Monday, December 31, 2012

On Endings and Winnings

Happy last-day-of-the-year! I mean, New Year's Eve.
(For your amusement: yes, it took me several minutes to come up with the right name for today, despite the calander that hangs right beside my desk. I kept thinking it was Christmas Eve, for whatever reason.)

I wanted to post a book review today of the entire Inheritance series, because in a perfect world I would have managed to finish all four of this heavy series. (By heavy, I mean pagewise -- 600+ for each book, with the possible exception of the first, Eragon.)

Instead, I am about 100 pages into the last book. I have been reading this series for nigh on three weeks: and yes, I just used nigh. I am feeling somewhat ready to put down this series and pick up a new one.

On the other hand, it's been so long... jumping into another world feels weird when you're so immersed in the current one. That's one of the reasons I can't read two books at once -- trying to maintain two worlds simultaneously feels impossible. Putting down one book, after commiting yourself to it, is like the end of the year -- "the ending of an era, and the turning of a page" (Tim Mcgraw, "My Next Thirty Years"; yea, I just quoted a country song).

But this is not what I really wanted to talk about. The ending of a book, of a world, is universally recognized as emotionally traumatic (with the exception of those people who think readers are weird). For some reason, I feel like talking about battles and winning and/or losing.

As I read the first three books of Paolini's books -- not to pick on Paolini, or Eragon for that matter -- that the good guys seem to win every battle. In a war, you don't win every battle -- you win some, you lose, but you don't win all.

I wonder if this is a common trait in fantasy, and I when I look back at the (vast) amount of fantasy I've read, I kind of think this is common. I can't think of any particular book or series, I just can't help wonder if this is one of those things like having a king, or having dragons be fierce/evil, or having some quest for the Magical ____ [fill in the blank] to save the entire kingdom.

Again, I don't mean to pick on Paolini. His is probably not the first. But you have to lose occasionally. (And more than you lost a lot of soldiers, but you pulled through in the end. I mean an actual lose, as in you were forced to retreat while the other side cheers in relief and victory.)

I don't know who made it alright to pull this off, but there's only so far I'll suspend questions. With the Inheritance series, I'm willing to overlook this question and keep reading because of all the other stuff going on -- namely, magic and elves and quick-learn-everything! -- and because I've commited myself to the series and gosh-darn-it, I will finish reading it.

Anyways. My point is, you win some, you lose some. But you don't win all. I don't knwo why some things are fantasy traits, but if I ever end up writing a book involving war (which seems likely), I will have to find a way to balance the battles more evenly. Winning is cool, but I like losing almost more so than winning -- losing teaches you a lesson.

I think my little rant is over now, or at least I've exhausted my short attention span on this blog post. What do you think of this? Do you like winning or losing more?

And again, have a blessed New Year's Eve! :)

[EDIT: As of today (Sunday the 6th), I have made it through more of Inheritance, the last book -- they do lose a major battle. And I can think of a couple of skirmishes they lost that I didn't consider too important in the scheme of things (as compared with the whole "defeat Galbatorix" thing -- for example, the Ra'zac and Brom in the first book).

Also, I now think of a few more examples -- namely, Lord of the Rings and Sparta. Man, freakin' Sparta was outnumbered and defeated the Persians anyways *grumble grumble* But that's a real-world thing. Pardon my history geekiness. It might also be a movie, but I don't watch movies often and couldn't tell you for certain.

I now kind of think LoTR started this screw-reality thing, but that might just be because I want to beat Tolkien over the head with the Fellowship of the Ring, for making Frodo leave Sam like that.]

Friday, December 28, 2012

Follow Friday #29

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read! (Gah! It's been a hectic week. This is a short port.)

Q: What book do you think everyone should read? If you could gift the entire population with one book?

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. I'd say Harry Potter, but that's probably a broken record by now.

Artemis Fowl is technically a children's/MG book, but I think it would appeal to adults -- kidnapping, fairy police forces, magic, and trolls. And Artemis Fowl himself is a genius, so he doesn't really sound too childlike. But it's fun and easy enough for kids to read, and action-y and genius-y enough for adults.

It's like my favorite book. And if this gift encourages a ton of people to buy the other 7 books in the series as well... then that's a plus.

How about you? What did you choose? I wanted to post some pictures from my vacation today, but I don't have time! Have to finish reading my book today, so I can start the last book of that series tomorrow. Anyways, have a blessed weekend! :) I'll see if I can scrounge some pictures on monday, when I get back home.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On a Quick Update

Hi! I'm at the beach, on vacation. Yes, it's the middle of the winter, but who cares?

Hope y'all had a merry Christmas! This is one of the spaciest times of year for me -- no thoughts, no ideas, just random fluff in my brain. So, no proper post today.

I'll try to be back on Friday. I'm currently part of the way through Brisingr, which is the third book of the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini (you know, remember my post on Eragon, over there in the archives?). I've been listening Owl City instead of revising my novel. You know, the usual.

I'll continue my history Wednesdays next week. This week, as I said, my brain is kinda mush and fluff. Sorry.

If I get a chance, I might take a couple pics of the beach and post them on Friday. Have a happy vacation week, y'all! (Or a blessed day if you're not on vacation!) Here are some friendly quotes for your inspiration.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Follow Friday #28

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: What have you learned from book blogging that you didn't know before about the publishing industry?

Umm... I learned what ARC stood for. I learned what an author interview/cover reveal/book tour looks like.

I learn more about the publishing industry through my internet trawls, stuff like agents, querying... stuff I kind of have to know if I'm going to get my book published one day. Book blogging, in and of itself, teaches me the reader's perspective, things like promoting a good book; I normally go out and search for the writer's stuff myself.

That make any sense? I hope so.

P.S. I'm going on vacation to the beach next week (starting tomorrow, and going till next Saturday). I don't know if I'll post on Monday -- vacationly stuffs to do, you know -- but I'll probably post Wednesday and Friday.

Have a blessed Friday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On History Stuffs #2

So, every Wednesday, I'm going to post random little spots of history, for your use as the beginnings of research or just for fun (because trivia IS fun). This week's topic:

The French Revolution "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"

What it Was:
  • began in 1789
  • overthrew the Bourbon monarchy
  • created a republic
  • ended with Napoleon's rise and the creation of his empire

  • changes in ideology (the Enlightenment)
  • social changes (population growth --> not enough food)
  • First Estate and Second Estate were the clergy/nobles, who were small social class: most of the people were the Third Estate, or the day laborers.
  • Sharp economic slump, that King Louis XVI tried to fix with unpopular tax reforms

The Rev:
  • Third Estate formed a new assembly (National Assembly), made of non-noble property owners
  • They wrote Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen --> advocated freedom of thought/equality for all
  • They formed a strong parliament
  • Stormed the Bastille (a prison), where they didn't free many but started the rev
  • Eventually captured the king and queen -- Queen Marie Antoinette organized an escape for the royal family, but failed.

The Reign of Terror:
  • Led by Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety
  • excessive use of the guillotine (including on King Louis)
  • try to replace the church/religion with nationalism and Enlightenment reason
  • Robespierre himself is eventually beheaded by the guillotine

The Final Phase:
  • Napoleon Bonaparte takes charge, becomes emperor
  • reduced parliament, limited freedome of expression
  • powerful police system, universities to train bureaucrats, male equality, religious freedom
  • Aggressive expansionism, gaining territory for France all through Europe
  • Eventually stopped by Russia --> it was winter, in Russia... his soldiers could not survive.
  • Congress of Vienna (1815) --> France not punished as long as European balance of power is restored.
  • Revolutionary ideas spread across Europe inspiring other revolutions and demanding changes (and to other parts of the world, i.e. Latin America)

Now, this scrapes the bare minimum of the French Rev. This is all I gleaned from my notes, since I'm in a bit of a rush. There's a TON more stuff about this particular topic, and it's quite fascinating. I recommend at least googling it.

