Review of “The Great Alone”

Thank you my friend for encouraging me to read it.

SUMMARY

A story that won’t quit, readers follow a lonely 13-year-old girl as her parents make one last desperate move to Alaska, in order to help her father Ernt combat his Vietnam PTSD. But only through this last ditch effort does her mother Cora’s struggles with Ernt get revealed.

How do you convince yourself to leave the person you love when they’re feeling so hurt?

IMPRESSIONS

I’m going to come right out and say it, even though it is a huge SPOILER. This book contains domestic violence. It is a tale of abuse. And that makes it a difficult read. Even though it’s a fast page-turner, even though you won’t be able to put it down, it is a real struggle to endure the hitting, bruises, and pain, since throughout this novel, you just play the role of the bystander.

How fitting…A book about domestic violence that complains the family can’t get help because the victims are often blamed, due to that 70s timeline, and yet for all that I want to help, I can’t…

But for all that this book scares you away, I couldn’t walk away from it. It had too many conflicts; it seemed too realistic. And with too many facets arranged perfectly to compliment one another, it was too well-rounded of a novel to abandon it halfway through.

WRITING STYLE

I think we’re looking at a low 4 here, possibly even a 3. One thing I noticed throughout the novel, is there is a lot of really particular word choice. There are acronyms made up. There are almost onomatopoeias throughout the book since spelling can be forsaken due to accents or drunkenness. And, there’s mostly some good sentence variation. There are singles, compounds, complex, fragments. It’s not the most poetic or beautiful, but there’s variation. But, I really struggled with the variation between actionreactionreflection, ARR.

Loo…s great,” Dad said, shoveling a forkful of moose meat into his mouth, chewing noisily. He looked up, bleary-eyed. “You two have a lot of catching up to do. Earl and I were talking about it. When TSHTF, you two would be the first casualties.”

“TSHTF? What in God’s name are you talking about?” Mama said.

Leni shot her mother a warning look. Mama knew better than to say anything about anything when he was drunk.

“When the shit hits the fan. You know. Martial law…”

(Hannah 92)

Looking above, we can see the amount of bold font that represents the actions throughout this scene. There’s quite a lot because we’re closely focused on these 3 family members interacting. Makes sense, especially when we’re building the imagery of this scene. We can then see the amount of reaction in this scene. Very minimalistic. Emotions are built within a few words or a single sentence, and this is a pattern continued throughout the book. There’s never really too much deep exploration of feelings. And finally, we can see the reflection underlined. Leni’s thought is explored in a single sentence. Because there’s more action than reaction-reflection, it does feel very unbalanced. And, it might be to what I can attribute to this being such a fast-paced novel. There’s a lot of action pushing this book forward. And, there’s just enough reaction-reflection to keep you invested in the character. So, again, it’s not the most beautifully written book, but it’s definitely a page-turner, which is why I think I’ll settle for a 3.5.

PERSPECTIVE

This book’s perspective is so weird. Most of the novel is set in the eyes of Leni, but then, on page 196 (out of 438; 45% through the novel), it switches over to Matthew’s POV, which is really random, especially since I think we only see his perspective around two more times throughout the book.

And, don’t get my wrong, I get the reasoning why the author might’ve done this. Matthew had run away from Kaneq. And in this chapter, he made the decision to return. Without this chapter from Matthew’s perspective, that decision could’ve felt forced, artificial, like it was only for Leni’s growth and development, which would’ve made his character felt weak. Like, he was just under the whim of Leni’s plotline. But by doing this random chapter, it felt a little more purposeful.

Still doesn’t feel right to have such a close perspective and suddenly shift.

Leni was afraid to stay and afraid to leave. It was strange—stupid, even—but she often felt like the only adult in her family, as if she were the ballast that kept the creaky Allbright boat on an even keel. Mama was engaged in a continual quest to “find” herself. In the past few years, she’d tried EST and the human potential movement, spiritual training, Unitarianism. Even Buddhism. She’d cycled through them all, cherry-picked pieces and bits. Mostly, Leni thought, Mama had come away with T-shirts and sayings. Things like, What is, is, and what isn’t, isn’t. None of it seemed to amount to much.

