June 18

Stardust: Book Review

Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victoria.n-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.

This is going to be more of a movie/book comparison than a book review. Hopefully you don’t mind, but when homework requires the book, and the screenplay to be read and the movie watched, it’s hard not to make the comparison.

To be honest, I think the way the movie tells the story makes a little more sense and is a little more realistic than what the book does. I’m not saying the book was bad. The movie kept to the book for the most part.  But unsurprisingly there were differences between the book and the movie. In the book,Tristan has a sister, whose 6 months younger than him, a fact that Tristan never seems to find suspicious, there is no Humphrey tormenting Tristan, though there is a Victoria and their relationship isn’t quite what the movie suggests, but she does tell him to go after the star.

The way Tristan and his father cross the wall is completely different from the movie. No one gets hurt, though seeing poor Tristan get beaten up by a 90-something-year-old in the movie was funny. A minor point I suppose but one of the things I prefer about the movie is that Tristan is told about his mother before he crosses the wall.  In the book, he believes his father’s wife to be his mother and he continues to believe that until near the end of the book. The movie, I believe, was a little more believable in that respect.

Since Tristan did not exactly cross the wall in the movie, we skip over a lot of elements that happened in the book and he lands on the star. I can see why the movie did this as it pushed the pace of the story along and you don’t really lose anything for them having done it.  For in the book, a creature helps Tristan out. Tristan helps him out, etc. And eventually the creature gives Tristan a Babylon candle, which is how he finds the star.  The candle works in completely different ways between the book and the movie but the effect is the same. Again, the way Tristan received the candle in the movie seemed more efficient and more believable, especially since his Mother really did want to see Tristan again.

Nursery rhymes appear throughout the book. But they’re real in the world Tristan finds himself in.  A unicorn and a lion are found fighting for a crown. That’s how the unicorn is encountered in the book. The unicorn had significantly more screen time in the book than in the movie.

However the pirates have significantly less time in the book than in the movie.  The captain is also not named Shakespeare, he’s not gay and he doesn’t pretend to throw Tristan out a window..  He is very kind. I prefer the movie version. The captain and crew had a great deal more personality and I really enjoyed the contrast of Shakespeare being gay and a fierce pirate.

Their is no real showdown at the end of the book.  The witch approaches the star, asks hers some questions, especially about her heart and, after having tried to kill her several times before, wishes her well and walks away. As for Tristan’s…uncles… Well, the last one dies in a way completely different from the movie. So, either way you look at it, the book has an anti-climatic ending.

He meets his mother. Travels for 8 years and then, finally takes the throne.

The book has more characterization in it, more character depth and more complications in it than the movie does.  The movie sticks to the major plot points and has more action.  The book, however, has more sex scenes and more cuss words. Both are worth checking out if you haven’t seen them.  But I much prefer the faster-paced movie.

October 10

City of Bones: Critical Review

City of Bones opens at a dance club called Pandemonium. Inside, a demon searches for prey among the dancing humans. By slowing this scene down and choosing the correct words, Clare turns a simple walk across a crowded club into a sort of dance that also raises the tension in her novel.  This is seen in passages like:

His hand tightened on the blade he carried and he had begun to step out onto the dance floor when a girl broke away from the mass of dancers and began walking toward him. (…) She smiled, passing him, beckoning with her eyes.  He turned to follow her, tasting the phantom sizzle of her death on his lips. (3)

Despite the demon’s unsavory intentions, this passage has a clear flirtatious feel to it, at least from the girl who is later identified as Isabelle. She is acts almost predatorily with the way she moves around him, makes sure that he sees her and he watches.  We know she’s constantly moving but readers may not realize how much it’s mentioned because Clare wisely chose her words carefully. Instead of several “walks” and “moves,” readers instead encounter “step out,” “broke away,” “neared him” and “passing him.”  Keeping their constant movement from feeling repetitive as it would have if Clare had used the same set of words repetitively to tell the actions.

On the next page, the constant walking continues with the following passage but Clare’s choice of words only adds to the tension that the author has already started to build:

The girl was a pale ghost retreating through the colored smoke. She reached the wall and turned, bunching her skirt up in her hands, lifting it as she grinned at him. Under the skirt she was wearing thigh-high boots.
He sauntered up to her, his skin prickling with her nearness. (…)
A cool smiled curled his lips. She moved to the side and he could see that she was leaning against a closed door. No Admittance—Storage was scrawled across it in red paint.  She reached behind her for the knob, turned it, slid inside.  (…)
He slipped into the room after her, unaware that he was being followed. (4)

Here the words that Clare uses to show the girl’s movements up the tension in the same way that simply slowing the scene down does. The word “retreat” has connotations of fear and prey attached to it.  However the word sauntered is the opposite. Someone who saunters is confident, perhaps even a predator. And as readers are aware that the boy/demon wishes to make a meal of the girl, the tension is raised with those word choices.

