Review: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Do you like stories that keep you on the edge of your seat? Do you like high stakes races, space battles, and grand conspiracies? Do you like stories that blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy in a way that feels new yet completely natural?

Then go out and buy A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White, and then read it. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

I first found out about the book when a customer brought the second in the series, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, through my line. The cover had caught her attention and, to be honest, it caught mine too. 

It was upon reading the back that I realized it wasn’t the first book (at the time we didn’t have a copy in stock). I made sure to write the name down both for her and for myself.

Upon doing some research, I discovered that I was more familiar with the author than I first thought. Years ago he wrote and produced an audio drama called The Gearheart, an enchanting combination of steampunk and rune-based magic.  It was a podcast that I very much enjoyed. 

I kept an eye out for it after that until we finally got a copy in. I bought it immediately and started it that night.

I was not disappointed. 

The world

The world he crafted is rife with magic, but in a way that fits perfectly within a futuristic world. The ability to use magic is tied to a specific part of the brain. It is incredibly rare to be born without it. I was impressed to discover there was a medical term for this condition, TERM, as well as common slang, like dull fingered.

That level of attention to detail speaks volumes about how much care and thought went into this book. It is also a lot of fun to see how he intermingles the technological and magical sides of the world. 

Everyone born with magic has what is called a ‘mark’, which dictates what they can do with that magic. The first person we meet uses her mark to attune with technology, meaning that she can control it in a way few others can. Some people can create shields, others conjure fire, whereas others can use it to commune with animals and so forth. It is fascinating.

We meet one person who has no mark and another who has a deformed mark, meaning he can only do about half of what he should be able to do. It is interesting to see how they handle the difficulties presented to them living in a world primarily designed for those with marks. 

One might even say it is a commentary on those who live with disabilities (especially the ones that aren’t visible). I mean, it is literally something different in their brains. It’s not a stretch to compare that to mental illness. 

Another important thing to keep an eye on is any mention of the Famine Wars. It’ll be a while before you really start to get the full picture, mostly because no one likes to talk about it, but it does prove to be important.

The Story

We start off at a high stakes race following Nilah, a talented racer whose mark allows her to attune with technology. Its a thrilling introduction to the world, but things quickly take an interesting turn when a mysterious figure called Mother stops time and murders another racer. Nilah uses her ability to trigger the special drive on her racer and somehow manages to transport herself across the universe. 

Thankfully, she lands mostly in one piece in a back alley on the same planet as another of our main characters. I mentioned her earlier. Her name is Elizabeth, a.k.a. Boots, and she was born without a mark. We also know that she has some connection to the Famine War, she has an AI she isn’t supposed to have, and she is really good at finding things. That is her job.

She receives word that the SHIP recently docked. The crew are old friends of hers that she abandoned some time ago, and they have been looking for her for a very long time. This is around the same time she learns of the hefty price on Nilah’s head. 

That is why the second she runs into Nilah, she knocks her out. Unfortunately, she herself is knocked out before she can do anything to take the bounty. That is how they both end up aboard the Capricious

The reunion is delightfully awkward and incredibly informative when it comes to Boot’s past. It turns out she was connected with the racer Mother killed. He sold her something that Mother wants, which is why her office was destroyed just before the book began. It was picture of a missing, nearly mythical warship called The Harrow said to have enough power to destroy a planet. 

An incredibly dangerous prize indeed, and one that we don’t want just anyone to have their hands on.

Thus begins the game of cat and mouse between the crew and Mother as each group hunts for clues as to the whereabouts of the Harrow. It’s exciting. It’s thrilling. And there are a lot of things that are revealed that I am not going to talk about.

Because I am here to get you interested in the book, not to spoil the book. So, now you have to read it to see for yourself! (please message me when you do, I’ve been looking for someone to geek out about this book with)

The Moral

Beyond the possible commentary on living with a disability, this story focuses a lot on how there is more going on to any one story than most people realize. Near the end you see what happens when people are given too much power and start to abuse what they have in the search for more. The conspiracy that gets untangled reaches so far back that it is hard to see exactly where it all began. 

