Saturday, June 15, 2019

Top 3 Show-Stopping Books (Laurie)

I'm afraid I haven't been very in touch with Lands Uncharted lately, but I promise I have a good reason - three weeks ago I had a baby! A beautiful little girl, and we're both doing great :) As I start to crawl out of the I'm-up-with-a-newborn-every-night fog, I wanted to point out that a lot has happened in my absence! In case you missed it, we sadly said goodbye to our friend KaLyn, who is stepping down from Lands Uncharted to free up time for other writing pursuits. We'll miss you, KaLyn! Make sure to checkout her fun, witty farewell post, which you can find here. (And did you know KaLyn's debut middle grade fantasy novel, Snow Globe Travelers: Samuel's Legacy, released in April?)

The good news is that we also got to welcome a new contributor to the blog last week! I've been a huge fan of Katie Clark's for years, and more recently I've had the opportunity to get to know her as a friend. I'm thrilled to have her joining us at Lands Uncharted, and I know you'll enjoy her wisdom, writing insights, and sense of humor. Her first post is here if you haven't had a chance to read it yet, and you can find out more about her on her bio or website as well. Welcome, Katie!!


Now, onto the show-stopping books I promised, which are actually all books based on a circus / theater or other show :) By coincidence I've read quite a few of these performance-centered books lately, so of course I felt inspired to do a Top 3s post!


3. Heart of the Curiosity by H.L. Burke

I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of H.L. Burke's latest novel, which releases on June 27th! In addition to her signature wit, fun characters, and sweet romance, this story features a legendary theater and a magic system in which everyone is born with a "knack" - some kind of small magical ability such as fixing books or baking with just the right flavors. While I wish we could've experienced a Curiosity performance at its peak (things were starting to go downhill by the time a show was described), I still loved the depictions of the grand old theater and imagining what it would be like to see a show involving magical enhancements like dancers who can levitate and special effects from a propmaster with a knack for invention. Plus, the structure and family traditions of the Curiosity made it so much more than your run-of-the-mill theater.



2. The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder

I've already talked about this book once (in my Top 3 Man-Made Characters post) and I'll be posting about it again, but it was just one of those unique stories that keeps coming to mind! Apparently steampunk is a genre that lends itself well to stories about cool shows, because both this book and Heart of the Curiosity fall into that category. Carthage and Huxley's Electrical Menagerie show is an amazing combination of illusion and creative inventions by Carthage, which I so wish I could see in real life! The descriptions are so rich and vivid, especially coming from Cathage's perspective as the entertainer, and I loved everything from the showmanship to the incredible details he worked into his performances. Carthage and Huxley's show is part of a competition, so a bonus of this book was getting to hear about the other competing shows as well, including a superb illusionist and flying horses. Great fuel for the imagination!




1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The lush narrative of this book made me feel like I was actually a part of the Night Circus, which made it an unforgettable read. Every sight, sound, and smell, plus the overall ambiance came together to bring the show to life, with a wide variety of acts and fun hints of magic and mystery. As the two rival stars of the Night Circus competed to best each other in their work, the stakes and impressiveness of the spectacles just kept rising. And I loved the complexity of the characters and the way their stories wove together. I'll admit that typical circuses have never held that much appeal for me, but the vision of the Night Circus was something entirely different, with a sophistication and uniqueness that made me want to visit again the moment I finished reading. (P.S. If you like audiobooks, Jim Dale does a fantastic job narrating this one!)





I'll give a shout-out to The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof, a historical romance that takes place at a circus and happens to be my current read :) It's not quite as magical an experience since it isn't a fantasy book, but I am enjoying the inside look at the community of performers and the depiction of the lion-taming act was very fun. It so happens that the audiobook of Caraval I've been waiting for from the library just arrived, so it seems my streak of show-based books will continue a bit longer!


Have you read any books based around a circus, theater, or other show? Have there been any common elements in the books you've been reading lately?


