Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran: A Review

If I wasn’t already sold on the idea of audio books, experiencing this book through the superb narration of Sneha Mathan would have certainly sealed it for me.

Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran, is a historical novel set in mid-nineteenth century India, during the time of British occupation. The story is told through the voice of Sita, a young woman who becomes a member of Rani Lakshmi’s Durga Dal (elite women fighters trained to specifically guard the queen). Written in the style of a memoir, this story is deeply personal.

Because of this memoir style, Moran allows the story to take a meandering course through Sita’s life beginning with her early years growing up in a small village. At times, the narrative wanders as Sita reminisces, but these side trips only serve to deepen and enrich the story.

Moran has painted an incredible picture of life in a Hindu village where women were required to remain veiled and were not allowed outside their home. Her family has no money for a dowry, and so Sita is put into a position where she must either become a temple prostitute, or train to become a part of the Durga Dal.

Sita is ultimately chosen to join the Durga Dal and moves into the royal city of Jhansi. Here she begins a whole new life so far removed from her village upbringing. A life filled with intrigue at every level.

This book is well written, the story and the suspense building so naturally I didn’t even mind that the title character – the rebel queen – doesn’t even make an appearance until well into the book. Even then, Rani Lakshmi remains a background character to Sita’s story, though an important one.

I have little experience or knowledge of the history and culture of India, so I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of Moran’s writing. Nevertheless, she has painted a picture of a world that feels very real and believable. This book makes me wish I did know more about Indian culture.

Rebel Queen is a deeply moving story, one I highly recommend. And while I’m sure the print version of this book is equally enjoyable, I must say, you’ll miss out on something special if you don’t try the audio narrated by Sneha Mathan. Her performance is truly stunning.

30 Prompts to Bring Fun Back to Your Daily Writing Routine

When I hit upon the idea for Camp NaNoWriMo of not working on a specific project, but rather choosing a random writing exercise for every day, it was a great idea. Something fun and completely random. It would keep words flowing onto the page and hopefully, restore a sense of fun to my writing. And, if I could make some progress on one or more of my current projects, that would just be a bonus.

With these thirty writing exercise prompts chosen at random, I ended up writing scenes for three separate projects. I learned more about my characters by having them write poetry. I discovered what really happened to Elvis Presley. I got one of my main characters fired from his job and arrested for murder all on the same day. I went rafting, wrote a fortune cookie and created a new holiday. In short, I had a lot of fun.

Maybe, like me, you are stuck, overwhelmed and discouraged with your writing. Maybe you just don’t know what to write about and are in need of some inspiration. To help you break out of that, here are thirty days of writing exercises. Most, if not all, of these prompts came from various issues of the Writer’s Digest magazine from several years ago.

1. Everyone has heard that somewhere in the world there is someone who looks like you. Write a fictional account about this person. Where would your “twin” be?

2. Assess where you are in life. Are you on the road to becoming the person you want to be? Leading the life you want to lead? Write about that person or place you aspire to reach.

3. Prepare and consume a hot drink—cocoa, tea, coffee. Describe how it feels going down, warming you from head to toe.

4. Write a song, a poem—any piece of writing you have never attempted before.

5. This year being the official “first” of the next millennium, reflect on the concept of “time.” Can you find a metaphor for the last 1,000 years?

6. Check the day’s forecast first thing in the morning. When you get to your desk, write a page explaining why this is the perfect weather for writing (even if it isn’t).

7. Go out on the town tonight, but carry a notebook with you. Write down any intriguing turns of phrases, jokes or ideas that you encounter.

8. Your agent just called and said the movie rights to your novel have been bought. What movie would you most like yours to be like? How so?

9. Start with this: “As the judge entered…”

10. Write about white water rafting for the first time.

11. List the subjects and themes you care about most (e.g. being a good parent, equal rights for all, paying off credit cards). Will these themes be present in your writing?

12. Find ten words in a foreign language that are the same or similar to English words. Use them in a creative writing session.