In two pages, with the two above passages, Clare describes the boy and girl walking at least ten times and only actually uses the word walking once.  Instead Clare uses descriptions like “retreat,” “sauntered,” or “pass” to add more tension and keep redundancy at bay.

Works Cited
Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments #1. New York: Simon Pulse, 2008. Print.
September 7

Researching for Books

Even with all the advances in technology and all the material out there, researching a particular subject can be difficult.  Their are simply some things that don’t translate well on the page, which makes learning the material difficult and not everyone can afford a trip or a class on the subject they are researching. I do a lot of research online.  I ask random people if they know anything, sometimes they’ll surprise you. and have answers you never considered.

For example, I wanted my next scene set in France.  Not Paris.  I posted on Facebook asking for suggestions.  And I got a great one.  Reims, France. With that lead, I started a basic search, history, pictures.  I liked what I saw so I dug deeper.  Maps, both virtual and real, books, websites.  This was all made difficult by the fact a lot of the websites were in French. And their are some things you either have to guess at or be really lucky about finding. For example, what does Reims smell like?  Grapes? Champaign? Chocolate? Perfume? River?  Something else?  What does it sound like?  Chatter in French and English? Trains rolling by? Tolling bells? Really I can only guess.

Figuring out what to have my characters specifically do there, while the non-location related event happens has been a challenged.  What would be interesting for readers to see?  What is unusual but potentially new?  I kept returning to tour barges in Reims. Because touring old buildings I haven’t been too didn’t seem right, and since Arabella is basking in the sunlight sending her into a Champaign Cave seemed cruel.  But those are the things that are most advertised as happening in Reims.

I looked deeper into the barge idea. Where would the boat take passengers?  Where could and would it stop?  What would passengers see from the barge?  How big are these things? How expensive?

Wait, what’s this? While searching for “What’s outside of Reims?” I find Hot Air Ballooning? Really?  Hmmm. My search starts anew.  What does Hot Air Ballooning involve?  How many people can fit in a basket at a time? I found the option of going Hot Air Ballooning in Boise and experiencing it for myself.  But for the price I’d be required to pay…well, lets say that under my current circumstances I’m more likely to see Satan Ice Skating in the South Pacific before I can afford that experience. It sounds marvelous though.

Research reveals that normally the pilot will take no more than three people up with him or her at a time.  I’ve only seen prices offering to take two people up.  So I’m wandering if their is a reason why a single person can’t go up with just the pilot or if that is such a rare occurrence they didn’t bother listing it as a price on the website. If their is a reason why more than one person needs to go up with the pilot, then the idea of making Remy a pilot is thrown to bits and I’ll probably need to find another form of privacy and entertainment in one that’s non-traditional.

Again, I was stuck wandering, where would my characters land if they went up in a hot air balloon?  Could it be somewhere in the mountains, in the woods?  And what would they realistically find there? Considering my characters abilities I’m not too worried about them finding their way home.

Research takes a lot of time to do properly.  I’ve emailed both a hot air balloon company about the information I need. And asked for the tourism department of Reims for help.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have answers in a few days. Until I get the responses I’ll work on finding them all online. Hopefully, I’ll have some hair left by the time I finish this scene.

What do you do for research on things you can’t experience? Or learn on your own? Do you know much about Reims France or Hot Air Ballooning?

August 22

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff Review

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

I’m going to open by saying I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. It’s short and a quick read. Despite the unconventional writing style, I was interested in the story. I think the main thing that bothered me about this book was the consensual incestuous relationship in the book. The sex wasn’t my problem. I just would have preferred the couple to not have been related–and no matter what the authors suggests, both characters were old enough to know their intimate relationship should be avoided.

The book doesn’t focus on the relationship the teens are involved in, that’s just one element in the story. Daisy is, probably what is considered, an anorexic. The kids are forced to survive on their own. The main focus was the war and how it affected the lives of all those involved. It’s told in Daisy’s point of view, so you only find out what happens to some of the characters at the end of the book. Everyone starves, and everyone has to find their own coping mechanisms to survive the war–even after the war ends.

