The Great Hunt

I know I said I wouldn’t write book recommendations for each of the Wheel of Time books since there is 14 of them and, let’s be honest, you only need the first book recommended in a series to get started and determine for yourself if you will finish it. That said, this post is not technically a recommendation. I thought it would be fun to track my journey through this enormous series. So, here comes my thoughts on The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan. I will keep this post spoiler free (which proved harder than I thought) for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I am absolutely open to having a discussion in the comments with any spoilers. I would greatly appreciate it if you do not include spoilers from later books so nothing is ruined for me before I get to it.

I finished this book about two weeks ago (and about two weeks after I finished the first book). I flew through it. I found myself absorbed in the story and wanting to read it with any free time I had, which is a sign of a good book. I have to say I am greatly enjoying this series. Right now I’m about 2/3 through the third book and will probably finish it before this time next week. Of course, there were things I liked and didn’t like as there are for nearly every story. So let’s begin.

One thing I didn’t like that is completely excusable is the lack of resolution for some story arcs. Obviously there is plenty of story left to resolve some of the arcs that begin in this book (or began at the end of the first book), so I can live with a few unknowns at the end of this one. Though unless there is going to be a long play, there was one specific character that I was expecting to see a resolution with, and I have no idea where Mr. Merchant Darkfriend is currently (hopefully that doesn’t give anything away). Honestly, I would have been okay with just a short description but I’m sure he will pop up later on.

This book begins the trend (I’m assuming it will continue to be one from where I am currently) of using prophecies. These prophecies, some to be potentially accurate and others probably not, are used to heighten expectations and let the entire population of this imaginary land be somewhat in-the-know of what we as readers are experiencing. Prophecies are a great literary tool and I think Jordan uses them well.

One thing that is only slightly excusable is the Seanchan. I was intrigued by them and they obviously created some questions, which so far many are unanswered but still interesting (I hope I get the answers thought it may be awhile). They of course created conflict and allowed for some great character development. They also were an interesting commentary on slavery and psychology. I’m not going to write a literary analysis of this, but I’m sure I could if I was so inclined. Human history is littered with societies that included slavery, but this is a different take on it since many things apply to only Jordan’s world.

I’ve become a big fan of Loial. Maybe because I also love books, but also because he is odd man out. He is too hasty for an Ogier and is considered young at the age of 90, yet he now travels with those who he considers hasty and naive in many ways. The Ogier as a people often remind me of the Ents in Lord of the Rings with their relationship with nature and their view concerning the actions of those who live shorter lives.

Also, what is up with Selene? I felt like every time she is mentioned I was reminded that men go simple-minded in front of gorgeous women (which is not entirely true) and that good-looking people are highly influential (which pop culture today proves to be true unfortunately). I know she is dangerous and I found myself at times shaking my head at how some characters interact with her.

Let’s not even talk about Ingtar. I like that guy and choose to continue doing so.

The introduction to fast-travel in the first book via the Ways was interesting, plausible, and enjoyable. Then we get another means of fast-travel that opens up an infinite world of possibilities and I’m unsure of how it will impact the remainder of the story. Especially since the theme of dreams is further explored. Either way, I got a Skyrim vibe from this form of travel. I hope it doesn’t get overused as I continue through the story because it could easily become an overly convenient way of getting characters around.

Well, that’s all I have for this book. I’m afraid things are already starting to merge in regards to what happens in each book. I’ll post about The Dragon Reborn shortly after I finish it so the events are little more fresh. I may very well include spoilers moving forward so I can discuss things freely, but I’ll give a heads up either way. The last thing I want to do is ruin anything for anyone.

As always, I’m happy to discuss this book with you so leave a comment.

Happy Reading.

The Unexpected

Have you ever experienced a story that left you utterly lost? As in, you don’t remember what your perception of life was before experiencing it. Where you can’t stop thinking about the characters and what happened to them. Have you experienced a story that meant more to you than you thought originally possible?

