Rewynwood’s Reviews: Writing Lessons From the Front

Title: Writing Lessons From the Front23463910

Author: Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5


A complete writer’s workshop in a book . . . The first ten Writing Lessons from the Front are compiled into this volume. Lessons cover plot structure, characterization, point of view, evoking emotion, self-editing, creating and maintaining tension, writing historical fiction, plans and processes to get your book finished, self-publishing, and a complete writer’s checklist that will take you from prewriting to publication, including details on how to publish on CreateSpace and Kindle.


My thoughts:

As most everyone who knows me well would agree, I don’t often read non-fiction (unless cookbooks count, of course. Then it’s a different story.). It may or may not be a character flaw. I think there are at the very least two different types of non-fiction: recreational and educational. I do far more educational non-fiction reading than recreational (any suggestions?)

This book, Writing Lessons From the Front by Angela Hunt, is an educational read. I’ve recently decided I needed to take a more active role in learning how to hone my craft so that my stories can improve in quality. I always want to be moving forward, progressing, developing.

Some might wonder at it, but there is, in fact, a method to the madness of creative writing that goes beyond what the reader sees. People have skeletons, buildings have skeletons, and stories have skeletons — a basic structure that gives your story a sound shape and feel, sturdy, per se. It’s the (and we’re speaking figuratively here) muscle, sinew, and flesh that we build onto this structure that makes our stories so unique.

This book is loaded with knowledge on storytelling, compiled by someone who’s spent longer than I’ve been alive writing books. Hunt has penned well over a hundred books in a range of genres, and she also teaches courses on writing.

The lessons in this book range from the first stages of developing a story all the way to publication, offering loads of resources to help you write your story best. For myself, who never did any creative writing courses before jumping headfirst into my first project (The Journey Taken), I found the chapters on plot skeletons, character development, evoking emotion, and tension monumentally helpful. The plot skeleton, which is the first chapter, provided a vivid picture for me to visualize while constructing my plot for this new project I’m working on.

In the back is a section of checklists for every stage of the process as well, from prep work through the first handful of drafts. They give bullet point topics and details to focus on, building layers of depth and meaning for the story — like baklava, layers of flaky pastry and spiced nuts drenched in sweet goodness. Man, now I want to make baklava . . .

The chapters are clear on their respective topics and easy to understand, with examples that illustrate the point being covered. The chapters are:

  • The Plot Skeleton
  • Point of View
  • Creating Extraordinary Characters
  • Evoking Emotion
  • Plans and Process
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Tracking the Weasel Words
  • Tension on the Line
  • The Book of Checklists
  • Ruminations on a Life in Pages

I enjoyed this book and will certainly be coming back to it as I develop my craft. I highly recommend it to anyone aspiring to write fiction.

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Dragon Business

20607958Title: The Dragon Business

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5


King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking an unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory.

Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.

Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.


My thoughts:

What fun! I read the synopsis of this story, that it was about con artists slaying false dragons, and thought it such an unique twist on the usual adventure trope that I knew I had to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Anderson crafted this tale wonderfully, formatting it so that King Cullin is telling his sheltered son a grandiose tale of his past shenanigans in order to learn him up on the way the real world works. It follows a group of con men who prey upon the simple-minded, gullible, and superstitious peoples of the (many) kingdoms, in a world where con artists, swindlers, and money grubbers abound. It paints a fantastical rendition of the world we live in today.

And yet, even though our ‘dragon-slayers’ are making a living rather dishonestly, selling a service nobody needs, you can’t help but like them. Reeger is rather crude ─ in his humor, behavior, and lifestyle ─ but he’s also very good at what he does (the dirty work), a loyal friend, and in a way charming for his preferences of ‘latrine refurbishing’ to high courtly politics. Sir Dalbry is a victim of his own trade. Swindled out of his inheritance at a young age by a group of con men, he has vowed to avenge his honor for having run away. His current methods are questionable, but even so, he insists on retaining a sense of ‘knightly honor and nobility’ ─ to the point where it nearly costs him his life. Cullin is an apt and clever sidekick. Tempted by dreams of starting fresh in the new land across the sea, fantasizing about someday marrying a princess and gaining a kingdom and riches of his own, he serves as Sir Dalbry’s squire. Affonyl, the newest member of their band, is a runaway princess who faked her own death by dragon attack in order to escape her fate as a princess. She would much rather study alchemy and gallivant across the country  as a person than marry a silver-tongued and sticky-fingered duke as a princess, because as it happens, princesses aren’t people.

