Friday, May 31, 2013

Follow Friday #47

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

Q: What blogger would you most like to meet in real life? Tell us about him or her.

Oh, goodness. Umm...

In case you don't know (which is quite likely; you've either read my blog and not met me, or you've never heard of me at all), I am quite shy in real life. In fact, "shy" is a bit of an understatement. It took my friend nearly three years to get me to talk to her in more than monosyllables.

This means that if I did meet a blogger in real life, I'd freeze up. Meeting new people is not a cool thing for me. It's like the opposite of cool. More like the one of the scariest things. (I probably have anxiety problems, though I've never been in a doctor's office for longer than a check-up, so I can't tell you with any scientific certainty. Because... well... I don't like strangers.)

(Scientific certainty. What a wonderful phrase!)

Anyways... If I had to meet a blogger, or rather if there ever was a blogger I'd like to meet, I'd say one of three people: Annie from The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random because she's just awesome like that; Steph Bowe from Steph Bowe's Hey! Teenager of the Year, because if I did meet her, we'd be in Australia (where she lives); or one/both of the ladies from The Bookshelf Muse, who I've followed for a very long time and who've published one of the few books on writing craft that I actually own.

So, that's my list. How about you? Who would you like to meet, or do you have shyness problems like me? Have a blessed weekend!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon*

*The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme: The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon.
(Long title.)

Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told...
Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme -- known as Ven -- is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family's latest ship -- and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime. 
Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea, and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack -- and his subsequent rescue -- may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure and will stop at nothing to get it -- even murder.
In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures -- adventures that would later earn him renown as the author if The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World's Magic.
Hailed by reviewers and embraced by legions of fans, Elizabeth Haydon, bestselling author of the Symphony of Ages series, has created an unforgettable epic fantasy for a younger generation of readers.

~Print copy (library), 351 pages
Published: 2006 by Tom Doherty Associates (Starscape)

Whew, that was a long summary.

Of course I have problems with it -- I have problems with most back cover summaries -- but I shall not point out every last detail. (But I will mention the overabundance of hyphens in that thing. I type that stuff all out by hand into this post, you know.)

(Also, I'll say that for awhile after reading that summary that those books were real, before realizing, oh those books are made up famous, not real actual legendary books.)

Anyways, I liked the book. Since I finished it Saturday, and started reading the next book in the series (The Thief Queen's Daughter), I'm just going to make a list of Likes and Dislikes.

What I liked about this book:
~The characters. Some awesome ones include Ven (of course), his curate-in-training friend Clemency, the captain of the Serelinda Oliver Snodgrass and his wife, and the ever-loyal friend, Char.
~The world. I mean, a world that includes Spice Folk (fairies)! And merrows (mermaids)! And species like the Lirin, storytellers who take a vow of truth so the stories don't get mangled over the years! This world is really well thought out.
~How it's written. It switches back and forth between paragraphs of Ven's journal to longer paragraphs of 3rd POV. Well handled, and really does feel like a story pieced together between fragments of old journal.

What I disliked about this book:
~I don't know why, but it was a bit hard getting through this book. It took me 6 days to read 351 pages -- that's about 50 pages a day, instead of my usual 100. But I don't know what it was that caused this; it could have just been one of those weeks, where nothing was too appealing, even reading. (In fact, I felt kind of off all last week -- not physically sick, but more just emotionally sick. Probably a factor in my lack of obsessive reading.)

Really, I did like this book. It says up there that Haydon is a bestselling author and has legions of fans, but I was ten years old in 2006 and not really on the literary scene at the time. So, I can't really tell if this was a super-popular book at one time or another and I'm really late on the pickup; but it doesn't matter. I found it in the library now (well, a couple weeks ago), and I liked it now.

So, I recommend it now. To anyone who loves fantasy, or really anyone who wants something good to read next (as opposed to some fluffy romance that really isn't all that good when you look at it in retrospect. Ahem. Pardon my dislike of romance.) 4 stars.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Follow Friday #46

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

Q: The #FF is 150 weeks old! And we want to hear from you! What would you change about the hop? What do you like about it? Or just suggest a question to be used for next week!

I don't know if I would change anything. I mean, it's fun the way it is -- answer a question and see the answers. I'm amazed, sometimes, the answers people come up with; and sometimes I'm surprised at what answers I come up with.