There is also a lot to learn about family, about staying loyal to those you trust. About sticking together and never giving up in the face of impossible odds. About how little, easy to miss details can make a huge difference.

The Verdict

This book is a fascinating combination of magic and science fiction and huge, overarching conspiracies that scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. The cast is full of unique, dynamic characters with their own backgrounds and their own powerful personalities. I loved seeing them grow and evolve not only as individuals but also in their relationships with other characters.

A warning though: the more you read the harder it will be to put down. This story is a ride from page one and it only builds in intensity the farther you go. It has been a while since I’ve read a story with such a well-crafted twist that I had to put it down for a second (but only a second, because I had to know what happened next).

The second book, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy came out in December 2019. Book three, The Worst of all Possible Worlds is going to come out in 2020. That is literally the only downside of reading this series. 

Review: Zenith

Working in a bookstore is great not only because I am surrounded by books, but we also have a lot of author events. Which means I have certain series I have been eyeing brought even more to my attention.

Like the Androma saga.

It was on my radar but at the time I was distracted by other books. Namely, the Red Queen series. We had a special event, though, an author signing where one of the authors came for the launch of the second book in the series. Nexus.

A few days after, curiosity got the better of me and I picked up the first book, Zenith, to read the back. I was IMMEDIATELY hooked. I mean, come on, female space pirates. What more do you need?

The Story

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I started out but I had a feeling it would be good. The people who recommended it to me can be a little picky when it comes to stories. Also, the premise sounded incredibly promising.

The story ended up bouncing back and forth more than I expected, and I’m not just talking about different narrators. We do switch perspectives in the current story. It goes around the people on the ship and even switches over to the main villain. It also steps back in time to visit a woman named Klaren, a young girl in a tower, and briefly dips into Androma’s past.

We start off, though, looking through the eyes of a mysterious man named Valen who has been imprisoned in darkness for an indefinite period of time. He has been tortured, but for what purpose we do not know. You almost can’t help but feel sorry for him, as well as for whoever made the mistake of capturing him. Because he is angry and will stop at nothing to get his revenge.

Soon after we meet the Bloody Baroness, a woman named Androma who has been on the run for some time now. I won’t go into why she is on the run (spoilers), but along the way, she collects some other females from across the galaxy. They are a bit of a ragtag group, but they are a family. And I absolutely love it.

Things quickly start to go sideways after one of their jobs goes a little bloodier than planned. They try desperately to escape and are quickly captured by what turns out to be an old friend of Androma’s. A man who broke her heart when he tried to turn her in. That man is Dextro “Dex”. He has a fun story too.

He is the one who gets Androma and her crew roped into a plan to rescue the captured man we mentioned earlier. It is a bit of a tricky situation, of course, and if they fail there is no one coming to rescue them. Androma is put in an impossible situation and she is NOT happy about it. Cue the exciting extraction plan complete with shenanigans and hijinks.

One of the things I love about this story is how character focused it is. I absolutely love the found families trope and that is very much what this is. The crew of the Maurader are all women who are running from something and they have created their own little family. You find yourself growing very fond of this odd little group. Even the slightly useful AI nicknamed Alfie.

Thankfully, this story does not embrace the trope of AI going rogue and taking over the world. Sorry if that is your thing, but I am sure there are plenty of books out there for you. I can even name a few movies, like Eagle Eye.

This story almost lulls you into a sense of comfort. For the most part, things go according to plan. Then things start going sideways. It’s small at first, but then things start escalating.

After a certain point, I found myself inching towards the edge of my seat. It’s like I was waiting for the shoe to drop. The pieces of the story from the girl in the tower and the mysterious Klaren leave this sort of nagging sense that there is something else going on but you are never quite sure what.

Things keep building and building before they explode into a drastic conclusion. One that I definitely did not see coming, yet it made sense when we got there.