See you next time!
Laurie

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What We're Reading (Katie)


What We’re Reading: Affinity by Dianne Wilson (Katie)

Hi everyone! I am thrilled to be a part of Lands Uncharted! I’ve been lurking here for a couple years now, and I’ve met a few of my co-bloggers in person at various writerly events. When I was asked if I’d like to join the blog, well, it was a no-brainer.

I thought I’d tell you a little about me before I jump into what I’ve been reading. A “getting to know you,” you could say!

I’m a Christian wife and mom who loves writing, reading, gardening, and traveling. Sometimes people ask about the gardening thing. I always say growing things is sort of like a super power, right? I’m currently finishing up a Bachelor’s of Religious Education, with a focus on elementary education.

When it comes to reading, I read in all genres. I love a good story! When it comes to writing, I typically prefer YA speculative genres, like fantasy or sci fi. However, I’ve also had close to a dozen nonfiction children’s books published in the educational realm, and I have two inspirational romances out in the adult world. (Grown ups. *shudder*.)

My teen books are with Pelican Book Group, and my latest novel released in May.

What I’m Reading!

Now let’s get to the good stuff! I’ve been reading a lot this month. Have you ever heard of Swagbucks? It’s an online platform that let’s you take surveys for small payments (and you can also get paid for other stuff like shopping through their app, etc.). I try to make $1 a day, and I use that money to buy…drumroll…books! It’s a great way to get all the great stories I crave.

Anywho, this month I read:

Affinity by Dianne Wilson
 Flight of the Raven by Morgan Busse
The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie Reeder
Nyssa Glass by H.L. Burke


Today I’m going to focus on Affinity by Dianne Wilson. This book was very different than I expected! The back cover blurb painted one picture, but the first two chapters of the book painted a different picture. This trend continued throughout the book, so that every time I thought I had solved the mystery and figured things out another twist would hit and I would realize I wasn’t quite so clever (hee hee!).

Eventually, I did begin to understand exactly what was going on in the story. When everything pulled together I was totally wowed. A very cool plot!

I don’t want to get into too much detail, because the mystery throughout the story is what keeps you going. Suffice it to say it’s a great read for people who really like supernatural or paranormal stories with a Christian overtone. Here’s the back cover copy from the book!

Kai was born with the ability to see brokenness and to fix it. But when a freak accident leaves him trapped in the spiritual realm, he discovers a sinister side to being gifted—much darker than he'd ever imagined. With Affinity Recruiters hunting him down, Kai has to learn how to stay alive, use his gift to save his friends, and stop the flood of evil threatening the world. Can he do it before time runs out?


***What have you been reading?! I’d love to know because I am always looking for new stories to read!***


Saturday, June 8, 2019

Top Three Places to Find New Books (Lauricia)

Greetings fellow lovers of story and fans of fantasy. Welcome to another Top Three installment. I hope your summer is going well, whether you are on an extended break or not.

In my house, all of our activities center around school. My husband and I teach in the same school our teenage sons attend, so we are all at the beginning of our off-season. While my husband and I do a lot of work tutoring, writing, and planning for the next school year, I still have a large amounts of time to spend on indulging in a good book. Although my to-be-read pile will outlast me by several years, my older son (who is also a reader) is never more than two books away from needing something new to read. This leads to the question of where to find that something new. My top three sources (after this blog, of course) are:

(My to-be-read pile.)


This Facebook group is a book club like no other (at least, no other that I’ve been a part of). With over 700 members, this club features free electronic downloads of each month’s books and frequent author posts throughout the month. Many of the group members are also authors, so you never know who you’ll run into. The most relevant feature for this blog post, however, is the group’s companion website. At FellowshipOfFantasy.com you will find a directory of indie and small press authors. This treasure trove is the perfect place to go when you’re on the hunt for something new.


Realm Makers is an annual conference for writers of all types of speculative fiction. Now in its eighth year, this conference is HUGE, which enables the directors to host a book store that features the works of group members. You will find works from authors of all types, including well known faces like Tosca Lee and Ted Dekker and new names in the indie and small press industries. All of these books have been vetted by the conference directors, so you know they will be top-notch quality.


