Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Long List of Top Books and Authors of 2019 (Lizzie)

I'm not finished reading for the year yet, but since this is my last post of the year, I decided to dedicate it to my favorite books and authors of the year so far. I actually, for the first time, keep a list of the books I read. It's been really fun to see how many I actually read (or started previously and finished). The total for full-length books (fiction and non-fiction) is 37! I also read 7 novella-length books! I read fewer non-fiction books this year (and only finished one writing book), so I will have to work on that in 2020, but I "discovered" novellas this year, which was a pleasant surprise. As for favorite books this year, I couldn't do a Top 3 Books because I loved so many of them, so I'm breaking them down into categories. :)

Top 3 Most Read Authors of 2019

There were many authors this year (some new to me) who convinced me to read a second book, or third, or more. One stands out a little more than the rest...

1. WR Gingell with 8 novels and 2 novellas (Lady of Dreams, Lady of Weeds, Spindle, and the addicting City Between series currently consisting of 5 novels and 2 novellas)

2. Christopher Healy with his three delightful and hilarious The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom middle grade stories.

3. H.L. Burke with Nyssa Glass House of Mirrors, To Court a Queen, and Spellsmith and Carver Magician's Rivarly (I may need to move her up before the end of the year since I have at least one other book currently on my Kindle app).

For authors who I read two books of (and have read or likely will read more by), the list is long (which is exciting): Lea Doue,  Patrick Carr, Nadine Brandes, JF Rogers, RC Sproul, Morgan Busse.

Top 3 Fantasy Romance Novellas

(You can find more information about these on my post here.)

1. Nyssa Glass: House of Mirrors by H.L. Burke
2. Mirrors and Pearls by Lea Doue
3. Curse and Consequence by Savannah Jezowski

Top Fantasy Novels with Romance

1. Lady of Weeds by W.R. Gingell
2. Lady of Dreams by W.R. Gingell
3. The Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley
4. Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue
5. Identity by Camille Peters
6. Fawkes and Romanov by Nadine Brandes
7. Mark of the Raven and Flight of the Raven (Ravenwood Chronicles) by Morgan Busse

Top Short Stories

I have to brag on my friends and I for all the fantastic short fairytale retellings in our anthology Encircled.

Deep Magic Winter edition is also a winner just based on the two short stories I've read so far.

Top Non-Fantasy Books

1. Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos by David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey
2. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
3. Fight Write by Carla Hoch (Okay, I've only read a few chapters of this, but it already deserves a place here.)

Historical Fiction
1. The End of the Magic by Patrick Carr
2. More Than Words Can Say by Karen Witemyer
3. The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

Top Series to Read More of in 2020

1. City Between by WR Gingell
2. The Firebrand Chronicles by JM Hackman
3. Ravenwood Chronicles by Morgan Busse

I enjoyed that. :) So many great reads this year! And so many books on my TBR pile for Christmas break and next year. What are your favorites reads of 2019 so far? Which books are you looking forward to in 2020?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ready Player One (Julie)

Reading the book, Ready Player One, was unplanned but turned out to provide an interesting, thought-provoking read. It's not the sort of thing I usually go for, much preferring epic fantasy, and it did have more language than I like, but I was drawn into the novel by the lure of the mystery game.

Before I go into my thoughts, here's the synopsis from Amazon:
A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the OASIS, a vast virtual world where most of humanity spends their days.

When the eccentric creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a series of fiendish puzzles, based on his obsession with the pop culture of decades past. Whoever is first to solve them will inherit his vast fortune—and control of the OASIS itself. 

Then Wade cracks the first clue. Suddenly he’s beset by rivals who’ll kill to take this prize. The race is on—and the only way to survive is to win.

First of all, one thing really surprised me as a reader. I like action in my stories, as I'm sure most of you do. And I mean a lot of action, fairly frequently. It's easy to get bogged down with just the so-called "humdrum" parts of a story, especially in fantasy/sci-fi fiction. So I was really surprised that I stayed interested in this story as I felt that there wasn't as much action as I would normally would want. And that's because the author, Ernest Cline, does a great job with the world and character building, and with his incredible knowledge of 80s pop culture. I mean wow! Granted, I was born in the 80s, so my 5 year old self didn't really get much out of that decade meaning I didn't catch all the many references.

The whole story plot revolves around a world that has/is falling apart and the one escape for just about everyone, even the poor, is virtual reality. Since things have gotten so bad in the real world, most everyone has turned to the OASIS, to escape their problems. Which then leads to the idea of escapism. If we escape our problems how do those problems get fixed? 

Now in the book, the world's problems don't get fixed at the end. I mean(spoiler alert), the ending is good guy wins, so it has a "happy" ending. But the problems aren't fixed. I believe I saw that the author was considering or in the process of writing book two, so maybe that's where we see some of the fixing.