The Moral

This story is very much about family, but not in the biological sense. As I said, it leans on the found family trope. Sometimes family is who you chose, not who you are related to. There is also a lot of talk about mistakes. About people having to make difficult decisions that hurt those around them.

Things aren’t as perfect as they seem. Sometimes good people have to make bad decisions.

And there are two sides to every story. History is written by the winners, but that doesn’t mean the losers have given up.

The Rating

This book reels you in slowly. By the time you realize you are hooked, it is too late. There is no getting out now. The only way to go is forward.

I spent most of the book figuratively looking at the sky, waiting for the big shoe to drop. It came out of nowhere and smacked me in the back of my head. It started building things up on page one and I didn’t even realize it.

If you want a book that will surprise you, this is perfect. I am still reeling from that ending. I cannot WAIT to see what happens in Nexus.

Rick Riordan and the Teaching of Mythology

I remember the day well. I was in middle school and we had another author visit coming up. Even though I grew up in a small town, we had pretty regular author visits and author events. It was pretty amazing. 

As with every other author event, we had the ability to buy their books. And, as with every other event, I had not heard of the author or the series before. Which is probably why I started with the second book instead of the first one.

It was a little confusing at first, but I still enjoyed it. By the end of the week, I had the rest of the books. You can probably guess what the series is, based on the post title.

I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians in the wrong order. Thankfully, this was back when his plots were a lot less convoluted. I definitely do not recommend reading any of his other series in the wrong order. You will be very lost.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, I have met Rick Riordan. This was before The Last Olympian came out, around the time when we first found out we were going to have a The Lightning Thief movie. So, back when we were still excited about the movie and before we realized it was going to be a massive disappointment.

I absolutely loved the series. The characters were great, the story was great, and it was surprisingly accurate to what I already knew about mythology. 

I particularly enjoyed how he shared the information and built the world. He did not rely on any of the annoying tropes people tend to fall back on. No one has amnesia (at least in the first series). He is not already an expert. Percy is just a seemingly normal kid who is currently in a class that is teaching mythology. He struggles with school. He knows about as much mythology as a normal kid his age would.

Reading through the books it feels very much like you are learning more about the world along with Percy. It was the same throughout the rest of his series as well. The main characters know/remember about as much about the mythology of the particular world as a normal person would. Their mentors understand that they aren’t going to know everything because there is no reason for them to have all of the (correct) information. They just found out that the world was, in fact, real.

So, not only is the execution very well done, but the information is very accurate as well. Through both his series and outside sources (namely the Myths and Legends podcast), I have learned a lot more about not only Greek but Norse, Egyptian, Gaelic, and other mythologies. Rick Riordan does an amazing job of balancing showing the less shiny side of things without delving too deep into some of the much darker parts. 

He includes many of the details that prove that the gods of each pantheon are not all the role models some people may have been lead to believe. Most are incredibly selfish and some did some genuinely terrible things (*cough cough* Zeus *cough*). He even openly criticizes them through the main characters.

But there are a lot of things that happened in nearly all of the mythologies that are very much not child-friendly. Some he doesn’t address, which is completely fine, and others he handles very tactfully. 14 year old me did not need to know the full truth between how many wives Zeus had before he married Hera. Nor did 14 year old me need to know how Zeus got Hera to marry him. 

Seriously, Zeus sucks.

If you have any interest in learning more about Greek and Roman mythology (and how they are different), or Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology (which has to be the weirdest), then I highly recommend reading his books. It is like a mini history lesson wrapped up in a coming of age story about teamwork and finding yourself. 

I just recently started the Magnus Chase series, which is all about Norse mythology, and I am already impressed by how well he balances out the darker/weirder parts of the mythology as well as the convoluted mess that is Ragnarok. It mentioned some of the weirder parts that not many people know about, like Thor’s goats and the fact that Loki is the mother of a six-legged horse. I can only imagine what is going to show up in the next few books.

Norse mythology is weird.