I recently learned of this website, which features reviewed new releases of books as they are being released. Once you make an account, you can explore featured books recommended by Reedsy reviewers and filter through new titles recommended by other readers. (In the interest of full disclosure: I just became a reviewer, and I’m reading my first feature book now—I can’t wait to see how this experience turns out!)

So there are my three places to seek new treasures waiting to be discovered. How about you? Do you have a to-be-read pile that just won’t quit, or are you constantly on the hunt for your next read? Where do you go to find your newest treasures?

Quick disclaimer: none of the above links are affiliate links.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Aquaman vs Jasmine: Humility, Arrogant Confidence, and Tacked-on Themes (Lizzie)

Some friends and I went to see the live-action Aladdin on Memorial Day. I enjoyed it. Beautiful scenery, great visual spectacles, great music, and I liked Aladdin and thought Will Smith did well, though no one can replace Robin Williams in that role. For the most part, this version was very much like the animated classic. It did have two new songs, however, both sung by Jasmine. Unfortunately, the more I thought about these two songs and the "new" Jasmine, the more irked I became. If you haven't seen the new version, basically, the songs are just Jasmine saying that she has a voice and no one can make her be quiet (she actually is heard, then told to be quiet by more experienced people who disagree with her, but apparently it doesn't count unless she's agreed with). Then you learn she wants to be sultan and thinks she'd be a darn good one. So now Aladdin has been turned from a fun tale of a street boy turning honest to a feminist tale. I believe in equal rights, but I wished Disney hadn't messed with the story. They're guilty of tacking on a theme that doesn't fit, and this tacked-on theme is guilty of at least three crimes: interfering with the true theme, creating an inconsistent character, and encouraging bad behaviors (stealing and over-confidence). Bear with me while I explain.

1) A tacked-on theme First off, Aladdin is about Aladdin. The diamond in the ruff. The kindhearted, lying, stealing street rat that must get polished up and become honest and a through-and-through hero. When you shove in two songs and several scenes about Jasmine's desire to be heard and become sultan instead of simply a wife and mother, you take away from Aladdin's theme. He loses out at the end to Jasmine's triumphant receiving of her father's ring and promise to make her the next sultan. We (most) all remember the animated classic and its story, so Jasmine's new scenes feel like the intrusion they are--just an idea Disney wants heard. Jasmine's arc isn't thoroughly developed either, which I'll go into later. The story had an organic theme revolving around Aladdin. It didn't need another. Yet Disney tacked on a unnecessary, cookie-cutter girl-power theme without regard to the real story simply to push its own agenda.

2) An inconsistent character We meet Jasmine wondering innocently through the marketplace as in the animated version. She sees some hungry kids and hands them bread from a food stall. She doesn't have money to pay for the food and is surprised by the owner's anger at this stealing. We think, "Aw, the poor, sheltered princess grew up where everything belonged to her father and she could do what she wanted with it. We can excuse her stealing as pure ignorance. She meant well." Now, we have live-action Jasmine, who does this "innocent" stealing, but then later tells us how she's been training to be sultan all her life and has read books. (She's only been out of the palace once, but she has read books.) She feels she'll be a great sultan. Explain how someone in training to be sultan doesn't understand personal property and stealing? She's either inconsistent as a character ("old" Jasmine and "new" Jasmine intermixed) or simply doesn't consider it stealing when she takes something she isn't willing or able to pay for. She's mad when she thinks Aladdin has stolen a bracelet that belonged to her mother. Taking a sentimental trinket is apparently a crime but taking a man's goods--the stuff that earns him money to feed himself and his family--isn't? Or are we supposed to say it's okay because the kids were hungry (were they starving or wanting a snack, because I get hungry between meals) and the stall owner was mean? Since when did the owner's likably determine whether an act was stealing or not?

