Devil in the Microscope Book Review

Devil in the Microscope by Ryan Decaria

Genre: YA science fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

Anika has been on the run her whole life, all fifteen years, and she’s sick of it. When opportunity knocks, she jumps at the chance to meet her father. But life with him isn’t as charming as she’d hoped. It turns out that in a town full of mad scientists, Anika’s father is the maddest.

Anika wasn’t a lonesome cowboy wandering the range, but her longing for home was the central theme of this book. She pursued a stable home for her friends even when she couldn’t obtain it for herself. I enjoyed reading such an old trope presented in a teen science fiction.

What I liked: I loved how the villain, Anika’s father, was so likeable. He’d make pancakes for breakfast and interact with Anika like a sweet dad should, and then he’d run off to hunt down and kill a rogue science experiment. I could never decide if he was truly evil, and I liked that uncertainty.

What I didn’t like: For some reason, this read like a middle grade book instead of YA, so every time the YA content appeared, it was startling and disengaged me from the story. It may have been the repetitive sentence structure (Anika did this. Blake did that. Billie did this. Claire did that.) There were a few typos I noticed that should have been fixed in proofreading as well.

Dream Breaker Book Review

Dream Breaker by Jason King

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars

Dareth has been hired to protect the High Priest from assassination. But while refilling his magical reserves, the assassin confronts him, and Dareth learns that the religion and politics he believes in may be corrupted.

This story was not long enough! I loved the characters and the magic system and the setting. It was all fantastic, and I’d really enjoy a full-length novel in this world.

What I liked: The textbook Dareth read while studying his magic kept inserting explanatory lines into his thoughts. It was amusing.

What I didn’t like: The beginning of the story is a great big info dump about the magic system, so it was kind of a slog to get to the interesting part. The cover isn’t great because it conveys absolutely nothing about the story.

Read if you enjoy short stories, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Brooks, or Weis and Hickman.

Schism Book Review

Schism by James Wymore

Genre: Science fiction with some fantasy and steampunk elements

Rating: 4/5 stars

While transporting spices, Jake’s airship is attacked. In order to save his ship from the curse placed upon it, Jake must negotiate for peace between two warring factions. If he’s successful, he could win safety and stability for himself and his girlfriend, but if he loses, he’d have to give up his precious airship. If he loses his airship, he loses his livelihood, and most likely his life.

Wymore plunged into the action and hooked me right away. The writing and setting felt fresh. I could have easily spent more time in this world and would have preferred a full-length novel.

What I liked: The setting is a different planet that does not rotate, so the only liveable area is the zone between the too hot and too cold sides. People live inside caves that are down in cracks and chasms. It was very unique.

What I didn’t like: The plot felt rushed. Elements of the story were introduced without much explanation or build-up. The conclusion felt too easy.

I recommend this book for anyone 13 and older. Read if you enjoy Brandon Sanderson, Firefly (TV show), Final Fantasy RPGs, or Dune.

Thomas Destiny Book Review

Thomas Destiny by Jason King and Jon Grundvig

Genre: MG contemporary fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

While on a Scout camping trip, Thomas accidentally releases a demon from its prison and then gets sucked into another dimension while in pursuit of it. To get back home, Thomas must embark on a journey to find a shard of creation, relying on a ragtag group of unusual friends to help him along the way.

This is a really fun, light-hearted read with nonstop action and a lot of banter. I am not the intended audience, so Thomas Destiny didn’t keep me engaged, but I know my tween boys would love it.

What I liked: I love a good portal fantasy! The supporting characters are very unique: a druid who chronically lies, a baby giant, a ghost-shaped green blob, and a teen wizard. The cover art is fantastic.

What I didn’t like: This book felt bizarre and rambling and dream-like. Similar to when I read Alice in Wonderland, I felt like I needed to be high on opium to truly enjoy it. Sometimes the plot felt shallow and the emotions didn’t hit as hard as they should have because the comedic asides from the narrator interrupted powerful moments. The story doesn’t have a very satisfying conclusion.