Coming up with questions is hard. I'm a bit ashamed to say, I'm glad other people come up with them on this meme -- it provides questions I wouldn't normally think to answer on my blog. And also, I follow a schedule of sorts: Monday is a book review, Wednesdays are randomly assigned to Fun Historical Facts, a Short Writing Spiff, or Psychology Trivia (or sometimes a rant on my personal opinions). Fridays, if I stopped doing FF, I think I would devote to reading/writing Q&A like this. It makes up a goodly portion of my life, you know?

That being said, I haven't participated all 150 weeks and I'm kind of nervous to come up with my own question. What if it's been done before? But I know y'all nice persons won't criticize.

So here goes:
"Do you read the last page of a book as soon as you first pick it up? Or do you prefer to read only the back-cover summary and wait until you've read up to the ending? Why?"

How about you? Any changes/praises/questions for Follow&Friday? Have a blessed weekend!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

On an island of sandy beaches, dense jungles, and slumbering volcanoes, colonists seek to apply archaic laws to a new land, bounty hunters stalk the living for the ashes of their funerary pyres, and a smiling tribe is despised by all as traitorous murderers. It is here, in the midst of ancient tensions and new calamity, that two sisters are caught in a deadly web of deceits.
Arilou is proclaimed a beautiful prophetess -- one of the island's precious oracles: a Lost. Hathin, her junior, is her nearly invisible attendant. But neither Arilou nor Hathin is exactly what she seems, and they live a lie that is carefully constructed and jealously guarded. 
When the sisters are unknowingly drawn into a sinister, island-wide conspiracy, quiet, unobtrusive Hathin must journey beyond all she has ever known of her world -- and of herself -- in a desperate attempt to save them both. As the stakes mount and falsehoods unravel, she discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.

~Print copy (library), 566 pages
Published: 2009 by Harper

This book was really beautiful.

I don't say this because I think only a select few novels are beautiful, and this happens to be one of them. No, all books are beautiful, no matter whether I think they're beautiful or not. But this book stands out in the sea of beautiful-ness. (What a horribly cliche line. Wow.)

Let me explain what was so beautiful about this novel that made me sit up and notice:

First of all, there is the world. The worldbuilding is a large part of this novel -- that would be why it's over 500 pages long.

But it is a spectacular world, filled with Ashwalkers who kill murderers in order to wear a cloth dipped in their ashes; the Lace, a native tribe that is always smiling and have jewels in their teeth, and whose names are meant to echo natural sounds so they are forgotten by the precious volcanoes they live under; and there is the Lost, a group of people who have the natural ability to untangle their five senses from their body and cast them out into the world, therefore bringing news from all over the island back to their home village.  

That, right there, is a fully imagined, richly decorated world. It is the sort of worldbuilding I aspire to when I sit down to write the umpteenth draft of my first novel. It is a fantasy lover's dream come true.

But that is not all about this novel. Then there are the characters.

Arilou is a Lost Lace girl, whose name is meant to echo the sound of an owl. But it is suspected by the entire village -- never spoken aloud, in case of an eavesdropping Lost -- that Arilou isn't really a Lost. Perhaps she is just an imbecile.* And when a Lost inspector shows up to test her, and dies right there, people naturally panic.

Hathin, Arilou's little sister and nurse, has a name meant to mimic the settling of dust. She goes unnoticed; that is, until she escapes from the colonists who blame the Inspector's death on the hated Lace. Then, she must travel the island and hop away from her enemies, all the while dragging insensible Arilou. Hathin is really my favorite character; perhaps it's because I'm unnoticeable myself, but I really connected with her.

Later on, another group comes to the foreplay: a group of revenge-seeking Lace called the Reckoning. But these venture into the middle of the novel and I don't want to give away too many threads of the plot.

Which brings me to the complicated plot.

Seriously, this plot, despite its complexity, just sort of unfolds organically. This is the first time in a long while that I've actually been satisfied with the ending; it's the first time in awhile since I've really gotten myself lost in the middle part of the book. Each part builds on the last part, until it's built itself a mountain of plot. Not like Mt. Everest mountain plot, but like any number of smaller mountains that even the most average person could climb. (This metaphor got a little out of hand. Sorry.)

In retrospect -- who am I kidding? While reading this book -- I can't help but marvel on the comment of how mythology and tradition can impact lives. These Lace believe that their names should be forgotten, so the volcanoes forget them. These people travel around the volcanoes, even though it takes longer; they believe they can't set foot on them without either being shielded by dead people's ashes or by asking favor from the volcanoes themselves.  The colonists give the best farmland to the ashes of their dead ancestors; in fact, the reasons their colonist ancestors came over to the island 200 years earlier was to use the island as a mass cemetery, because the ashes of their dead are that important to them.