3) Morals Unworthy of Fairytales Fairytales are supposed to teach good morals. Be kind, be honest, be honorable, don't be deceived by appearances, and so on. What I'm getting from new Jasmine is that it's okay to steal from mean people--they're just selfish, after all, and have no right to their own property; that if you don't agree with me, you're not listening to me; and that passion and confidence are all that's required to be whatever you want to be. It's great that Jasmine wants to help people, but she doesn't even know what she doesn't know. She's on the level of those people on American Idol who're convinced they can sing but can't. Passion and confidence aren't enough. Respect and positions of influence and power should be earned, worked for over time (usually well into adulthood), and not taken lightly. They require maturity and humility. Granted, not everyone is going to get the same take aways as I do, but they're probably not thinking too much about what's really being said either, simply enjoying the overall story, for better or worse.



A month or so ago, I watched DC's Aquaman. The tattooed, long-haired Aquaman (Arthur) is a bit different from my typical heroes, but I really liked and respected him. One reason is because he's humble. Not an insecure, untalented weakling. Just humble. He knows what he's good at ("I'm a blunt instrument, and I'm good at it") from experience and others's comments. He's been out in the world and knows a thing or two. He knows his limits. He has the sense and maturity to know that ruling a kingdom isn't easy. Despite his training and the encouragement of knowledgeable people (like an advisor to kings and Princess Mera), he feels inadequate. That humility helped him win the day. I'll take Aquaman's sense and humility over Jasmine's ignorance and arrogance confidence any day.

As a writer, it's our responsibility to not only write great stories, with proper theme and character development, but to be careful what messages we are sharing. Tacking on a theme instead of sticking with the story's real theme can have unintended consequences. (And can really annoy certain types of readers/viewers.)

Have you seen Aladdin and Aquaman? What did you think of them? Does it bother you if extraneous themes are added on to push whatever is popular at the time or do you not care so long as the overall story is good?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Top 3 Home Libraries (Julie)

What is your ideal home library like? Are you the Professor Henry Higgins type where there's at least two stories of books?

Or are you the Belle kind of library where the whole room is choke full of books?

Perhaps you are more of a simpler type of a few bookcases with just your favorite books?

I don't know about you, but I'm still dreaming of my home library.  So here's my top 3 dream home libraries!

Number 3 goes to the Henry Higgins type. It definitely has to have the spiral staircase because you never know when you want to slide down!






Number 2 goes to the cozy library nook. It's hard to beat a comfy window seat while you read a favorite book surrounded by more of your favorite books!

And my Number 1 spot goes to the most amazing home library ever!!! The library with a secret passage! I mean, what could be better? When you're supposed to be in bed but you sneak through the secret passageway to the library for a midnight read? Right? Or maybe I've just watched too many old mystery movies...


No matter what you personal preference, you just can't beat having a lovely home library. It's like having another world inside your own home!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse (Laurie)



We're so excited to be a part of the Blog Tour celebrating the release of Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse! The first book in Morgan's Ravenwood Saga has made several appearances on Lands Uncharted, including a review by Lauricia and my Top 3 New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2018. Now I get the opportunity to share my review of the second book in this powerful series, Flight of the Raven! Also, keep reading to find out more about the author, the Blog Tour, and the tour giveaway!

***My description of the plot of this book inevitably involves spoilers for Book One, so I would recommend skipping the following paragraph if you haven't read Mark of the Raven yet!***

***

In Flight of the Raven, we pick up with Selene reeling from betraying her own house and family and her unexpected marriage to Lord Damien, a man she hardly knows. Her uncertainty only grows as they enter Damien's seaside home and she faces the coldness and suspicion of his people. Now distanced from her cruel, domineering mother, Selene hopes to learn more about the origination of her dreamwalking gift and about the Light, the power worshiped by Damien and many of his people. But instead, she's increasingly plagued by nightmares and disturbed by hints that her gift may be further-reaching than she ever could have imagined. Damien's sweet, thoughtful nature and their mutual loneliness begins to draw them together as a couple, but fears of revenge from House Ravenwood and the certainty of a pending war threaten to keep their happiness at bay. Selene must be stronger than ever and face difficult, life-altering choices if she wants to find a new purpose for her talent as a dreamwalker and distance herself from her family's past once and for all.







