Book Review: Renegade by L.A. Wilcox

Hello Readers!!
Today I’m doing something new– a book review!
I’ve known Laura Wilcox since we were young kids in elementary school, and I love reading her blog As Told By Laura, which I highly recommend– this girl has been Freshly Pressed, guys, and for a good reason.
When I heard she was about to self-publish her first book at the beginning of April, I was so thrilled for her, especially since I am in the midst of trying to publish my first book. I was even more thrilled when she offered me a free copy of her novel if I would review it on my blog– something I was happy to do. Unfortunately since Laura asked me, life has been a little crazy and with one thing or another I’ve never been able to get to it. But last night, I finally made myself sit down, and I read it through crazy fast because I couldn’t put it down (sorry I took so long, Laura!!).
I think it’s so incredibly important that authors and writers help out their fellow authors and writers by supporting them any way they can, and it’s especially easy to do when you consider them a friend!

Laura’s book Renegade is the first in her ongoing series. It’s a time travel novel set in the future but which ventures back to pre-Revolutionary Boston. The hero, Andrew Simmons, is a member of a hereditary line of time travelers governed by an Agency and a specific set of rules, one of which forbids human interaction with any person in the time period they travel to. It’s a fascinating, well-developed concept that immediately caught my attention and my imagination. Each time traveler has a special talisman unique to them that they must have in order to move through time. In the beginning of the novel, Andrew manages to lose his talisman while breaking the rule against interacting.
In a desperate attempt to get his talisman back, he makes a bargain with a shady figure in the Agency that catapults him back to Boston, where he must attempt to fit in while simultaneously trying to find his talisman within six days. If he doesn’t, he will be stuck in Boston forever–and he will cease to exist in the future.
I very seldom read books that are from a male point of view, and it was a nice switch-up for me. I was impressed by how well Laura did it– I know I never could! It was also interesting to follow Andrew’s infatuation with a girl from colonial Boston, Elizabeth, and the way that relationship developed. Andrew is someone that is very easy to relate to; he’s awkward at times, moody, and he makes a lot mistakes which he fumbles his way around trying to fix. There’s also a lot of twists and turns that keep you enthralled, not to mention a surprise ending to the first book that will leave you wanting to read the second.
The book is short and not a difficult read, but it sucks you in with the mix of futuristic and historical settings, as well as the fast-paced plot and the urgency of Andrew’s quest. There’s a cast of colorful characters that Andrew comes into contact with along the way, and some of them may end up surprising you. Overall, it was fun, balanced book that had a lot of interesting development and left me impatient for the next one. I highly recommend it!!

You can find Laura’s book here for $3.99 on Amazon Kindle, and it’s already getting great reviews. Also remember to go follow her hilarious blog, and you can stay tuned for updates when the second book in the Renegade series will be out!