This is one of my favorite topics, actually. I don't know why, it's just all the... blood, and spirit, and how everyone really believed that killing the King and Queen would solve an economic/social crisis. I mean, America did something similar, in declaring their rights as equal to their "superiors", Britain, but America always struck me as less bloody, perhaps because it was a formal war.

I didn't really put how all this affected other places, but it did. It seriously screwed up Europe: part of the Congress of Vienna was going back and rearranging the borders of all the countries again, because France took so much. And it disturbed American politics, as well, and as I said, inspired a bunch of other revolutions in Europe. But this post is more on the Rev itself, on France in this time period. If you want more specifics, Google it.

Again, I have a historyteachers Youtube video. It'll give you a bit more specifics.

[I used my history notes from AP World History last year on this post. And a spot of info from a notebook I kept in elementary school, which I didn't remember until I flipped through it. Weird. Anyways, citing my sources and all that.]

What do you think of the French Revolution? Have a blessed day!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

One boy... One dragon... A world of adventure.
When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself.
Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fletchling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds.
Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands.

~Print copy, 497 pages (not including glossary)
Published: 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf (New York)

Yea, I've mentioned several times on this blog (alright, many times) how much I love Eragon. So, since I got Inheritance (the last of the series) and I'm rereading the first three books in order to properly read the last, here is my explanation of why I love it so much.

Mainly, four reasons:

1. It's epic fantasy. I mean... dude. EPIC. FANTASY. Dragons and magic and kings, oh my!

2. It's all very dramatic. It's his destiny to take up the revered position of Dragon Rider, so he can defeat the evil king! Yay! I love that sort of stuff. None of that sappy intimate romance junk. That whole adventure-to-overthrow-the-forces-of-evil just catches my spark like nothin' else.

3. This is some good writing. None of that modern day voice to it, that makes it sound kinda whiny and teenage-girlish, but it's not medieval-thou's-and-thee's stuff, either. It walks a fine line between the two, and might I say, some of it's almost poetic. Not to mention the creation of not just one other language but multiple languages over the series: the ancient language, the dwarf language, the Elven language, even a little Urgal speak. Mostly the ancient language appears in this first book, but there are a handful of words from these other languages as well.

4. Which brings me to the worldbuilding. Language and culture play a major role in this, but the plot doesn't take a backseat to the building: they weave together real nicely. There is a map, and you can understand without trying too hard where everything is and what sort of route they're travelling. It doesn't suffer from same-itis, where the cities are all the same, the castles are all the same, etc.; each city or town, from Carvahall (Eragon's home) to Gilead to Teirm, all have their uniqueness.

So, yea. Good writing/story elements + epic fantasy = five stars. Seriously. I would recommend everyone read this book (unless you hate reading, in which case I suggest you not follow my reading/writing blog).

There are plenty of other reasons, but my stomach hurts and my head's fuzzy so I'm going to leave it off here. Have a blessed day!


Friday, December 14, 2012

Follow Friday #27

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee!

Q: What is the last book that made you cry? Tell us about the scene...

Oh, gosh. Umm.... it's been awhile. I don't cry very often.

I cried a little at the end of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (a memoir), over summer. It took place in a hospital, but I kind of don't want to spoil the ending for someone who hasn't read it. (I feel weird saying that about a memoir, since it's not my usual fiction, and if the person is still alive what does it matter if you spoil the ending? But this is irrelevant.)

And last year, I shed a few tears when I first read Eragon by Christopher Paolini. That was when Brom died, and they buried him on a lonely hilltop when on the run from the army... *sniffle* That was in the middle of the book, and many people have read it, so I feel okay about telling you that. And if you've never read the book... that was a spoiler. Sorry.

Anyways, I don't cry often. And not at all often when it comes to books. But there are a couple times. How about you? Do you cry a lot at sad scenes?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On History Stuffs #1

I've decided to do a series of posts on Wednesdays on random spots in history. Fun facts, easy research, or an idea -- history is pretty useful, so here's a little extra knowledge:

The Bubonic Plague, aka The Black Death

What It Was:
  • a plague that wiped out 1/3 of Europe's population.
  • a person might be in full health one day, and die miserably within 24 hours.
  • Recurrence of plague thoughout the 14th century (1300s).

Short Term Effects:
  • population decline.
  • normal rituals/ordinary routines were thrown out the window as panic ruled.
  • Attacks on the Jews, who were thought to be spreading the pestilence (though we know nowadays, of course, that it was fleas on rats, not Jews).
  • Rational theology (the study of God) was replaced with mysticism and fear of God's wrath.
  • fear, horror, and panic as people died rapidly.

Long Term Effects:
  • Decline of Latin as a language.
  • rise of vernacular (spoken) tongues as a medium for serious writing.
  • Art: sterner portrayals of religious figures/scenes; death was a prominent theme.
  • Social tensions were intensified.
  • economy (specifically, wages/price patterns) declined sharply due to fewer workers and people  who needed work; this differed from place to place.
  • Anticlericalism: priests/monks died and were replaced with the less competent, less trained.
  • Saints were featured in church life more (ex.: St. Sebastion, St. Roch).

A lot of people know what the Black Death was: a plague that wiped out quite a bit of Europe's population sometime centuries ago. A lot of people DON'T know what the Black Death caused: it was one of the reasons English became a popular written language. English was spoken at this time, of course, but no one wrote in it; the Black Death changed that. Latin died, and English replaced it.

History's funny that way. Can you wrap your head around that? That the language you speak and read and write every day only came about as a serious written language because of a plague? And not just English, but Italian and several other languages, as well: some of the languages spoken at the time became written languages.

It also was one of the reasons the Renaissance came about. And the Renaissance -- and consequently the Enlightenment -- is pretty much why we aren't also English peasants right now. When the Bubonic Plague came about, people started reverting to Roman ways. Some of the ideas you are familiar with, it being part of American government and all: consent of the governed, certain unalienable rights, etc. And these theories are popular in European thinking as well: probably other countries, though I don't know to what extent.

Here's a song from historyteachers on the Bubonic Plague. Historyteachers, for those who don't know, is a youtube channel that makes historical parodies. This one is of the song Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani. Historyteachers saved my neck before my AP exam last May -- not a replacement for studying, but makes that studying stick in your head a little more.

Have a blessed day, and hope you've found this interesting!

[this is literally copied directly from notes I took in AP World History last year, all except the last two paragraphs. But the bullet points I randomly found in my notebook and copied here, with my shorthand notation removed so you can understand it. And, obviously, the youtube video is from youtube, not me.]

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn't really know how to use, she accidently activates a curse binding them together.
To break the spell, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks -- all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic... and the growing romantic tension between them.

~Print copy, 295 pages
Published: 2012 by Strange Chemistry

I have some problems with this novel.

First off, that summary is wrong. It's probably describing the SERIES: not this book. This book is like, Act 1. I was expecting an actual novel, where there is all that stuff in the summary. I did not realize it WASN'T a standalone novel until the ending, where they are just beginning to go on the actual quest.

I was mildly upset. Would it have been that difficult to add a number 1 on the spine, or perhaps a byline underneath the title that said something like, "Book 1 of the ____ Series"? Or "___ Duet", if it's just this and the next book?

Now, I admit, I didn't expect this to be a 5-star novel: I'm not one for romance, and it says "romantic tension" right there in the summary. But I felt this could've easily been a standalone novel, if Clarke had added another 100-200 pages or so and just went on with the quest.

Fantasy novels, in general, do run along to 300, 400 pages, oftentimes longer. Look at the Inheritance series by Paolini - some of those books are 700 pages long, even longer. Later Harry Potter books run over 500 pages.

This one is a little under 300 pages, and could have been the beginnings of a standalone. I am not making a comment on lazy writing or anything (Clarke seems like an excellent writer, actually: I couldn't have gone along over a dozen pages with that sort of informal voice), I'm just stating an opinion. But I felt, with the way the novel's been set up, it could have been Act 1 of a standalone novel.