He has gone back to Greek mythology with his latest series, The Apollo Trial, but I have a feeling his next series will be playing with something new. He has already had such an impact that there is now a thing called ‘Rick Riordan Presents’. These are other series written by different authors that tackle different branches of mythology in fun and unique ways. If you see a book that says Rick Riordan Presents on it, that means it has basically been given his seal of approval. 

I have yet to delve into those but I definitely mean too. Some of them delve into the more obscure mythologies and cultures and some of the descriptions I have heard sound FASCINATING.

You can learn a lot about a culture by looking at their mythology because mythology is mankind trying to explain why the world is the way that it is. And man do we come up with some interesting explanations.

TL;DR: If you are looking to learn more about mythology but don’t want to grab a textbook, grab a book that has Rick Riordan’s name on it. And make sure it is the first book in the series. You won’t regret it.

Just beware, he loves cliff hangers.

Review: The Red Queen Series

I spent months eyeing the first book. It was the cover that caught my attention. It was so simple yet so intriguing.

Then I got into a conversation about writing with the author, and I realized she is a delightful human being. I went to work and mentioned this to my boss. My boss who then informed me that she was going to be in our store for the release of her new book.

That very day I checked out the first book and started reading.

What series am I talking about? The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. It is a delightful YA fantasy series set in a world divided by two colors, Red and Silver.

The story

In Red Queen, we are introduced to the world through the eyes of Mare Barrow, a lowly red and a thief, who is best friends with a local fisherman in training named Killorn.

She does a great job of establishing the divide between the powerless reds and the mighty silvers, born with powers beyond imagining. She also shows us the hopeless (and pointless) war between Norta and the neighboring Lakelands that has been eating up countless lives for the past century.

And the best part? It doesn’t feel like she is telling you any of this. You get the information from Mare as she is prompted by outside events to think about it, and the information is limited to stuff she would know. All throughout the series, Victoria does a wonderful job of giving us the information we need in a way that feels organic. It never feels like an information dump.

Even when we are forced to learn a lot of new information during a short period of time, it is because Mare is having to as well. We keep the information that she deems important.  

There were many times I felt myself beginning to feel anxious because it felt like I was right there with Mare. You become so quickly embroiled in the machinations of both the Scarlet Guard and the royal family as Mare is caught between both of them. You come to care for Cal and Maven as she does. You come to trust Julian, as she does.

And you are just as bewildered as she is when things take an interesting turn at the end of book one, leading into book two.

Glass Sword has different pacing to it, as Mare spends most of the time running from her problems. To be fair, her whole life has completely fallen apart in several ways so she isn’t having the best of times. There is a glimmer of hope, though, and she holds onto it with everything she has. Even so, she still feels as if it is her against the world. She feels alone, isolated, and afraid.

It was fascinating to watch the characters grow and evolve as the story went on. The interactions and relationships between the characters all felt so realistic, so organic. You don’t get the angst here that you usually get in YA fantasy books. I mean, there is some angst, but it is realistic angst. I was able to identify with it.

The world is full of so many unknowns and so often things go sideways in terrible ways. She keeps on fighting, though. She holds herself together through sheer fear of what will happen if she falls apart. Heck, she compares herself to being a glass sword on the verge of shattering for a reason.

When a mysterious figure comes along to give her a chance to strike a blow against the king, she leaps at it. This leads to what has to be one of these most stressful fights thus far in the series.

Something happens during the fight that pushes Mare to stop running. It’s like she got a wakeup call or came to a realization of some sort that gives her the courage to do something she said she never would. That twist leaves me speechless even now, it was so well crafted.

And it leads to a tenuous situation in Kings Cage. Here is where we get the second narrator and here is where I started having a really hard time putting the book down. Between the narrator shifts and the time jumps and the constant rising of the political tensions, I could not tear myself away. This is where two new entities enter the stage, changing the power dynamic and leaving you breathless wondering how this is going to change things.

The tension keeps building up until about halfway through the book when the situation simply explodes. From there on it is nonstop moves and countermoves as all of the parties involved adjust to the new power balance. It was honestly one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series, yet I was still on edge. What happens next?

