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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Carry On | Rainbow Rowell

“You were the sun, and I was crashing into you.”

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy. 
Number of Pages: 522.
Perspective: First Alternating. 
Location: England.

Carry On is the story of a “chosen” wizard, Simon. When his arch-nemesis keeps creating chaos, Simon, his love interest, and his best friend must figure out what is happening in order to save all of the magic world. For a complete summary, you can go here.

OK, so this book needs a little bit of backstory. In one of Rowell’s other books, Fangirl, the character writes a book that is similar to Harry Potter. The story within that book got so much attention that Rowell decided to turn it into a full standalone novel. That leaves us with Carry On. Technically, it should be considered Harry Potter fan-fiction. 

I was worried that I wouldn’t get some of the subtle connections to Harry Potter since I have only read the first book and watched all the movies (Gasp! I know). But that problem was solved when I discussed this book with my book club. They clarified any small links that I didn’t pick up on. During the first part of this book, I was rolling my eyes since it was too much like Harry Potter. It would be like if Rowling summarizes the first six books in the first few chapters of book seven. We don’t get to experience Simon’s first years as a wizard. So the book was moving very slowly. Until there was a HUGE twist a few chapters in that made it all so much more interesting and it separated itself from Harry Potter and other popular fantasy stories. 

As a fan of Rowell’s other books, I expected a great book. However, I wasn’t expecting her to be able to create a fantasy world so well. I think world-building is one of the hardest skills to master as a writer. It was a little bit of a quirky fantasy story and not as serious as the Harry Potter series. My favorite part is that their spells were common phrases and idioms used by nonmagical people. The more often a phrase is used, the more powerful the spell. The twist is that the magicians never know exactly what the spell will do. 

I loved this story! The reasons why I didn’t give it a 5 star review are because I liked Eleanor and Park by Rowell so much better, it had a slow start, and the ending left a couple of lose ends. 

I think anyone who likes young adult or fantasy stories would love this book. It is probably one of the easiest to read fantasy stories I have read. You don’t have to be a fan of Harry Potter to read this story, but you may appreciate it a little more. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 4/5 Stars



“Just when you think you're having a scene without Simon, he drops in to remind you that everyone else is a supporting character in his catastrophe.”






Check out my review of Rainbow Rowell’s other book, Eleanor and Park! 



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Kindle vs. iBooks

There have been many debates in regards to books: hardback versus paperback, mass market paperback versus large print, fiction versus nonfiction, books versus ebooks, etc. Technology and the needs of consumers dictate the evolution of books. While ebooks may not ever completely replace hard copy books, it is important to understand that ebooks have revolutionized how and where people can read. It is also important to note that not all e-readers and e-reading apps are created equally. There are many similarities and differences between two of the most common reading apps: Kindle and iBooks. The best app is determined by each person’s individual needs regarding the device used, what format of book to be used, features wanted and needed while reading, such as annotating and highlighting, and how it incorporates external information. 


Devices:
  • They are both free apps that can be downloaded with WiFi connection or cellular data. 
  • Kindle is available on almost all major phones and tablets. Kindle even has its own line of e-readers appropriately named Kindle. 
  • iBooks is an Apple product, so it only works on their devices (i.e. iPod, iPad, Macbook, etc.). iBooks seems limiting, but it is perfect for someone who owns all Apple products and wants to sync an app across all devices. 
  • Kindle also works on Apple products and can also be synced across all devices, regardless of what platform. 
  • Kindle wins this point. 


Formats:
  • The easiest way to get books for each app is to use their coordinating store: iBooks Store for iBooks and Kindle Store through Amazon for Kindle. Both stores auto-deliver books to the appropriate app, and both provide free samples of many books (Chavanu, 2014). However, some people may get files emailed to them or from a library and need to upload them to an e-reading device manually. 
  • Kindle has its own specific format of books, the AZW file, which prevents that file from being used on other reading apps (Bradford, n.d.). Luckily, Kindle also supports other types of documents such as TXT, MOBI, and PRC. Amazon also can convert other types of files into something that Kindle can read such as: DOC, HTML, PDF, JPG, and PNG (Bradford, n.d.). 
  • Like Kindle, iBooks also has its own unique formatting for books purchased from its online store. It also supports PDF and EPUB files (About iBooks, n.d.). 
  • At first, Kindle may seem to win this area too because of the variety of document types it supports. However, an important note is that it seems like most self-published authors use EPUB files when sending out free copies of their books to reviewers, and EPUB is one of the most common file formats for ebooks overall, which makes iBooks the winner of this category.