Another little thing with the summary: it says "abandons ship". What they mean by this is that she hops on a camel and loses her would-be-betrothed in a desert city. I'd been psyched up for this awesome scene where Ananna jumps off her fiancee's ship and swims to shore, or something like that. Just a little wordy misunderstanding there.

Also, she doesn't really have any "magic" of her own; she was using a Spirit's Vials of Stuff that she borrowed from a stranger to try and defeat him. I thought she was going to discover this new magic inside her and she accidently activates it, can't control it, and then accidently bind him to her. But no -- she borrowed some vials, and they didn't work; when a snake rears up behind the assassin, a common snake about to bite the magician, she kills the snake instinctively. This activates a curse already on the assassin, that whoever saves his life he has to protect with his life.

So, Naji -- the assassin, or the Blood Magician with Super Magic Skills -- takes her to a river witch who lives near a river in a canyon in the desert (try to wrap your head about that). The river witch sends them off to a pirate ship who would take them to the Isles of the Sky, where a Wizard Eirnin lives, who could perhaps help them break their Impossible Curse.

Don't get me wrong -- I liked the beginning and parts of the middle, when I still thought this was standalone. It has this kind of unique voice: sort of American Southern accent, but using Kaol's name in vain, and spouting off names of other fantasy countries. Lots of double negatives and "ain't"s.

It would have been nice if there were made up swear words, too, but there are (a decent amount of) real swear words. Not my cup of tea, but definitely a part of a lot of teenagers' vocabularies. Not really my main tick about this novel.

Also, it's a pretty thought-out world. I was almost confused by all the different names of places, but those were general mentions, and I got the gist of it -- Lisirra, the desert city in the opening pages, was in the south, and was part of the Empire; they were traveling north to the Isles. There wasn't just sights mentioned, either: temperature played a large role, uncomfortable-ness too, especially in the latter stages as they travel north.  

Ananna... what to say about her? She was pretty cool early on -- all bad-girl-with-super-sword-skills. Then as things progress, she relies more and more on Naji, freaking out when he disappears or leaves her alone (that's actually when they make it to the Isles; I suppose I can't blame her for not wanting to be alone on a floating island that's supposed to drive you crazy from the magic in the air).

But Naji was kind of cool, I guess. He sulks a bit, and he generally doesn't tell Ananna things (like WHO is chasing them, why they want him dead...). But I kind of respected his privacy, and he really did need that curse ended. He would be in severe pain whenever Ananna was in danger, and she was in danger a lot, so he actually had a reason to want this curse ended. (I have read books where there was no real point in the quest. This was not one of those books.)

So, really... the only problem I had was that misleading summary. I expected manticores and nobility, but those don't occur in this book. And I really like manticores. :( But I kind of thought this book would make a nice beginning for a standalone novel. Good voice, a decent array of characters...

I'd recommend this to those who realize this is part of a series, but I was kind of disappointed. I give it three stars.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Follow Friday #26

[I totally forgot to do this last week! It took me until now to realize - my brain is all fuzzy from writing and revising. Oh, and school stuffs, too. Sorry for that!]

Anyways, Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: Activity! Who do you want to be? If you could choose any character from a book. What do you think that character looks like and what do you have in common?

Ooh, Saphira!! I would totally love to be a dragon. I have, like, nothing in common, but it still counts, right?

Seriously, though, I think... I don't know. There's so many to choose from. Perhaps Meggie, from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke? We both love books; not to mention, she gets to literally go inside one of her books.

Perhaps Elizabeth from The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman - She gets a job at a sort of library, except instead of trading just books, they trade EVERYTHING. I read this book a couple years or so ago, so I can't remember Elizabeth too well, but... a library. That trades everything. (One of the things they traded, which really stuck out in my mind, was Marie Antoinette's favorite wig. Not exactly your typical library fare.) Also, they have a secret room full of magical items from Grimm fairy tales. Meep!
I'd keep going on (and on) about who I'd like to be, but three's enough, I suppose. I am so tempted to keep going, but I don't want to make this blog post a mile long.

Who did you choose? Have a blessed weekend!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On Dreams

[This is a short post, because I'm still recovering from a series of stomachaches I had all morning. Not fun. Anyways.]

A couple months ago in AP Psych, we did dreams (and states of consciousness). A quick overview of what I learned:

1. There are five levels of consciousness: conscious, nonconscious, preconscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Sleep (which I always thought was unconcious) is actually conscious, that first level.

2. Sleep is on a 25 hour cycle of 5 stages.
  • Stage 1 is that couple minutes when you're halfway between awake and asleep.
  • Stage 2 is when you're fully asleep, but it's not deep sleep yet.
  • Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep - this is the stage where your body heals and grows.
  • REM sleep is where you dream: it's often called paradoxical sleep, because your brain is active and your body is paralyzed (to prevent you from getting hurt while acting out your dreams).
3. There are two basic theories for our dreams:
  • Freud (the man who came up with that stereotypical "and how do you feel?", lying on a couch, telling someone your deepest secrets) decided dreams are a roadway to the unconscious, that last, deepest level of consciousness. Dreams have underlying meaning; they'll help you solve your problems. They are censored stories that represent our innermost emotions. 
  • The activation-synthesis theory is more biological. Our brain is trying to interpret the random electrical activity we have while sleeping. This is why dreams make no sense: our mind is simply throwing random tidbits at us while we're asleep.
  • (There's a 3rd theory, the information-processing theory, that basically says dreams are a way to deal with stress. I didn't really count this one as a theory, although AP Psych seems to.)
4. Animals other than humans dream, as well. (This was obvious to me: I live in a house of cats, and have since I was born. Their paws and face twitch in their sleep, which is actually them dreaming.)

5. You can actually dream while you're not in REM sleep - it's called NREM sleep (non-REM sleep). REM sleep is associated with negative emotions, NREM sleep is associated with positive emotions: people with depression actually spend more time in REM sleep, which exacerbates their depression.

6. I remember a program I watched on dreams (I didn't write any notes down for that particular documentary -- I think it was NOVA -- which kinda irks me) that told about a man who decided dreams were actually a biological way to remember danger: your ancestors from Old Stone Age times passed on dreams of falling, of running away, of other dangers to the next generation (through handy genetics). It's been passed all the way down to you, to warn you of the perils of nature. That's why you have nightmares.


A lot of writers say they came up with the idea for their book (and indeed, a lot of people in history who aren't writers came up with their ideas) through dreams. Indeed, some of my favorite ideas come up through dreams. What do you think? Are dreams random images, a pathway into your deepest level of consciousness, or a genetic warning?

Have a blessed day, and watch your dreams! You never know what might happen. 

(By the way, the information here is from my AP Psych class and an article, "The Meaning of Dreams" by Jonathan Winson.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"How does it feel, anyway?"
"How does what feel?"
"When you take one of those books?"
At that moment, she chose to keep still. If he wanted an answer, he'd have to come back, and he did. "Well?" he asked, but again, it was the boy who replied, before Liesel could even open her motuh. "It feels good, doesn't it? To steal something back."
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War 2, Death relates the story of Liesel -- a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as her neighbors.

~Print copy (from the library), 550 pages
Published: 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf (New York)

How did I feel about this book? ....

It didn't feel worth two weeks of my time. Yes, it was November, and especially in those last two weeks when I was pounding away the words (on the brightside: I did make it past 50,000 words!), but two weeks is a long time for me to spend on a book.

To put that into perspective, it also took me two weeks to read Lord of the Rings: the entire trilogy -- which put together in a one-volume edition is over 1,000 pages. The Book Thief is half that, and took the same amount of time.

This wasn't one of those "I'm savoring it" type of books, either -- it was more sheer stubbornness and loyalty to reading that I stuck through. Let me tell you why:

1. I could not really connect with Liesel. This story is told from Death's POV: an unusual and interesting character to tell a story through, I grant you, but it did not bring me closer to the story. In fact, it jumped perspective to Liesel's foster father Papa or Hans several times, and occassionally to the Jewish man they were hiding, Max.