***


Flight of the Raven satisfied everything I was hoping for coming out of Book One. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Selene's character outside the darkness and confines of her family secret, with a nice balance of staying true to herself while experiencing a lot of growth. And Damien! *happy sigh* I absolutely fell in love with this guy in Mark of the Raven, and he didn't disappoint me one bit in the sequel. Strong, kind, vulnerable, a gentleman through and through - let's just say, when it comes to a marriage of convenience, Selene totally struck the jackpot :) The progress in their relationship came about very naturally and really showcased the beauty of marriages in which the spouses open up to each other and do their best to work as a team. Definitely my favorite aspect of the book!

I also found it fascinating to get to know more about Selene's powers. She's already found one positive aspect of her gift, but the extent of what she can do is still shrouded in mystery so I can't wait to see where the author takes it in Book Three! It was sad but eye-opening to get to know Amara better in this book. She tugged on my heartstrings on more than one occasion, and her love for her little sister and strained relationship with her mom added a lot of context to her seemingly harsh exterior. And overall, I just relished the chance to spend more time in Busse's rich, vibrant story world, expanding to new places like Nor Esen and Lux Casta.


Now I just have to survive the wait for Book Three! You can find Flight of the Raven on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.




If you haven't had a chance to start this series yet, here's the blurb for Book One, Mark of the Raven:

Lady Selene is the heir to the Great House of Ravenwood and the secret family gift of dreamwalking. As a dreamwalker, she can enter a person’s dreams and manipulate their greatest fears or desires. For the last hundred years, the Ravenwood women have used their gift of dreaming for hire to gather information or to assassinate.

As she discovers her family’s dark secret, Selene is torn between upholding her family’s legacy–a legacy that supports her people–or seeking the true reason behind her family’s gift.

Her dilemma comes to a head when she is tasked with assassinating the one man who can bring peace to the nations, but who will also bring about the downfall of her own house.

One path holds glory and power, and will solidify her position as Lady of Ravenwood. The other path holds shame and execution. Which will she choose? And is she willing to pay the price for the path chosen?






And here's a bit about the lovely author, Morgan L. Busse!

Morgan L. Busse is a writer by day and a mother by night. She is the author of the Follower of the Word series and the steampunk series The Soul Chronicles. She is a Christy and INSPY Award finalist and won the Carol Award in 2018 for best in Christian speculative fiction. During her spare time she enjoys playing games, taking long walks, and dreaming about her next novel.

You can connect with Morgan on her website, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and BookBub.













Make sure to check out the other stops on the Blog Tour! You can find the full schedule here or by clicking on the image below.







I mentioned a tour giveaway, didn't I? :) Enter the Rafflecopter below for the chance to win paperback copies of Mark of the Raven and Flight of the Raven, plus a $20 Amazon giftcard for the lucky grand prize winner! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on June 7th, 2019. 



a Rafflecopter giveaway


Congratulations on your new release, Morgan! Have you read this series yet? What was the last sequel you read that was especially satisfying?


Thanks for reading!
Laurie

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Saturday, May 25, 2019

One Draft, Two Draft (KaLyn)


One Draft, Two Draft (a writer’s parody)

One draft.
Two draft.
Bad draft.
Blaah draft.

Half draft.
Whole draft.
Rotten draft.
Cold draft.

This one’s beginning lags.
This one’s middle sags.
Say! What a lot
Of drafts there are.

Yes. Some are bad. And some are blaah.
 And some you wish, you never saw.

Some don’t begin.
And some won’t end.
 And some—never ever, ever send.

But don't let
Fear hold you back.
You can learn
Any skill you lack.

Make some friends
And share your work
Connecting is the point.
Don't just lurk.

From bad to good, from good to bad, 
Writing lessons
Must be had.

It takes time
To find a way
And that's okay!
You only need to pray.

Oh this! Oh that!
Oh dear! Oh me!
What a lot
Of writing lessons we see.


This is my last post as a regular contributor on the spectacular Lands Uncharted, with the lovely ladies of Lands. But this isn’t goodbye! You can find me on my blog at authorkacummins.com or hanging around social media (@authorkacummins).

See ya later, alligator! ;)