Tradition, mythology, belief systems; they are a lot more powerful than reason. While reading this book, I didn't see the natural rock slides of a mountain, or natural lakes set in the mountain, or other normal volcano activity; I saw what the Lace saw, how the volcano was giving them a blessing or showing their wrath for trespassing. I saw how a flower growing on the main volcano (the King of Fans) was a gift to the neighboring mountain, the Lady Sorrow.

This book was really powerful, really beautiful. I would recommend this to anyone, even if you don't like fantasy; it puts aside your reason and disbelief and transforms an imaginary world into a rich, beautiful world that is more exotic and exciting than Narnia or Middle Earth. 5 stars.

 *That is a term the novel uses, by the way -- I don't imply that I think the mentally handicapped are imbeciles. My sister has Down Syndrome; trust me, I know that they aren't imbeciles in the way people think they are.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Follow Friday #45

[ugh. My laptop has a virus, so I'm stuck on the family computer. Bad keyboard, no privacy, and bugs that walk across the computer desk. I have to use a jump drive between my laptop and this computer for my writing, and I can't save anything in my favorites to read later. Like I said -- ugh.]

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

Q: School is out! What is your favorite summer reading book?

 I wish school was out for me. I have until June. (Can you tell I'm in a bad mood?)

Anyways, summer reading... I oftentimes save heavier reading material -- series, or literary classics -- for the summer. I especially save books I might be embarrassed caught reading in school for the holidays.

Last summer, I read Lord of the Rings. (The one volume edition, which is literally over 1,000 pages long.) One of my favorites to read over the summer though, every summer in a sort of tradition, is Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer). That series is so awesome, but I don't like taking them to school with me. Don't know why.

I have a whole slew of others, but the keyboard on this computer truly is sucky, and my favorite TV show comes on in about ten minutes. So I'm cutting it a bit short.

How about you? Having a better week than me? Enjoy reading the harder classics when you have vacation time? Or do you like frilly romances while at the beach?

Have a blessed Friday and weekend! 

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Ring of Five by Eoin McNamee

Something went wrong.
Danny Caulfield doesn't know how he ended up at a mysterious academy called Wilsons. A few of the students are pretty scary. Someone is trying to murder him. Even the ravens that haunt the school seem to be against him.
Yet he also finds friends: Les, an exceptional thief; Dixie, who has an unsettling talent; and Vandra, a physick with special powers.
It turns out that Danny is destined for a terrifying mission. As he embarks on his training, he is shocked and secretly thrilled to discover that he seems to have all the natural gifts of the perfect spy -- most importantly, the ability to betray. 
The Ring of Fire is the first book in a brilliant new trilogy by the author of The Navigator. Eoin McNamee's background as an author of adult thrillers informs this exhilarating, atmospheric adventure, which is full of surprises as well as fascinating questions about loyalty, destiny, and what it means to be a spy.

~Print copy (library), 345 pages
Published: 2010 by Wendy Lamb Books

First of all, let me start out that I don't know the Navigator series they're referring to in the summary there. This is important, because (shameful though it is) previous books I've read by an author can color how I view this one.

That being said, there is no other-book-ly influence on this story for me. I happened to enjoy it, for the most part.

(And did I mention? The author's Irish. Irish people are so awesome. The author of the Artemis Fowl series -- one of my most favorite series of all time -- is Irish. Weird coincidence -- AF's author's first name is Eoin, too.)

Les, Dixie, and Vandra all seem like lovely friends. I kinda wish I had such friends in real life. Danny is a bit iffy, but I liked him, too -- he wasn't evil and he wasn't good, but a mix. Like all the best people are.

The people are a bit strange. A good strange. Les is a winged Messenger, sort of like an angel but living and down to earth. He likes flying, even though most of the Messengers have given up flying as a "vulgar activity." Dixie is... what Dixie does, I suppose. Kinda daydreamy, can disappear and reappear at will. And Vandra is a vampire healer, who can suck the sickness out of any wound and get infected with it herself. (She can fight it off, though; she's a tough girl.)

That being said, the mysterious, magic-y aura in  this book makes me happy. I love magic-y books. That's why I read so much fantasy. Though this book isn't really fantasy... it's more thriller, or mystery, or something...

Back on topic. (Genre technically is on topic, but it's subjective in my view. You want to know what genre it is, read the book.)

The writing itself was kind of iffy. One thing that stuck out to me was the redundancy. Not repeated words -- rather, he repeated information. One character says something that's happening, and then it's followed with a "It was true. The.... [insert already-spoken event here]". That sort of thing. And sometimes things like reactions or emotions were stated instead of implied, but I don't really fault for that.