It didn't seem an organized jump around in POV, either: the whimsical jumps from what Max was doing, to flashbacks of Liesel's friend Rudy, to Hans's time in WW1 and why they were hiding the Jew in the 1st place was too scattered for me to connect (which is an amazing feat - I can connect things randomly better than most people I know).

2. Another reason is the clumsy attempt at romance, especially in the second half of the novel. I don't want to give too much of this part away, since it would give away the ending, but I don't like romance in the best of terms and when you spring it on me at the end of the book, I'm unsettled.

3. The ending. That ending. I wanted... well, not that. And it didn't help that there was like, a chapter or two (literally) seemingly dedicated to bluntly foreshadowing (foretelling?) the ending. I could guess at the ending about halfway in, and I prefer a surprise. Preferably a happy surprise.

4. It was kind of episodic. You know, like the Scarlet Letter? Anotehr book I don't particularly like? She spent a lot of time happy, as well. You expect a certain amount of suffering, which increases throughout the book at a somewhat steady rate, and then they get to Climax and either they're suffering ends or they lose. Well, The Book Thief more tells an event, then she relaxes, then another event occurs, and so on. It's almost a biography, a sort of cataloguing of personal events.

Let me give you an example: there is a chapter on what she does over the summer: reading from a stolen book, playing soccer, and reading on the floor of the mayor's floor of the library, as the mayor's grieving wife sits and watches. There are chapters of Hans's time in WW1, of Max's time getting to their house, and a flashback to an incident of Rudy's past that really only reflects on Rudy's personality/quirks, not really advancing the book.

This wasn't your typical "arc" -- plot wise. You could make a case for character-wise. It was more, something came up, something was dealt with, all the way up to the end, which was (as I've always had a tic about) pretty much a chance ending.

I am not critisizing Zusak's writing capabilities whatsoever, really. I am just not thrilled about it -- it's just not my cup of tea. And I read it at the worst possible time, when I'm trying to write a fantasy novel in a month.

There were good aspects of it. I mean, I already said that Death is an interesting POV. It's not often I come across a "unique" (in my sense of the word) main character. And thought Death isn't an MC per say, you could argue that, since it's a war and he does show up every time someone dies (which is kind of often during this book) so he could be considered, in my opinion, a rather cool MC.

I also like the time period, and some of the quirks of this particular cast of characters. Not the bloodshed of war, mind you: I'm just a bit of a history lover, and wars/cultures/what-is-or-was-going-on in other countries (mostly) interest me.  And Hans played the accordian, and that accordian played an important part in this book, which is kind of amazing. I've never heard an accordian, but it's like the wierdest, coolest-looking instrument ever, next to the guitar.

Liesel herself seemed kind of bland and ordinary to me; her friend, Rudy, was kind of meh, but he had a trouble-making side and he has a big family, which I can relate to. (Not the trouble-making, the big family -- I don't remember a time I've gotten in trouble for anything other than reading a book at inappropriate times).

In all, I would give this book a 2.5. I don't feel like putting a picture on this post, so I'm just going to leave it at that. I might recommend it to other people, if they love WW2 and aren't quite so... like me. It's just overall not my cup of tea.

[Sorry this is so late, too -- I've had homework up to my ears, I've just begun editing my completed nano project, and my throat is killing me. Have you ever tried writing an essay, a blog post, and highlighting what you need to edit in your first draft, all while you have a sore throat, a somewhat stuffed-up nose, and a wierd almost-cough? It's bad.]

Anyways, have a blessed Monday, if there is such a thing! And while I'm at it, have a happy Tuesday! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Quotes and Music

Today, I was looking through Tumblr and found this quote:

This picture was made by me in paint. I copied the quote from tumblr.

This kind of reminds me of What Faith Can Do by Kutless. and The Lost Get Found by Britt Nicole. Both lovely songs.

I don't really know the point of this post. I think it was to say sorry for not posting a book review on Monday. But I found this quote instead. You're welcome.

Have a blessed day!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Follow Friday #25

[Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and happy Black Friday shopping! It's been a crazy couple days for me, so I apologize for the semi-lateness of this post.]

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: What blog are you thankful for? Are you thankful for a fellow blogger? Tell us about him/her.

Oh goodness. I'm thankful for so many blogs, I can't mention them all. One of the first blogs I ever looked at (almost, what, a year or so ago?) was The Epic, The Awesome, and the Random. Book/writing blog - Annie is awesome.

Um.. Querytracker is a writing blog that I get a LOT of tips from. My revision will be easier thanks to that blog. (I believe a multitude of bloggers participate on that blog.)

YA Stands, Birds Of A Writer, Down the Rabbit Hole, and Steph Bow's Hey! Teenager of the Year all help me look forward to the days occasionally. They have some unique voices/content/stuffs that make me smile. Or agree. Depending on the topic. (The first two and the last are writing blogs. Down the Rabbit Hole is an art blog, I believe, with fairy tales and other stuffs - including a Whovember right now.)

Now, don't get me wrong, I am thankful for every blog I coem across. I tend to read articles more than blogs, and I am thankful for every article I coem across, trust me. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge and all that. It's just that I am following 165 blogs right now, I don't have time to look at or name every single one, so I chose the random ones I read more often.

So, without further rambles or talks, I bid you good night. (That sounded really formal.) Have a blessed weekend, and remember to stay thankful!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Poetry

I have nothing planned. So I wrote a poem for you:

Thy Infinity
Indigo swirls
I cannot see the end
Or is it the bottom?
Everywhere the same
Underneath me, above, around
But at least it is
A fascinating color.
Poetry is not my strong point. I'm still doing nanowrimo, so don't judge me too harshly. (I haven't dropped out yet! I am so proud. I dropped out long before this last year.) I'm up to 35,000 words, despite the homework piling up around my ears.
Not to mention my cat's kittens (they are about four or five weeks old now) are starting to climb out of their box. There are three of them, but only two are climbing around, squealing and distracting me from writing. The third is a runt, who I have to feed replacement milk every other hour: he is so adorable. I named him Woodstock (after the little yellow bird from Charlie Brown) and I feed him every other hour. (Or so.)
Nothing else to say, really. I started reading The Book Thief (Markus Zusak). I may or may not have a review for that on Monday. Other than that... have a blessed day. (And a blessed Thursday, since I don't post on Thursdays.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda Speaks:
I wasted the last weeks of August watching bad cartoons. I didn't go to the mall, the lake, or the pool, or answer the phone. I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don't have anyone to sit with.
I am Outcast.
The kids behind me laugh so hard I know they're laughing about me. I can't help myself. I turn around. It's Rachel, surrounded by a bunch of kids wearing clothes that most definitely did not come from the EastSide Mall. Rachel Bruin, my ex-best friend. She stares at something above my left ear. Words climb up my throat. This was the girl who suffered through Brownies with me, who taught me how to swim, who understood about my parents, who didn't make fun of my bedroom. If there was anyone in the entire galaxy I am dying to tell what really happened, it's Rachel. My throat burns.
Her eyes meet mine for a second. "I hate you," she mouths silently.

~Print copy (Platinum Edition, from the library), 198 pages
Published: 1999 by Penguin (I believe platinum edition is published 2006, with added content at the end)

I've read this book several times, so this "review" is really an explanation of why I love it so much.

First of all, let me explain, since that "summary" is really a quote from the book, put on the back of the book. Melinda is a ninth grader, starting the school year with everyone hating her because she called the cops on a summer party.

But she had good reason to. I won't get into that. I'll just tell you it was traumatic, and that this book is mostly her journey to healing from this experience, speaking up about it.