Things really start to get interesting in War Storm. Another country enters the fray and the stage grows to encompass the whole world as we know it.

Sometimes when stories broaden their world it is easy to lose sight of the point. You get so bogged down in all of the moving pieces that you forget why you cared about the story, to begin with. That doesn’t happen here. All of the machinations and twists are driven by the characters who have very organic, very human motivations.

You also see the introduction of several new narrators, all key players on different sides of the conflict. Normally I am not a huge fan of having more than two narrators, because if not done well it can distract from the story. In this case, though, it adds a layer of depth to the story that makes the narrative that much richer.

The way she crafts the narration gives us a unique look into the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of several of the characters we have been getting to know throughout the whole series. It was honestly eye-opening in how it successfully expanded my understanding of the world and the characters themselves.

The build-up to the final conflict was…wow. It’s a ride. There are so many moving pieces from the beginning and it just becomes more and more entangled and complex. Yet, at no point does it become too much. The stakes are high, but it never feels like it is overblown. It is just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.

And let me tell you, the ending will throw you for a loop.

The moral

This story focuses a lot on how things are both more complicated and more straight forward than they seem. People are more than they appear to be at first glance. Sometimes people who appear to be in control are just as trapped, if not more, by their circumstances as you are. Everyone is human, no matter how cold they pretend to be. Even those who have great power have weaknesses.

There is power in standing for what you believe in, even when the world seems against you. There is power in staying true to who you are, even as the world around you is changing.

People are stronger together.

In the end, even though the good guys have finally done the thing they set out to accomplish, they have “won”, everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not all of the world’s problems have been fixed. They have made great strides in making the world a better place, but there is still more work to do.

Mare’s part is over, though. Her main struggle is through. She can take some time to take care of herself, time to heal and move past everything that has happened to her. There is hope for the future because she has already helped prove that change is possible.

I love that everything isn’t perfect in the end. I love that there is no riding off into the sunset, at least not yet. It makes everything the characters have been through seem so much more real. It makes them more human.

And, honestly, I find that beautiful.

The rating

If you are looking for a series that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one, this is the series for you. It is a well-crafted masterpiece that does not fall into some of the same tropes that most books in the YA series fall into. I very much appreciate this fact, as I am very tired of alpha males, love triangles, and god complexes.

This is a series that I definitely plan on rereading. There was just so much going on all at once that I know I didn’t catch anything.

Plus, it is a fantastic series that I would not mind reliving a few more times.

Note: I have not yet read Broken Throne (a series of short stories set after book 4) or Cruel Crown (two short stories combined into a novella set outside of the series), but I plan to in the future.

Lessons From Life on a Dev Team

It all started April 9th with the Demo Disc Game Jam, put on by the Dallas Society of Play (DSOP). That was my first time getting to work with a team to create a game. Usually game jams only last one weekend, which doesn’t really work when you work in retail.

This one, though, lasted for a month. I was thrilled to actually be able to participate for once. We ended up with a pretty good group of programmers, artists, a sound designer, and a writer (me). I knew some of the people from other meetups, but a few of the faces were new. It didn’t take us long to settle on not only an idea but an art style.

And we were off. We affectionately dubbed the game Woofenstein (since we borrowed some inspiration from Wolfenstein) and it was a 3D, low poly barroom brawler.

Not going to lie, half of the things that were included in the game started off as jokes. Some of them worked surprisingly well, especially some of the dog puns.

There were so…many…dog puns. It was ruff.

Along the way, though, I learned a few lessons.

Different skills are needed at different stages.

As a writer, I didn’t have much to contribute during the game jam. We didn’t have time to integrate a story or any sort of dialogue. I felt pretty useless at times, but I tried to make up for it by being supportive whenever I could.

I was also nominated as the project lead, which was awesome. My team was even more awesome, though, and practically led themselves. I couldn’t help but feel like I was nothing more than moral support. Imposter syndrome kicked in pretty hard.

