My Take: “The Martian” by Andy Weir

 Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Genre: Science Fiction

Print length: 369

 My rating: 3.5 4.6

Goodreads: 4.3

Mark Watney is a brilliant botanist and mechanical engineer selected by NASA to be among six astronauts who go on the Ares mission to Mars. During the mission, the team endures a severe storm on the planet’s surface and the team is forced to abort the mission and return to earth.  There’s just one small problemonly five astronauts make it back into space. Read More »

Sharing Your Art

Sharing your art can be terrifying.  For me it’s been an ongoing struggle, but I have learned that the only remedy for that fear is to, in fact, share your art. I guess you could call it exposure therapy.

 I used to think my art had to be super ingestible and complete before I shared it. But as you can imagine as a novelist, I don’t often have completed, finished work to pass around on a regular basis. My friends and family will ask, ‘how’s your story coming? What have you been writing about?’  It has always been hard to explain what I’m writing about because half the time I’m not even sure.  Writing a novel is a journey, a maze of ideas that come out tiny bits at a time, or all at once in messy piles, and until they’re tidied up, I’m not too inclined to share them.

I was recently talking with a friend about C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and their different approaches to allegory. After a little while, I started sharing my own thoughts on allegory and the pressure I feel to make magnanimous meaning out of the little world I’ve created for my novel. I ended up blabbering on about the different races of elves in my story and their beliefs in the divine.  I want the world to feel authentic, the races to seem developed, and I don’t want to write just to push a message.  So where’s the balance?  How much meaning is enough?  These are just a few questions among a thousand  bouncing around my brain every time I critique my story.

But through talking with my friend it made me realize how much meaning was behind what I had already written, and how there was still so much space for a reader to invent and interpret what they wanted from it.  My hope is to never force it.  I just want the people in my story to expand and grow as naturally as possible.  I used to think I had to agree with my characters, that they in some way needed to reflect me and my beliefs.  As I’ve come to learn, that’s not necessarily true.  Those kinds of worlds usually end up feeling very staged.

But I realized all this from processing through a peice of my story aloud with another person.  Sometimes you just need a friend who will listen. And sometimes you just need to give yourself the space to share your art and hear feedback, even if it ends up being your own.

Talk about your characters, talk about your favorite artists, colors, sounds. Just talk! Create opportunities to let others inside your world.  I’ve learned that more people than I thought feel the same fears and apprehension when talking about their art.

So cut yourself some slack, we’re all still learning.

My Take: “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard

Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre: YA Fantasy
Print length: 388


My rating: 4.5 4.3
Goodreads: 4.1

Mare Borrow lives in a world divided solely by the color of blood.  The impoverished Reds live a life of survival while the wealthy Silvers with their god-like powers live in excess.

Mare is among the former, a red-blooded commoner.  She has no hope of the world around her changing, until one day she finds herself in the king’s palace among the Silvers.  It is here she discovers that despite her common blood, she has a god-like power of her own—she can control electricity.  When the royal family discovers her secret, she becomes a threat to the entire political system.

Standing in the balance between two different worlds, Mare must choose to either embrace her power and help save her fellow people, or live peacefully among the Silvers and ensure the safety of her family.  But, this is not the only fateful decision Mare must make—she must also choose who she loves.  Should she allow herself to fall for the intelligent, rebellious prince Maven whom she is betrothed to marry, or his older brother and future king Cal who saved Mare and her family from poverty?

As rebel Red forces gather against the Silver elite, Mare is forced to fight against the many powers dueling for control.  But as Mare is coming to find, betrayal is not uncommon.

My Take

A book is usually good when you sacrifice sleep, read in bed under a dim light so you don’t wake your husband, and don’t even care that your dead tired the next day at work.  This book was good—in fact, it was fantastic.  Amidst a pool of young adult, dystopian stories this novel really stands out.  It has all the engaging elements of a realistic world, dynamic characters, and fast-paced plot.