It really is a touching story. It's written lyrically, the sort of way I think, and has a strong voice throughout. It is packed with emotion, the good stuff that makes you hurt along with the character. And the characters - a set of unique and yet still typical people. That is quite the compliment; what I really mean is that they seem like real people, but they are still unique enough to like anyways.

This is not one of those books where you sympathize with the bad guy. There's good reason, too. This simple equation -- unlikeable bad guy + his unlikeable actions = good plot fodder -- is what spurs this book along. Pretty much the entire point of this book, really.

This book... it has that spark. That something. It really connected with me. You take an ordinary girl, damage her, and watch her heal. It is about strength in the face of weakness. It's resonating story. Not many people could pull off a story like this, on such a hard topic - but Laurie Halse Anderson manages it.

Overall, I recommend this book. Definitely. I've read it three times in three years, which with my TBR list is rarer than dragons. Five stars.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Follow Friday #24

[I love even numbers, especially 24! I'm kind of happy today. I realized dragons are really just magical dinosaurs. And that there are two types of dreams: during NREM sleep, your mind replays memories or something that's already happened in a compressed amount of time. During REM sleep, your mind tries to simulate the future. It tries to play out the possible outcomes for the future, in order to help you prepare; during REM sleep, you're more connected to the primal part of you, and that's why these REM dreams are more intuitive, more fantastic.]

(Don't you just love Nova?) Now that I'm done with my random dream tangent...

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. :)

Q: Books are turned into movies all the time! Turn it around. What movie would make a great book?

Oh, yikes. I don't watch movies often enough. Um... Tin Man would be cool - it's sort of a twisted version of the Wizard of Oz, where DG (like, Dorothy Gale?) is a waitress in Kansas, when suddenly a time tornado drops off some military men from the Outer Zone (OZ) want to kidnap her on the orders of the Evil Queen Azkedielia. The only way to escape is to jump into the time tornado on her own and hope to find a way back.

Needless to say, that would be pretty cool. I don't know if that's already a book, but Tin Man is an awesome movie, at least.

How about you? What movie did you choose? Have a blessed weekend!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

In the good old days, magic was indispensible; it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading.
Drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets have been reduced to pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians -- but it's hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world's last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If that's true, everything will change for Kazam -- and for Jennifer.
Because something big is coming. Something known as... Big Magic.

~Print copy, 287 pages
Published: 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This is the type of book that reminds me, after a string of mediocre books, exactly why I love reading so much.

Let me explain. This book is about dragons, and magic, and temperamental but honorable wizards, and a fifteen-year-old orphan who has to take care of the temperamental wizards. Jennifer Stone, a foundling who is an indentured servant to Kazam, has taken over the business of running this business, because the owner has mysteriously disappeared.

Magic has been drying up for decades now; but suddenly, on a day like any other, it seems, magic surges, like a last surge of strength before it disappears entirely. And now, by fate it seems, a vision of the future is seen by every diviner in the Ununited Kingdoms (like the United Kingdom; except Ununited). The last dragon on earth is going to die, at the hands of the Last Dragonslayer.

This book... it's just written in a lighthearted way, even though it's about the extinction of a species. Jasper Fforde is a master at humor; I've read another of his books - The Big Over Easy - and this one is similar in a good way: it's hilarious, and it has an outrageous ending, and it's freakin' awesome. And I don't use freakin' lightly.

The characters are really quirky but good. Take Jennifer's pet metal beast, called the Quarkbeast, who is loyal and sweet, and happens to make some passersby faint from his fearsome appearance.

According to this, when a dragon dies, the force field keeping people out of the dragon's homeland disappears, and anyone can lay a claim to the land. So thousands, millions of people show up to the Dragonlands in hope for a bit of unspoiled land. You know, to spoil it.

When I finished reading this book, and everything made sense, this book was awesome. It took me a week to read (it's November, and I'm participating in Nanowrimo!) but it is, simply put, worth the time.

This book is funny and fast-paced, and quite the read. I recommend it to everyone. As long as you're a fan of fantasy and good characters and humor. A definite five stars.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Follow Friday #23

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: Do you mind books with similar ideas to other books? Similar concepts, backgrounds, retellings, or pulled-to-publish fanfic?

Honestly? I don't mind them too much, if they're original enough. I mean, there's a fine line to walk between similar-but-unique and this-looks-like-plagiarism. I mean, even at sixteen, I've read enough books to know that there are a lot of similarities between books, and that those similarities don't somehow make those books inferior.

Now it's just my opinion, but books are actually better when they draw off of preexisting ideas. I mean, cookies come in all types - chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar. But if your "cookies" consisted of frozen ketchup and raisins in a bowl, can you really consider them cookies anymore? Same with books. You want to deviate from the normal as much as possible, but if you go too far, then it'll be incomprehensible.

Whether you think so or not, books are all similar to each other. They are all stories comprised of words. They all tell something that is happening (or has happened). They are all beautiful, no matter how much you dislike this one or loathe that one. They all have characters, a setting, they are time and place and look-at-what-is-happening.

So, really, books are similar and books are unique at the same time. That's what makes them so special - you can tell the same plot a thousand times, but if you put a unique spin on it each time, then they'll all be loved.

Not that you can confuse this with plagiarism. Or cliche-ness. Those are copying; copying is for the writers with little skill of their own. None of that "oh, I'll change Character A's name and rename Quiditch and take out the wizard's robes." If you did all that and then added fairies with the ability to blow your Mogwarts to smithereens, and then told us this was all located in the magical kingdom of Hessia, then you might have something.

But do you understand my point? I know that rambled a bit. I can't help it. But similarity in books should be celebrated just as much as uniqueness. They both need to be equally present in a book, or at least present, so that the book can be recognized as a book and not some... I don't know... nymph in disguise. Or perhaps a nymph's corpse; they live in those trees, people!

Anyways, I'm stopping here before this turns into a rant about dead nymphs and frozen ketchup.
What do you think? Are similarities really that bad? Have a blessed weekend! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On Writing Plays for Writing Exercises

So, this is a short post, because I am super-duper-extra-busy.

Why am I super-duper-extra-busy, you ask? Because my mother said if I get the laundry room sorted out (seriously, it looks like some sort of cloth bomb went off in there), if I take out the trash, do the dishes, and clean the litterboxes... THEN she'll take me to Barnes and Noble and buy me TWO BOOKS.

You know you're an avid reader when you're so psyched to get two books that you'll do that list of chores.

But this was not the point of my post. I meant to talk to you about plays. In my creative writing class today (I have it as a school elective, in-case-you-didn't-know), we're starting plays, to "branch out from regular fiction." That's not even something my teacher said. That's what I percieved from this particular class.

We're supposed to write a one-act play, on anything we so desire to write about. How does this relate to us novel-writers?

It turns out that writing a play is harder than it seems. Especially me, since I've read about one play in the entirity of my life: The Crucible.* There is generally no narrative, no pages-and-pages to spread your creative description and dialogue and character-building (oh my!). In this case, we have 20 pages of a one-act story to fill out. The. Entire. Story.

With plays, most of it is told through dialogue and those little italicized stage directions. The setting, the character-fleshing-out, the tension and conflict and whatever else you want to throw into the mix. This is a pretty excellent way to spread your creative roots.

Think of a tree - it needs to spread its roots over lots of area; in the same way, you need to spread your creativity over a lot of different types of literature. Including plays. And it is a decent way to develop the acquired skill of showing, not telling.

Those stage directions are a lot of work, but they show most of the tension. And not those crazy symbols you place in the setting ("the curtains are blue, indicating his sadness!"), but the actions of the characters. Frowning, leaning forward, that sort of thing.

It also has a small cast of characters. At least the one-act play does. This provides a chance to really know and develop small groups of people. Which is a helpful tool in any writer's toolbox, in my opinion.

Movies are kind of the same thing, but this one-act play doesn't switch scenes so often. In plays, you don't have months and a camera; people are performing it live. So you really need to make it all count.