I think some of the stories that hit us the hardest are the ones we never saw coming. By this, I mean the stories we knew little to nothing about but gave it a shot because something drew us to it, and before the end we realize too late that it wove itself through our muscles and bones and became as important to us as the air we breathed. At least, for a little while. The obsession fades usually after a few days but we will always recommend the story to our friends and maybe re-read, re-watch, re-listen to the story so we can experience it all over again. But it won’t be quite the same as that first time. Every re-experience is just a reminder of how it left us both empty yet fulfilled. We are just a story junkie chasing that first high.

Not the best analogy, but I think you get the point, and I hope you know what it is I’m talking about. Stories have power. They can make us question things and help us grow. They can teach us new things or make us question old things. They can do all of this across one page or an entire series, within one episode or even within five minutes of a movie (think of that scene from UP, you know which one I’m talking about). We are drawn to stories because we want to experience something. The type of story I’m focusing on is the one that comes out of left field to completely knock you off your feet. The type of story that is the reason I write. Even if I write 100 books and only 3 pages perform the magic I am talking about, then it will all be worth it.

There are several stories I can think of that left me catatonic. Simply sitting there, somewhat withdrawn into myself, wondering. Just wondering. Sometimes about the characters or what happened to them or sometimes about what my life is and what more I can do with it. I would love to hear what stories have affected you in this way. Please, leave a comment or send it to me from the contact page.

Stories like this don’t come around often enough for my liking. Maybe once or twice a year if I’m lucky, but I recently experienced one that I wanted to talk about before my obsession with it faded. There are many reasons I enjoyed this show (yes, it’s not a book this time). The show is a Netflix original called Violet Evergarden.

One thing I absolutely enjoyed and will enjoy for probably a long time is the soundtrack. I think I first heard of this show because it popped up as a suggested soundtrack to listen to online. I listen to a lot of orchestral soundtracks. I didn’t listen to this one until after I watched the show and now I own the soundtrack and am listening to it right now as I type this post. The second thing I found drawing me in was the character and the world she inhabits. The setting is a post-war era similar to maybe the 1920’s. The show takes place in a fictional world but it has a feeling similar to what I imagine life may have been after World War I. Our main, title character was a war orphan who was trained and treated as a weapon through the end of the war. The story picks up after the war has ended and Violet sets off to learn what happened to her commanding officer and what his last words to her meant. In her journey, she becomes an Auto-memory Doll, which is someone employed to write letters for other people and help them say what they cannot seem to put into words. Many of the people cannot write themselves. All the letters are written on a typewriter (which has me dusting off my old typewriter that was given as a gift many years ago). Her character development is enthralling even though most episodes are independent stories that build her experiences. Again, the soundtrack is amazing and music adds so much to shows and movies. The animation (did I mention it is animated?) is gorgeous. The entire show is well paced and I found myself watching several episodes at time and finishing the short 13 episodes within one week. The show gave me a feeling of nostalgia. Of a time simpler to the world we live in and the busy hustle and bustle of our technological world. That alone was worth the watch for me to be honest.

Nothing is better than finding a story this way. Unexpectedly and leaving you hopeful. Giving you an experience you will never forget. One you cherish and want to shout about so everyone else can feel how you feel. But of course we don’t because that is rude and you know that builds expectations which then hinders the story for others. You have to let others find it on their own. I know I gave away a lot about the show I just wrote about and I’ll apologize to you now if that gave you expectations for it, but I won’t really mean it because you may not watch it regardless or you may watch it now because I wrote about it and it caught your interest and you may not have heard about it otherwise.

The unexpected story is what we hope for when we give a book, show, or movie a chance without knowing anything else about it. I encourage you to go out and find something you have never heard of that sounds interesting and give it this chance. It may become a treasure to you. Yes, there are plenty of other stories your friends are recommending, but go out there and give the unknown a shot. You may find yourself recommending it to your friends, and fervently.

With that, I dedicate this post to the unexpected. May we all find such stories when we need them. To remind us that there is something out there we may have forgotten, or to remind us of what we dream to be.

Two Years Online

My second webiversary came and went and I almost missed it. I’m only a week late but I wanted to write a post about my blogging career. Last year I described what had been going on in my life on and offline with the main focus being on my writing. Here I go again.