(Hannah 4)

I’ll still give the perspective a 4. Leni for a main character is quite developed. We know her family, even through her mother’s side—no idea what happened to her father’s family. They were never mentioned. We know she has no friends and loves to read. We know she was typically a lonely person in school due their frequent moves (since her father couldn’t hold down a job). The only thing that I would say is really lacking is that for a novel that encourages independence and survival, she never really seems to develop her own. Don’t get me wrong, throughout the novel, she did become more internally independent. She became reflective and critical of her father, which made her change her beliefs of her parents’ relationship. So, her perspective was definitely independent. But, that internal independence never externalized. She never truly acted on her beliefs. She did rebel against her father by loving Matthew, which in of itself could argue independence. But, she never forced her mother to run away, and she couldn’t have escaped her father’s clutches without having Matthew’s help. I guess, she did argue to keep the baby. But, then she and her mother were always dependent on her grandparents’ wealth to survive. And, when Leni was arrested, she was dependent on others’ for her escape. It seems to me this novel was almost about dependence or finding others for help, then encouraging an almost heroic, independent endeavor.

ORIGINALITY

“Be careful, you two. Things aren’t good between your dads.” (208)

Does that make you think of Romeo and Juliet? Because I couldn’t not think it once I read that quote. But, this falling-in-love/coming-of-age plot is only one facet of the novel. What I really enjoyed about this book is how many plot lines it had going at once, and how many of them were interwoven.

I would argue the main theme of this book is domestic violence. You can see it in the inside cover with “Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within.” And, then you see this theme again, on the first page of the novel: “Weather like this brought out the darkness in her father.” But, what totally throws me over the moon for this book is how everything supports this major theme. We watch the character’s independence develop as they work up the courage to leave Ernt. We see the character’s literal survival in the state of Alaska over the winter reflect the same survival inside of their home, living daily with the dangers of Ernt. The only one that doesn’t seem to really support this major theme is the coming-of-age theme. It seems an effort used mostly due to the popularity of sales. Look,I understand Leni’s love for Matthew forces her to rebel and become independent, but this seems extrinsically done, versus intrinsically and naturally supporting this main theme. Because that survival aspect is used both literally and internally within the characters’ escape from domestic violence, I’m going to have to give this book’s originality a 5.

THEME

With no local police and no one to call for help. All this time, Dad how taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.

(Hannah 126)

I think this quote speaks for itself. Time and time again, we encounter Leni’s struggle for survival with her father at home. They only feel safest when he’s away at the pipeline, sending money back home through the winter. And, I feel that for as much as this book stresses independence, I think it encourages dependence instead. Think about it.

Cora can never convince herself that Ernt doesn’t love her, so as much as the man does abuse her, she never runs away.

And Leni is a kid, a kid who acts too old for her age and can’t convince herself to abandon her mother. After all, they’re two peas in a pod. If she left, who would look out for Cora instead?

The whole town is compromised of kooks and crazies, each whom escaped to Alaska to be left all alone, and yet, they’re the first to offer a hand. To reach out to help. And as much as they offer, Cora and Leni never seem to accept.

And how much we want to, we as the reader. We stand on the sidelines. We watch the swings and the hits, the hands connecting to face and to cheek. And, we’re the first to want to defend, and yet it’s a book. I can’t break through to that wall.

It isn’t until Leni connects with a boy that they finally get help, finally accept help. And it makes me wonder, if this book is all about violence, but about not being a bystander, about not standing on the sidelines and about getting down and getting dirty if it means helping someone else survive. After all, we’re all in this community together.

I’d give it a 5.

Hannah, Kristin. The Great Alone. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. Print.

Review of “Planet Alt-Sete-Nine” by BJ Neblett

SUMMARY

Meet Jake. A young programmer working at Technopoly, his team is close to releasing the world’s first AI video game, which is set to generate new lands, quests, and creatures, until Jake begins having second thoughts. His girlfriend Haylee is showing signs of extreme addiction. She’s reluctant to sleep, doesn’t show up for work, and is beginning to show signs of memory loss. Her doctor promises its Game Transfer Phenomena, a new psychological disorder that has only just begun to be explored, but it’s more complicated than that. Haylee’s personality is changing; she’s saying words that Jake can’t begin to understand. All because she’s getting close to finding the Magical Land of Galloway.

FIRST IMPRESSION

When I first started reading Planet Alt-Sete-Nine by BJ Neblett, I was sure I had this book’s plot pegged at the start—Jake is struggling with Haylee’s insanity. But then holes began to appear in the plot. Mentions of a magical land, a land called Galloway, and I was forced to keep reading because there’s hints at gaps that I’m missing. And, although I have mixed feelings about Jake, wondering what type of person he is to allow this video game to proceed closer and closer to release knowing the kind of effect it had on their single play-tester Haylee, I can tell you right now, there’s more at stake than just Haylee’s sanity. And, if you stick it out, you won’t begin to see the end of its complexity. Book_Rubric

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. 