The writing is witty, whimsical, and humorous from the first page to the last. Minstrels’ songs go viral, one town’s local Renaissance Faire is ‘futuristic’, newspapers (like the Olden Tymes) are transcribed by monks, purified guano and bone dust are thought the more active ingredients to pain killer than the milk of poppy. On and on, every page is filled with crafty and silly details about life in medieval times that those of us who are more accustomed to the more epic, hard-core fantasy don’t usually think about ─ like hawking seagull guano as a miracle fertilizer.

Yet through the ridiculousness are strings of heart that do more than entertain us, they endear us to the characters, who they are and what they’re searching for. Sir Dalbry wants to regain his honor, following a code of knightly nobility to a fault that nearly gets him killed. Reeger wants to raise enough money to establish his own tavern. Cullin wants a better life, but looks for it in the wrong places. He realizes, after he gets what he thinks he wants, that it’s not what he wanted all along. The meaning of bravery and honor, friendship, and loyalty are all currents carrying this story and the character of its heroes forward.

I hope Maurice gets as much from his father’s tales as we do.

Reynwood’s Reviews: Tarzan of the Apes

Hello, everyone, and happy middle of September! The weather this past week has really turned around from what we were anticipating — it’s gorgeous up here, like summer is giving us its last ‘hurrah’ before forfeiting his place to autumn’s graces. There’s only one week left before the calendar autumn commences (the 22nd), and school has already begun (this is week two for us, I believe). But instead of pining over that finished season and mourning the coming cold, why not remember with fondness all the great memories this summer has held for us? What people did you see and spend time with? What projects did you undertake and accomplish? Any milestones reached? What good books have you put under your belt while basking in the sunshine or taking refuge in the shade, hunkering down next to the livingroom lamp on balmy, black nights just to find out what happens next?

For myself, the latest one was Tarzan of the Apes, a classic story from the early 20th century (first appearance, 1912), and it truly was a great read.


20308032Title: Tarzan of the Apes (#1)

Series: Tarzan

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 5 of 5


In 1888 Lord and Lady Clayton sail from England but to West Africa and perish on a remote island. When their infant son is adopted by fanged, great anthropoid apes, he is Tarzan of the Apes. His intelligence and caring mother raise him to be king. Self-educated by his parents’ library, Tarzan rescues genteel Jane Porter from the perils of his jungle.

My Thoughts:

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous review on one of these stories, I LOVE Tarzan. My first exposure to this fantastic tale was Disney’s cartoon adaption, which we all know tends to vastly rewrite the original. I fell in love with that story and, years later, fell in love with the original, too. But they are very, very different in many respects.

In this story we get to know Tarzan’s human parents far more before they perish, making sure we understand Tarzan’s exceptional breeding as an English lordling. However, it isn’t at the hands of a leopard that they die, but by the hands of Kerchak the King of Apes. Yes, apes. Not gorillas. I’ll admit, I was a little sad to note this, plus the fact that the creatures were represented far more like animals in their natural light than Disney’s tendency to humanize them, but Kala was still a devoted mother. She was the only one in all the tribe ─ largely the entire jungle ─ whom Tarzan actually loved, and you felt for him when she was killed by the newly arrived human natives.

Tarzan proves rather indifferent when it comes to killing and a bit devilish when tormenting his mother’s killers, and yet we see that he can be noble and very loyal. He is clever and ingenious with a mind that learns like a sponge. He likes to spend as much time as possible in the cabin on the beach built by his human father (John Clayton, Lord Greystoke) whom he never knew, playing with all the curiosities of human civilization stowed there, but mostly the books. Now, Burroughs has Tarzan learn how to read and write English through these books, and while I could condone perhaps some basics with word/picture association, I found it odd that he could grasp the language to the extent that he did without any teaching. But that was my biggest issue. He understands that he isn’t an ape after all, but a Man, and so when a party of his paler complexioned people arrive on shore he is very curious and hopeful of meeting them ─ but shy ─ and he can’t understand a lick of spoken English in which to readily communicate with them. These people include, of course, Jane and her father, but no gorilla hunting madmen. This is when the story really veers from the more familiar Disney version, involving treasure hunts and kidnappings and rescues and a wee bit of romance. Tarzan loves Jane on first sight, and when he rescues her from a bull ape she loves him, too.

Happy ending, right? Nay!

Tarzan’s nobility and love are both tested when he must safeguard an injured French officer in the jungle instead of returning immediately from the rescue to the beach and his beloved. (He befriends the officer who teaches him to speak French). Then, by the time they get back to the cabin, it’s deserted! Tarzan has to travel up the coast of Africa to civilization and on for his love, but not to England. To America. Tarzan finds Jane in the foreign land of Wisconsin, rescuing her from a forest fire.

Happy ending now, right? Nay!