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Snippet Three: Not In Vain

I have been trying to write a book since I was twelve years old. But somehow, in the ten years since, I have never been able to. And while I have been unsuccessful in this long endeavor of mine, I think I at least have finally managed to discern what the problem is.
I have started a vast amount of stories; lack of ideas has never been the impediment. Instead, I have struggled with an overabundance of ideas. I will start and work on one story, but suddenly I will be struck with a new, brilliant idea, and I cannot seem to stop myself from veering off on it. But before I get too far, another plot comes to me and it is imperative that I work on it, and so on and so forth. For ten years.
I have never been able to figure out this flaw in myself. I have pondered a million reasons why—perhaps I was just afraid of commitment? Or maybe I was just too lazy. Or it might even be that I am a poor, delusional imbecile who was only fooling myself to think that I was actually a writer.
I think this is the inevitable fear of every writer, at least in the beginning, and the only way to truly overcome it is to simply decide that you are going to believe in yourself and your talent. So what was the problem, once I chose to think that I do have some ability? Why did I write something that seemed dynamic and poignant as I put it down, but when I went back and reread it seemed clumsy and juvenile? Why did a plot that seemed to spring to life in my head and develop rapidly and with a rich array of details suddenly go stagnant, and lose all interest for me?
Here is what I have come to believe the problem is—I keep changing.
Now, of course this is not some revolutionary, brilliant idea. The whole point of life is growth and change (at least I think that is what it is supposed to be). I mean, change is always inevitable, even if in no other way than the aging of your body. But somehow, in the course of ten years, it never dawned upon me that as I changed, so too would the stories inside of myself. And let me tell you, the ten years between twelve and twenty-two were rather crowded with life changes.
In the past three months, I have experienced the loss of two beloved pets, one whom I had for sixteen years and was my best friend, and the other a precious, lively spirit whom I did not get nearly long enough with. On top of the loss of my grandfather and grandmother within the last seven years, I have been slowly, and then quite suddenly, being forced to come to terms with death. And I think I have finally reached a change that alters you irreparably. As tired and cliché as it sounds, death makes you achingly aware of the fragility of life. I look around now, and the world seems so delicate, so unsteady. My time has now been shown to me to be undeniably finite, with no assurance of fairness or joy or longevity. With no assurance that everyone I love or care about will not be taken suddenly.
Perhaps this all seems very obvious to you, because you yourself have already experienced the irreparable change. You can never unknow the reality of death once you know it. Of course, I have been aware vaguely of these tried-and-true truths since I was very small—but I did not really understand them until now. If you let it, death can loom on your horizon at all times, larger even in your view than the rising and the setting of the sun each day. That has been my paradigm for the past few months, certainly.
However—I do not want the deaths of my loved ones to be in vain. For some reason, it always seems to help when you say, yes, they have died, but it was not in vain! Of course, this often only works for heroes in stories and the like, when someone dies so that someone else can live. How do you make the death of a cat or a dog to be not in vain?
This question is why I am trying desperately to effect a paradigm shift. Instead of anxiously fixating on that looming specter on the horizon, sickened and afraid of my newly cemented knowledge, I want to turn my eyes to the infinitely precious life around me. I want to grasp every moment with open hands and take charge of it, instead of letting them flow around me, always flinching in fear of each one because I know now, fully, what might be waiting within. Yes, death will always be there, undeniable, but I would like to keep only him in the corner of my eye, instead of dominating the view.
This is how I hope to make the death of those I love not in vain. Their loss has taught me an ugly but inescapable fact, that is true. It has taught me the wildness and vagaries of grief, the searing burn of injustice, the nauseating weight of terror, the clawing grip of anxiety. It has taught me sorrow, those fathomless dark depths.
But. It has also taught me about myself. I have come to know myself better, and I have gained an understanding of a fundamental characteristic of myself that has eluded me for years. Ever since I have started writing, I have been plagued by the doubt of an essential thread of my very self. Now I can say, even if you never write a book, you are a writer. Yet this new appreciation of life has kindled in me the fervent desire to boldly go forth and achieve my dreams, instead of just hoping that somehow, someday in a vague, dreamy future they will make themselves come true.
Yes, my loved ones have forced me to confront the bald-faced, ugly reality of dying. But, more than that, more importantly than that—they have taught me about living. They have died, but in doing so, they have allowed me to live.
And so I say, they have not died in vain.