Gaming is such a big deal in today's time. As a teacher, I constantly hear about how much my students play their games and how a large part of their conversations reveal around games, etc... I see what goes on. So it's scary to read about the earth addicted to video games. You even see in the story how it changes people's behaviors-they even have a term for the young people who shut themselves off from the world and only live in the OASIS. They are dependent on their families to provide them with food because they don't work. 

But enough of that; here are my final thoughts:
-I'd like to warn upfront that it does have quite a bit of language and the main character is 18 so some adult themes. 
- if you are into video games, it's a must read
-if you are looking for something to help spur your creativity, check it out
-the book's way better than the movie

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Top 3 Lands Uncharted Changes Coming in 2020! (Laurie)

It's hard to believe that as of January 1st, Lands Uncharted will be four years old! So much has changed since we first got the blog up and running in 2016, from the way the blog is run to our contributing authors to the publishing industry and technology as a whole. Whew! In light of all these changes, all of us here at Lands Uncharted have been doing a lot of brainstorming over the past few months to figure out how to better accomplish our goal of gathering a community of readers and writers who love clean fantasy. And I'm SO EXCITED about what we've come up with! Here's a sneak peek at some of the upcoming changes - formatted, of course, in Top 3s style :)

3. More Books!

At the end of the day, we're all here for the books, right? I have discovered so many authors through my fellow contributors' posts, and I absolutely love getting to share my favorite books with the world. So, starting in 2020, we're going to have a book review EVERY Friday, under the new title "Weekend Reads." Are you as excited as I am?!? Yes, my to-read pile is already through the roof, but I just can't help being exhilarated by the prospect of even more new books!

2. More Authors!

The community of writers here at Lands Uncharted has always been amazing. Everyone is supportive and creative and so talented, and it's been an absolute pleasure to work with every one of our contributors and guest authors. I love that we have such a range of aspiring to published authors and that several of us have even made the jump from unpublished to published while we were part of this blog. So I'm thrilled to announce that our community is growing!! We will have FIVE new regular contributors who will make their debut posts in January, plus we're hoping to invite many more guest authors to stop by for a visit. I've so enjoyed getting to know all of these lovely writers already, and I'm so looking forward to introducing them to you!

1. More Readers!

As wonderful as my fellow Lands Uncharted authors are, the whole reason we're here is for YOU, our readers! We so appreciate the time you take to connect with us, and we've come up with a way to both say thanks and spread the word about Lands Uncharted to a broader audience. Ready for the big reveal? We are hereby launching our epic Christmas gift box giveaway!!! Eeeeek, I'm so excited! Lizzie, Katie, Lauricia, and I have each put together a book-themed Christmas gift box. FOUR lucky winners will each receive one author's box, containing at least one book and some related goodies - a bit like a one-time, personalized book subscription box. All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter below! And if it's a success this year, we hope to make this Christmas gift box giveaway an annual tradition, so it will be even easier to enter next year when you're already signed up to receive our Lands Uncharted posts via e-mail and following us on social media :) In case this description wasn't enough to entice you, here are pictures of a few of the gift boxes (mine is actually a virtual gift box so our readers outside the U.S. can enter as well!)! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you so much for being a part of our Lands Uncharted community, we hope you're as excited about the future of the blog as we are! Let me know in the comments which of the changes you're most looking forward to!

See you next time!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Writer's Life: Did You Win NaNo? And a vlog! (Katie)

Writer's Life: Did You Win NaNoWriMo?

November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. I've participated several times in the past but this year was the first in a long time. I really wanted to write a Christmas novel (I love, love, love the season, and while it's a painful time of year for me I always manage to find joy in the season).

Did I manage to win? Did I write that Christmas novel? Well, yes and no. I feel like I "won" in the sense that I made major progress on my story--even if I didn't finish it. I did write a Christmas novel in that the story does have a few scenes that take place over the Christmas holiday. But, it's not a "Christmas" book, exactly.

So, what about you? Did you NaNo? If so, did you win?

This month is super busy as many people are gearing up for Christmas, New Years, and other winter holidays. I made a short video about the busyness of the year and how I plan to finish my novel beyond NaNo.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Top Three Books about the Art of Writing and Being a Writer (Lauricia)

I set out to write a festive, seasonal Top Three post about things I’m thankful for in fantasy stories, but I’ve already written about all of the books involved, so I decided on a different approach. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I love writing and how to become better at it. Coincidentally (but probably not), the non-fiction books I’ve been reading have all mentioned writing as an act of service. In one way or another, they’ve all talked about “serving the writing” and how being a good writer means serving the writing well. Since Lands Uncharted has a thread about writing, today I’m sharing my top three books about the art of writing and being a writer.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Modeled after The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The War of Art is a collection of very short chapters (most are less than a page) that define the resistance most authors think of as writer’s block, identify its sources, and offer strategies to counter this particular road block. I don’t often suffer from this particular malady, but The War of Art helped me identify a types of resistance I experience frequently. Since I finished reading this book, I have written more regularly simply because I now recognize when I’m resisting.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is a singer, a songwriter, an author, and a filmmaker. Based in Nashville, he founded The Rabbit Room, “a non-profit ministry dedicated to fostering spiritual formation and Christ-centered community through story, art, and music.” I’m quoting the About the Author section here because the story of how these things occurred is what this book is about. Adorning the Dark discusses Peterson’s journey to becoming the artist he is today and meditates on the lessons he’s learned along the way.