Everyone was incredibly proud of how the game turned out, though, and most of our team ended up deciding to keep going. Now that we are no longer merely creating a demo during a short time period, I find myself with more to contribute. We are adding in a story. There are more moving parts now. We are starting to talk marketing and showing off at conventions.

Even though I did not have much to contribute in the beginning, since I stuck around and did what I could I find myself in a position to contribute even more. I am glad that I chose to stay along for the ride.

Because the ride just got a lot longer, and now I have something to bring to the table.

Be prepared for things to go wrong.

Things will go wrong. Technology will refuse to cooperate. There will be lapses in communication. Things will not be finished on time. That is just a fact of life. And you need to be prepared for it.

That is why you always need someone keeping an eye on everything. We almost didn’t have the game completely finished by the end of the jam (thankfully the end event was pushed back due to bad weather). We bumped into issues where people would be working on the same file and it would not save correctly.

Heck, my laptop died in the middle of the demo and we had to switch to someone else’s because I was a genius and forgot my charger.

The key thing is to stay flexible. Have plans in place for when things go wrong. Have people outside of the project who have more experience than you do that you can go to about any issues you may have.

And above all, communicate with people. If you make a mistake, own up to it. People may be frustrated with you at first, but it is better to deal with it now than later.

Note: there were no major hiccups, just a few small issues so far. Most of this is just general life advice.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew (especially if you are still on the last bite).

Feature creep is a real thing. One of the organizers at DSOP, Storm, stayed in communication with all of the teams to help keep an eye on things and make sure feature creep did not happen.

For those of you who don’t know, feature creep is when you keep adding cool little bells and whistles onto your project instead of focusing on the core fundamentals of said project. It is a slippery slope that is very easy to slide down, but it can tank your project.

By adding on so many new things to tackle you can easily find yourself completely overwhelmed with everything you have to do, especially if you are trying to do it in a very short time period.

Also, if you are not comfortable taking over a certain aspect of the project, don’t. Do not overcommit yourself. If there is someone else more qualified to handle something, let them handle it and offer to assist them. There is no shame in admitting that someone else is better than you at something. No one is the best at everything.

Don’t be afraid to share the load. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That is what your team is for.

Things will change and that’s okay.

If I am remembering correctly, the original idea that was pitched was to play as a dog in a helicopter fighting another dog in a helicopter. So, dog fighting (the term for when two helicopters/planes engage in aerial combat) dogs. Then our lead programmer mentioned wanting to do something that felt like the older Wolfenstein. Then another game was referenced. A few other ideas were pitched as well.

The game we demoed was very simple. There were four players with identical (and very stylish) designs. You ran around beating up the other players, occasionally picking up health and weapons. We actually had a lot of fun designing the weapons.

When we decided to keep going with the game, things changed. We have been talking about updating and stylizing the art. We obviously renamed it, because if we published it under Woofenstein things would not end well for us.

We have started talking adding more levels, including some that were mentioned at the beginning of the demo development. I think we have even settled on a basic story for the game. There is still a lot of work to be done and I have no doubt there will be a lot of changes between now and then.

That just comes with growth.

Whatever happens, though, I will always be thankful for this experience. I have learned more about programming, development, and working on a dev team than I ever could have outside of this. I am very excited to see where this road leads.

If you want to follow along our journey, check out our Tumblr or follow us on Twitter (there isn’t a whole lot on there now but there will be in the future, I promise).

 

Review: The Book Thief

As much time as I spend writing, I spend more time reading. Everything from fiction to nonfiction, sci-fi/fantasy to mystery, both for fun and to educate/improve myself. I have a large library of books in my room that I have been reading for years. Since starting work at a bookstore, though, I find myself buying and reading more and more new books.

There is a certain thrill to opening a new book and delving into the story for the very first time. Of immersing yourself in a world that you are wholly unfamiliar with. I want to share that magic and share my experience.

So I decided to pick up writing book reviews again. I’ll be sharing old favorites and new favorites, as well as my recommendations for books on personal development.