The Pitfalls of a Mind On Spring Break

Ahhh, Spring Break. The perfect time for mysteriously disappeared bloggers to return to their sacred work (which they have been shamefully neglecting in favor of their other blog). For me, 10 days of total freedom to simply lounge about, stay up all night reading romance novels, nap an outrageous amount, write a 20 page rough draft…. wait. What did I just say?
Ah right. I forgot. Spring Break is most assuredly NOT about breaking. Instead, it is an excuse for your professors to give you as much homework as possible with the justification that you aren’t going to be doing anything else! Oh, silly professors. That’s supposed to be the point.
So thus you find me, contemplating the enormous mountain of my 20 page Senior Seminar rough draft that I must somehow overcome. I have exactly two pages done so far, and a thesis I am struggling to fully, forcefully bring to life. I’ve also just finished a book over Camus’s life (Elements of a Life by Robert Zaretsky, it’s absolutely phenomenal if you have any interest on Camus) that is making it both much more difficult and yet much easier to plan my paper. It’s probably the most difficult paper I will ever write, because the subject has become so important to me. Camus has changed my life this school year, and I’m grateful to him. It’s been a good change, amidst a welter of confusing, frightening, startling changes. Even more startling is the thought that this is the last essay I shall ever have to write. My academic years are drawing to a rapid, terrifying close. When I return from Spring Break, I will have exactly three weeks left of my academic life. This thought is nearly paralyzing; how can I possibly do everything that needs to be done in three weeks? And I don’t mean simply the tests, or even the paper, I am going to be scrambling to master. I mean, how will I possibly cram all the memories I need to cram into those three weeks to last me the rest of my life? I am contemplating not napping during those three weeks. Well, okay, let’s be real, I’m still going to nap, but at least trying to limit it to only one or two a week. I just know there’s so much I should be doing, but even worse than the panic is the feeling that I don’t even know what those things are. Surely there is a list somewhere that ensures that, somewhere down the road, years in the future,  I don’t stumble across a glaring lack of things I should have done while in college?
I feel like I’ve accomplished shockingly little. This could be because I’ve been so immersed in Camus lately, an extremely active and outspoken man, prolific with his writings. Camus, naturally, kept a journal. I’ve always had this secret terror that, since I never could be bothered to keep a journal, it meant I was not a real writer. I mean, in middle school, I wanted to be an actress. I came very late to my love of writing; at least, the idea of my own writing. I have always loved reading and the written word; in middle school I finished in the Top Ten in the Reader’s Digest Vocabulary competition of Oklahoma (I was the first ignominious one of the top ten to be out, defeated by two similarly nuanced possible definitions of “augment,” a word I will bitterly never misuse again). I discovered in 6th grade, quite by accident during an assignment, a great love of poetry. But when it came to me actually writing, it somehow just took forever to click.
I remember the exact moment it hit me, in the manner of things that are only glaringly obvious after you realize them. I think it was around 8th grade, and I was reading yet another romance novel. And there, in the back, innocuously tucked away amidst the advertisements for other books I’d already read, was a single page that said something along the lines of “Do you love romance? Have you ever considered writing a novel yourself? Check out so-and-so publishing company’s website to learn more!”
That sounds oddly specific, but that wasn’t what it said. But it was something along those lines. Even now I’m struck by the oddity of it; I had never before seen such a thing and have never seen one since in a romance novel. And I have read many, many romances. I remember thinking, why don’t I just do that? I had been essentially training without realizing it for just such a task. There were few things I knew better than a romance novel, and I have an overwhelming hoard of knowledge specific to England during the Regency period. Oftentimes I had thought before, while reading some horribly written novel, that I could do a better job. But somehow that never set the idea off in my head. I imagine that at some point or another, perhaps soon after, perhaps much farther down the road, but at some point I probably would have finally come to the conclusion. But, call me fanciful, it still seems a little like fate that I saw that ad, as if it’d been tucked away there just for me. This is how I reassure myself when I read about people like Camus faithfully keeping a journal full of important, transcendent, insightful thoughts. Perhaps great writers don’t always start out with the ambition to be so.
But, as writers (good and bad) probably tend to do, I have digressed. I was speaking of college and the lack I’ve felt in myself throughout. I used to prolifically write poetry, but in college I seem to have lost the knack. I’ve started numerous novels but never finished one (I am not counting the very short, very atrocious book I clumsily wrote in 8th grade(?) entitled “My Book,” wherein I simply transferred myself and my best friends and family into Regency England and made us all members of the aristocracy). But I have two novels that I have been finally, actually working towards. One is, naturally, a romance set in 19th century England. The other is a retelling of The Princess and the Pea. That’s something else I have an intense interest in. I adore legends, myths, and fairy tales, and some of my favorite books I’ve ever read have been retellings of them. It seemed only natural, after realizing I should write romance novels, that I come to the realization that I could write other things as well. When I was younger I read voraciously of fantasy fiction, and that influenced me greatly as well. I always dreamed of finishing a novel before college, publishing it, and it magically becoming wildly popular a la Harry Potter, and never having to worry about finding a job. I’ve accepted, sadly, that this won’t be the case. I underachieved a little on my dreams.
But this week, I discovered something that I will have when I graduate that I can be very proud of. Each year for the two divisions of the college, teachers nominate a group of seniors. From that initial list, they whittle it down to one person per each division who receives a Distinguished Graduate award. I found out on Wednesday that I was selected as the Distinguished Graduate for the Division of Arts and Humanities. I feel unbelievably honored to receive this award; I won out against some brilliant, dedicated, and involved students. So I’m going to take this honor, this faith in me that all the teachers who argued for me to win this award tacitly bestowed, and I’m going to try and conquer a little of this panic, a little of this fear, this sudden welling of uncertainty about my ability and my purpose and my future, and believe in myself.
So, with that uplifting thought, I am going to tackle that 20 page rough raft. And studying for the three tests I have the week we come back from Spring Break. And trying to figure out what important things I need to pack into those last three desperate, bittersweet weeks.
Well, right after we get back from Louisiana on Wednesday. Leaving tomorrow morning, and I can’t read/write in the car without getting sick. So that means I’ll have hours to nap on the way down there, guilt free. So suck it, Spring Break haterssss! I WILL nap for outrageous amounts of time… at least for one day.

Leka nosht,
Sara

PS I went with Bulgarian today, because I’ve had people from Bulgaria totally looking at my blogs and how cool is that?! One of my favorite soccer players, Dimitar Berbatov, is from Bulgaria. So whenever I see that people from Bulgaria have looked at one of my blogs, I can pretend that maybe, just maybe, in some bewildering, magical world, maybe famous soccer players look at random blogs from 21 year olds in Oklahoma. “Leka nosht” means “good night” in Bulgarian, or at least according to this page. And I will now leave you with a picture of me from Thursday, when I picked up my cap and gown:

cap and gown
And shout out to my Tottenham Hotspurs, who I’m repping in the background!