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Champion’s Quest: The Die of Destiny – ARC Review

Rating: 4/5

Release Date: August 3rd, 2021

Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing

NOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher (Shadow Mountain Publishing) in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influences my reactions/rating. This also means that all quotes and plot points are based on the ARC copy and should not fully reflect the final work.

“WARNING – Gameplay in Champion’s Quest only ends upon successful Quest completion.” 

World-building: Realistically, there isn’t a ton I can put here. Of course, there is the whole aspect of building the game, making the rules, learning about the creatures, and mentions of map pathways, but as far as actual description goes, this story could benefit from having more. There was a lot of telling and not showing, so for most of the book I was picturing the characters in a generic forest or town, but in some cases, I couldn’t picture anything and, in my mind, the characters were emoting against a white background.

Plot: Right away, this plot sweeps you off your feet. By quickly introducing a whole slew of characters, there’s no disconnect between learning the backstory of main character Lucas and launching into a world of magic and mysticism. The plot runs as any other adventure might, but there are definitely aspects that add flair. Specifically, I found it rather interesting that, in this game world, players can get injured, but they don’t bleed. This might be a way to make the style a little more PG and less life-or-death, but it is also something that isn’t normally in adventures like this. Otherwise, the “game mechanics” are similar to what most games have, including enemies, a health bar, a storage system (with limited space), a currency, and healing.

Characters: Of the characters, we hear the most about Lucas. Considering he is the one telling the story, this makes perfect sense. In the beginning, Lucas is a kid that just wants to get away from his foster home. Having lost his parents at a young age, he doesn’t feel at home anywhere he gets placed and decided to run away. Lucas is a relatable character, in some ways, because he suffers from the “Creepers” or what others might simply call anxiety. This is a great way to talk about mental health for this age level and even shows that Lucas himself doesn’t know what is happening to him.

While I think this is a great story, with an interesting premise, I think some of the characters are bland. We hear a lot about Lucas, the voice of the book, but the other characters lack a special something that would make me feel more drawn to them. In particular, Vanessa is a very dislikable, vain character. Not only does she come off as selfish from the start, she constantly asserts her age to inflict her superiority (which, to be fair, most teenagers probably would do). I found myself rolling my eyes at her character and generally felt like she didn’t contribute much to the plot.

Miles was a fun character that I would consider fun-loving and energetic, however, I think this was exploited and often made him come off as dumb or foolish, which I don’t think was the intention.

The character I wanted more from was actually Jasmine. I found her character the most interesting, especially since she is silent for a good portion of the novel. Game-wise, she is stealthy and quick to learn the rules; she even seems to be the best at fighting, a useful skill when it comes to RPGs. We learn a few things about her backstory and her family, but there is clearly more to her, leaving untapped potential.

Overall: Four normal kids are thrown into Champion’s Quest, a role-playing game unlike any other. Taking the real-life stakes of Jumanji with the creativity of Dungeons and Dragons and the gaming feeling of open-world RPGs, board game lovers finally have a book curated especially for them. In the end, they learned how to overcome their differences and came together as a team, which is very heartwarming and leaves room for a book two!

Warnings: Mentions of death, anxiety, mild violence

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I Started a Podcast!

Hey everyone!

I hope y’all are enjoying your social distancing and that all of you are healthy and happy out there, wherever you may be. I recently moved into a new apartment with some roommates and all my college courses have been moved to online for the rest of the semester, so I have a lot of time on my hands to start doing new things!

Are you a big nerd? Do you like books? Movies? TV shows? Games? Then you might be interested in my new podcast, [Insert Nerd Topic Here]. We currently have 2 episodes out!

Our first episode is an introduction to our podcast! Today, we released our first real episode about The Witcher! In this episode, we talk about the Netflix show, the book series, and the game. There’s so much information to talk about for this topic and it’s something we both were really passionate about. We actually had to make this into multiple episodes.

If you love nerdy things, I will be talking about books or anything that y’all want to talk about in the near future. Drop suggestions below or on social media and please share this around, we have been working so hard on this and I really enjoy this new branch of media!

Check out our website here to listen to all our episodes. We are also on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman – Review

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

Review:

Initially, I rated this book 4 stars, but as I was writing this review, I realized I leaned more toward 3.5. 

Spoilers for the book and show are present but probably not life-changing.