To start, I spent the entirety of 2018 writing a minimum of two posts a week for this blog. One flash story and one book recommendation every week with a few random microfiction stories and personal posts thrown in. I am happy to say I persevered with that schedule and did not miss a single week. I got engaged and married last year. We did a little traveling to England (where I got to drink a beer in a pub frequently visited by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis at Oxford) and Ireland (where much fun was had). I continue to work a full-time job that greatly cuts into my writing times.

Unfortunately, I did not have any stories published last year but then again I didn’t submit many to even be considered, which is why I’ve switched things up this year. I have foregone my weekly posts to focus on writing short stories to submit for publication and I hope to get at least five stories published this year. I really want this blog to turn into a history of my writing career. I want this for several reasons. One: so I can look back on it and see how my writing has progressed and how I achieved my dream of becoming a published and hopefully full-time writer (once I have achieved and maintained it). Two: so others can see my progression as well and hopefully use it as an example or for inspiration to achieve their dreams. To show fledgling writers (like me at this moment) that hard work and perseverance are key to getting published. Things don’t just magically fall into place. Let this blog be a glimpse behind the scenes of a writer’s career.

Since I’m on the topic of beginner writers, I recommend a few things that can help get through the self-doubt and start your own progression. My first suggestion is get a good group of friends that love to read and write and meet with them to discuss your own writing. A good writing group can do wonders. If you don’t have this (like myself), then I suggest finding a good writing community through the wonders of the web. I know for a fact that Twitter has an excellent writing community that is supportive and inspiring. You get to see what everyone else is working on and what they are struggling with (which often is something similar to what you are experiencing). You’ll get to ask questions and see different things going on. It’s like a giant, fun, friendly group of writers who help each other even though we don’t know each other, and you’ll find writers who are just starting out or have published many books. If you are just starting out, you can find me there @YarberWrites. I’d love to be your friend. My second suggestion is to just write. Write as much as you can and about whatever you want. The more you write the more material you will have and the more practice you will get. No one has to read it if you don’t want them to. My third suggestion is start a blog (like this one). You’ll be surprised how much it can help to write for an audience (even if there isn’t one when you start). I’m happy to say my list of writer/blogger friends has grown to more that I thought possible when I first started. Writing blog posts is great experience and helps in many ways when it comes to writing. You get practice and interaction with viewers, and it helps you get past the fear of putting your writing out there. Believe me, I had that same fear. It still comes around here and there, but most readers are great supportive people.

Back to some updates. I am no longer on Patreon for various reasons (mainly I didn’t think it was the right platform for me), but I have gotten back on Goodreads after creating an account and forgetting about it for several years. I have a new goal to read more than I have been and I thought Goodreads would help me with this since you can track your progress and create reading goals. You also get to see what all your friends are reading as well. I’d love to be your friend on this platform as well. Just click here and add me.

Though I may be posting less this year, I plan to post a couple times a month at least. Many will be book recommendations and others simple updates like this or discussions about authors or other topics. I may post a story every once in a while but I’m working on getting my work out there for publication in literary journals. I believe this is my next step in my writing career. I hope you don’t mind.

I hope you are working toward your own dream and are taking steps forward to make it happen. I also hope (since I’m biased here) that you are reading fun things and learning other, new things. I have no doubt you can achieve your dream. It may take time and a lot of effort, but you can do it. I’m much farther along toward my goal than I was two years ago. You got this.

Happy Reading.

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World

I was fortunate to see a pre-screening of How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World this weekend. The movie officially releases later this month. I know this blog is mainly about books and my own writing, but it really is about all types of stories. Besides, this movie series is based on a book series by Cressida Cowell so it still fits. I also only wanted to talk about it because of my chance to see it early.

Fun Fact: I didn’t actually see the first movie in theaters (I can’t tell you why because I of course like dragons and it was something I was sure to be interested in). The second movie I did make sure to see opening weekend, and now I’ve seen the third and final installment before its opening weekend. Easy to say I’m a fan. This series is probably my favorite Dreamworks animated series. That being said, I was able to go into this movie with little expectations. I always try to do this so I’m never disappointed. Easy to say that I was definitely not disappointed. I enjoyed this movie greatly and I think part of it was the fact it is the final chapter of a journey that started eight years ago when the first movie was released in 2010.