This book could have been more powerful. But it was an interesting mix of what past wars were like, coupled with what those wars would be like in modern times. It was an interesting world that Rosoff created. I read through it all quickly, compelled to learn more to see what happened next, but I wanted it to be more. And I think why it didn’t have the impact it could have was because Rosoff was trying to address too many issues at once–living alone without parents, incest, starvation, anorexia, family relationships, death, war and terrorism. That’s a lot to chew.

August 15

Packet 4 plans

I’ll be turning in everything for packet three later today. The critical essays are difficult for me to write, mainly because I have problems picking out the elements. I’ll get stuck on one thing, whether it actually qualifies for what my essays need to be or not, and have a hard time looking for something else that would fit the assignment better.  I think I did a fairly good job with this packet’s critical essays and I’m hoping my next essays for packet four will be a little easier.

For packet four I’ll be reading   Holes by Louis Sachar and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I trust the people who recommended them to me and looking forward to reading them, though they probably aren’t books I would have picked up on my own.

Have you read either of these books?  What do you think?  Is there something the authors did particularly well with the books?  Or something in particular you want me or recommend I focus on as I read through it, like dialogue, description, characterization, time, etc.?  I may write about it when I’m done reading.

August 14

Catching Attention with Catching Fire: A Critical Review

Suzanne Collins wrote a wonderfully compelling book about a girl who has unintentionally fueled and become the symbol of a rebellion she isn’t sure she should stop. Readers are immediately drawn into Catching Fire from page one because Collins raises questions while providing answers through details. The very first paragraph in Catching Fire opens with Katniss Everdeen sitting in the woods:

I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.  My muscles are clenched tight against the cold.  If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor.  I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.  I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months. (1)

Collin’s descriptions and word choices build tension. Clasp is indicative of a tight grip on an object.  The word “clasp” frequently has connotations of being in distress. This gives us a hint as to the narrator’s emotional state, which makes readers ask the question, “What is wrong? Why is she upset?”

Since flasks are usually insulated and the tea is cold, readers can infer that she has been out for a long time, since the once warm tea is now cold. Readers also know that the weather is freezing. So they begin to wonder new things: Where is she? Why is she outside? Along with the original question: What has her distressed? These questions only become more demanding, with the next sentence, “My muscles are clenched tight against the cold,” while re-affirming what readers have already guessed: it’s cold and the character is miserable. Readers know their inference that it is cold was correct. The word clenched also suggests Katniss is uncomfortable, possibly in pain.

The next sentence, “If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor” brings new details to the readers attention and new questions.  Readers know wild dogs are native where she is and they are a threat to human life.

Readers immediately wonder, where exactly is she?  Is she in the mountains? Are there no domestic dogs? When this sentence is compounded by  the fact she thinks “I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs” ,  readers suspect she may have had to climb trees before for to escape wild dogs before. This suggests the threat, the possibility of attack, is familiar to her. And readers must wonder: why is it familiar? And is it the same for everyone where she’s at? Or is she upset because she’s in a dangerous place where that’s a possibility?

Collins follows up with the mention for Katniss’ need to move with, “But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.” This statement lets readers know several things.  Due to an internal conflict or problem, not because she was hurt, Katniss is incapable of moving. She’s sitting on a rock and watching the sunrise, which seems like a mundane thing to do. However Collins has already set up that Katniss is upset about something. When we loop back to the implication that Katniss has been out for an extended period, readers know that she’s been outside for several hours before dawn.  Again, readers wonder, “Why?”

The statement “I can’t fight the sun,” lets readers know that she doesn’t want the sun to rise, hinting at the reason for her distrust. But the next statement provides clarity: “I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.” Readers know for certain that something is going to happen today that Katniss dreads. Again, readers wonder, why? What is going to happen today that is so bad?  Fortunately, Suzanne Collins knows that she can’t keep that information from readers much longer and the next paragraph, she starts explaining what has distressed Katniss: the beginning of the victory tour.

Suzanne Collins then slowly reveals what bothers Katniss through the same technique of revealing and withholding information. This structure keeps readers engrossed in the world Collins has developed, as they seek answers to the questions Collins has raised through details, and word choice.

July 30

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke Review

Meggie’s father Mo has an interesting talent: when he reads aloud, things, and sometimes people, come out of their stories and into the real world! But now the evil Capricorn wants to use Mo’s talents to bring himself great wealth and power. Then Meggie discovers that maybe Mo isn’t the only one who can read things to life. 