That stuff's easily written away, though. Right there in the summary, we know this author does adult thrillers; this book is either MG or YA.* So, the difference in age groups could easily have thrown someone off. Not that I imply the author would write terribly obvious because he thinks less of the YA group, or that he needed to "dumb it down", but perhaps the difference in writing style itself between the age groups** caused a few minor shifts in (writing-wise) modern-esque manners.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. The characters are good, the setting is solid (think of the magic-y aura! Meep!), and... I don't know... just that quality that makes you smile. The writing style showed some error that distracted my gaze, but I think it was definitely a worthwhile read for.. any age group, really. It took me longer than usual to read a book this size, but more because it's been a stressful week than because I had to drag myself through the book. I recommend it; 4 stars.


*My library has this book under YA, so I assume it's that. But I see so much romance in YA, and this book has none, that I don't know whether perhaps it was shelved in the wrong section. But rants on YA's increasingly homogenous nature at a later date.
**I could write a blog post on that. (That is how you know you're a writer/blogger -- when the first thing that pops into your head when you read "differences in writing styles across age groups" is whether you can write something on it.)  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Follow Friday #44

[This post will be kinda short because I'm a bit worded out. I took my AP Language and Composition exam this morning. Three essays in two hours, and 55 multiple choice in one.]

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

Q: Happy Mother's Day! Who is your favorite mom from fiction?

Gracious-wisdom... umm, let me think....

I thought Mrs. Jackson from the Percy Jackson series was pretty cool. I mean, she had to be, right? Mrs. Fowl from Artemis Fowl -- she actually showed up a bit more than Artemis Senior (the father). A strong woman who knew about her son's involvement with fairies books before Mr. Fowl.

And, of course, Mrs. Weasley. I can already tell she's probably a popular answer -- everyone loves Harry Potter, but Mrs. Weasley is the mother everyone loves.

How about you? Who are some of your favorite literary mothers? Have a blessed weekend!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On My Mind

Here's what is on my (cluttered) mind right now:

  1. I have a ton of AP History homework to do. And that's US History -- you know, the boring kind. Elections, the vaguest details you can manage while focusing on the least important stuff. I don't care if you list what the Presidents look like; just describe their reign term better.*
  2. I have an AP Language exam on Friday. Three essays, 55 multiple choice in about four hours. Yay. :(
  3. I'm currently reading The Ring of Five by Eoin McNamee. The author's Irish. Have I mentioned before how awesome I think Irish people are? Because, really truly, they are.
  4. I love butterflies so, so much.
  5. Why do I write in complete sentences? This is supposed to be a flow of my thoughts onto a blog post, but it's still written in full, (mostly) correct sentences.
  6. Tomorrow I have honors math. Meh. My teacher feels the need to teach us calculus, even though it's actually a trig class.
  7. Man, I listen to some good music. I feel kinda dramatic and awesome right now. :)
  8. Heh heh. Dragons...
  9. Should I write a story about dragons? It'd be pretty cool, just add a little characterization, a bit of plot... Hold up. Must stay focused on current manuscript.
  10. Ooh, manuscript. Such an intimidating name for such a mess. I prefer calling it "the story", which refers to everything I write except poetry. You know, like, "I'm working on my story. My story's not ready yet. My story needs so much work, I want to cry about it."

That, my friends, looks like a pretty sad list. Apparently, most of my thoughts are currently consumed with schoolwork and writing. Really, school is like, the only time I leave my house. Well, that's not true. There's an event at my local library I want to attend this Saturday. I won't turn into a vampire any time soon.

(Ooh, I could totally write a story about a vampire. How can I twist that definition into something worth writing abou -- .... I mean, I totally have work to do. You know, on my current manuscript.)

Anyways, how about you? What's on your mind?

Have a blessed Wednesday!

*My textbook really does describe the presidents' physical appearances. I'm serious. Just this list of eye color, hair color, age, sometimes even body type. Also their personality, in straight-out terms of traits: oh, they're bold. They're weak. This man relies too much on his advisors. Such awful technique, but then again, I deal with fiction.
They seem to want to turn it to fiction, though; trying to make it as interesting as possible for us teenage youngsters, I guess. I'm still mad at it about calling John Quincy Adams a pimp some 500 pages and a few homework assignments ago.
Sorry for that rant on textbooks, but I seriously hate homework from that thing.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Follow Friday #43

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

Q: Give us a sneak! What are you reading? Tell us about a fun or fail scene in your current read.