So, instead of writing short stories or a short spiff for exercising your creative muscle, maybe try a one-act play. Who knows, it might help novel-writing more than you think.

How about you? What do you think of plays? Have a blessed Wednesday!

*I recommend reading the Crucible, if you never have. I thought that play was hilarious. They were all running around screaming, "WITCH!! :O" The paperwork I did on it for English class wasn't so funny, though.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Stealing Beauty
You saw me before I saw you.
A girl: Gemma, at the airport, on her way to a family vacation.
You had that look in your eyes.
A guy: Ty, rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar, eyes blue as ice.
Like you wanted me.
She steps away. For just a second. He pays for her drink. And drugs it.
Wanted me for a long time.
He takes her, before she even knows what's happening.
To sand and heat. To emptiness and isolation. To nowhere.
And expects her to love him.
Written as a letter from a victim to her captor, this is Gemma's desperate story for survival. Ty has stolen her bosy. Against every instinct screaming inside her, will he also steal Gemma's heart?

~Print copy, 299 pages
Published: 2010 by Chicken House

Where do I begin with this novel?

First of all, there's Gemma. She's an ordinary London girl: she feels her parents are too out-of-touch with her. As they're waiting in the airport to go to Vietnam, she steps into a coffee place for a drink, and Ty offers to buy a drink for her. She thinks he's handsome; but he drugs her coffee and smuggles her through the airport, onto a plane to Australia.

Once there, he takes her out into the unmapped desert, where he has a home set up for the two of them.

Ty is referred to as "you" the entire novel. It's a strange way to write a book; I like it. A romance, if I bothered to pick it up, should read like that. It makes things more intimate, more emotional. And even though he's stalked her since she was ten, kidnapped her, and took her miles from home, it still is a little bit romance-ish.

Gemma doesn't know how to feel about him. He's a stranger to her: somewhat familiar, since he's been stalking her since she was ten, but still a stranger. The entire novel, all she thinks about is escape and who this person is.

We learn Ty's backstory this way, through Gemma's questions. In my opinion, Ty was more realistic than Gemma was. A wild man, grown up among Australia's particularly wild wilderness.

What dampened my lovely opinion of this novel was the ending. I don't know: I guess I wanted a somewhat different ending. I can't tell you specifically what disappointed me, as that is what's known as spoilers.

There is a decent amount of swearing in this. And a little bit of nudity. But no sex. It was a bit of a damper as well, but life ain't perfect. There'll be swearing in a lot of books I come across, especially since I read so much YA.

The worldbuilding is amazing. Described in colors and emptiness. I suppose it has to be, being quite a part of the plot (no people around, no hope of rescue).
But overall, it's a decent novel. If it's your cup of tea. (Cup of tea. The main character's from London. Ohgoodness, excuse that.) I give it a 3.5 in my humble opinion. So, rounded to 4 by default.

[By the way, I am up to 7900 words on Nano. Whoot!]

Friday, November 2, 2012

Follow Friday #22

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: What is a deal breaker for you in a book? For example, do you abhor love triangles? Or can't deal with bad editing?

Yes, I abhor love triangles. Just choose one guy/girl and get it over with; please do not drag it out for an entire novel. Bad editing I can deal with, if the premise and plotline are good enough. For example, I read an entire series where there were mistakes on every page, because it was a solid world and awesome characters.

What really breaks the deal for me? Several things really, which you can't really blame me for (after all, there is simply not enough hours in the day to read everything). If you can't effectively introduce any likeable character within the first 10-50 pages, I will set it down. It doesn't even have to be the main character; it could be the MC's cousin's dog. Just, someone with at least a hint of depth.

Too much swearing or sex will put me off, as well. I know normal teenagers do that sort of stuff, but I don't, and I'd appreciate reading works as clean as me. Or at least not as dirty as "normal teenagers". If I wanted to relate to a normal teenager, then I wouldn't really be reading books and minding my language.

I also might put the book down if I don't like the voice. The style, or whatever you want to call it. That modern-teenager-girl voice you hear in a lot of novels can really pluck my last nerve. On the other hand, Medieval-Speak, and sometimes 1800s-Speak, confuses me, so a lot of older novels end up on the TBR pile as well.

If the book seems bland and cliche within the first 10-50 pages, I also set it down. I mean the starting out with her waking up, the over-descriptions on food, the slow pace, too much purple prose, the cliche archetype (like a nagging wife, a wise old man, a rebellious-just-to-be-rebellious teenager), etc. etc. etc.

So, yea. Love triangles, unrealistic characters, too much swearing/sex, unappealing voice, bland and cliche. I can't pick up every book; I can set standards for my reading selection.

[By the way, Nanowrimo has started! I'm up to 2,000 words. Just another 1500 or so today!]

How about you? What is a dealbreaker for you? Have a blessed weekend! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Writings and Nano

Happy Halloween! Or Happy Recoverings, if you were hit by Hurricane Sandy. (We were all set for power outages and crazy winds here, but we were lucky. Not even a flicker in the lights.)

Also, for those participating in Nanowrimo like me, good luck! Or, Merry Writings! (Gracious wisdom, that sounded like something Charles Dickens would say.)

To celebrate, and as a warmup for tomorrow, I'm posting a short spiff today. It's written right this second, off-the-tip-of-my-tongue. It's not a short story, perhaps not even a scene, but it's writing. Sorry for anything amiss.

The lone black cat stared through the window in the chilly light of dawn. Outside, nothing stirred -- not the people in the houses that lined the other side of the road, not the stray cats and dogs sleeping under bushes, not the birds in the trees. No light shined from the street lamps; it was too dark to see properly, but not dark enough to call night anymore.

The only sign of life was the flickering light from under one of the bushes in her front yard. The fairy light danced, tempting her, but the cat refused to budge. It was her job to watch and protect, not play with fairies.

As dawn bled into morning, the cat flicked her ears. Halloween -- the most important day of the year. Inch-tall figures walked out from under the bush, fairies with fragile wings and nature nymphs with green skin. Busy humans, waking up to work or go to school, passed by the little figures, oblivious to their presence.

Whenever one of the little figures outstepped her bounds, the cat growled, and the little creatures' sensitive ears picked up the warning. They stayed, always, within thirteen feet of their burrow under the bush.

One of the little figures ignored the black cat's warning. The little fairy, glowing blue stepped over the invisible line, looking curiously at the humans passing by. A little human, no more than five years old, spotted it.

In a flash, the black cat bounded away from the window, along the hallway, out the front door. She pinned the offensive fairy to the ground and meowed, more to appease the human boy's curiousity than to punish the little figure underneath her paws.

After the human ambled away, the black cat brought her face up close to the fairy.

"Remember the pact, Little Figure," the cat hissed, with something akin to worry in her words. "It's there for a reason."

"What reason?" the fairy challenged. It was a young fairy, barely an adult, and didn't figure much for a mysterious, centuries-old pact she had nothing to do with.

"To keep the humans from pinning all of you like butterflies," growled the cat. She refused to say more, feeling her duty to protect was fulfilled. She walked back to her perch in the window.

As the day wore on, none of the little figures stepped over the line again. One day of freedom they have, but it was worth keeping that one day than trading it for no freedom at all. By nightfall, the magical little creatures had tired their dancing and gawking, and slipped once again into their otherworldly burrow for another year.

Have a lovely, spooky Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. After a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrongand Chloe discovers a dead body floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away -- away from home, away from Ruby.
But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns home at last, she finds a precarious and deadly balance waiting for her. As Chloe flirts with the truth Chloe has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complicated bonds of sisterhood.
Imaginary Girls is a masterfully distorted vision of family with twists that beg for their secrets to be kept.

~Print copy, 346 pages
Published: 2011 by Penguin Group USA

I didn't particularly enjoy this story, and I didn't hate it especially. It was somewhat... forgettable, in my lonely opinion.