How To Train Your Dragon

This movie wraps up the series extremely well and the thematic undertones were strategically placed. This movie’s overall takeaway, from my opinion, is that growing up means being strong enough to let some things go. I almost never tear up during movies, but I have to admit that there were two moments I had to hold back.  To keep this post spoiler free, I’ll let you take that as you will. Of course, certain things can be expected since it is the third movie in a trilogy, but I think the personal growth of Hiccup and his ability to learn, with the help of his friends, that he is stronger than he thinks of himself is the main story arc. It’s something that we all need reminding of from time-to-time.

There are many things I can say about the main villain Grimmel, but again, I want to keep this spoiler free and the things I would talk about would contain spoilers. What I will say is that his character is hypocritical and believes in a world-view that unfortunately I think many people today may align with. Please don’t believe that there are any political undertones to this movie. What I’m vaguely talking about is humanity in general. People believe different things and that is okay. Stories have to have villains and heroes and they almost always have opposing views. The villain is usually believes in things that are grossly evil, but not always. In this case I don’t think he is evil. I think he believes in something that we, the audience, will agree is unjust.

The story picks up after the second movie nicely and ties all three movies together as a final installment should do. Overall, I think this movie will be enjoyed by all current fans of the series. Especially you, reader who found their way here just to get more information about the upcoming release. When you watch this movie, allow yourself the chance to watch it with a child’s eyes, and I hope you grow alongside our beloved characters. As I have.

Getting Lost in a Story

I think many of us can agree that being drawn into a story is one of the greatest experiences we can have, and we have all had this experience at least once. I’m not talking about the “can you believe what Jan did this time?” kind of gossip story. I mean the stories that change us. The ones that last. That we connect with and cherish, oftentimes, for the rest of our lives. I’m also not just talking about books. I’m talking about stories in whatever form they may come. A movie, a TV series, a videogame, a podcast, etc. I’m talking about a story that grips you so tight you can’t even remember that the rest of the world exists. A story that you may develop a somewhat unhealthy obsession for (it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t understand). I want you to think about one of your favorite stories and consider why you like it as much as you do.

I’ll be talking about several of my own favorite stories, but before I jump in, I also want to touch on the phenomenon known as over-hype. You probably have experienced this as well. When your friends (and probably the internet as well) think that this one story is so good that everyone should experience it and all they do is talk about it and hound you about why you haven’t watched/read it yet and that you are missing out on a life-changing experience, so then one of two things happen; you watch it and think it is just “meh” because it was talked-up so much that it could never have lived up to the expectations your friends created, or you decide never to watch it on principle because apparently the entire world is obsessed with this story and you want to be one of the few that has never seen it just so you can shock people with your lack of social assimilation, but you then wait the appropriate amount of time where people stop raving about it so you eventually watch it because it’s supposed to blow your socks off but your expectations are still way too high from all the hype and you have self-imposed ideals about how this story should be the best ever written or you will only talk how you don’t understand why everyone liked it just to squeeze the remaining shock value about how you are unique for going against the grain.

Okay, rant aside, I think we all have been on both sides of these conversations at some point. The reason I bring this up is because stories have power we can’t explain, and that power mostly comes from us. Some stories get world-wide acclaim while others a “cult” following and probably a great many more are lost in the sea of available stories out there, waiting to be discovered as the treasure they are. I am currently reading a book that I think may have been over-hyped for me. I understand its appeal and do not dislike it, but I am not going to jabber about it with everyone who loves it as I often do about the stories I greatly enjoy.