WRITING STYLE 3

This book is very action-oriented, pulling you from one scene to the next, constantly propelled with the motion, and even though I didn’t choose one of those scenes to show below, I wanted to highlight another strength below. Action, reaction and reflection.

On the back side of the end leaf was a hand-drawn map. It was obviously not originally part of the book, having been sketched in at a later date. Above it, in a calligrapher’s script no longer in use was the inscription: The Magical Kingdom of Galloway.

Caliey’s heart pounded. Although crudely drawn and badly faded, the map clearly depicted an island situated in the middle of a large sea. A barely perceptible line led across a flat plane and through a dense forest. It terminated at a hidden beach surround by mountains. 

Examining her find, Cailey could hear servants beginning to stir and rush about the palace. It wouldn’t be long before the first call for last meal was sounded. (174)

Even if you can’t see it in this scene, this book was filled with maximum action, which left little room for reaction and reflection. Because of the lack of reaction and reflection, it created a gap in relations between the reader and character. But this weakness was combated by the Neblett’s strength in imagery, showing an overwhelming amount of details in every scene and paragraphs, creating such a dense image, it wasn’t hard to picture the book in the mind. Details in imagery are shown in italics above.

PERSPECTIVE 1

How well do we know our narrators? Let’s pick one to examine—Haylee.

Now Haylee is pretty important to the story since the plot revolves around her, but I feel like I never really got to know her, maybe because she went crazy before I could fully attach to the character. To me, it feels like there were three types of Haylee’s in this story: a pre-game version, a during-game, and post-game. But I never really felt for any of them, maybe because I never really knew the pre-game version. Maybe because I never got to see into her thoughts, except from Jake’s eyes which probably only helped distant her from me. But, let me show you what I mean.

Pre-game Haylee 

“Like I said, Haylee has always been a bit obsessive about her playing. It’s almost as if she believes she is an actual part of the game, one of the characters. But she always works through it, eventually moving on to another game.” (37)

Okay, the big thing to take away from here is that Haylee likes video games. But notice, we’re referencing her in the third perspective because this is Jake talking about her.

Concern turned to worry as he patiently listened to the angry school principal on the other end of his phone. “Of course, sir…yes, she’s sick, I think it may be a virus or something. As a matter of fact, I’m taking Haylee to the doctor this evening. Yes, probably at least the rest of the week.” (25)

Now, I know this excerpt shows Haylee during-game, but I wanted to focus on the hints at Haylee’s pre-game life. I want to highlight the fact that Haylee’s boss is revealed: a school principal. This means she works at some kind of school, but we have no idea whether that’s high school, middle school, or elementary. Out of everything I know about her, this is basically it. Jake talks about her being an orphan, and how they met at Purdue, but there are extreme limits to what I know about Haylee’s past. We don’t even know what she likes or dislikes beyond that of gaming.

During-game Haylee 

Well, I was finally able to get Haylee calmed down and we talked. She understood, she knew me, and that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. But she recalled very little about how we met. And she remembered nothing about her life before college. Her memory was fuzzy about her teaching as well. The more we talked, the more anxious and frightened she became. I left for a moment to get her some water. When I returned, she was back playing the game. It seemed to calm her, so I didn’t interfere. The next day I received a call at work from Haylee’s principal. That was when I learned she hadn’t been at school for two days. It’s when I decided to contact your office. When I returned home, I found Haylee still playing. Except for recognizing me and knowing details about the game, she had lost all of her memory. (40)

I really struggle with this. Not because it shows Haylee as the crazy person she’s turned out to be, because we see this throughout almost the entire book. What bothers me about this excerpt is the fact that we see Jake and Haylee’s relationship doomed from the start. A lot of book, especially YA, are prized for these love triangles they create, but in this book, there’s no one on Team Haylee even before Jake’s high school best-friend and work-partner Barbara gets introduced. I was team Barb before Haylee’s relationship even ended.