I recommend this book for boys from ages 10-13. (I’m sure some girls would like it too, but there are zero female characters besides Thomas’ mom who is left behind in the opening pages.) Read if you enjoy Alice in Wonderland, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, or the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale.

Falling through Stars – Author’s Note

The seeds for this story were planted in my childhood. I grew up in Alaska, surrounded by the ancestral lands of the Ahtna Athabascan people. While attending school with Ahtna classmates and working for the village governments after college, my respect for the Ahtna people and their culture grew.

When a village family fell into crisis, my parents chose to foster and then adopt the four children. These four children became my siblings: by choice, by law, and by love. I love them as fiercely as if they were siblings by blood.

My adopted brothers and sisters have a dark past, and I found myself compelled to demonstrate the love I have for them, our childhood homeland, and their people. However, Ahtna Athabascan mythology and history is not mine to tell, because I do not share their heritage.

Instead, I wrote a story about a people that are like the Ahtna people. It is deliberately
inaccurate. The Ahtna are very private about their myths and culture. I considered making the people in my story white to match my own skin color, but to me, white-washing the characters lacked authenticity. To be genuine, the characters in this story had to have brown skin.

This book is a story about people that could have been. It is entirely fiction. I researched the history of the setting to create believable details, but all of the characters and their villages were made up within my own head.

In today’s society, authors are discouraged from writing about races with which they do not share a bloodline. Social media mobs have attacked authors who have broken this perceived rule, causing severe damage to what might have been promising careers. With the possibility of this kind of censure hanging over me, one might ask why I wrote this book.

My skin is white. The Native American blood in my veins is so diluted that it hardly counts.

But imagination gives humanity the power of empathy, to learn by observation and education instead of by our own experience. My skin does not have to be brown for me to empathize with marginalized people. It is my hope that people of all skin colors can find beauty within these pages. I hope that my readers can feel the love I feel for my two brothers and my two sisters who do not look like me.

Improving Your Craft: First Person POV

My favorite point of view to write in is first person. No other POV can provide such deep immersion into a character. All types of third person POV filter the character’s experiences through the eyes of an observer. In first person POV, the reader gets to assume the character’s identity, feel their emotions, and live their life. Using first person can be particularly tricky, so I’m going to give you some tips on how to strengthen your writing in this POV.

First, edit out ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’ as much as you possibly can. This seems contradictory, but I promise it’s going to help. Here’s an example of bad writing pulled from the scribblings of Yours Truly:

“I used my eyes, ears, and nose to scour the estranged landscape for any threat to me.”

It’s is better written like this:

“Using all five senses, I examined the estranged landscape for any threat.”

This next example uses I four times in a single sentence.

“I listened and the more I listened the more I was convinced that, not only was the noise produced by something alive, but it came from within the very car I crouched against.”

It can be cut down to one I like this:

“The minutes crept by while the noise continued, proving that something alive occupied the very car I crouched against.”

Doing this for entire paragraphs is going to make your first person POV sound more mature.

Second, do not use I heard, I saw, I noticed, I realized, I felt, I thought, etc. The properties of this POV make these things understood, so you don’t have to specify who saw, heard, etc. Instead of writing, “I thought the man looked exhausted,” write, “The man looked exhausted.” We know who is looking at him and what he is thinking because we are already in the POV character’s head.

Third, do not begin every sentence or paragraph with I. Varying your sentence and paragraph structure to avoid this will make your writing smoother and more pleasant to read.

Politics (vomit emoji)

I didn’t watch the presidential debate, because I knew it would turn out to be exactly what it was: an embarrassing shouting match between two angry, geriatric men who are both greedy for power, money, and control. I am intensely, INTENSELY disillusioned with politics. My vote does not count. I don’t know if it ever has. Not voting is not an option though, so I am forced to piddle away my vote on a candidate who has no chance of winning the election.

I have been offered two piles of poop to eat for dinner. One is from a carnivore. One is from an herbivore. Everyone I know is demanding that I eat one of the piles, but I refuse, because THEY ARE BOTH POOP!

How I long for the average joe to be elected to office.