Tarzan is not the only one vying for dear Jane’s love, but so, too, is William Clayton (evidently Tarzan’s cousin) and a certain Mr. Canler, who is of a rather unsavory character, but is prevailing due to financial stresses on the part of the Porters. I could hardly bear to see how this was all going to go down, seeing as this original story is so different from the one I’ve been so familiar with, but then the story ends with a cryptic message and never says just who Jane is going to marry.

I just might have thrown the book were it mine and not already falling apart with age. Is Tarzan going to keep quiet about his newfound identity as the true Lord Greystoke and defer to his cousin or is he going to claim his title and his woman? I am sincerely hoping that the next volume will tell me, otherwise I might turn inside out.

The characters were awesome and the frank humor was great. I can certainly see how Burroughs became so popular a writer in his day, for his narrative and storytelling are engaging. I haven’t finished a book in so short a period of time in a good, long while and this one is definitely going on my list of absolute favorites.

Reynwood’s Reviews: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

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Title: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Series: Tarzan, #6

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 4 0f 5


Glorious tales of Tarzan’s early growth to manhood in the forest…
Tarzan, the heart of primeval Africa, escapes death on the horn of Buto the rhinoceros, saves the life of Tantor the elephant, sends the witchdoctor Bukawai to a terrible death, battle victoriously with his arch-enemy Numa the Lion, and slowly but surely fights his way to a mastery of his savage, unforgiving jungle.


My thoughts:

I fell in love with the story of Tarzan when I saw the Disney movie an age and a half ago, and got very excited when I recently found this book at a thrift store. I didn’t know at the time that this was a small part of a series of stories about Tarzan (and it’s pretty extensive, numbering 27 volumes). I felt the ‘dropped into the middle’ confusion, in having not read the preceding stories to explain current events more clearly, but bits and pieces were filled in as each tale progressed.

As is per usual, the Disney adaption is nothing like the original, but in my opinion neither one is better than the other. Tarzan is more of an incubus in the books, and it’s interesting to see the take on an human’s inquisitive mind when largely isolated from mankind and raised by apes. Not gorillas. Apes. There are native Africans in these tales, too, to which Tarzan is absolutely devilish due to an enmity I will not divulge. You might have a better idea if you’ve seen the most recent Tarzan film, The Legend of Tarzan, I believe it is. 

Each chapter is its own, self-contained story, adventures and exploits of our wild ‘ape-man’, and I found them fun — if not a little far-fetched at times. Nevertheless, I am certainly more than willing to go back and start from the beginning of this series!


Find out more about Edgar Rice Burroughs and his stories (which include the infamous Barsoom tales of John Carter on Mars!) on Goodreads!

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Faded Sun Trilogy

57042Title: The Faded Sun Trilogy, omnibus edition

Series: The Faded Sun Trilogy

Author: C. J. Cherryh

My rating: 4 of 5


They were the mri — tall, secretive, bound by honor and the rigid dictates of their society. For aeons this golden-skinned, golden-eyed race had provided the universe mercenary soldiers of almost unimaginable ability. But now the mri have faced an enemy unlike any other — an enemy whose only way of war is widespread destruction. These “humans” are mass fighters, creatures of the herd, and the mri have been slaughtered like animals.

Now, in the aftermath of war, the mri face extinction. It will be up to three individuals to save whatever remains of this devastated race: a warrior — one of the last survivors of his kind; a priestess of this honorable people; and a lone human — a man sworn to aid the enemy of his own kind. Can they retrace the galaxy-wide path of this nomadic race back through millennia to reclaim the ancient world which first gave them life?

“This is a powerful story…inspiring in its determination and feeling of strange loyalties and stranger courage. It sticks in the mind long after the last page is finished.”– Analog


My thoughts:

To begin with, I have to confess my significant lack of experience in the genre of science fiction, having never had as much of an affinity to outer space and flying ships and aliens as to swords and dragons and elves, but this intrigued me. People always tell you not to judge a book my its cover, but the truth of the matter is: we do. More often than not it’s the first thing a reader sees, and I love the artwork on the cover for this omnibus version. The synopsis begged me to give it a try, and the fact that it was an omnibus ─ with all three volumes in one package ─ sealed the deal.

I really enjoyed it. The Faded Sun Trilogy is not one of fast paced, sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat action, which, unfortunately, may turn some people off. This is a shame. The story delves deeper into the characters and their motives for their decisions and actions, and Cherryh is truly detailed in her settings and plot. This is not something to read when you’re half asleep, because the depth and intricacy demands your full attention. It’s no bore, though, and I’ve stayed up too late on many a night entrenched in this world.

The variety and intricacy of the various species within this trilogy is amazing, exploring the culture, language, history, and physiology of the four involved, creating an unique and interesting environment with severely conflicting cultures and priorities that drives much of the convoluting relations between species.