Features Available During Reading:
  • “Both ereaders also allow for categorizing books, but the Kindle allows for putting books into more than one category” (Chavanu, 2014) whereas iBooks does not. 
  • Both apps share features such as reading in portrait or landscape mode, adjusting screen brightness and color, and automatic update to the furthest page read as you move from device to device (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • The Kindle has some additional features for personalization of the reading experience such as changing the margin size and number of columns (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • One big difference is that iBooks uses page numbers whereas Kindle uses locations. Locations makes it difficult if someone is reading a textbook with assigned pages or is trying to cite a specific page number. 
  • iBooks has one feature that Kindle does not, which is “the option for reading books in continuous scrolling mode instead of page by page” (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • Another big benefit of iBooks is that it will read aloud text that the reader selects. This is great for auditory learners, hearing the pronunciation of a word, or for people with bad vision. 
  • Each app has some unique features that make it stand out, so this category is a tie. 


Annotations and Highlights:
  • They both allow notes and highlights and save across all devices (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • A plus for Kindle is that its annotations save automatically to the associated Amazon account. 
  • They also both offer highlighting in a variety of colors. The Kindle app has four colors, whereas iBooks has five plus underlining (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • A huge benefit of iBooks is that it allows for readers to send all or some annotations via email (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • While Kindle does not offer that feature, it does allow for readers to sort annotations and categorize them by color (Chavanu, 2014). This is very important to people who want to categorize their notes by color, perhaps for studying or researching. 
  • Another unique feature of iBooks is that it allows for text to be copied and pasted into annotations and it also allows for text within the book to be copied and pasted (Chavanu, 2014). 
  • This category also ends in a tie since both offer some good annotation features, and, again, the winner for this depends on each reader’s individual needs


Incorporating External Information:
  • iBooks does not have an internal web-browser, so all links have to be opened externally (Calimlim, 2015). 
  • Because Kindle does have an internal browser, it offers integration of other apps and offers quick and easy definitions and translations (Calimlim, 2015). 
  • “Kindle’s X-Ray functionality provides more information about the characters, terms and events in books, and the app’s Popular Highlights feature and Goodreads integration make reading a social endeavor and not just a solitary vice” (Calimlim, 2015). 
  • Kindle definitely wins for best incorporating external information. 

It is important to know the differences between Kindle and iBooks apps if you are a reader or a writer. Readers need to focus on the ease of use and appearance, whereas writers need to focus on how many platforms it is available on and how easy it is to get their book into each format. Both apps have unique features that could easily make either one of them a better, depending on what purpose needs to be served. Both apps are very well run and easy to use, so a reader cannot go wrong with either of them. Since the consumers dictate the evolution of technology, it won’t be long before both apps offer a combination of the most popular features. Then it will be a race to see who can come out with even cooler and more unique features. 







References
About iBooks. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201478
Bradford, A. (n.d.). What Types of Files Can I Put on a Kindle? Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://science.opposingviews.com/types-files-can-put-kindle-13019.html
Calimlim, A. (2015, April 28). Apple's iBooks versus Amazon's Kindle. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://appadvice.com/appnn/2015/04/apples-ibooks-versus-amazons-kindle-leading-e-reading-apps-go-head-to-head
Chavanu, B. (2014, September 8). Kindle vs. iBooks: Which Is The Best eReader For Your iPad or iPhone? Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/ios-kindle-vs-ibooks-video-highlight-similarities-differences/ 


Monday, March 21, 2016

Q & A With Author Jan Birley



Hi, Jan! Thanks for joining me! What are your ambitions for your writing career? What would your career look like in an ideal world?

Success, obviously - but for others to enjoy reading about my characters as much as I enjoy creating them. I think success to me would mean feeling validated. I think writers worry constantly that what they are writing is trite rubbish. I know when I re-read my work I think… oh dear. You’ll have to do better than that. I would imagine it’s a little like being an actor, watching your performance and wincing at your perceived inadequacies when actually, the rest of the world thinks you are doing just great.

In an ideal world my career would have zoomed me to the dizzy heights of achievement. This would, of course, include financial security. Above all in this dream nirvana, everything would be taken care of. All those inescapable, tedious everyday chores, leaving me free to write and I wouldn’t be able to procrastinate by thinking things like when I’ve been to the supermarket/rung the dentist/put the washing on then I’ll go and write. As if … but you did say it was an ideal world. 

