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Review: Brother Odd (2006)

In Career, Fun on February 28, 2014 at 9:25 am

The forces of pride and humility clash in Dean Koontz’s third Odd Thomas novel.

brother odd review, dean koontz odd thomas, odd thomas books, odd thomas monastery, brother odd thomas,On retreat at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey high in the Sierra Mountains, Odd Thomas’s gift won’t allow him to escape his problems for long. On the eve of a snowstorm, Odd spots a bodach slinking through the night. With a sense of impending doom, he rushes to investigate the bodach’s destination and prevent the disaster its presence implies.

Within minutes of the bodach sighting, Odd trips over a body in the snow and is attacked from behind. Later, he sees an unnatural bone-creature and learns the destructive monsters are somehow attracted to Jacob, a boy with Down’s Syndrome living at the Abbey’s orphanage. With bodachs gathering by the minute, Odd races to protect the children at the orphanage and find a connection between the boy and the bone-creatures who want him dead.

Koontz uses Odd Thomas to point out the unassuming nature of humility while he explores pride’s insidious influence over otherwise good people. From the bone-creatures, which are literally the poisonous product of pride, to the Abbey itself, Koontz crafted plot and setting to highlight the humility’s struggle to overcome the destructive nature of pride.

“The world is beautiful and glorious. Humanity can be mean, and turn away from what’s good.”

 Brother Odd shows a view of religious life that emphasizes how the power of true humility conquers pride. Despite varying backgrounds, the monks and nuns at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey received the same calling to sacrifice themselves in order to help others. One of the most prominent characters of the book, Brother “Knuckles”, was an enforcer for a crime family before a children’s book humbled him.

People from all walks of life are called to God. While “Knuckles” is proof that anyone can change if their heart is sincere, every character in Brother Odd has a conversion story. Including this aspect, which is a real part of consecrated and non-consecrated religious life, grounds the characters. Showing a realistic portrayal of the faith life, the monks and nuns of Brother Odd are not placed on pedestals; they are flawed humans who strive to be saints.

sierra nevada mountains, sierra nevada, odd thomas mountains, odd thomas abbey, brother odd mountians

Brother Odd is almost a rest stop in Odd’s psychic journey that was established in Odd Thomas and expanded upon in Forever Odd. The third novel removes the protagonist from his comfort zone and introduces him to an entirely new experience. With new scenery, new friends and new ghostly companions introduced throughout, Brother Odd builds toward the next book in the series, Odd Hours, with promises of greater adventures and a higher purpose.

Rating: 5 Stars

Favorite Character: Brother Knuckles

Favorite Quote: “When we hope, we usually hope for the wrong thing.”

Most Chilling Quote:  “Loop me in, odd one.”


Top 3 Reasons to Practice Story Pitches in J-School

In Career on February 25, 2014 at 9:20 am

Pitching stories to editors or potential clients is nerve-wracking. It’s the writer’s equivalent of asking someone out: “I like this topic and am interested in how it affects the community. I think you would like my idea, and this could be the start of a great relationship among colleagues. Also, please don’t crush my soul.”

Part of the reason story pitches are stressful is because they aren’t emphasized enough during college.  Professors focus on teaching journalism skills, but few classes discuss practicalities like pitching story ideas.  You need to practice this skill on your own.  Here are three reasons why:

Your editor will love you. No, seriously.

college newspapers, college paper editors, tips for student journalists,College is the perfect time to practice pitching stories because college newspapers exist in a special dimension where editors actively look for new stories and enthusiastic reporters.

College papers suffer from the opposite malady as non-collegiate papers. Sometimes there aren’t enough reporters available to cover potential stories (thanks, midterms), and on a few rare occasions there legitimately isn’t enough news to fill the paper.

The combined surplus of stories and lack of reporters means that it’s a writer’s market on college campuses. Editors really do want to hear from you – mostly because it makes their job easier but also because it shows you are invested enough to be reliable. In the realm of flaky college students, even one reliable reporter can be a lifesaver.

It prepares you for the real world.

When I attended J-School I thought being a paid correspondent for the college paper was practice enough for the real world. My editor gave me two assignments a week, which I juggled between classes, an internship and a commute. Sometimes she asked me to take on a third story, which I accepted or rejected based on my stress level. The experience was pleasantly hectic and fulfilling, but it didn’t prepare me for the competitive reality of professional writing.*

*I say writing but could just as easily be talking about photography, videography or multimedia storytelling.