And then there’s Duncan. His tactical mind, willing heart, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time make him the perfect vessel for the task he must undertake in this grand adventure through space and across worlds, becoming a lynch pin for the growing post-war conflict. The poor guy gets put through a lot of crap from the people who confess to loving him, whether as a son or brother, but his devotion and unwillingness to give in proves his character to those who would hate and reject him.

I think this is a great story worth every page; it has encouraged me to expand my genre horizons, and is that not, in the scheme of things, a sign of a worthy tale?

Reynwood’s Reviews: This Present Darkness

Title: This Present Darkness

Series: Darkness (#1)

Author: Frank E. Peretti

My rating: 5 of 5


Ashton is just a typical small town. But when a skeptical reporter and a prayerful, hardworking pastor begin to investigate mysterious events, they suddenly find themselves caught up in a hideous New Age plot to enslave the townspeople, and eventually the entire human race. The physical world meets the spiritual realm as the battle rages between forces of good and evil.


My thoughts:

Oh. My. Goodness. This book hit me on all the levels, as a writer, a reader, a person, and a Christian. Frank E. Peretti writes boldly, touching on real issues we deal with even today, decades after its first printing.

The narrative is well paced, carrying you along the river current, and then it begins to pick up, growing faster as you reach the white waters, and by that time you really don’t want to put the book down. Peretti’s descriptions are vivid, his characters, the problems they face, and how each one deals with them are realistic and relatable, no matter where you stand.

The theme of this story, depicting the (very real) warfare going on around us, is a refreshing change, I thought, from the analogies replete throughout literature. There are angels and there are demons, fighting within the wee town of Ashton, and the citizens don’t even know it, but as the fire heats up, eyes are opened to the truth and the danger. The best way to destroy a man is not always to take his life, but to undermine his family and demolish his reputation, beating him raw until his soul shatters.

I’ve heard many people talk about this book (and its partner Piercing the Darkness), that it was convicting and even prophetic. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to see it (I’m not always the most perceptive) but I saw it. The trouble harrying Ashton harries the wider world even today, becoming increasingly evident; it doesn’t take much effort to see it. The emphasis in this story is on prayer, and while I’m not entirely sure if angels really get their strength from people’s prayer and worship to the Lord, it has to be said that prayer bears much power. It is the single most effective action we as followers of Christ can make concerning any and every issue we face. Hank is an inspiration for what unashamed, unafraid, unshakable faith can look like, and what an honor to be accused of being a ‘little praying man’.

I highly recommend this story for the richness of its plot, creativity of its narrative, its conviction of faith and prayer, but also to those who are on the outside looking it. Whether searching for God or not, this story will give some insight into the world we see and live in.

Reynwood’s Reviews: A Conspiracy of Kings

10454271 Title: A Conspiracy of Kings

Series: The Queen’s Thief, #4

Author: Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 5 0f 5


Sophos, heir to the throne of Sounis, has disappeared without a trace. Eugenides, the new and unlikely king of Attolia, has never stopped wondering what happened to his friend. Nor has the Queen of Eddis, who once offered Sophos her hand. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again.

Battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Across the sea, a ruthless empire watches for even the slightest weakness. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Until, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the magus—and Eddis—Sophos sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever.


My thoughts:

A pretty spectacular fourth, if I do say so myself. The world of The Queen’s Thief continues to expand with each volume in this series, and Turner doesn’t quit with her wit and labyrinthine political affairs spanning four countries and all their barons, revolts, conspiracies, and power plays.

This time we read from the point of view of Sophos, our little Sounisian heir who has come so very far from the Useless the Younger from The Thief. In the previous book we hear very little of him, only that he’s missing, and now we get to learn how and why. The poor guy is sent on a rollercoaster of wild and violent experiences that take him from his disenchanted youth to crown prince taking back by force his divided kingdom ─ to protect them and the peninsula from the hated Mede Empire.

And who do we know who’s always got his hands in the mess pulling the strings? Eugenides, King of Attolia. He’s almost scary, quite honestly, but he’s a sharp one, and after all we’ve seen of him since the opening page of The Thief, I can’t help but like him.

Smartly written and packed with action, humor, and a wee little bit of heartache, A Conspiracy of Kings is a wonderful and gripping story with a splendiferous ending.


As it happens, there is a giveaway currently running for A Conspiracy of Kings, so why not enter for a chance to win a copy? . . . I did. It’s an opportunity too awesome to pass up. There’s only a few days left to enter, so don’t dilly dally!


And speaking of giveaways, the run of The Memory Quest is drawing to a close as well, so if you haven’t entered, now would be the time! Tell your friends (about both of these) and spread the word around!