Those sound like great aspirations! What’s your guilty pleasure TV show?

Gogglebox. This is a UK show where several households of different ethnicity/backgrounds/gender/relationships etc are filmed watching TV programmes and their subsequent comments. This sounds deadly dull but it so funny. They are perceptive, not afraid to speak their minds and hugely entertaining.

Do you believe in fate or love at first sight?

I believe in serendipity. Things sometimes happen for a reason which is not necessarily apparent at the time but can lead to life changes. I don’t think I really believe in love at first sight. Lust and attraction, yes, all those heavenly flirty glances – the seeds of love. But not love, that takes a while longer.


Which writers inspire you?

Nancy Mitford for insights into life for the upper classes in the thirties, portrayed by her light brittle banter which reads effortlessly but demands a great deal of the craft of writing. Dorothy Sayers for Wimsey whom I have always had a soft spot for, along with her spiderweb plots and Penelope Lively for her immaculate style. It always takes an age to read Penelope Lively because her prose is so fine that I have to re-read descriptive passages twice to savour the words.

Give us an insight into how you create your main characters. 

I hear them talking in my head. Weird or what? Sometimes I have conversations with them when I’m out walking which makes me look quite mad. I also always have a notebook with me so when I see something that I know is exactly right for one of my characters - it could be a dress, hair, shoes, I jot it down.

Inspiration does have a mind of its own. What are you working on right now?

I am having great fun writing about a London based interior designer, Dil, who takes on a project in Umbria, Italy. We are lucky enough to have a house there and are shortly going for three weeks and so I am going to write the entire time. Well, that’s the plan. Dil gets herself into a difficult situation, not helped by her Italian being even worse than mine.



What draws you to writing chick lit books? Is that also your favourite genre to read?

Escapism with a happy ending. That draws me to writing chick lit books although it makes chick lit sound anodyne. My tastes are very catholic; I love thrillers, historical fiction, detective novels - anything that’s well written and anything that makes me laugh. 

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to publish their own book?

Persistence, especially initially when you really don’t know if what you’ve written is even worth publishing. Getting truthful friends to comment helps. Many years ago, my husband read something I’d written and basically said, ‘don’t give up the day job.’  I was truly hacked off. Hm. But – now when he says something is good, I believe him because he was honest with me all that time ago.


That's reat advice! What book(s) are you reading currently?

I have just finished First Response, a thriller by Stephen Leather and I didn’t see the ending coming at all. That is always a joy – and ingenious too. I am about to re-read Room by Emma Donoghue because I recently saw the film and it reminded me of how clever the book is. If it had been told from the mother’s point of view it would have been a very sombre read/film but because it was told from the boy’s viewpoint it had great charm and innocence.

I loved Room - both the book and the movie! Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

Thank you for including me in your website and I hope you enjoy The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett.

You're very welcome! How can readers discover more about you and you work?






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Thursday, March 17, 2016

How To Write A Novel

Many people think that writing a novel is as simple as sitting down at a computer or with a pen and paper and just writing. That does work for some people, who are known as Pantsters in the writing community because they are flying by the seat of their pants. These people can just let the story write itself. They claim that the characters take control of the story and the writer has little say in what actually happens.  For most people, this is not the case. Many people have to be Plotters, which is the term for people who plan out their story ahead of time and have a clear vision of where the novel is going to go. This article is for the Plotters. There are three parts to writing a book: prewriting, the actual writing, and editing.




Prewriting:
Before a person can start writing a story, some tasks need to be completed first. 
1. Decide on a general idea for a story. 
This comes to writers in many different ways. It can come in the middle of a dream, while in the shower, while talking to friends, or after thorough brainstorming. Not every story idea will make a good novel, so these prewriting steps can help to see if an idea has potential. 
2. Create the characters. 
Names are important to the final story, but they are not essential at this point. It is more important to determine what the purpose of each character is. Are they the main character? Are they the antagonist? Are they a supporting character? What do they do in the story? It helps some people to complete a character profile, which includes their physical description, their personality, their backstory, and their role in the story. It gives the writer an idea of where the character is going and how they might change. It also helps some people to create a family tree or a web of how different characters are connected. 
3. Create a plot map. 
This could be as simple as writing down how the story is going to start and how it ends, since those are the most important parts of a book. Then add some details about what happens in between to get the story from where the characters are in the beginning to where they are in the end. Plot mapping can also be more complex if a writer starts adding in a theme, different points of view, subplots, and more specific details to guide the writing. Every writer spends a different amount of time in the prewriting stage. Some spend more time prewriting than writing, whereas some writers do not do any kind of prewriting at all.