Post-game Haylee 

Jake glanced at the TV. On the screen, three orange suns shined down from a crystal blue-green sky. Poised at the center of a lush, green and gold forest Jake didn’t recognize, stood a beautiful stately castle. Below were the words: Castle Venatus located in the land of Galloway, home to Princess Haylee, beloved royal ruler of Alt-Sete-Nine. / “Home,” Jake said with a sad, determined smile. “Haylee’s gone home.” (233)

Well, I’m glad she had her happy ending. Sleeping beauty has woken, and the kingdom is saved. But, I’m sorry to say that’s all I know about you princess.

Because I know so little about the main character, the character this whole story is about, I’m going to have to give this rating a 1. I know some superficial details are revealed throughout the story. But, because I never really got a chance to get to know her outside of this crazy-person persona, I never really connected with her. All I know of her is that she’s the 1-dimensional sleeping beauty looking to wake in the magical land of Galloway.

Go team Barb!

ORIGINALITY 4

“…Now that your soul is mortal, you no longer will be pushed with purpose, unconsciously driven toward your destiny. If you do nothing, you will continue to live. But if you place the medallion around the princess’ neck and awaken her, then there are no guarantees. The decision is yours alone to make. You are the only one who can awaken the princess and the only one who can restore the Land of Galloway.” (228)

Okay. Does that remind anyone else of Sleeping Beauty? I’m getting a strong sense of deja vu here. What’s disappointing here is I took French for four years and I still can’t spell that word. God I suck at French. 

Even though this plot point has been used over and over again, with its combination of  motifs like video games, AI, amnesia, and discovery of self, I think this has created a highly original novel. The video game and AI motifs are quite popular right now, but I don’t believe I’ve seen a cross-over with them and the Sleeping Beauty story, which makes for a highly entertaining plot. Because of its originality, I’ll have to give it a 4. But as always, let me know if you’ve heard of something like this before. I’d like to know.

THEME 3

This book was easy to peg from the start for its theme: Discovery of self. It quite literally spelled it out within one of the scenes with Jake, Haylee, and her doctor.

Perhaps Haylee is somehow searching for herself; searching for the identity she never possessed as an orphan not knowing her parents or her own personal history. (41)

Haylee travels through the book looking for some explanation of her past, and this discovery of self is what propelled the book. Because the details are so thin and sparse,  your curiosity drives you forward faster and faster until you make it to the end. Looking below, you can see some of the propelling quotes.

“No, I couldn’t find her,” she said sadly. “I couldn’t find her.” / “Find who?” (26)

“Unfortunately, I really don’t know very much about Haylee’s past.” (33)

He shook his head and then shrugged, indicating his confusion. Jake knew that there was no Magical Land of Galloway programmed into Planet Alt-Sete-Nine. (87)

There’s not much given away here besides that Haylee is looking for a who and then a what. And, it’s not clear of what that is until we read of Cailey’s mission. In the end, I would’ve preferred to see more from Haylee’s perspective, especially since this book revolves around her. But, it still provides an adequate driving force.

 

Neblett, BJ. Planet Alt-Sete-Nine. Mesa, AZ: Brighton Publishing LLC, 2018. Print.

Review of “A Plague of Giants” by Hearne

When I initially started reading this book, I have to admit, I wasn’t interested. The sheer amount of names, and the learning curve on this fantasy world created a steep price before investing in the plot. I put down this book multiple times before I was drawn in enough to continue, but once I was there (around page 40ish), I couldn’t put the book down. There were some spots that made me laugh, some that made me cry, and I looked forward to hearing every character’s story. So, if you’re willing to put in the time, this story is every bit as amazing as The Iron Druid Chronicles, Hearne’s previous series.

Welcome to the six nations of Teldwen. Each living in a compliant coexistence with the other, it isn’t until they’re faced with invasion that tensions are stretched. Look at the East who are overwhelmed by Bone Giants. Look at the West who are compromised by Hathrim. Who will make it through to the end?

In my earlier post, I included a re-formatted map, in order to make it easier for the reader to follow along because I found the hardest thing to understand was the multitude of places, names, and kennings with their multiple levels of powers. That one was spoiler free. I’ve included another one here, but this one includes MAJOR SPOILERS, to help cement some previous understanding.

Plague of Giants_spoilers

And again…since WordPress has limits. I’ve included a hyperlink to Imgur with a full-size image to make it easier to read and reference.

But, since our goal isn’t solely understanding, let’s go ahead and look at our rubric to review this book.

Book_Rubric

WRITING STYLE 4

How does this book read? It’s very action-oriented, showing how everyone is moving and sliding from place to place. Even looking at the paragraph below, we can see how much action there is compared to reaction and reflection. This leads to the book having imagery and action sequences since the reader can see each battle that people fight.