I saw the movie long before I saw the book.  Usually that isn’t a problem for me. The books and movies are often significantly different from each other.  And their different enough where I can see the similarities but feel like I’m reading/watching something completely different. While reading this book, I kept thinking of the movie and how the movie did it better. The plot and characters are overall the same, but the movie tightened everything, made everything happen faster, kept my interest more, much more.

The book has its good things. It breaks some YA conventions.  In a lot of YA/Middle Grade books the parents are vague, dead or don’t make an appearance in the novel. In Inkheart, the Father, Mo, is not only a major player in the book but he’s the reason Meggie goes on the adventure she does. Not everyone in the book gets a happy ending.  Some do, some are left wandering the world, looking for their happily ever after. The story does combine different stories and characters into Funke’s own fictional world.

Their are a lot of cliches though. The main characters are, obviously, book worms.  Their are the imbecile bad guys and the bad guy who everyone seems to fear but he never seems to actually do anything to be worthy of the fear.  He orders everyone to do his crimes for him but other than hoarding money and wanting people to fear him, he doesn’t seem to have anything remarkable or scary about him.

The concept of the story is great but it was poorly executed.  Funke pushes and pushes and pushes the fact that Meggie, Mo and Elinore are book lovers. She makes several references to books, some I’ve read, some I haven’t. And if I hadn’t read the book I was sometimes confused as to the reference and how it related to the book.  I can’t really think of single character arc in the story. The characters simply don’t seem to change from start to end. As soon as the great bad is over, they all return to their old ways, even Dustfingers, who had the most potential at having the greatest arc.

Despite the lack of character arc, the characters were interesting.  As a bibliophile, I felt an affinity for the three main leads. They all showed the love of books/stories in different ways. Though that was all they seemed to think about outside of surviving and each other. Meggie, never mentioned friends or games she liked to play, unless the game was somehow related to a book. Dustfingers was probably the most interesting of the characters.  He earns money with fire tricks–eating fire, dancing with fire, etc.–has his charm, is quick both on his feet and in mind, he has a tame marten.
However, the book was so slow, and repetitive that the book could have been cut in half, or half of a half–kept all the important parts of the story and been so much stronger and compelling. I’m not sure if the way the book read was because of a Anthea Bell’s translation or if Funke really read it so it was as repetitive as it came across. An example of the redundancy could be found on the very first page:

“Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.  Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane.  A dog barked somewhere in the darkness and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn’t get to sleep.

“The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages.”

Two pargraphs later we read this:

“That night–when so much began and so many things changed forever–Meggie had one of her favorite books under her pillow, and since the rain wouldn’t let her sleep she sat up, rubbed the drowsiness from her eyes and took it out.”

One mention of the rain and the book under Meggie’s pillow is all that is required.  We don’t need to be beat over the head with the details.  However, it felt like every detail of the story was repeated, two or three times.  Sometimes more. And usually the details are told in the same irrelevant way. Funke also uses a lot of the same similes and metaphors throughout the book.  As if she simply cut and paste them and didn’t bother thinking of something better or more relevant to what she was describing.

Other times I think she trusted that her story was riveting, so hard to put down that she could linger on things of no importance. She overestimated the books hold on me.  I was well-aware of the entire chapter she spent on Meggie reading for example.  We were told about how the sun fell through the window, and the positions she moved in when she grew stiff and tired from being in one position too long.  Her father is doing things. She knows he is and that she doesn’t want her to know what he’s planning.  So, she reads.  She doesn’t spy or anything that might make that time more interesting. Meggie reads and instead of simply glossing over this fact with a “few hours later”  or “the next day” and moving onto the next scene. We’re forced to read through the entire scene.  By the end of that chapter I was certain a whole day had passed in the real world, because I was so bored.

Get on with it!

Eventually she did, but with that continued snail’s pace.

The closer to the end we got the faster the book seemed to move.  The last 130 pages or so started getting my attention.  I do like the book ends. I think it sets up the sequel well. Though I have not read Inkspell, I glanced at the first two pages of it via Amazon.com and it immediately sounds better than Inkheart did in it’s first two pages. Because of that, I might try reading Inkspell.  But Inkheart, the copy I got, does not make me want to read the sequel as it is.

I recommend this book to those who can much more easily read past the slow pacing, and redundancies. If you are not one of those people but would like a decent idea of what the book is about, I would suggest the movie. It’s better than the book and the overall story is similar.  The movie is faster-paced, tighter and more compelling.  It doesn’t stay directly with the book, for example, in the book Meggie reads Tinker Bell out.  In the movie, she reads Toto from the Wizard of Oz out. But it is close.