I connected with this book on so many levels, and I came away encouraged, inspired, and determined to… (wait for it…) serve my writing better.

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

Have you ever answered the question of who you would have lunch with if you could have lunch with anyone from any time period? My answer to this question is always Madeline L’Engle. Unfortunately, she has passed away, so her writings will have to do. Fortunately, those writings are uniquely suited to me, just as her stories always were.

In Walking on Water, L’Engle talks about what it means to be a Christian who is an artist. I began the book this morning, so I have only read the first chapter, but already L’Engle has talked about… you guessed it… serving the writing well. Based on the experiences I have had with other L’Engle works on writing, and the fact that I am already inspired after only one chapter, I can’t wait to see what this book holds.

As Thanksgiving officially signals the start of the holiday season, I hope your holiday is filled with love and laughter. I hope you are surrounded by kindness and compassion, and that the wonder of the season fills your days. If you are in a darker place, I pray that you find peace, fellowship with others who love you if you so desire, and the love of a Father who carries you even through the darkness.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The End of the Magi (Lizzie)

I love finding an author I like enough to read everything they write. For me, epic fantasy writer Patrick Carr is one of those authors, so of course I was excited about his latest release, The End of the Magi. (I am also excited about his upcoming interview on the blog next month, so stay tuned for that.) I finished the book in a few days and here are my thoughts on it.

The End of the Magi by Patrick Carr

In short, if you’re interested in the magi, the “three wise men” or “the three king of orient,” or just love a good historical adventure, then this book is for you. It’s different from Carr’s other books in that it is not a fantasy but is Biblical fiction and it is a stand alone book instead of a series, but it retains his great characters and writing and general feel.

But for more specifics, here you go. Myrad is a young crippled Persian man adopted by a Hebrew magus (magi were advisors to kings) for a Parthian king two years prior. His father is one of the secret group of magi formed hundreds of years prior by the prophet Daniel to keep a calendar telling when the promised Messiah would come. When many of the magi get on the wrong side of the concubine determined to be queen, Myrad’s father is killed and Myrad is forced to flee, taking the calendar with him, along with some other documents that make him the focus of a very determined hunt. Unfortunately, a man with a club foot is easily spotted. Myrad takes refuge in a trade merchant’s caravan. As you might guess, he eventually joins up with other magi who keep the calendar and follows the star to visit Christ. It’s not an easy job and the story doesn’t end there, but returns to Jerusalem years later when Jesus is crucified. 

Myrad is a likable hero, one who had to struggle physically more than most heroes, which adds interest to him. I liked the other main characters as well, especially Walagash, the merchant, and his child Roshan. I won’t make any spoilers about the romance, but I like the girl, a very strong and talented young woman. As with any historical novel, I appreciate the way it helps me wrap my mind around the real people and places and cultures it depicts. Even though I have to separate some fiction from fact, I learn more this way often than through plain history. I can do my own research now and learn faster for the fictional introduction to the world. The explanation of the meanings behind the gifts the magi bring made them much more understandable--Jesus is prophet, priest, and king, and the gifts represent that. I knew many Hebrews of the time expected a Messiah to defeat the Romans and that some hated Jesus when it became obvious he wasn’t that kind of deliverer. Carr wove that perspective and others into the different characters for a fascinating look at what different people expected of Jesus and how they responded to him, weaving in scriptures that pointed to Jesus’s true purpose and how he fulfilled seemingly contradictory prophecies.

The End of the Magi is a great adventure story and one that broadened my understanding on the world in Jesus’s day. Definitely recommended.

Have you ever wondered about the magi? How do feel about authors writing in multiple genres? 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Top 3 Romance Book Quotes (Julie)

One week from now I will be married and on my honeymoon!! It's such an exciting (and nerve wracking) time! Here's what goes on in my head: is it going to rain on our outdoor wedding (very possible on a tropical island)? Or will there be a typhoon? Will everything look nice? Will the flies stay out of the food? Yes, those are the issues that we will have to deal with when/if they come up. But despite all of those "if's", I am super excited for a wonderful day no matter what.

One important thing I still need to do is write my vows (here's looking at you, Google)
In honor of the writing of vows and all the knee-buckling, swooning, butterfly inducing words to be written, here are three romantic quotes from books:

3)Pride and Prejudice ( of course something from a Jane Austen book had to be on here=)

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

2) Although the story is sad, it's a beautiful line from Nicholas Sparks's The Notebook:

 “I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.”

1) This one surprised me considering it comes from a beloved kid's story/series, but A.A. Milne, through the wonderful voice of Winnie the Pooh, said this:

"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you." 

Do you have any swoon-worthy, knee-buckling lines from books that you love?