To start off, I am going to share one of my all-time favorite books. I actually watched the movie before I read the book, but I fell so in love with the story that I bought the book the very next day.

“One of the most enduring stories of our time, The Book Thief is just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”

The characters

The character you follow around most of the time is a little girl called Liesel. She has pretty blonde hair, dangerous brown eyes, and an undying love for words. This love starts when she discovers The Gravedigger’s Handbook lost in the snow. That begins her love affair with words and with reading.

She is taken in by a German couple, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Rosa is constantly described as having a face that resembles crumpled cardboard and she is definitely a woman who believes in tough love. Hans is much gentler with Liesel and ends up being the one who teaches her to read.

I think part of why I love this book so much is that I identify with Liesel. When her life is turned upside down, she turns to books. She escapes into other worlds through the words with which she falls in love. It is something I have done many times.

The cast of characters is pretty small. You have Rosa and Hans, who we have already met, and you have Liesel of course. There is also Ruddy, a young boy who is the first to befriend Liesel. Everyone knows him. He is the mischevious, kind-hearted boy who lives down the street. Max comes along later, silent as a ghost. He remains hidden through, buried in the shadows with young Liesel his only connection to the outside world

There is another ghost as well. The mayor’s wife, a shadow in a robe, allows Liesel access to words beyond her imagination. We do not see much of her, unfortunately, but she still has an impact.

The narrator is my personal favorite. They are neutral by nature, but like us, they find themselves drawn towards the tale of the little blonde book thief. They provide us with a grander look at what is going on and add an air of poeticism to the story. I quickly came to love their interjections.

In fact, it is the narrator that captivated me so, because it is not often you find a story that is narrated by death in this way. Marcus Zusak definitely pulls it off, though, in a way most authors cannot.

The world

The book takes place in Germany around the start of WWII. We don’t get to see a lot of the fighting, but there is no denying the impact. You see the signs of it everywhere. It is subtle at first but the further along you go, it becomes unmistakable. The rationing. The Hitler Youth. The burning of unacceptable publications (one of which mysteriously survives). Jews hiding in basements. And then, later, the marches.

Occasionally the narrator pulls us out of Liesel’s story to show us what is going on throughout the rest of Europe. He is very tired of war, worn down from having to carry so many tortured souls into the afterlife. It is a unique, heartbreaking depiction of the realities of war told in a very artistic fashion.

Seeing the world through Liesel’s eyes changed the way I see things, ironically enough. There are moments when she describes the sky to Max, providing him an outlet to the outside world, and it is honestly beautiful. Everything about their friendship is.

The moral

This is a story of, well, stories. The power of words and how they can help us be more open-minded. How they help us not be afraid to do the right thing. How they help us connect with others on a deeper level than mere conversation or small talk can.

It is also a story of perseverance. From the beginning, Liesel is faced with a wide variety of challenges. She loses her brother. Her mother leaves her in the care of a German couple, never to be seen again. She is behind most of the children her age, mostly because she struggles with learning how to read. She has constant nightmares involving her brother and her mother.

But she keeps going. She never gives up. She keeps moving forward.

And I admire that.

The ranking

Note: I may end up adding some sort of numerical ranking system to these reviews, but for now I am going to try something different. Some books are roller coasters. Some keep you on the edge of your seat. Some are fluffy.

This one is a classic. The story is endearing and the characters are dear to my heart. There is this intangible…something that has made this story very important to me. I have bonded with other people over a shared love of this story.

One of them has a very unique tale of how he came to read it. His dad found a copy in the nightstand drawer in a hotel room in Spain. On it was a note saying to pass it on after he read it. He ended up passing it on to his son (my friend), who then passed it on to a professor.

Once you have read this book, you will truly understand just how perfect this is.

What are your thoughts? Did you like The Book Thief? Is there anything else you would like to see me include on my reviews? Which books do you think I should read?

The hard truth about your first draft

All writers, whether they are published or not, tend to agree upon one thing.