I especially loved the way Aveyard developed the two princes and their relationship with each other and with Mare.  As the story unfolds, you see the way they think, their motivations, and the way they will defy everything for one thing—Mare.  Aveyard found the perfect balance between developing a world that feels real, full of history and secrets, with one girl’s story of love and survival.  This novel would suit both romantics and non-romantics alike, as the world created goes far beyond the realities of any one character.

I am a lover of science-fiction as well as fantasy, and though I wouldn’t say this novel falls under the sci-fi genre, I will say it very uniquely blends together elements from both a futuristic world and a historically primitive world into an irresistible “Game of Thrones” meets “Hunger Games” literary medley.

Although elements of “Red Queen” can be likened to other best selling books, this novel stands apart in its originality and twisting plot.  You will find you can’t help but love even the most deceptive characters.

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Alaska & Love in June

There are places we go that forever go with us. Alaska was that place for me. A world I stepped into, and a world I will never leave, or rather it will never leave me.

I hope this post will inspire you to write or travel or imagine. . .

Two years ago, my best friend and I went to Alaska on our honeymoon. Drew, my newly betrothed, planned the entire experience out. From budgets and expenses to flights and rentals, he had everything set. I didn’t have to think about a single thing.

He swept me off my feet and we went on an adventure we will never forget.

While we were in Alaska, we passed my phone back and forth and wrote about some of our experiences in my notes app. It was a beautiful way to capture exactly how we felt in those moments. Rather than trying to repaint a picture of what it was like, I’m going to give you a little snippet I wrote while we were there.

An excerpt from our honeymoon journal:

“Night three in Alaska and we sit out on our cabin’s balcony overlooking the snow-kissed mountains planted firmly against the clean blue sky.  Drew smokes his tobacco pipe in his long johns as I drink wine and enjoy a fresh clove cigarette. Nothing can beat the serenity of the fixed water. From this distance it seems so still, though I know the water is licking at the black, stone beach a mile below.

Earlier today we journeyed down the mountainside along the winding horse trail which breeches the thicket of pines and spills out onto a pebbled beach leading down to the hazy blue water. Pockets of fog lifted off the water and disappeared over the bluffs overhead.  It smelled like old corals and seaweed. The water is the gulf of Alaska, mixed with the cool water of the Pacific Ocean to the south.  There is hardly a breeze in the air, just a few pieces of cotton pulled taunt across the pale sky overhead and the surprisingly warm water that moves beneath.

Lewis and Clark (that’s us) found a fully intact lower jawbone of a moose on the beach. Its teeth sit in two sharp rows that join at the base of the bone. It stinks like animals past and the distinct smell of salt and slimy barnacles off the ocean. The beach is littered with white shells, some covered in dried, twisted barnacles. We take those with us along with the jawbone.

The journey back was steep and long, but we leaned on our walking sticks for aid and trusted our boots would soon land again on the charted ground back up in our remote Mountain.

As I sit reflecting back on our hike, I watch the smoke that rises off Drew’s pipe. It mixes with the warm, fresh air lingering in the bright sky. It will be light like this until after midnight when the sun finally sets. Its a different world having twenty hours of sunlight.

The feeling I have goes beyond happiness. I’m in a world filled with wonder, smoke, wine, my new husband, and a calm that sweeps me off into a wonderland where legends and magic just may exist in the snowy mountains past the rings of cloven smoke, across the misty bay.  Anything feels possible.

But I am humbled. No epic fantasy I could escape into could capture the majesty of the One who is responsible for such a wonder as sits before me.  I am so small, and so proud to be alive as a witness. I praise God for His artistry.

It is only a few minutes until a new day and the lights on the distant peer will appear to light the few hours of darkness.  When they do, I will slip from this serenity into the calm of my husband’s arms.”

Alaska was truly a wonderful adventure.  I can’t believe it has been two years since we were there. When I read our journal I can still smell it, taste it.  The amazing thing about time is that it tends to dull the senses, and while this is true about our voyage to Alaska, it is not true about my love for Drew. I find I fall more and more in love with him as time passes.  He always brings me around in this world the way no else ever has, or ever will. He is himself, one adventure  both happening and waiting to happen.  One thing has been true for the six years we’ve been together, I’ve never been bored.