Have you read Inkheart? Was it a different version than what I read?  What did you think?

June 14

First Packet Due Soon

The due date for my first packet is drawing near and I’m busily trying to get the last-minute stuff done.  My novel has changed a lot since residency.  I don’t recognize the structure anymore, though the scenes themselves are familiar, except for one. It still has issues that I need to work out–the new scene is throwing me for a loop. I’m not sure what bothers me about it.  However, I’ve spent most of my time on Shadowed and not nearly enough time on Entangled 

Entangled is Lurynne’s book. It’s a story that’s been on the back burner for a while. I have several drafts of the book written out but have never been satisfied with what I wrote. Something has always been off. I’m not sure this draft–the one I’m trying to revise is going to work either. I may simply not be ready to write the book. It’s not time for me to play with it.  But the book–both of Lurynne’s books–dominate my mind. They want to be told. Being in the MFA program may be exactly what I need to get the story down in a satisfactory way.

What do I need to send in for my first packet? The following:

  • A 2-3 page cover letter discussing the enclosed material and asking questions about the material
  • 35-34 pages of fiction–excerpts from two novels
  • 2-3 short critical essays
  • cumulative bibliography in standard MLA format
  • cumulative list of titles of original creative work included in packets

Packets cannot exceed 50 pages length, total.

The cover letter is mostly done. I need to finish working on Entangled, otherwise the fiction pages are done.  I have one essay written.  I’m reading the book now so I can start writing the second one.  I still need to do the cumulative lists.But I think I have enough wiggle room to get everything done on time.

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me by editing my pieces, sometimes multiple times.  I’ll be working on packet 2 soon, which will be even harder to put together than this first one I’m sure. Let me know if you’re interested in reading new edits.  For packet two I plan on them being part of a different section of both books.  So you’ll get a break in that area.

June 12

Al Capone Does My Shirts: Critical Review

Newbery Honored book, Al Capone Does My Shirts is about a twelve-year-old boy named Moose Flannagan who moves to Alcatraz with his family and the struggles he faces as he comes of age. Considering the setting of the story and the situation Moose’s family was in, Choldenko could have easily focused solely on what life was like living on Alcatraz and still have a good book. Instead, Choldenko used subtle details to make readers more aware of what life was like outside of Alcatraz to add authenticity to the story.

There are certain events that happen that when they happen—no matter how old the person is—everyone in the country is going to be aware of to some degree. In 1935, one of these events was the great depression. Moose Flannagan, the narrator of Al Capone Does My Shirts, does not directly mention the great depression, but the fact each chapter is dated between January 5 and June 12, 1935 lets the sophisticated reader know aware that the depression was in full-bloom.

For readers not as well versed in American history, there are several hints as to the economic state of America in that time.  One example is seen while Moose is worrying over whether the warden knows about his sister, Natalie, and if she’s supposed to be a secret: “There were 237 electricians who applied for the job my dad got. If it were me, I’d have kept my mouth shut about having a daughter like Natalie (page 19).”

This is a great way of simply showing the economic times and the character’s awareness of it. Obviously, Moose and his family are not as concerned about the recession as others, because his father has two jobs, but the family is aware of the financial hardships others face. Instead of blatantly saying, “Because of the Great Depression, my father was lucky to get the job. A lot of people applied,” she drops in the detail subtly, neatly, and lets readers know how bad the economy was at the time. Even if young readers do not realize 237 people for one job is a lot of applicants during a healthy economy, they will recognize that 237 people is a lot of people. They will also know that, with so many applicants, Moose’s father was lucky to have received his job at Alcatraz.

Later in the book, Moose observes a once-common ritual. His father is reading the newspaper: “My father reads Natalie headlines from the newspaper, adding numbers to every one.  “Work resumes on the Golden Gate Bridge. 103 men are put back to work, (…) (pg. 23).”

The phrase, “103 men put back to work” lets us know 103 men were out of work and provides another hint about the depression. But Choldenko also provides a new detail of the times in the passage: the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. The word “resume” also lets readers know that people were working on building the bridge, stopped and are starting again.

According to GoldenGateBridge.org, construction on The Golden Gate Bridge  “commenced on January 5, 1933 and the Bridge was open to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937.” It also states that there were ten different contractors working on the Golden Gate Bridge at separate times during those four years. This small detail, especially since the characters live on Alcatraz–near the Golden Gate Bridge—adds a little historical trivia to the period and authenticity to the time.

Gennifer Choldenko adds subtle details not directly related to the story, to add authenticity and expand the reader’s knowledge of the times.