Writing: 
The process of this step depends on how much time a writer spent in the prewriting stage. It can also vary depending on a writer’s style. Some writers have to write a story in sequential order, from beginning to end. Whereas some writers like to write individual scenes as they feel inspired. Then they piece together all the parts at the end. This all depends on personal preference, but the simplest way is to write in sequential order. 
1. Writing starts off as a draft. 
No writer gets it perfectly the first time through the story. The purpose of a first draft is to just write and get all the ideas down. It is okay to miss some details or have too much information. The revision will come later. Many writers get stuck during the first draft because they overthink while they are writing and start focusing on revision and editing when they should only focus on writing at this point. 
2. Read-through. 
After the first draft feels complete—which is different for every writer—the writer needs to read the entire story. This is where some big edits can happen. This is when to check for macro issues in the story. Does the order of events make sense? Do the characters develop? Are important details missing? Once the story feels solid, the writing process moves on to the next step, editing.

Editing:
Many people think that editing is quick and easy and that moving into this stage means that writing is over. That is not true at all. Editing is usually the hardest and most time-consuming step of writing a novel. The author also might end up rewriting most of their novel. 
1. Read-Aloud.
The best way to start editing is to read the story aloud. Do the sentences flow? Are there grammatical issues to fix? After giving the story a few read-throughs, find a writing group to join. 
2. Get feedback.
Many writing groups have meet-ups where each writer reads aloud a portion of their story to the group and the other writers give feedback. The best way to get feedback on stories is to get a reader’s perspective. Ask them if everything makes sense and what can be improved. 
3. Professional Editing. 
Once a writer has edited their own novel to the best of their abilities and had a few peers read-through and edit their book, it is time to hire a professional editor. Many self-published authors ignore this step, but it is extremely important in order to have a quality novel that experienced readers will enjoy. Reading enthusiasts will easily pick out errors in a book and will not recommend a poorly edited book to their friends, which means no money for the hardworking writer.
4. Get published. 
The final step, getting published, is optional. Getting a traditional publishing deal is getting harder and harder. Many publishers only accept manuscripts from friends or already-established authors. That does not help someone trying to break into the novel writing business. This option requires finding an agent that is in love with the novel and will fight to get the book read by a publisher. Some publishers may request rewrites and some never give any feedback. Very few lucky writers will actually receive an offer. The second route for writers who cannot get a traditional deal, or who choose to forego the agony, is to self-publish. The invention of eBooks has made this into a cheap and easy alternative to paying upfront for a printing company to print hard and paperback copies of a book. Self-publishing can be pricey and requires the author to do a lot of marketing. A small number of self-published authors can make a living off of their book sales.


Some writers write for themselves and never plan to do anything with their novel, and some write with the goal of getting published. The most important tip to remember is that there is no publishing step if an author does not complete the first three steps carefully. Writing a strong story that is edited well should always be the goal. Unless a writer is a Pantster, it is important to properly plan out a novel, then write it well and edit it thoroughly. 


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Q & A With Author John Czarnota


Hi, John! What inspired you to write your book, "The Last Roadshow"?

At first this was going to be a screen play. I've written two in the past. But the bad taste of dealing with L.A. agents and the like came right back. So the thought of writing a book that I could have total control over if I so chose to was a no-brainer. On the business side, millions watch the Antiques Roadshow here, in Europe, and Australia. So there was a strong probability of a built in audience. 

Very interesting. I didn't realize how popular that show is. How did you come up with the title?

Most everything in the book happens after the Antiques Roadshow in Palm Springs, so it was an easy choice. The same for my design of the book jacket. 

What books have most influenced your life most?

I have ADD, so nothing sticks with me long.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

If not at the end of a page, then at the end of each chapter ask yourself "is this the best I can do?"

That's great advice! Where did your love of writing come from?

I've always been a dreamer. I'll never forget my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Lusko, telling me I had a vivid imagination. 

Teachers can really make or break creativity in children. What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

The middle. Filling it in. 

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The dialogue. For me, it's the biggest challenge. Also the most enjoyable. 

Do you write every single day?

No. But I think about what I'm going to write every day. I'm always blocking scenes in, like a screenplay.

Thanks for joining me, John!