The hardest part of being a writer is actually FINISHING the first draft. Its something I myself have done once in all my years of writing. It is kind of sad actually.

So many stories go unfinished because either we lose the inspiration and the drive to continue them (or we get distracted by a shiny new idea). Others get started and restarted so many times that we lose sight of why we started writing them in the first place. Some die the second we tell someone about them and they brush it off as a silly idea.

The reality is, being a writer was never going to be easy. You are going to have to face some harsh truths, especially when it comes to your first draft.

You won’t finish as fast as everyone else

I know there are some people who can write a book in a month, or sometimes all they need is a week. It took me well over a year to finish mine. Some people take a lot longer than that to write the first draft of their book (though they tend to work on and finish others in the meantime).

It can be SO easy to fall into the trap of comparing your progress to that of other writers. I know someone who beat NaNoWriMo in 5 days (she wrote 10k a day). It took me seven years and some fudging of the rules to win.

The truth is, there will always be someone who gets things done faster than you. Maybe they have more discipline. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe their schedule allows for more writing time than yours does. It doesn’t matter

This is your journey and yours alone. So keep your head down, stop checking to see how far along the person next to you is, and get to writing.

It will be the hardest thing you have ever done

As I have mentioned, writing your first draft is going to take a while. This is especially true for those of us with a day job(s). Sometimes it is just hard to find the time to write on top of everything else that we have to do. Add onto that the fact that life is stressful and we tend to continually find ourselves surrounded by people who think writing is a silly waste of time, it can be really hard to stay motivated.

You will also have to deal with the people around you not understanding what you are doing or why you are doing it. I talked a lot about what this feels like in my open letter to the creators who feel alone. This is something that is really hard to face. Hearing the people close to you echoing back your own self-doubts can cripple your creativity and stifle your desire to keep going.

That is why I always highly recommend finding and joining the online writing community. There you will find people who not only understand what you are going through, but they have been there themselves.

Just because you are the only one who can tell your story, doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Find people who will support you along this journey, with both encouragement and a kick in the rear when needed.

It is going to be hard to stay focused on the story for a long period of time. There will be days when you have neither the time nor the motivation to write. That is okay. But you have to get back to it tomorrow.

There is also that annoying psychological thing that prevents people from finishing things. I personally struggle with this, as evidenced by the amount of random YouTube videos I will have watched by the time I finally finish this blog post. I don’t know if there is a scientific term for this, but it is very much a thing.

A thing that you will have to find a way to power through. Maybe try asking one of your accountability partners to pester the living daylights out of you until you finish the thing. Or tell literally everyone and their mother that you are going to have it finished by a certain time, so then you have to have it done by that time. Because everyone and their mother is expecting you to.

It’s a very stressful yet effective tactic.

Most of it will be garbage

100% guaranteed, no one is ever going to see your first draft. By the time it is finished and you have taken a step back, you will soon realize that it is a steaming pile of garbage. There is no way around it.

You should still be proud of your garbage heap. You put a lot of work into it. That doesn’t change the fact that none of it is even close to being ready to publish. Don’t worry though. That is completely normal.

No one will ever see the mess that is what I wrote during NaNoWriMo. It was a convoluted hodgepodge of plot points and character building. I still keep a lot of the text in the case that I do end up using some of it, but I have since started a complete rewrite. I now know a lot more about the world, the situation, and my characters’ motivations. I also know how not to write and pace certain scenes.

If you feel like your first draft is too silly or too serious, or that you aren’t sure if you want it to be paced/structured that way, that is totally fine. This is your sandbox, so play around in it. Try different scenes from different angles. Dig through the layers of fluff and descriptions to get to the heart of your story. And, most importantly, don’t worry about what anyone else will think.

Your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, so you can come back and figure out how to tell it to everyone else. It is never going to be perfect. It will likely not resemble the end product. It’s most likely going to be a jumbled mess.

That’s okay, though, because you can edit a messy page. You cannot edit a blank one.

Your first draft only needs to be one thing.

Written.

So get to writing. We have a lot of work to do.