And lastly, I have to include this little excerpt that he wrote.

My bride.  From her gentle, timid sheep in the pen purr, to her lion loud laugh, she is everything and more than I thought could exist within a body so small.  She gives and takes like the hot sun and the beautiful breeze on a summer day.

I want to tell you all our exciting stories of horseback riding, whale watching, and our crazy moose encounters, but I’ll save that for another time. For now, I’m going to include some of the amazing places we visited that way you won’t miss out if you ever visit Alaska.

The Glacier Brewhouse– To this day, Drew and I can’t think of a restaurant we’ve enjoyed more. I had the grilled Alaskan sockeye salmon and Drew had the herb crusted Alaskan halibut. Locally sourced—yum! Its brewery is connected right to the restaurant and you can watch them making all the beer through clear glass walls.

The Anchorage Zoo– This zoo had a lot of animals local to the north. The day we went it was 70 degrees which is really hot for those guys. Most of them were panting and fighting for shade. Poor dears.

Kenai Fjords Tours– We got to see Kenai Fjords National Park from a cruise ship on the Gulf of Alaska. We saw bears, whales, and falling glaciers.  The sound of ice breaking and falling from glaciers is incredible.

This is where we spent most of our time, and the little town we fell in love with.

The Homer Bookstore– Of course I had to visit the local bookstore.

Trails End Horse Adventure– This was my absolute FAVORITE part of our time in Alaska. Led by a local cowboy named Mark, this guided tour through Alaskan forrest, beach, and trails was the most breathtaking experience of my life.

The Homer Spit– The spit is Homer’s greatest attraction.  It’s filled with little artisan shops and restaurants that line a little piece of land extending into the Kachemak Bay. You must visit the Salty Dawg Saloon!

Cafe Cups– This adorable seafood restaurant is a must add to your ever growing Alaska bucket list. It made me feel like I was truly in Wonderland.

My Take: “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H. G. Wells

Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau                                                                  My rating: 4.5

Author: H. G. Wells                                                                             4.1

Genre: Science fiction                                                                                 Goodreads: 3.7

Print length: 104

The story is told by a man named Edward Prendick who is the only remaining survivor of the Lady Vain boat crash. Prendick is picked up by the Ipecacuanha, a trader ship which happens to have a medical passenger on board named Montgomery.

H. G . Wells was an English writer highly regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction. Though he wrote among many other genres, he is best known for his novels
H. G . Wells was an English writer highly regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction. Though he wrote among many other genres, he is best known for his  sci-fi novels “The Time Machine”, “The Invisible Man”, “War of the Worlds”, and “The Island of Doctor Moreau.”
The last of these titles was published in 1896 and continues with Well’s exploration of the ethics and consequences surrounding the use of advanced technology.

Montgomery is a mysterious man with a cargo of strange animals. He takes it upon himself to nurse Prendick back to health with his own equipment and medicine. He has an attendant with him named Mling, an even stranger man than Montgomery, and Pendrick notes that Mling has a repugnance and odd familiarity to him. In a few days time, the Ipecacuanha arrives near an island which Montgomery explains is his destination. The captain insists Montgomery takes his recovered castaway with him. Montgomery refuses, and is received by a small boat from the island. Since neither want to keep Prendick, the captain orders him into a dingy and abandons him miles from the island.

Taking pity, Montgomery orders the small boat who received the cargo from the Ipecacuanha to turn around and rescue Prendick. Prendick accompanies the strange cargo, Montgomery, and a group of strange islanders to the shore of the nearby island.

Another man of medicine inhabits the island. His name is Moreau. He takes a kind of fancy to Prendick, knowing he has studied medicine as well, but keeps him locked out of certain huts on the island. Prendick learns that all of Moreau and Montgomery’s attendants live in a village on the other side of the island, and save for Mling, they do not bother the compound of huts where Moreau and Montgomery work.