Me: Hey, Beth Doe! I’ve noticed that you are a very wise person, but you are also extremely kind. I think you should run for president.

Beth Doe: No, thank you! LOL! I’d rather grow kumquats and collect trilobites.

(Beth Doe gets elected president because other people have noticed the same thing.)

Beth Doe: Oh, very well. I’ll do it because I love my country and it’s my duty, but I’m going back to kumquats and trilobites as soon as my term is over.

So how do I make a difference in a country whose government is so far beyond my influence?

Sitting in bed, watching the fan spin quietly overhead, the peace of home floods over me and I have my answer. I begin in the cradle.

This house is a shelter from the chaos raging in the world outside its walls. It is brimming with love and happiness. In here, I can teach my children to be good and kind spouses, siblings, and parents. I can show them the strength of family, how to be a neighbor, and how to improve a community by serving its citizens. Within these walls, I can teach them critical thinking skills and give them the ability to form their own opinions instead of following the masses. They can practice compromising, listening to opposing views, and researching information to find truth. In time, they can pass those skills on to their own children.

So here I cast my vote, where it matters, within my own family. I cannot control or even effect what is going on out there in the United States of America, or inside the pompous White House, or in the arrogant chambers of Congress. But I CAN make a difference in this humble home.

Yes, you SHOULD post a 1-star review!

Lately, I’ve noticed a troubling trend of readers being discouraged from posting 1-star reviews. They are told to leave well enough alone. Perhaps they didn’t like the book, but others do, and they should not damage the author’s reputation or ability to sell by posting a negative review simply because the reader was not a member of the intended audience. Even worse, those posting negative reviews may be accused of harassment, bullying, or of being an internet troll.

However, 1-star reviews are critical for the health of the publishing market!

Self and independent publishing has exploded in the last few years, revolutionizing the publishing industry. Stories that were once considered unmarketable because they didn’t fit into traditional genres can now find a niche in the reading community. Authors can bypass the competitive submissions rigmarole and reduce the number of times that their royalties are split. It is wonderful and good! However, the rigorous vetting process provided by traditional publishers has been removed. That means that anybody can publish anything, regardless of quality and, frankly, the market has since been flooded with sub-par material.

Once an author has completed the story, s/he must morph from artist to business person. That means s/he must make his or her book good enough to sell. If the author has not produced a quality product through grammar and content editing, formatting, cover design, etc., then a potential reader needs to be informed of these problems before purchasing. A book is a product, just like a shirt in a clothing store. If the seams are going to separate or the fabric shrink after one wear, the consumer should know about it. Books are simply consumer goods and a consumer should never be forced to spend money on a product that is riddled with grammatical errors, typos, and plot holes because someone was afraid to point out the problems and potentially hurt the author’s feelings.

Most of the time, 1-star reviews demonstrate a difference of opinion, nothing more. Authors should never be afraid of or offended by that, regardless of how it stings. 1-star reviews now provide the filter that traditional publishing used to create, by weeding out the underwhelming books and saving the consumer time and money. If we want access to good reading material, then ALL stories must be accurately reviewed, whether good or bad.

Post those single stars, readers. It will help all of us find the best books!

13 Tips for a Successful Marriage

I was descending the cliff of the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park when the woman hiking behind me struck up a conversation. She discovered that my husband and I were there to celebrate 13 years of marriage and she immediately asked for tips. The question caught me off guard and I mumbled, “Just be forgiving, I guess.” My answer felt inadequate because there is so much more that goes into marriage. After thinking about it for several days, I’ve come up with 13 tips. These are by no means all-encompassing, and I think the things that work for me and my husband may be different for other couples, but I felt compelled to explore the question a little more. So, to the woman on a roadtrip from Oregon to Texas to start school, these are for you.

1. Be forgiving and apologize – My husband often apologizes before I am ready to forgive. I still feel mad and want to stay angry longer, but I have found it is better to let the issue go immediately and move on. Sometimes it’s brutally hard, but it’s also worth it. My husband is usually quicker to apologize than me. It’s one of his strengths, so I make an effort to apologize first sometimes, even if I wasn’t in the wrong or didn’t start the fight. Don’t hold a grudge and be prepared to forgive even if your spouse never apologizes.