I read this book because I absolutely adore the show and after binge watching season 4, I decided I need more of the universe and I thought it might help throw me out of my reading slump. Admittedly, I watched the show first, which is something I try very hard not to do, but in this case I didn’t even know there was a book. 

For those of you that just want a short review: Just watch the show, it’s better.

Yikes! A show that is better than the book? Unfortunately I feel like this review is going to more of a comparison. Grossman tries really hard to immerse his readers into the world of The Magicians, but if I hadn’t already seen the show, I think I would have been quite lost. The thing that threw me off the most about this book is that the main character, Quentin Coldwater (who I love), isn’t even out of high school when he gets whisked away from his life and everyone he knows to go to Brakebills College, a school that teaches magic. At the start of the book, it’s clear that Quentin has some serious depression and that he feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere. However, the further you  get into the book, the more you realize that that’s simply how the narration is written. Unlike the TV show, this book talks about Quentin’s magical experiences over the course of at least 5 years. It jumps around quite a bit, but there were times I felt like it helped me understand parts of the show where I had been confused. However, this constant jumping around also made me feel like we were simply skipping over the nitty gritty details and jumping right into the most interesting thing to happen to him every year. This isn’t something I would normally complain about, but when you just get into his 4th year at Brakebills for a chapter and then instantly jump into his 5th year, it feels a little off.

The thing that really hit me was how bitter the characters all were. It was like Grossman was trying to convince me that magic was terrible and life-ruining. The characters were driven mostly by emotion, often betraying their friends and getting into screaming matches only to sleep with that person or forget an altercation ever happened at all. Strong characters that I love in the TV show suddenly were weak and quiet or considered obnoxious and scandalous. It was quite jarring. 

A side note: This book was published in 2009, but for some reason still used the outdated term “hermaphrodite” in one instance, which felt weird to me. No one in editing thought that should be addressed?

Throughout the whole book, you’re always been told about the books Fillory and Further because they are books that the main character Quentin was in love with since he was a kid and then continued to love long after his friends and peers had given that up. Believe it or not, Fillory doesn’t become a reality until the last 150 pages or so.  I mean they put the map of Fillory in the book’s end pages for god’s sake, you would think it was the main plot point. But the real plot point of the book seems to be “How will Quentin handle this next magical thing?”. It’s somewhat unclear. What is clear is the theme of “magic always comes with a price” or “dreams are never what you thought they would be” which is very Once Upon a Time, but accurate.

Overall, if you want a book that talks about the principles of magic and jumps around from interesting plot point to interesting plot point with characters that might all love or might all hate each other (it’s really hard to tell), then this might be the book for you! However, if you want a TV show packed full of action with badass females, an awesome magic concept, and multiple universes, I definitely recommend watching the show first and then reading the book to see what was supposed to happen. Honestly, the show runs relatively the same as the book, with a few tweaks here and there that were actually for the better.

Bonus points awarded for: unique magic system, book inside of a book, and map

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Book vs. Movie

It’s a long conversation that has been debated for a long time. What is better? Book or movie? In reality, there might not be a real answer and it definitely also depends on the book.

What are some of the things that lean people toward one or the other?

  1. Action/Intensity

Books like Lord of the Rings have been fan favourites for a long time and long before the movies were made. However, how many of you have actually read one of those books and seen the movie? If you had to include every single step in Fellowship of the Ring, you would be watching an extremely long movie. The difference between those books and those movies is simply that the movie is faster in pace. I’m not saying you can’t love a long book, but it’s much cooler to see Frodo and Sam walking through Middle Earth than it is to read about it.

2. Seeing characters in action

It’s one thing to read a book and have that little movie playing in your head. But actually seeing that movie on the big screen with sometimes exactly what you pictured can feel like a miracle. I remember when I first heard that they were making The Hunger Games into movies, I was so excited to finally be able to see the characters I had read about coming to life.

3. Details

Any Harry Potter lover wouldn’t be able to watch the first movie without pointing the missing plot points from the books. Since most people tend to watch the books first, it’s hard to know exactly what comes between point A and point B, but it’s another thing entirely when they skip point B and move on to point C without a problem. Fans love making sure that everything is going exactly as it should and taking away those key elements can be heartbreaking to a book lover.