People streamed out of the tunnel as we marched in, bundles held under their arms and slung on their backs, some pulling carts or riding horse-drawn wagons. Worried evacuees from the tunnel warrens, wondering where they should go. And some of them—quite a few of them—were Brynts who must be refugees, running in advance of the army. It was their bleak, hopeless faces that drove home to me the urgency of our mission. How horrific it must be to be forced out of your home with nothing but the clothes on your back. If we failed—more specifically, if I failed—to hold this army back, then everyone in Baseld and perhaps beyond would wear the same bleak expressions. (434)

Unfortunately, as seen above, it doesn’t have the strongest reaction, which doesn’t elicit a strong connection within the reader. This can weaken a connection with the characters, but, Hearne’s writing style makes up for it in others ways, such as by using a strong voice through very specific word choices—one of his strengths as you can see below.

Cousins I have not seen for seasons but close to my roots, and in their eyes I will see if I have grown straight and true on my own—I am only five years senior to Pen, after all. Perhaps the Black Jaguars and the Blue Moths will not be so eager to disparage the White Gossamers when they are outnumbered. Perhaps if the Canopy is well served by my watch, the White Gossamers will climb again. I would dearly love to be the sprout of that new growth. (115)

Looking at some of the highlighted words above, you can see the word choice has changed to reflect a character within the Fornish region, specifically a benman, or tree speaker. Hearne could’ve used a description of time like “weeks” or “years” but instead he chose “seasons,” since this can help reflect the plant kenning of the Canopy. Because of this, the voices of his characters stand more apart from each other than his ordinary writing.

Because of his strength with word choice, but given his limits in reactions, I’m going to label Hearne’s word choice as a 4.

PERSPECTIVE 3

One of the strengths of this book is the multitude of unique perspectives, 11 to be exact, all written from first person. While these six nations of Teldwen are being invaded by Bone Giants, the reader can see the effects of the war on warriors, citizens, politicians, etc. It lends a rounded experience to this traumatic event. But, one of the weaknesses that comes with having so many characters is the lack in time to develop them.

Let’s consider Abhi for an example. What does he like? I don’t know—men? What does he dislike? Killing animals. What is his strength? He is a plaguebringer, and recently came into some strong powers in seeing, calling, and commanding animals. More a physical strength than a psychological one. What is his weakness? He doesn’t appear to have one? From every situation I’ve seen him in, he’s won every confrontation, which is remarkable considering he’s a boy of 17, who hasn’t see much beyond his family and their old profession of hunting. What is his goal? To earn the recognition of the Beast Caller’s as a true clave.

I struggle giving the characters a 5 because even though each has a persona has strong defining qualities, most of these character don’t seem as deep as other books as I’ve read, lacking qualities about themselves that make themselves stand out. The character above is perhaps one of the strongest within the novel, and although well-rounded, and even then, I don’t see him facing internal conflict. This sounds harsh considering he lost his family, but he has never had to ask himself ‘which should I do?’  He didn’t even seem to be in mourning for that long, or looked down on his powers, which he seemed to assume were only as a result that he had nothing to lose. Because this character didn’t seem to face any internal struggles, I can’t call him a person. He seems more of the 2D simplicity of an always-a-winner superhero.

Because of these weaknesses, I’m going to give the books’ perspectives a 3. I will argue the character connections are strengthened by each character’s voices, written by specific word choices as seen above. But to me, this seems more like a superficial cover up to the lack of details. Each character seems to be driven by a singular detail or event, and to me it doesn’t feel as heart-warming if there isn’t to be a decision to be made with it.

ORIGINALITY

This plot isn’t necessarily original, even if all the names certainly are. When I first started reading this book, the first thing it reminded me was the TV series Avatar: The First Airbender. There, we see four nations, divided by four powers: earth, fire, water, and air; this seems eerily similar to the six Teldwen nations, divided by six kennings with the exception of a few additional powers. This is also similar to the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, where people are divided amongst the 10 different types of luxin. And again, this is similar to Maria V. Snyder’s Study series.

In each of these plots, we see nations invaded by one another, so I’d like to argue the plot for Hearne’s current series isn’t necessarily original. The originality of this series actually stems from the perspective. This story isn’t a single perspective, or even multiple point-of-views. This book is story inception. Since this book is told from the Raelech bard’s impressions as he’s gathered multiple people’s experiences from journals, it’s revealed how the past has occurred, while we get glimpses of the present.