2. Have fun – This one is critical for us. We continue to go on regular dates. We do fun things together that we both enjoy like dancing, escape rooms, hiking, and eating out. We flirt with and tease each other. While at a restaurant recently, my husband tugged down the collar of his t-shirt, giving me a brief glimpse of his collarbone and a bit of pectoral just to make me blush. It worked and I busted up laughing as he grinned at me. This kind of behavior makes me adore him.

3. Let your spouse make choices – My husband decided to reorganize the utensils drawer in our kitchen. It irritated me and my first instinct was to put it back the way I’d had it. But I stopped myself. The message that would have sent was that the kitchen was MY realm and he wasn’t welcome there. That is most definitely not what I wanted him to feel. He loads the dishwasher and cleans the bathroom differently than I do and I REFUSE to “fix” it or do it over. Different does not mean he’s wrong or I’m wrong. It’s just different.

4. Encourage each other’s goals/dreams – My husband is a champion at this. I have long wanted to be an author. When we got married, I had published a couple articles and a couple poems. I really wanted to publish a novel. I was frequently writing, but I never really discussed my work with my husband. I guess I was a little embarrassed and worried about what he would think of me. He never read anything I wrote, but he ALWAYS supported me! It was never “if” I got published with him. It was “when”, even though he didn’t know if I was any good! He never resented the time I spent writing. He would even take on my responsibilities so I could continue working if I was on a roll. Do this for your spouse!

5. Share the work – Our work is split by traditional gender roles. He works as a high school math teacher and wrestling coach. I stay home to care for the kids and run the household. However, there are no jobs that we refuse to do because he is male and I am female! When he is home, he doesn’t hesitate to do the dishes or change a poopy diaper. And I have often spent long hours helping him grade homework or enter test scores. Work is just work, and when it needs to be done, we both do it.

6. Cycles of sexuality – I will try to address this delicately without revealing TMI. Our most difficult year of marriage was one where we had polar opposite physical needs. He needed a lot of intimacy. I…did not. I could not convince him that I still loved him and found him attractive despite my lack of passion. He just couldn’t comprehend my viewpoint. Yet at the beginning of our marriage our roles had been reversed because of side effects from medication he had been taking. Recognize that desires fluctuate and often have more to do with biology than with emotion. Be patient with these type of phases, but also be willing to compromise if you are in such a phase.

7. Kids – Children get a bad rap in society, but I have found that besides my husband, they are the greatest source of light and joy in my marriage. We have more than either of us planned on, basically because I won’t touch birth control with a ten foot pole (don’t get me started), but I don’t regret a single one of them. I hope to be done now after five, but if another one comes, it will be loved and welcomed. Don’t be afraid to let the babies come. They are wonderful.

8. Religion – My husband and I are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Religion plays a huge role in our marriage. We believe that marriages can last for eternity instead of “till death do us part”. Going into a marriage with this type of belief creates a strong sense of commitment. Knowing that my husband isn’t going to divorce me if things get hard gives me a tremendous sense of security and safety. I am free to be me and to make mistakes. We also pray for each other and for help in creating a strong marriage. Calling upon divine powers makes me feel more capable of success.

9. Don’t spend money you don’t have – There is not much more burdensome to a marriage than debt. Stress from inadequate funds will trickle into every other aspect of your marriage and sour it. If you don’t have money, don’t spend it. Period. Being debt-free creates a tremendous amount of peace.

10. Communicate appreciation – Say thank you. Say it over and over and over. Notice your spouse’s efforts and acknowledge them. If your spouse feels appreciated, your spouse will keep making the effort. Always focus on your spouse’s strengths instead of his or her weaknesses.

11. Don’t talk badly about your spouse – In order to demonstrate rapport with a struggling couple, I would tell them about the fights that my husband and I got into. My intent was not to put down my husband, but he always came out looking like the bad guy. After a few of these conversations, my husband asked me to stop because I was making him feel like an idiot. So I stopped. Now I only praise and honor him in public. We have disagreements, but those are strictly our business.