There are literally dozens of reasons for people to pick one over the other and, most of the time, it’s entirely circumstantial.

What are some of the reasons you pick which one you like better?

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Book Writing #5: Genre Basics #1

Genre is one of the most important basic fundamentals to writing and finding that perfect genre to describe your book is one of the best marketing tools at an author’s fingertips. Here are some of the bigger genres to help with a basic understanding!

Middle Grade – Written for children generally in middle school in a bildungsroman style (coming of age) (i.e. Percy Jackson and the Olympians)

Young Adult – Written for a high school audience that usually have the main character overcoming a flaw or event that was pivotal in their life (i.e. Six of Crows)

New Adult – Fills the void between adult and young adult. Generally for older high school age children and college age people and contain more explicit content than young adult.

Adult – For adults and written in a more aggressive style. Leaves less to the imagination and it’s afraid to put explicit content and gore.

Sci-Fi – Commonly set in the future of Earth or some other planet with advanced technology or modern day Earth also with advanced technology or any new technology that seems possible but far from what we are currently capable of. Many sci-fi books include space in some form or another. Often paired with fantasy (i.e. Ender’s Game and Dark Matter)

Fantasy – Set in a completely fictional world made up by the author and is likely to include fictional intelligent species sometimes with their own language. These worlds often use medieval style living and technology (sword, bow and arrows). Often paired with sci-fi (i.e. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones)

Mystery – Commonly set in a detective format where the main character is trying to solve some kind of problem that has alluded them for a time

Paranormal – Put simply, vampires and werewolves, but can include most creatures that are considered “paranormal”. Angels and sirens can fall into this category. Usually, there is a looming, dark, magic presence that is after the main character. Often paired with romance

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Book Writing #4 – Character Names and Personality

For some people, the names of characters can be the hardest part of the writing process. After all, names for main characters are going to stick with them through the whole novel. For some readers, the main character’s name can be a make or break point. Personally, if I run into a book with a name that I can’t even begin to start pronouncing, I usually don’t pick the book up. Names can make up a pretty solid portion of word count, so think of your readers when you type those names up, sci-fi/fantasy writers!

For me, I have a system with how to pick my character names. Just a fair warning, I generally write fantasy, so my process might be different for you!

  1. Go to some kind of name generator. If applicable, click the descriptors that fit what your character represents (ex. Irish, Elvish, Biblical) and just keep hitting that generate button like crazy
  2. Slowly compile a list of names that stick out to you as you go.
  3. Usually if I find two names I particularly like, I cut the best parts of them and mash them together to make the perfect name. But sometimes I end up finding the perfect name!
  4. Repeat for any additional names (middle, last) and other characters of importance.

I also come up with names by just picking bits of names or letters that I like and throwing them around until I find a name. Not gonna lie, some of my character names even start off as a joke and then they end up sticking!

Personalities can sometimes be easier, so I won’t bother going into as much detail about these. However, I recently got some advice that I had been doing anyway, so apparently not everyone does it this way!

Take personality tests in the mindset of your character.

Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, the Sorting Hat, anything. It’ll help you when you come at a crossroads and wonder “would this character really do XYZ?”

Building the perfect character can be hard, but with enough work you can make the best character for your next novel and feel happy about the outcome!

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Beware the Temptation of Social Media Schedulers

Social media is hard. Let’s just be straight up about it. You have to take the time to set up all these different accounts all while trying to get matching handles so that people can find you. When you do that, you actually have to post content and interact with people to gain followers. Who has time to do all of that?

Clearly this is a problem that has been bothering people for a while. Some people just drop some of their social media accounts by disabling their account and just sticking with one main platform while others try to push through and juggle all of their social media. Sometimes people just decide to drop social media altogether.

To help combat some of this, social media schedulers have started becoming more and more prominent. Some of the more popular ones are Hootsuite, Later, and Buffer, but there are dozens of them floating around the internet. These scheduling sites make like so much easier. All you have to do is make your one post and blast it onto all your social media accounts.