Because of the unique writing style, I will give this book’s originality a 3 instead of a 2.

THEME TBD

I feel like there’s no strong theme to this book, and I’m sure someone is sitting there behind their computer muttering ‘every story has a theme.’ Well, then, if I were to guess, the theme must be about balance, just like it was in Avatar. I can smell a hint of it when reading the book because a few times it’s mentioned, within the different nations battling the others. Even when you hear the nations speak, they look down on each other.

Desperation can drive anyone to madness. Or maybe it wasn’t mad; if he planned to cut down our trees and return south, the potential income from such a timber raid might be significant enough to finance the building of a new city. Panic seized me at the thought. We didn’t have any thornhands up here in the north since the Hathrim timber pirates typically attacked our southern shores, so who could stop him? (73)

If the Hathrim are smart, they will hire Kaurian blowbags to funnel the ash into the Rift. Cyclones, I mean: that’s the proper term, and I should use it. (111)

The Fifth Kenning was meant to be burned by the First, and once we dealt with them, the Nentians would be routed just as before, and Baghra Khek would be secure. (578)

In my youth, before I became a Hearthfire, I used to be a timber pirate until I rose to captain my own ship and then take over Harthrad from my sire. We had to deal with thornhands as a matter of course when we raided the Fornish coast, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed thwarting them. They are freakish creatures who become instruments of death at the sacrifice of their own lives. (584)

Notice the phrases underlined, all derogatory of other kennings. What I found most interesting from this is that much of the disdain seems to originate from Nel, the benman, and Gorin, the Hathrim. I didn’t notice it as much elsewhere, but why would these two kennings experience the most contempt? Other contempt originates between the lines of Brynlon thinking Raelech sent a spy, and so on. But this much room for disparity leaves room for peace and balance…perhaps a theme to develop later?

This can also leave room for union. The book hints at it with quotes like the following.

In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. (285)

[The Zanata Sedam] only said the Seventh Kenning was greater than the others, or beyond them, or a blessing past the power of speech. (369)

The book mentioned this could be the driving force of the Eculans, an almost militant justification for why it’s okay to invade and kill, especially those of men, women, and children. But, as also slyly mentioned, this could be referring to the six nations, the six kennings, which only through their union could either find the seventh, or unite to take down the Bone Giants.

But even with these hints at peace, balance, and union, because the main conflict with the Bone Giants hasn’t ended, it’s hard to see the conclusion and arc. This leaves the main drive to result from the reader’s natural curiosity surrounding the missing information in the story, with hints placed like “Rift” or “Seventh Kenning.”

In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. Only when there is one shall the Rift be healed and unknown return to the world. Then those who were unknown and unknown will thrive, and the selfish and unknown will perish. (287)

Which is again me just saying, I don’t know. I can blame the entirety lack of a theme on the fact I don’t know the ending. I can blame it on the lingering question of was this written for a theme or entertainment? I’ve always struggled with this question, especially when it comes to terms with a series. Does the length of a series result from the story? Or your wallet? Could be mildly negative of me. But, it could also be realistic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Hearne, Kevin. A Plague of Giants. New York, NY: Del Ray, 2017. Print.

The Six Nations of Teldwen

When I first started this book, I have to admit, I wasn’t impressed. I was curated by  Kevin Hearne’s typical books, The Iron Druid Chronicles, and those had created some unreasonably high expectations. With a great, strong, humorous voice, I thought highly of the series. So, when I started A Plague of Giants, I was almost immediately bored. There were names coming out the butt, spewing with unreasonable force like an unforgettable and regrettable taco stand on the side of the freeway, and I couldn’t keep up with who was doing what where and what all of it meant, which is why, as soon as I finished the book, I set to organize all the information I was given and reformat it for you. This should be a SPOILER-FREE map of the information below, created by Hearne but edited by me. Hopefully, it makes it a lot easier to figure out what’s going on while you start reading. A full review to come later.

https://imgur.com/a/lhI8RK2

NOTE: The image was reasonably sized so that it was legible, but WordPress has some size-limits imposed on all images, which has caused it to be illegible during the uploading process. EDIT: This problem has been solved by hyperlinking a full-size version to Imgur. Please click the image to view. 

Hearne, Kevin. A Plague of Giants. New York, NY: Del Ray, 2017. Print.

