. In fact, I stayed up reading Beyond the Gateway late into the night, something which I’ve done rarely in the past few months. (The only other book I can think of where I did this recently was with The Bands of Mourning.) And the last sentence of Beyond the Gateway…man. That adrenaline rush took some getting over.

The Bands of Mourning

Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

Like Beyond the Gateway, I stayed up late to finish this book and actually leapt up and exclaimed variations of, “I knew it!” at the ending. (Read the book if you want to find out what I’m referring to.) In The Bands of Mourning Brandon Sanderson answers some of the questions we’ve been waiting to hear throughout the Wax & Wayne series, but…well…raises a few more. A few more major questions, that is. I mean, seriously? With one book left to go in this series, how is Sanderson going to wrap up all these plot threads in just one book?

But I’m writing a review, not a fangirl statement. Each of the major characters has grown in some way in each of the Wax & Wayne books, and The Bands of Mourning is no exception. In fact, the character arcs in this book are some of the most well done I’ve seen. With the tragedy of the book before this, Shadows of Self, Wax has hardened himself, and with his characteristic stubbornness it’s as if nothing short of death would make him change his viewpoint on the matter. Steris was, without a doubt, at the most compelling she’s ever been in this series. I loved seeing her interact with Wax, Wayne, Marasi and MeLaan as a more major character in The Bands of Mourning. Marasi has grown a lot since the first Wax & Wayne book, The Alloy of Law, and this book vividly shows how much she’s progressed. Edwarn Ladrian, Wax’s nemesis throughout this series, is in fine form. I must say I’ve never seen one of Brandon Sanderson’s villains so well done as Edwarn in this book. I loved being able to see Wax’s sister Telsin for the first time in three books. And finally, Wayne. Truth be told, Wayne is not my favourite character. Oh, I admit, he’s amusing and interesting to watch and the series wouldn’t be the same without him, but certain things he does in the first half of this book are…not the kind of thing I want to read. Nonetheless, his decision and character growth at the climax was very powerful and is one of the parts I remember most vividly.

As is typical of a Sanderson book, The Bands of Mourning is stacked with unpredictable plot twists, gobsmacking reveals, and an ever-deepening sense of the world of Scadrial. There are a few intriguing new reveals about the magic systems of Allomancy and Feruchemy, which in part drive the story. Due to the nature of the plot, there is more history involved in this story than the other Wax & Wayne books, and let me just say…you have no idea of the truth of Scadrial’s history if you haven’t read The Bands of Mourning.

This book has the most mature content out of all the Sanderson books I’ve read. (I haven’t read Warbreaker. I think it would have more.) There’s a lot of swearing, and while I understand why people can have the motive to swear, I dislike reading it and listening to it. There is also some sexual content in this book—not dwelled upon or shown in any graphic detail, but Sanderson could easily lighten up on this without damage done to the plot. I was also disappointed that Trell only got a few brief mentions…we still haven’t learned what Bleeder was up to in the last book. Here’s hoping there’ll be some of that in The Lost Metal.


 

An honourable mention goes to the Goldstone Wood series, especially HeartlessShadow Hand and Golden Daughter, my three favourites from that series. I couldn’t include them because I bought them in December last year instead of 2016. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Put down the finger you’re pointing at Reapers. I’m allowed to be inconsistent on my own blog from time to time.) I’m hoping to read two books in particular soon: Calamity and Songkeeper. Whether you’ll see them in a review on this blog is yet to be confirmed.

What have been your favourite books in 2016 so far?

Matthew

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 23, 2016 in Book Reviews, Books

 

Distraction Free Headset: A How-To

Recently I’ve discovered a new way to write without distractions. No, it’s not shifting my office. No, it’s not teleporting the family to a desert island while I’m writing. No, it’s not creating a magical silence shield around my head so I can’t hear anything.

Well, maybe it’s a bit like that last one.

The Distraction Free Headset is a customised sound dampener for your ears. It’s simple to make and easy to wear, and the components are very common. Sharing this secret might ruin my chances of making a fortune out of it, but here goes. Drumroll, please? The components are…

(dun dun DUN)

One beanie. Two socks.

And now instructions for setting up the Distraction Free Headset. Put the beanie on your head and pull it down as far as it will go. Fold up the front edge only to make your view better. Now take the socks. Small socks work better than larger ones. Please note that these socks do not have to be a pair, but having socks the same size is more comfortable.

Lay the socks flat. Fold them halfway, then halfway again. Lift up the side of the beanie and stuff the folded socks into your ears. If an edge of the sock goes into your ear, the muffling works better.

Congratulations! You now have a customised sound dampener to free you of distractions. Please write to me and tell me how well the Distraction Free Headset works for you. I plan to monetise this product, and the more feedback I get the better.

Matthew

 
6 Comments

Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Randomness