But here is why you should take more care with these social media schedulers

  1. Each social media platform is different. If you aren’t aware of my recent post detailing how to write for some of the platforms, I recommend giving it a look.
  2. These sites make you forget the real point of social media. Social media is all about interacting with your followers and if you just do all of your work through these sites, it’s easy to forget to check your platforms. If you decide to use one of these, make sure you’re checking all of your interaction from followers and don’t be afraid to follow some people, throw around some likes, and reblog things from your friends. Social media is a gateway to companionship and interaction.
  3. Money. Call me crazy, but I think that a service like this isn’t really worth spending money on. Sure, these websites all have free versions of their services, but many of them are just gateways to making you pay in the future.

In the end, it’s much easier to make a schedule in a Word doc or a spreadsheet and set alarms on your phone if you need to schedule out your content. Some of the best content is what is made on a whim, so don’t be afraid to break those boundaries and just post something because you want to, not because your schedule says you should.

If you choose to use one of these sites, the biggest recommendation I can give is to make each of your posts specific to the platform you’re posting on. Changing your content to fit the platform will not only boost your interaction with your followers, it will give people the feeling that you actually take care in what you’re posting. After all, quality is better than quantity.

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WriterFest Nashville 2019 Reflection

This past weekend, I got to spend the weekend at WriterFest Nashville. WriterFest is an event made for writers of all kinds (book, movie, and song). There are 3 main keynote speakers and then several other panels were made to further develop writing, relationships, and marketing.

I could talk about the social media and marketing aspects of the event, but none of that really stuck with me. Of course, it was necessary information and useful. The part of my time at WriterFest, however, was the keynote speaker Kel Kade. Over the summer, I received an ARC of her first traditionally published book, Fate of the Fallen. So, when I heard she was going to be at WriterFest, I would intrigued by her name.

I’ll admit, I did a little fangirling and got a picture with her and asked her to sign my copy of her book.

Her conversation was different from other events I had been to with author talks. She talked about her life before publishing her first novel, barely able to pay rent. On a whim, she published an unedited book on Amazon with a cover she made herself and thought nothing of it, convinced that only a handful of people would read it. However, after the first month, her book had made over $32,000 and it continued to increase month after month. This spiraled to eventually get her a deal with Tor, a high fantasy publisher, and a deal for audio books. One of the questions asked by the audience was if she would be interested in a movie to which she responded in a very unexpected way. She said that if she was to get a movie done, it would have to be done the right way. And I think that’s the way everyone should be thinking in regards to screen adaptations.

Overall, WriterFest was a good experience and I’m thrilled I got to enjoy it along with so many amazing writers! I truly hope I get the opportunity to go again next year.

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Hands Up by Stephen Clark – Spotlight

About the Book

Officer Ryan Quinn, a rookie raised in a family of cops, is on the fast track to detective until he shoots an unarmed black male. Now, with his career, reputation and freedom on the line, he embarks on a quest for redemption that forces him to confront his fears and biases and choose between conscience or silence.

Jade Wakefield is an emotionally damaged college student living in one of Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods. She knows the chances of getting an indictment against the cop who killed her brother are slim. When she learns there’s more to the story than the official police account, Jade is determined, even desperate, to find out what really happened. She plans to get revenge by any means necessary.

Kelly Randolph, who returns to Philadelphia broke and broken after abandoning his family ten years earlier, seeks forgiveness while mourning the death of his son. But after he’s thrust into the spotlight as the face of the protest movement, his disavowed criminal past resurfaces and threatens to derail the family’s pursuit of justice.

Ryan, Jade, and Kelly–three people from different worlds—are on a collision course after the shooting, as their lives interconnect and then spiral into chaos.

About the Author – Stephen Clark

Stephen Clark is a former award-winning journalist who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington, D.C. bureau of FoxNews.com. As a reporter for the Utica Observer-Dispatch, he won a New York Newspaper Publishers Association Award of Distinguished Community Service for his investigation into the financial struggles of nonprofit services. He also won a Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting at the Stamford Advocate for his series exposing an elderly grifter’s charity organization. Stephen grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and now lives in North Jersey with his wife and son. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Arcadia University and a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

Website | Twitter | Facebook

 

Buy the Book

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Wido Publishing

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Nobody Cares About Your Book, Dude by Karl Sauvé – Guest Post

About Seven Minutes in Heaven

WELCOME TO HALO TRAVELS, PARADISE ON A BUDGET

When a simple procedure allows anyone who can afford it the chance to visit a part of Heaven, it quickly becomes the number one tourist attraction. Despite the overabundance of selfie-obsessed tourists, Karen Benson is enjoying her much-needed vacation away from her stagnant life and tragic past. But when an accident leaves Karen literally stranded in Hell, both sides scramble to deal with–or capitalize on–the situation as a conspiracy of biblical proportions begins to reveal itself. Now, Karen will have to confront monsters, biker gangs, sweater-wearing cultists, and demonic squirrels as she makes a desperate run for the border!