12. Service – My husband came home late from work and started eating dinner while I took the kids downstairs to clean the basement bathroom. The kids did not like this and threw a few tantrums. By the time we finished, I was feeling cranky and irritated that my husband had never appeared to help. But while herding the kids upstairs to get ready for bed, I smelled cleaner and realized that as soon as he had finished his dinner, he had cleaned the upstairs bathroom for me. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I just about started crying. This type of service goes a long, long way. Do it often for each other.

13. Sacrifice – This is really important, so pay attention. We are taught by today’s society that the only way to find true happiness is by being what we want to be and doing what we want to do, no matter the cost. The career, the income, the house, the car, and the international travel must all be achieved before even considering a spouse or children. This is false. Sometimes, the purest form of happiness is found by sacrificing what we want so that someone else can fulfill what they want. And sometimes, as in my case, those very sacrifices lead to the fulfillment of everything you were dreaming of before those sacrifices were made. Happiness comes in many forms. It is not less valuable because it comes by a different method than you thought it should.

I feel like a hack sharing these. Thirteen years isn’t all that long and most of the time, I’m as bewildered as everyone else as to how to make a marriage work. I’ve never had to deal with issues like abuse or infidelity, so I don’t know how I would handle those. But hopefully you have some ideas of things to try in your own marriage. I wish you abundant love and happiness in your endeavors. If you have tips of your own, please share them in the comments.

My Cry for New Zealand

I want you to go outside today and look up. Look at the mountains and the trees. Listen to the birds. Feel the air currents moving on your skin. The atmosphere that touches you is the same that touches me. We draw breath of the same gasses. Under the thin crust of rock on which we stand flows the same magma over the same core. The same light shines on us from the sun, moon, and stars.

This planet is our home.

Something terrible happened in New Zealand and my heart is breaking for those people. I feel compelled to write my jumbled thoughts about it.

All the details aren’t clear yet, but a man shot people worshipping in two mosques. A lot of people were hurt and a lot of people died. It may have been because they were Muslim and it may have been because they were immigrants and refugees. The cruelty and selfishness and evil encompassed in that man makes me feel physically ill. Thankfully, he has been caught and will face justice for his actions. Yet this incident is a symptom of a more widespread problem.

We are living in a culture of outrage and offense. If someone looks, acts, or believes differently, we ridicule and criticize them. Sometimes we gather entire mobs of people on social media to attack them until they withdraw their point of view or admit error when no error was made. This type of behavior is despicable and when it manifests in smaller issues, then the hatred and malice compounds into bigger issues until some psychopathic idiot murders a bunch of innocent people.

As members of humanity, we ought to welcome diversity. The variety of foods, colors, clothing, dances, books, religions, even physical human features brings so much beauty to our world. This diversity should be treasured and welcomed into our homes, cities, and countries.

It doesn’t make sense for us to hate each other because we are standing in different rooms of the house. It’s absurd to dislike others because their clothes are the exact same style, but a different color. Building walls between countries, refusing to provide safety for the innocent, or rejecting kindness to someone different are acts that ought to be condemned.

If a child has a nightmare and comes to you for comfort, you don’t spank it and lock it in a dark room. You hold it, kiss it, chase the shadows from the room, and check under the bed for monsters. If your neighbors house is on fire, you don’t nail shut the doors and windows. You help them escape, put out the fire, and then assist in cleanup and rebuilding. If a country is at war, the same principles apply. We should welcome the refugees. We should help the immigrants. We should end their nightmare, not perpetuate it. People who lock a child in a closet and deprive them of basic care are known as abusers. So why is it acceptable to do it on a planetary scale?

As a member of the human family, we are capable of empathizing with people whose situations and choices are different. We can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and our contemporaries. Let’s reject the exclusivism of race and country. Instead, open your arms and your borders. Offer kindness and acceptance. Allow New Zealand’s pain to pierce your heart and motivate you to make a difference, somehow, today.