13. You’ve lost electricity at your place of residence. What are you going to do?

14. Pretend you are a philosopher in ancient Greece. What would your theory of the universe have been in those days when the world was flat and the earth was the center of the cosmos?

15. Develop a newspaper story about an Elvis sighting, one similar to those that run in the tabloids. Be as humorous—yet convincing—as possible.

16. Write from the point of view of your pet (or any animal), and describe the experience of a single day.

17. You’ve won a shopping spree to your favorite store. What would you buy?

18. In Peter Pan, the children can fly by thinking happy thoughts. Take time to write down some happy thoughts, perhaps it will free you up as well.

19. If you could take an all-expense paid trip for one night to anywhere in the world, where would you choose to go?

20. It’s been said that a person’s favorite color describes his personality. What kind of person likes blue? Red? Make a list using all the colors of the rainbow.

21. Some say Sunday is a day of rest. Think about what the ideal relaxing day would be for you.

22. Imagine the world in the year 3002. Write a sketch of what Earth will be like. Describe everything from the environment to the breakdown of nations to daily life.

23. Choose a classic fairy tale, but rewrite it from the villain’s point of view.

24. Change one scene of your favorite movie. Write what you want to happen.

25. Make a list of your favorite holidays. Why are they your favorites?

26. You were recently fired with no explanation. How do you feel?

27. Isolate the fear. Every character in your story should be afraid of something—success, failure, loss, a neighborhood bully or even heights—and a good story will make your characters confront these fears. Write a scene where this happens.

28. Relax today. Snuggle up under a blanket on a comfortable couch or chair, and write freely in your journal.

29. Could you fly a kite today? Play Frisbee? Look out the window and survey the weather conditions. Then, write a scene in which two people are participating in a weather-appropriate activity.

30. Are you always satisfied with the fortunes you receive from fortune cookies? Rewrite your own fortune, and post it in a visible place near your writing spot.

Not all of the prompts worked well for me. Some surprised me with the direction they took me. I made some interesting discoveries about my worlds and my characters. I wrote every day, and that was the primary goal.

Have fun with the writing prompts! I’d love to hear if any of them worked for you.

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown: A Review

I am so glad I found this book and decided to add it to my 2017 Reading Challenge, #22 a book with a color in the title. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, is the best book I’ve read in a long time. I read it as if ravenous, though in truth it was the book that devoured me. I don’t remember the last time I was so completely consumed by a book.

This is the story of Darrow, a member of the lowest caste of citizens tasked with the grunt work of terraforming Mars. Society is divided by colors with Red being the lowest, Gold the highest. After the death of his wife, Darrow is approached by group of rebels. He is set on the path of bringing down the corrupt system from the inside.

The book is written in first person perspective, so the reader only knows what Darrow knows, and experiences everything just as Darrow experiences it. Because of this, the reader is thrust alongside Darrow into this new and terrifying world.

It opens a little slow, but this is understandable, even necessary, as the setting is such a foreign one. Here is a world filled with strange technologies. Brown does a masterful job at grounding the reader into Darrow’s world.

I love the character of Darrow. He’s beautifully human. He’s emotional, flawed, and he makes mistakes. Huge ones. And because of the first person point of view, the reader is crushed by these mistakes even as Darrow is, and learns from them as well. This is what makes Darrow such a great character, and the first person perspective work so well for this book.

But Darrow isn’t the only great character. Brown has set up an entire supporting cast of wonderful characters. People with the entire range of human emotions. People who love and hate, who are ambitious and cunning, who are loyal and then betray.

This book has been compared to a number of other well known books. Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, for example. There are certainly similar elements. However, this book rises beyond all these comparisons. It stands alone as a great book all on its own merits.

Red Rising is book one of a series, and I’ve already eagerly moved on to book two, Golden Son. Brown has set up a great story with a fantastic premise and outstanding characters. I’m truly hoping the rest of the series holds up to the promise made in the first book.