Guest Post – Nobody Cares About Your Book, Dude

You’re writing your first novel, and maybe it’s not going great right now. It started out fun, and you were full of energy, but now, you’re starting to wonder if all the time and effort is worth it. Maybe you should stop. Is it even any good? No one really knows about it, anyway, right? You’re an unknown. It’s not like people are waiting for it to come out like it’s the next Game of Throne’s book or anything. Nobody cares about your book, dude.

That might be an example of that voice that keeps you from finishing your novel. And even after you’ve self-published, it might be a recurring theme. 

My girlfriend asked me once, while I was writing my novel: “What does success mean to you?” After thinking about it, I decided that success to me, at that point, simply meant finishing the gargantuan task of writing the darn thing—of putting my novel out into the world.  After all, why did I decide to start working on the book? When I’m not writing, I work as a freelance video editor and co-director—mostly on documentaries and reality shows, so I’m no stranger to shaping stories. But they were usually limited to the footage I had to work with, the budget, and a million other restrictions. With books, I felt like I could let my imagination run a bit freer. That was the dream.

Speaking of dreams, I think it’s important to have them, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream of becoming a successful writer right from the start. And I still do. That would be success with a capital S. Real success. But I realized that couldn’t be my measure of success at that point because that’s the dream, not the goal. Everyone has dreams: your book becomes a bestseller, you become rich and famous, and you buy a lion.

Goals are different. My dreams are always there, but I try to keep my goals way more attainable. “My goal is to write five good pages today.” “My goal for the month is to get to a hundred pages.” “My goal is to finish my darn book!” —That keeps pushing you along, one page at a time. It keeps you going long after the spark of that fresh new concept, that rush of “What a great idea for a story,” has begun to fade, and the doubts have started creeping in.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I had the idea for Seven Minutes in Heaven. In my mind, it was when I was traveling down south. Those beautiful sandy beaches. Heaven on Earth. Paradise. Then, you venture outside of the touristic center and see the locals living their normal lives—and they’re not living in swanky hotels and gorging at all-you-can-eat buffets…

That was the spark—that weird thing about tourism and resorts where we show up someplace that looks amazing and take over. We build-up hotels and take selfies while the locals are just trying to get to work. For us, it’s party central, but for them, it’s Monday.

So, that was the basic, simple idea: What if we could visit Heaven? You know we’d turn it into a resort.

And that was funny to me.

I started writing the story years later.

Another element of the story, I think, can be traced back to a different trip. After a hard breakup, I decided to take a trip to Europe. I was going to leave my life and sadness behind for a while and travel a bit. There’s nothing more freeing than going to a different country and surrounding yourself with people that don’t know you… And I did have fun, but I was still sad. No matter where you go, your baggage (insert easy pun here) goes with you. And that element, in a way, wound up in my story: My main character, Karen, wishes to leave her life behind for a while, but she’s forced to confront her demons (and actual demons) when she literally gets stranded in Hell. 

You never know in what way elements of your life will start connecting with your imagination once you sit down, brainstorm, and write—be conscious or not. Any life experience can somehow find its way into your story. As they say, “Write about what you know,” and sometimes, we don’t realize how much we know.

And so, years after getting that first nugget of the plot for Seven Minutes in Heaven, I finally decided that this was going to be it. I was going to hunker down and write my novel finally. If you want to write, stop putting it off. There’s no perfect time to begin writing a novel.

Shameless Plugs

My debut novel is out now, Seven Minutes in Heaven.

Follow me on Facebook at: @karlsauveauthor

Available soon, Pornstar Assassin #1, the first in what I’m hoping will be a series of pulpy action/comedy novellas set in the Seventies.

Hopefully, by the time this guest post gets uploaded on the interwebs, my upcoming podcast, Bishop’s Files—a dark comedy about a depressed, small-town journalist-slash- serial killer who’s sick of other people taking credit for his murders—will be out as well.