Chloe is completely dependent upon her sister, Ruby. Ruby is the mysterious, beautiful, and manipulative girl who can control the entire town. Enough to make people come back to life.

When Chloe is 14, she swims in the reservoir, fully intending to reach the other side and come back. But halfway there, she finds the dead body of a girl named London. The way the book is written, I believe Chloe was freaked out enough to leave their tiny town to go live with her father, though the summary there says she was forced.

Anyways, two years later Ruby shows up and says Chloe should come back. So Chloe does, and when she arrives in their small town, home again at last, she sees London. Alive.

As the story goes on, Chloe comes to realize just how much control her sister really has over this town.

One thing I disliked about this book was Chloe. She was so dependent. I felt like she had no thoughts of her own, or if she did, they were petty things meant to lash out at her sister's sudden rules. Things like sleeping with a guy Ruby doesn't approve of, smoking in a cemetary, dipping one toe in the water of the reservoir that Ruby specifically told her never to go near.

I have an older sister and two younger sisters. None of us are quite that dependent on each other. True, our mother isn't an absent drunk like Chloe's is. But still, I just cannot connect with such a level of dependence on each other.

I felt this would've been a better book if written from Ruby's point of view. She was a much more... fleshed out character. You know what I mean? More alive. Chloe felt like a weak, diluted version of reality.

I liked the writing style, though. It was... on the border of colloquial and proper English. The incohesive way a person thinks mixed with better grammar.  It made the whole book seems mysterious and incohesive even as it made perfect, linear sense.

There is swearing and vague mentions of sex. Not gory detail or anything, just mentioning that she did have sex. Not my cup of tea, you understand. Yea, it's a part of teenagerhood, thanks to stupid society, but I personally plan to do neither. Ever, or at least not any time soon.

Some of this also felt a little contrived. I put it down two nights ago (as I'm writing this post, on Saturday) and I forget the general places where I found such contrivances, but I remembering thinking, that was pure chance. What would've happened if that hadn't happened? Would this have made the story better than it is now?

I didn't mind the world-building. There are mentions of how the town is laid out, the mountains nearby, it's up North, etc.

The most detailed part of the world is the reservoir, though. Ruby has been telling Chloe of how New Yorkers bought the land from many towns to make the reservoir, but one town refused to leave. This town stayed there, even as the water came rushing in, and now they were all still alive at the bottom of the reservoir, refusing to give up, refusing to leave. This is a major plot point and a pretty decent one at that. Mysterious, undead towns at the bottom of a reservoir? Awesome.

So, I liked Ruby, the world, and the writing. I disliked the swearing, the contrivances in places, and Chloe. This is a sort of so-so book. I give it a three.

[As a side note, the edges of Hurricane Sandy are about to hit us (today, on Monday). Our power might flicker out for I don't know how long. No school today, though! Meep! :) And my cat had three kittens last week: one of them is a runt, so I'll be busy hand-feeding it some artificial milk, as well. This all amounts to, I don't know if I'll be able to post on Wednesday or not.]

Friday, October 26, 2012

Follow Friday #21

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: What writing device or trick most irritates you when reading a book? For example, if an author employs an omnipotent narrator that is sometimes considered bad form.

Honestly? There are really three things that irk me as a reader (though from a writer's standpoint, I know how easy it is to do these):

One is love triangles. It doesn't matter if this is a dominating facet of the main plot or a minor subplot. They just don't work with me. If you really loved the first dude (because books like these, I notice, are usually told from the point of view of a teenage girl), you wouldn't have fallen for the second. Just a matter of opinion.

The second is when an author introduces a "strong" character who comes across as too weak. You know the type - the bad girl with the black clothes and the mean, tough attitude, who is in love with the nice, shy boy, or happens to be completely reliant on her little sister, or in reality loves little unicorn statuettes. When you make a character strong, you have to make them flawed, as to be realistic - but there is a fine line between flawed and weak. Especially if they present the character as strong in the back-cover summary, a weak character will really irk me.

The third is where the author leaves the outcome of the climax up to pure chance. Let me give you a famous example - Lord of the Rings. Smeagol happens to be there, he happens to be desperate enough in that moment to try and bite the ring off Frodo's finger, and happens to fall in. I would've been more pleased with Sam wrestling Frodo for the Ring, and forces it off his finger and into the lava and Frodo snaps out of his stupid daze of power. Tolkien also did this with The Hobbit - left the dragon to be killed off by some brave human bystander instead of an epic showdown between the dragon and Bilbo with Sting.

Anyways, these three tend to annoy me. If they're bad enough, I'll set the book down, and trust me I don't do that often. Maybe three times in 2012, and since I read 2-3 books a week...

What annoys you when reading? Have a blessed weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Which I Update and Advise

Gah! Running behind on everything. Just schoolwork, homework, schoolwork.

I get so little sleep from all this. I stay up for hours, sometimes the entire night, thinking about what I forgot to do here but it's too late to actually do it now. About what I need to do the next day, or what projects are due what date, or what my grades are in one class and how I can bring it up from a D to a B.

This is a rambling way of telling you I didn't plan a post for today. But it's also implied advice.

Sometimes worry makes you suffer. Your creativity, your sleeping, the amount of time you spend writing. School teaches you that you need to be productive in everything you do, every minute of the day, using your time wisely.

Personally, I spend more time trying to be productive in that way than I do actually being productive. Let me explain: I worry about my productivity, and I lose sleep over it. When I lose sleep, my productivity level drops because when I don't sleep, my attention span suffers. Then I worry even more because my productivity level has dropped.

The boatload of homework doesn't really help, either. It's fine that your teacher gives you an hour of homework; but then, you're taking seven classes, and when all teachers give you an hour of homework, you cry and do your best to finsih each in half an hour so you have time to sleep.

There are a couple things I suggest:

1. Try to find something you like. In EVERY subject, every place. That's what your teachers want, right? It makes working on that stuff a lot easier. That's what your boss wants, right? Loving your job means you're more efficient. That's what you want, right? You're so much more likely do get what you need done when you like it.

2. There is so much stuff in the world sometimes that #1 is impossible. Forcing yourself to do so makes an hour-long project drag into three hours. I know this from when I was little and my mom told me to clean my room. So, perhaps you should simply schedule a time to do it, and schedule a little time for infrequent breaks. Take a walk or make tea or something.

3. Sometimes, I find that forcing myself is the only solution. You can't like everything, and let's face it: life tends to throw something unexpected at you to ruin your lovely little schedule. So, sit down and coax it out as painlessly as possible. Bottle of water (or cup of coffee or tea) and some music on, and just focus for short bursts of time. Force the right words or planning or actions out. I still recommend breaks.

4. Don't stress out over it. I find that sometimes you need to remind yourself that this is doable. "This is easy, I know this. It's simple and totally, 100% possible." This really helps if you're a student and you're learning something new. Something that doesn't fit in your brain right, even if your (*cough math cough*) teacher lectures on it for an hour and a half.  Your brain is tricked into thinking it really does know this, and makes it easier to grasp in reality.

I hope you (and I) get something out of these four little tips. It may or may not work - #4 helps me pass math pretty much every school year, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot find anything to like about it to save my miserable hide.

What do you think? Do you lose sleep over this ingrained school maxim? Do you find yourself itching to work and feeling guilty about any break? Have you tried any of these tips?

Have a blessed... night! (Sorry this is such a late post.) So, have a blessed tomorrow!   

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett

Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother, Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.
So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don't know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won't be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship -- one that could perhaps become something more.
Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace -- unless he can kill the beast first. And that "monster" is Ariadne's brother.

~Print copy (from the library), 310 pages
Published: 2011 by Harcourt

This was a pretty good book, overall. Adventure, Greek mythology, complications and misunderstandings.

One of the things I disliked was that in this summary, it mentions it could "become something more." Which it doesn't. There is very little romance in this at all, and so the summary is a bit misleading. I thought I would dread this book because of that one line.