The strangeness of the islanders and the secrecy surrounding Moreau’s work intoxicates Prendick with curiosity. One day when Moreau leaves a door to one of the huts unlocked. Prendick walks in and witnesses a puma undergoing vivisection by Moreau’s hand. There is blood everywhere and Prendick realizes the poor mutilated puma is the source of the cries of pain he has heard since he arrived at the island. It does not take Prendick long before he connects the strange proportions, odd sauntering, and hairy faces of the islanders with Moreau’s laboratory.  In fear of becoming part of Moreau’s next creation, Prendick takes flight to the other side of the island.

Prendick is pursued by Montgomery and Moreau who carry whips and guns. Prendick comes upon many of Moreau’s Beast People. They invite Prendick into their village of dens and marvel in broken sentences that he is a five-fingered man. They believe he is a creature such as themselves made by Moreau. They invite him to live among them but tell him he must learn and recite the Law:

“Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not men?
Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not men?
Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law. Are we not men?
Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

His is the House of Pain.
His is the Hand that makes.
His is the Hand that wounds.
His is the hand that heals.”

Prendick learns quickly from the sayings of the Law that Moreau taught each man-beast this recitation which would subjugate and control them. It is while he is among the Beast People that Moreau appears and orders they restrain Prendick. Again, Prendick runs for his life. Finally when he is on the brink of exhaustion, he wades out into the water and threatens to drown himself. It is only when Moreau and Montgomery lay their guns on the edge of the water and retreat back into the brush that Prendick is coaxed from the water.

He follows the two unarmed men back to their huts. Here Moreau explains his medical ambitions. He reveals that he does not do vivisection on any human beings, rather his attempts are to transform animals into human forms with more sophisticated minds. The Law is in place to keep the animals from reverting to their animal instincts of hunting and savagery. It is soon clear how unhappy Moreau is with his progress and finds himself mocked by the mere existence of his creations. Prendick realizes that Moreau is driven only by his thirst for discovery and creation, and Montgomery, having been on the island for ten years, does not question Moreau, but in fact finds a strange comfort among some of the Beast People.

Things begin happening that suggest the Beast People are not abiding by the Law. Things that pose a danger to the three human men. The story comes to a climax when Moreau’s current experiment gets loose. He chases the beast out into the island’s thickets, and Montgomery and Prendick are forced to follow. The men are subject to the island at night, when the Beast People revert most to their animal instincts. With Moreau’s creations slipping out from his control, and the declining presence of humanity, Prendick finds himself facing the ethical and moral implications of Moreau’s wretched works, and the catastrophes that ensues will forever maim Prendick’s ability to distinguish between the sophisticated intelligence of humanity and the depravity of animal instinct.

My Take

The thing I found the most fascinating with this story is the element of the Law and the divine regard in which Moreau is held. Though the Beast People have their own society, it is wholly dictated by human guidelines. The animals were constantly battling their own desires and instincts to uphold the Law. As Moreau was their creator and judge they revered him as a god figure. When the Law was broken they went “back to the house of pain.” Their intelligence, or lack thereof, was constantly used for whatever profited Moreau. He harnessed their humanity to guilt and shame them into following the Law, but then used their animal ignorance to corral them together to do his bidding. Upon Moreau’s demise, even Montgomery finds it difficult to accept that Moreau could ever lose what he had worked so hard to build.

Moreau and Montgomery have both been wildly affected by the darkness of their scientific exploration and the dreadful island where they live. Prendick, the outsider with a fresh perspective, struggles to define the line between pity and hatred for the Beast People, seeing them as both victims and monsters. My favorite quote from the book depicts his feelings towards them.

“Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau—and for what? It was the wantonness that stirred me.”

Well’s novel confronts many of the same fears that our modern post-apocalyptic genres do now. Written nearly 120 years ago, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” raises many questions about the science of biomechanical engineering, a practice Wells predicted over a century prior to its commonplace practice today.

I have given this 4.5 stars because of Well’s ability to capture so many timeless truths about humanity while bringing up important ethical questions regarding divine creation, culture, and the reaches of science.