Well, I'm currently reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway. I figured Hemingway was a classic, so I might as well read it, if not to love it then to at least be able to say that I read it. Every writer should know Hemingway, right?

Which reminds me: I will probably not be posting my usual book review on Monday. This is a pretty hefty book (almost 500 pages), and I'm getting through about 50 pages a day. But I should be able to finish it by the end of next week, and I'll be back to my normal schedule.

I haven't really gotten far enough into it to find a fun or fail scene. At this point, a bit less than 100 pages in, there's a guy. He has to blow up a bridge. He meets a bunch of people who're supposed to help him blow up that bridge. And he's met and fallen in love with some beautiful girl, all in one day. The current scene I'm reading is where he's sleeping outside and that girl -- and this is still his first night in the camp -- climbs into his sleeping bag with him. I don't know if this is going to get that intimate (didn't they have something against printing sex scenes in books in 1940?) but I still can't say I approve.

This novel, I admit, is not exactly my favorite so far. But, I hope that with each page that passes, it will grow more interesting. I kinda like that gypsy character, Rafael, who's an eater, not a fighter. I should be able to get through this book.

Anyways, how about you? Reading an awesome book? Any scene or character that catches your eye? Ever read (or loved) Hemingway?

Have a blessed Friday and weekend!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lipizzaner Horses!

Happy first of May! May is such a short, clean, flowing sort of word. May.

Unfortunately, I'm also swamped. (Another lovely word.) My AP exams are next week, and the honors state tests after that. (They're called SOLs in Virginia. I don't know what they're called elsewhere.) I hate it when schoolwork trumps everything else, but life has been designed that way for me. By the adults who keep me focused on The Future.

I'm currently watching a documentary on PBS on Lipizzaner horses, which are apparently very, very famous and very, very prestigious. The program's called Nature: Legendary White Stallions. Here are some quick notes:

  • In the Spanish Riding School, all 73 horses are taken seriously.
  • The man in charge is the equiary. (sp?)
  • All of the horses are descended from just six horses!
  • Personality is crucial in determining where their stalls are in the stable.
  • The school was founded by a king in the early 1700s.
  • But there are no books in this school; all the knowledge is passed on orally.
  • Horseback riding (dancing?) is an artwork, a craft, to them.
  • These horses are trained to be able to rear on two legs, and to leap and kick their back hooves at the same time. Also, they're trained to get through an obstacle course with minimal aid from the rider.
  • The white horses are born brown or black; it takes six years for their coats to turn white.*
  • While at one point these horses came in all colors, they've selectively bred for white for centuries. Now, a dark coat on a horse is rare and lucky.
  • These horses are the best documented in the world, courtesy of the Austrian(Hungarian?) bureaucracy.
  • Earliest, the Moors, or the Muslim nomads, used these horses to invade Spain. They conquered it in the year 711.This time period was characterized by religious tolerance and a Golden Age.
  • It would take 700 years until the Christians took it back, under the leadership of Isabella and Ferdinand. In the infamous Spanish Inquisition.**
  • These Arabic left their mark on horse-breeding in Spain, though. Beauty, refinement, power -- these Spanish horses became coveted luxuries.
  • In the 1500s, classical horse riding became popular again. Archduke Charles of Austria came to bring these horses into European popularity and to domesticate them to the landscape. (1580?)

Well, that's what I've got. I'm eating supper, watching TV, and writing a blog post at the same time, so pardon any inaccuracies. I'm prone to mishearing things.

Horses are an interesting topic. I haven't really seen a horse since a questionable memory of my older sister riding them in fairs. (That might have been a dream. I don't know.) But I've always wanted to be able to ride one. Animals are lovely, intelligent creatures, and I'd kinda like to see that same personality in a horse's eyes that I see in a cat's.

But this is me meandering. Pontificating. Etc.

How about you? Do you love horses? Did you find a bit of this interesting, or perhaps all of it? Anything I said that sounds inaccurate? Have a blessed Wednesday!

*This is not too shocking to me. It reminds me of how Siamese kittens are born completely white, but the color on their face, paws, and tail come in later. I've raised plenty of Siamese kittens. I know. I've also raised cats whose eyes start out blue but turn yellow over time, but that's only indirectly related.

**I recently read a verse novel on the Spanish Inquisition. Actually, it's the last post before this one -- you see it? Right there in the Blog Archives. It's called the Apprentice's Masterpiece. Also, let me clarify: the Spanish Inquisition was super evil and lasted 3 centuries; it killed hundreds of thousands. I might do a post on that sometime.