But in fact, it was pretty good. It switches POV between Ariadne, in past tense, and Theseus, in present tense. Together, they tell this story of how Ariadne's mother died and how Ariadne has to take her mother's place.

They have this ritual in Krete, where She-Who-Is-Goddess (Ariadne's mother) chooses one man, who supposedly houses the god Velchanos's body, to make love to and then have him killed, so his blood can fertilize their fields. Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, born to take her mother's place in this gruesome ritual.

Theseus is the illegitimate son of the Athenian king. His stepmother, the Queen, has had a child with the king already, and sees Theseus as a threat to her child's claim to the throne. When a serving girl (whose uncle is the king) suggests that they send Theseus along with the yearly tribute to Krete, everyone's happy... except Theseus.

I'm not sure what kept me from that I'm-obsessed-with-this! feeling. It just didn't catch my spark, for whatever reason. But I still think other people would love this new take on the Minotaur.

This book intertwines Theseus's adventures and Ariadne's destiny, and it was pretty well-written to boot. I would recommend this to any one who likes a good adventure/destiny/mythology book. I give it a 4.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Follow Friday #20

Follow Firday is a weekly meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: When you step out of your USUAL genre, what do you like to read? Best books in that genre?

Oh, goodness... what is my usual genre? Fantasy, really. The epic kind. As well as dystopian, post-apocalyptic, set-in-the-future-sci-fi kinds of books. If you can fit fantasy, sci-fi, set in the future in a dystopian world, post-apocalype all in one book, I'd squeak with happiness.

Outside of those genres, I do read general/historical or realistic fiction. What I mean is, set on earth, in a real time period, without magic. Myth, religion, and legend come into play, awesome - but I usually mean "this is a fake character in a real time period setting", like World War 2 China or present-day Australia or something like that.

The best books in this genre... There's a book I read recently called Sold by Patricia McCormick. It's the story of a poor girl in Nepal who's sold to a brothel called Happiness House. Heartbreaking, lyrical story, really. Prostitution is a tough topic to pull off right, but this author did it brilliantly.

There was Battle Dress by Amy Efaw, about a girl who joins the military. I could really connect with the main character, even though I have no will to join the military. (Don't get me wrong, I love our military; but I have no place there. I'm not what you'd call "disciplined". Or "logical". Or "physically fit".) This story caught my attention pretty easily, compared with other books. It's been awhile, like months or even a year or two, but I still feel like I know the character. You know?

Gah. I read a lot of fantasy. I keep looking at my bookshelf and what I see are general fiction books where the MC finds out about magic. Or is hiding magic from the general world.  Two examples are enough for you.

What do you think? What's your favorite genre, and what do you read when you stray away from it?

Have a blessed Friday and weekend!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One Girl's Trash Could Later Be Her Treasure

So, yesterday I cleaned my room. Well, "clean" is an overstatement. "Reorganized" is a better term for What I've Done.*

I have this drawer full of random junk that most people would have thrown out. I tend to keep the small stuff, and I'd set aside a drawer for it, but as I was cleaning yesterday, I found a new place to stick them all. This is a quick list of the more unusual stuff I found:

  • 3 empty packets of Trident Layers gum (strawberry/citrus flavor).
  • 2 hairbands, one purple and one black, that are as worn down as they can get without breaking.
  • 3 plastic Barnes and Noble bags, the ones they hand you your books in. Nothing inside**
  • 1 hem from a pair of old blue jeans: cut off when they'd dragged on the ground.
  • 2 silky-type scraps of painted cloth: 1 lovely dark purple, 1 lightish blue with purple patches.
  • 1 plastic, fake Roman coin. 2 dice, 1 blue and 1 white. 1 (funny-looking) red duct-tape flower.

The sort of junk you keep without anyone asking you to keep it is amazing, when you think of it. I have movie ticket stubs, every school binder I've used since freshman year (I'm a junior now)***, one of those plastic rings they sometimes put on cupcakes, as well as a metal tiger-head ring. I've even kept water bottles, soda cans, marbles, beads, and those paper wristbands they give you at concerts (Acquire the Fire, for me).
Trident Layers, a metal tiger-head ring, and my pitiful duct-tape flower.
How does this relate to writing? I think the point I'm trying to make is that even when you think it's junk, you should collect it. Past me didn't find this stuff practical in any way: I just kept it on a whim. But now, this random junk I've collected is priceless: they represent a memory of something, anything.

Every day is precious. Keeping the little things can help you remember them.

I think I'll label this is as inspiration. Delving through memories of happier or sadder times, turning over old objects and thinking of their past. I think it'd be kind of interesting to see what your characters keep as well. Do they collect old water bottles or movie ticket stubs or plastic bags?

Now, just as advice, I don't recommend you become a true hoarder. You'll have to throw away some things or get buried alive in your own trash. But keeping mementos, memories, little things can really delve deep to that soul you've buried under mounds of chocolate-bar wrappers.

What do you think? Keep the junk or hoard it? Have a blessed day!

*There's a song from Linkin Park called "What I've Done". I love that song. It has nothing to do with this post, just thought I'd mention.
**Well, technically, one of them had stuff inside. A Godiva chocolate bar wrapper and the cover of The Host by Stephanie Meyer. Sad, I know. I don't even like that book, nor did I buy that book from B&N - I bought it from Walmart.
***I used to have binders from middle school too, but I had to throw them away. My room is too tiny to keep them all.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman

Seventeen-year-old Joss is a rebel -- the daughter of a famous newscaster and a sperm donor; a wild girl who can play a mean harmonica; a student of time travel at the prestigious Centre for Neo-Historical Studies. This year, for the first time, the Centre has an alien student -- Mavkel, from the planet Choria. And Mavkel has chosen Joss, of all people, as his roommate and study partner.
Joss is less than thrilled to have her freewheeling lifestyle ruined by the high-tech security surrounding Mavkel, and alarmed by the danger he seems to attract -- an assassin and an anti-alien lobby are the least of it. Still, she is intrigued by Mavkel and his heritage, because the Chorians are a harmonizing species of twins who communicate through song. What better partner for a demon harmonica player?
Then Mavkel gets sick. First, it seems to be a simple cold, but Joss soon realizes it's far more -- Mavkel is pining for his lost twin, and his will to live is draining away. The only way Joss can help is by breaking the Centre's strictest rules... and that means going back in time.
Singing the Dogstar Blues is a genre-breaking mix of humor, science fiction, mystery, and adventure that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages.

~Print copy (from the library), 261 pages
Published: 1998 by Viking

This book was pretty good. I expected something less, but I got something more.

Joss is a spirited rebel-child. Her mother is too busy to notice and since she was concieved in a petri dish, she doesn't know her father. She hangs out at a local coffee place/bar with the owner, Lenny. She's been kicked out of a dozen schools, and the Centre is probably her last bet.

Then along comes Mavkel, who chooses her as his partner before the Centre's head professor can kick her out. Mavkel is a lonely alien, an outcast of his race because he survived and his twin didn't. The Chorians are a telepathic bunch, and now that Mavkel is an outcast, he's on the brink of suicide from the loneliness of his own mind.

The two become friends, despite Joss's privacy requirements. Then Mavkel gets sick. He is dying from loneliness, and unless Joss can "join minds" and become telepathic with him, he will die.

This book was quite well-told. The worlds are amazing - both the advanced-technological Earth and the alien planet Choria. The characters were just the right side of shady and suspicious.

The only problem I had with it is slight, and probably not too noticeable unless you're a voice freak like me -- Goodman used passive voice somewhat frequently. You know:"he was doing" "they had been doing". That sort of thing. Again, minor, one of those things your English teacher reviews every year.

From the summary, it seemed like this would be a romantic book, and I was reluctant to pick it up, but in the end, this book was not. It's all action and Joss and a cool university for time traveling. I give this a four. I'm reluctant to give it a five simply because I'm not too much a fan of sci-fi or passive voice. Still a lovely book.