Some of the best stories, or those that affect us the most, are those we happen upon ourselves without knowing anything about them. My most recent experience of this was in March of 2017. I was new to Twitter and was scrolling through things and found this video of an author being interviewed about her new book. She was being interviewed by another author and they were simply talking about books so of course I was interested. I remember they both seemed like great people. The interviewing author was Patrick Rothfuss. I had heard his name before, but knew nothing about his books. I continued to know nothing about them but I eventually picked up his first novel The Name of the Wind, and I absolutely loved it, and the sequel, and the related novella. I am patiently waiting for the next book. I read all of his works within a month (which is quick for me considering their size) because I could not put them down. I enjoyed the story so much it was all I could and wanted to think about. I later came to find out that thousands of others had the same reaction. Many have read his works several times over. I will definitely read them again and they will remain on my bookshelf all my life for myself and others to enjoy. I’ve also gone beyond recommending this book and given a copy or two away to friends. I try to think I showed great restraint by not over-hyping this book to them so they could enjoy it in their own way. Most of them have and being able to share the experience of the story makes us better people.

Not only does enjoying the same story make it easier to start a conversation, it also opens up our understanding of other people. After all, friendships are often built on common interests. Studies were conducted that showed evidence that reading Harry Potter instills empathy. The article “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter” discusses these studies and their relation to empathy.

Vezzali [stated] that fantasy may be especially effective in assuaging negative attitudes because the genre typically doesn’t feature actual populations and thus avoids potential defensiveness and sensitivities around political correctness.

I think that getting lost in stories, not just Harry Potter, does make us more connected and increases our ability to understand others. Stories can be an entirely new experiences that show us things we’ve never seen and makes us see, feel, or think about things we never had before. They takes us to far away places and on grand adventures.

These types of stories are not limited to any one medium. I am a gamer as well as a book fiend. I often say I play too many videogames because I need to write more to create my own stories, but I grew up playing videogames and have formed bonds through them. One of my all-time favorites is the Legend of Zelda series. These games often follow the same outline, but they are all fun to play and have interesting characters. They often tackle serious themes about life. The series entry Majora’s Mask tackles the theme of death and loss. Connor Worley wrote and excellent article about this titled “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – A Story About Loss.” A recent YouTube video by Good Blood titled “Ocarina of Time – A Masterclass in Subtext” argues that the Ocarina of Time entry is the saddest of entry in the franchise (I promise not all of these games are sad, but stories must have conflict to entertain us). Ocarina of Time has its own history in the world of videogames and has fallen victim to over-hype over the years, but it stands as one of the best games of all time not only because of the story, but how it changed the world of videogames as a medium. It was innovative for its time and remains on a pedestal in many gamer’s hearts. Each entry in this series holds new surprises and more things to love. I’ve read many supplemental materials just to get more information about this world that was founded back in 1986 and the characters that have been introduced through its long history.

The Mass Effect series is another videogame franchise I greatly enjoyed. I first played it well after it became a huge hit and the third installment was set to release. I love science fiction and loved these games. Getting to explore an entire galaxy and defend it from invading, sentient robots bent on mass genocide was a blast. The characters were interesting and well-developed, your choices impacted the story-line, there were consequences for your actions. The time invested was a personal journey through the landscape of a fictional world. I was changed from that experience because I learned things about myself and I was able to use the experience to see this world differently. Most art has something to say about the world we live in. The Bioshock series is another story that I often remember and go back to.

Another aspect of falling in love with a story and its characters is the attachment we grow toward it. Many avid readers have their favorite books and authors, and I believe most of us bibliophiles have multiple copies of the same book in different formats, editions, or simply get new copies because the current one is falling apart from use. The same goes for movies and videogames. I have a few HD remakes of videogames and extended or director’s cut versions of films I return watch again and again. I also admit I have different editions of a few series simply because I am both a collector and love the story so much I like different copies. I have several editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and two editions of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

We grow attached to these stories and cherish them. They are a part of us. They have changed our lives to a point where we can’t remember what we were like before experiencing them. Stories make us better people. They make us experience the entire range of human emotion, and they make it easier for us to understand each other. What are some of your favorite stories? Why do you think you like them so much? Think about how those stories impacted your life beyond the page or the screen. Have you made friends from them? Argued about them?

What stories have changed you? What stories will you tell? When you are gone, what stories will you leave behind? After all, in the end, we are each of us only stories.