In the real world, editors don’t sit around waiting for journalists with free time. They don’t have a magical surplus of leads on their desks waiting for the right person to happen by. They won’t call to ask whether you’re interested in a story (unless you’ve proven yourself or it’s a breaking story and the usual guy came down with a spastic colon).

Why not?

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Because it isn’t their job to make sure a writer wants to write. It’s assumed. You wouldn’t be in journalism unless you had well conceived and relevant stories to pitch.

It isn’t the ’90s anymore. With rapid communication and breaking news happening every minute, there is no such thing as a slow news day. There is too much news to cover and not enough money to cover it. If you are lucky enough to be a staff writer, your editor will be irritated that you were too lazy to think for yourself.

If you’re a freelancer, asking for a story is like asking for a handout from someone with other mouths to feed. Meanwhile, your competition presented a compelling case for an in-depth look at how the economy affects the city’s homeless shelters.

You’ll expand your skill set.

With the competitive job market for journalists, young reporters can’t ignore the advantage a wide breadth of knowledge provides. Anyone can cover a coastal storm, but the reporter who understands oceanic mixing may deliver a more nuanced account of why it was stronger than usual. Tech skills are important, but knowledge will never be overlooked.

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Although the fields vary from campus to campus, colleges are ripe with innovation and thought leaders. As a journalism student, you have almost unlimited access to the latest research by faculty and visiting speakers.

Is there a subject you’re interested in but don’t want to spend credit hours laboring through? Did a campus speaker stoke your curiosity? Pitch a story to your editor. I once pitched an article about campus crosswalk safety because I wanted to know more about New Jersey’s pedestrian safety laws. I got the idea from a daylong Bike/Walk Safety Symposium, but that’s beside the point.

8 Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2014

In Career, Fun on February 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Ruins, Dan Wells (March, 2014)

Ruins, Partials trilogy, Dan Wells partials, I honestly don’t know what to expect from the third book in Dan Wells’s dystopian YA trilogy. The first novel, Partials, introduced Kira Walker, a headstrong nurse trying to cure humanity’s cruelest epidemic in the twilight of human civilization. The pathogen causing the disease originated in Partials, synthetic life forms who had rebelled in a fight for civil liberties. With political tension increasing, Kira and her friends set out to capture a Partial and find the cure.

In Fragments, Kira set off across the wastelands with a Partial, Samm, and a paranoid computer hacker. She hopes to find an answer to who she is and how her dad had a part in the Human-Partial war that devastated the country, but the discoveries she makes are not ones she anticipated.

Where can it go from here? Wells left the second novel at a critical point, making it one of the cruelest book endings after Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire. Kira is captured by the Partial army, Samm stays behind in Colorado and the final disease capable of wiping out humans and partials alike is still out there. Thanks, Mr. Wells.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage, James Martin, SJ

Jesus: A pilgrimage, why should I read Jesus a pilgrimage, Fr. James Martin books, James Martin Colbert Report

I’ve watched Fr. James Martin research and write his latest book for almost a year now, and I’m excited that I’ll finally be able to read it.  Martin combines his firsthand travel through the Holy Land with  Scriptural scholarship and insights into Jesus within the context of history.

I have no doubt that Jesus: A Pilgrimage will be lighthearted, but it’s also guaranteed to give the reader pause for reflection.  Martin aims to bring readers to a side of Jesus you might not get from the Bible: as the man who confounded pharisees and used witty anecdotes to describe the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, I know it will answer some questions we’ve all been wondering: Why did Jesus preach to the crowds from a boat? (Hint: It’s because water amplifies sound, providing a natural amphitheater.)

Saint Odd, Dean Koontz (Dec., 2014)

Odd Thomas, Anton Yelchin odd thomas, Odd Thomas Series

FYI: Not an Actual Book Jacket.

I’ve been reading through the Odd Thomas series in anticipation of Koontz’s newest novel. Odd Thomas could be your average character – he’s young, talented and heroic – but Koontz gave him one trait that made Odd Thomas soar: humility.

Odd Thomas does not fit into the modern world. He doesn’t aspire to be famous, doesn’t want to be burdened by possessions and does not want to be rich. He is not materialistic and is the first to admit himself a fool. But even as he tries to make sense of the world around him and come to terms with loss, supernatural forces push him into heroic situations.

Odd bears it all in stride, but I worry what the world will throw at him this time.

The Dresden Files: Skin Game, Jim Butcher (May, 2014)

Skin Game, Dresden Files, Jim Butcher, Harry DresdenSometimes book releases are as exciting as catching up with an old friend, and I’ve been friends with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files for 15 books now. The series is your childhood friend who keeps learning cool new things long after it was socially acceptable to be average. We’ve grown together, learned and lost loved ones together.