Annotation Strategies

I feel like a copy-editor when I write in the margins of a book, but that’s only 5% of what I’m feeling most of the time. The other 95% of the time, I feel like a grave-digger, desecrating someone’s coffin, except accidentally. Like I had been carrying the shovel, tripped over my feet, and somehow lodged the shovel into the gravestone, which fell backwards and was too heavy for my to set upright and too stiff for me to dislodge the shovel. (I would expect this of myself – I’m extraordinarily clumsy.)

Either way, I still do it, talking to myself in front of a mirror in order to encourage myself to do it. It’s good practice. Good learning. I should annotate what I read in order to analyze an author’s style and figure out why it works, how it works.

To keep it speedy (and hopefully less distracting while I read), I use a serious of symbols and abbreviations. Here’s my list of them while I go:

chc – characterization

img – imagery

set – setting

cf – conflict, usually the big problem in the story

sum – summary, usually coincides with transitions, or info dump

sc – scene, usually will start with an action or dialogue

! – tense moment, high emotion, big reaction

trns – transition

cmx – climax

+ – complication, more pluses for bigger complication

❤ – I liked it

* – feels important, last time I used this was for important dialogue

While I look through my notes, I can tell you I include a lot of brackets, a lot of arrows with my symbols and abbreviations because I want to try to tell myself how long is the scene, how long is the summary. I try to keep it in the margins so it’s not distracting if I want to read or re-read the story.

A lot of the times, there’s a few fragments of thoughts too, example: I like this (<3) or is this the theme? History of the characters? Who’s this?

Happy reading!

Reading Comprehension

Before you can write, you have to learn how to read – the writer’s version of ‘before you can run, you must learn how to walk.’ Reading is an integral part of society. You do it through texts, on Facebook, from the inside of a book’s jacket as you evaluate if you should buy it or not…Once you know how to read and can evaluate for yourself what you (dis)like, then you will be on your way to becoming an English expert.

As a rule of thumb, with research for support, the more we interact with information, the more we remember it, which is why it’s important not to just to read a book but to play it out. If your goal is to learn how to write from reading, then you must comprehend others’ writing before you can comprehend your own.

Strategies to improve your analysis:

– Use post-it’s. I know when I really like a book (or when I don’t want to mark it since the marks may be distracting for me or the next reader), I use post-it’s to show/remember what I liked. I can use them to jot down initial reactions or questions to what I’m reading.

– Annotate. Use a pen, pencil, highlighter and mark up the book. For the same reasons above, we’re jotting down our responses. This is a good technique if you’re done with “light reading” and are willing to dissect your book.

– Code your book (Daniels/Zemelman 125). In the past, I have used different colored post-it’s or highlighters to represent what I’m marking. Maybe green means characterization, and red means imagery. The key is to use a sort of symbol to highlight something you might want to refer back to later.

– Another method I really liked was given to me by Daniels/Zemelman, called “multicolumn notes.” It’s a technique that uses columns to differentiate between summaries and thoughts. In their example, the left margin of a page is used to summarize ideas while the right margin was used to write down points of confusion, reactions, and questions (128).

The idea of annotations, which I will use to refer to all the previously given strategies, is that you are recording your response. If the book has elicited some sort of reaction from you, then depending on its intent, it may have been well or poorly received. For example:

Ex1: If you don’t care that somebody died, then this can be attributed to poor writing. You didn’t identify with the character and didn’t feel stereotypically sad for him. Other possible reactions include happiness or boredom. (Happiness can occur when you’re glad he died because he was that “annoying” character who you wished had disappeared at least six chapters ago. Yes, they do exist.)

Ex2: If you feel happy as somebody died but that was because your character succeeded in his plot for revenge, then this could be successful writing. You identified with the character, followed the story’s conflict, and were satisfied with the writing.

The point to annotating is that we are recording our responses in order to analyze if the author succeeded in convincing us to identify with their character or world. As informed readers, if they succeeded, we would like to replicate their techniques and record them for later use. As Mike DiMartino said, the purpose of a story is for an author to convince his readers of a certain worldview.  (Refer to the link below for Mike DiMartino’s to read more of his article. It’s really interesting.)

Link: http://mikedimartinostory.com/2013/02/21/what-is-a-story/

Daniels, Harvey, and Steven Zemelman. Subjects Matter: Exceeding Standards Through Powerful Content-Area Reading (Second Edition). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2014. Print.