Skin Game, the fifteenth installment of Butcher’s urban fantasy series, finds Harry Dresden in unfamiliar and especially hostile water. After his near-death at the end of Changes, Harry is brought back by Mab and Demonreach to take on the Mantle of the Winter Knight in the novel Cold Days. He learns that Nemesis, a sort of mental sickness from beyond the walls of the universe, poses a greater threat than he’d imagined through the years. At the same time, he discovers Demonreach – his island (also a prison for a terrifying number of magical monsters) – is under attack and needs his protection.

Just when you think Harry Dresden’s life can’t get any more complicated, it does. Butcher weaves all the storylines so tightly that the reader gets just as stressed out as the main character. No detail is without purpose. Even if it isn’t part of this book’s main plot, details such as Harry’s daughter, the swords and his relationship with Karren Murphy are all going to surface soon. I can’t wait!

Saga Vol. 3, written by Brian K. Vaughn; art by Fiona Staples (April, 2014)

Saga Vol. 1 was my first glimpse into the potential of comic books beyond the superhero genre. When I picked it up at my college bookstore, I found a well-written story supported by gorgeous artwork – and science fiction. Saga tells the tale of Marko and Alana, soldiers on opposing sides of a galactic war who fall in love and get married.

Marko and Alana, Saga Vol. 3, Saga

See? Gorgeous artwork.

Saga is the story of their life and struggles as the young family is pursued by bounty hunters and the armies from both sides. It manages to be simultaneously poignant, crude and humorous while delivering just enough foreshadowing to keep the reader nervous. The good times – if these can be called good – never last.

I’m sticking around for Saga Vol. 3 because, beneath the adventure and science fiction, I love that it’s a story about a young couple trying to raise a family across a culture divide. They argue with the in-laws, get into fights and try to understand each other’s customs – all while traveling space and evading the law.

The Future of the Mind, Michio Kaku (Feb., 2014)

Michio Kaku has the distinction of being both an amazing scientist and an excellent communicator. His books offer compelling and thought-provoking looks at physics and the future. I am especially fond of Physics of the Impossible, which approaches science fiction technology from a point of technological possibility.

Kaku is attempting to unify all the branches of physics into a single equation, but he’s also fascinated by the human mind and has a deep appreciation for the complexity of the brain. Consciousness is precious, he says.

After reading his latest book, I think I’ll share his enthusiasm. Check out his video explaining why he wrote The Future of the Mind:

Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis; art by Brooke Allen (Spring, 2014)

Lumberjanes, women-friendly comics, I’m sold on the premise of Lumberjanes: Five friends attend scout summer camp and battle supernatural critters. The description combines several things I keep a lookout for: female characters with nuanced characterization kicking butt in situations you wouldn’t normally see.

I jumped aboard this train when I heard it was being co-written by Noelle Stevenson, the same comic artist who created Nimona (what’s Nimona? Only my favorite webcomic right now!). Stevenson also stokes heated discussions about media representations on social media that advocate for better diversity in characters, plot themes and creators.

This Star Won’t Go Out, Esther Grace Earl (Feb., 2014)

TSWGO, Nerdfighters, Esther Earl book, Okay, so this book is already out. I didn’t have the money to buy it when it arrived on store shelves, so technically I’m still anticipating it.

This Star Won’t Go Out is a collection of writings, including letters, fiction and journal entries, by Esther Earl, who died of cancer in 2010 at 16. She wanted to be an author when she grew up; four years later, she is a published writer.

More than anything, I expect this book to be a tribute to Esther’s life and spirit. She was a Nerdfighter, a rare person with the power to be a positive force in the world and in the lives of those surviving her.  With essays by her family and friends as well as a foreword by John Green, who dedicated his bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to Esther, TSWGO promises to be both tragic and uplifting.

While building my list, the volume of books coming out this year surprised me. James Patterson authored or co-wrote 15 books being released in 2014. Nora Roberts wrote four, and Stephen King and Cassandra Clare are each releasing two novels.

I might have chosen a book by any of these authors. I’ve read each of them at least once, and they are popular for a reason. Cassandra Clare understands her audience. James Patterson tells gripping stories. Nora Roberts entertains. Stephen King horrifies.

But I’m not looking forward to any of their latest novels in the same way that I bite my fingernails over Skin Game or Saint Odd.   They don’t provoke the same contemplation as Michio Kaku or James Martin.  To each their own, I suppose.

What new books are you looking forward to this year? Why do you yearn for its papery goodness?  Leave a comment below or get @ me on Twitter!
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