May 24

The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

False PrinceIn a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.
The False Prince is the first book in the trilogy and I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d think of when I started.  It was the right genre, but it was more literary than contemporary in feel. However, once I got past the first chapter Jennifer A. Nielsen held my attention. The story reminded me of Disney’s Aladdin and Prince and the Pauper. Trickery and wit allows the hero to survive the danger and save the day.
I must admit I suspected Sage’s true identity fairly early on, though I’m not sure if it was because the clues were obvious.  It could have simply been that I am older than the audience was intended for. But I still had a “What the…” reaction when I got to the reveal of that particular plot point and it wasn’t the good kind. I felt cheated and had hoped the story would go in a different direction. There were also times when Sage’s arrogance annoyed me, but considering his age and his history, his arrogance was realistic.
What didn’t seem realistic to me was how wily Sage was. He did things, anticipated things in a way that seemed almost prophetic. He thought pretty far into the future or made very good, very quick decisions on how to act, which is the case is not explained in any of the three books. But he’s at least consistent in those decisions.

RunawayKingJust weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The sequel to the series, Runaway King, is decent. The story’s beginning caught my eye much faster than it’s older brother, but I also remember the particular story less than the other two. This one relies heavily on the whole “Prince in disguise” motif with some pirates thrown in.
His arrogance still exists in this book.  And he often sees those older than him as stupid and unwilling to see the truth. Again with his almost prophetic vision, he starts making plans for events that don’t even happen until book three. This book is truly a set-up for the third and final book, and while interesting, does suffer from that “middle book” syndrome trilogies often have in a second book.
Shadow ThroneWar has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.
His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya’s throne?

The finale kept my attention.  However, there were parts where I felt the storyline went on far too long.  Their was a lot of mourning without purpose and a lot of tracking down/chase scenes. The tension was tight though so I was never really bored with the book. His arrogance has dwindled down and he takes advice and help easier in this book.  But this book had the most problems of the three I think.  The motives for a few people weren’t clear until the end, and when the reason Mendenwal joined the war came out I wanted to yell, “That’s it?” King Humphrey went to war because of a lie Jaron’s father told and the fact Jaron challenged him to a sword fight when he was 10 for insulting his mother? The fact that “I promised him half of Carthya as his spoils of victory.” Felt thrown in as well.  Another issue I have: we never learn what happens to Mavis. He was a minor character, but I still wonder did he survive the war? Did Mavis and Jaron ever see each other again?
The three books are worth a read though none of them can be called flawless. And my favorite was the first, which really could have been a stand-alone. The series is male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean women don’t have a role. Imogen, and the princess both fight to protect the kingdom in different ways. Neither of them are trained to fight so a lot of it is with kitchen knives or risking their lives to ensure a plan works.  They both save Jaron at different times, in different ways. Their are also women in the story who prove ferocious, determined to protect their homes.
Have you read the Ascendance Trilogy? What did you think?

March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

June 20

Princess Bride Review

What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams? 

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears. 

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere. 

What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex. 

In short, it’s about everything

I read the abridged version and judging by what Goldman said took place in the chapters/sections that he took out, I’m glad I did. I don’t think I would have read the entirety of Morgenstern’s story if Goldman’s descriptions are accurate. I don’t read satire often, so I more than likely wouldn’t have even seen those bits as satire. And given up, wondering “What is the Point?” of showing this?

The book and movie have a lot of similarities. They are pretty close.  However you get much deeper character understanding.  Fezzik’s parents started enrolling him in fights when he was eight and dragged him from country to country to compete despite him hating fighting, until they died. You learn of how Inigo lived after his father died, along with the details of his father’s death. Even Miracle Max has an interesting history that’s revealed in the story.

Inigo and Fezzik did not have as easy a time getting Westley out of the Pet of Despair, which is actually called the Zoo of Death in the book.  After getting passed the Albino, they have to get past snakes, bats and other horrors.

The ending is different.  Everyone gets on the horse to escape, like they do in the movie.  However, that’s not where the book ends.  The book ends on a cliffhanger, leaving readers to decide whether and how the characters get a happy ending.  After all, remember, Count Rugen did do a lot of damage to Inigo during their battle. So he’s bleeding badly.  The ‘miracle’ Max performed on Westley is starting to reverse itself, which is reasonable with how it’s written in the book.  Fezzik and Buttercup also get in trouble.  And Prince Humperdink and his men are in hot pursuit of all of them.

The book gives a lot more characterization, details and a few extra adventures than the movie does. In the book you get to meet the Princess of Guilder, Buttercup’s parents and see how Humperdink ended up meeting Buttercup, among other things. I enjoyed this book. However, the movie is a good representation of the book. Or at least the abridged version. Unless you’re wanting a deeper understanding of the characters or the world, you don’t need to read it. But you won’t regret it either.

June 4

The Art Of Wishing By Lindsay Ribar Review

He can grant her wishes, but only she can save his life. 

Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie’s ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn’t know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else’s hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie — he’s also a sophomore at Margo’s high school, and he’s on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.

So, since I’m trying to give my reviews a more even feel to them I thought I’d be extremely obvious about the positives and the negatives in this book.

The Positives.

Ribar seems to make a strong attempt at abandoning a lot of the tropes that are common in recent paranormal Young Adult novels.  Margo, our heroine, has hobbies. She loves theater and wants to become a song writer. She has friends and during the novel her best friend and her fight, not over a guy, but because her friend believes Margo…betrayed her. Margo isn’t defined by her relationship with Oliver– or her relationship with any guy. She’s had boyfriends before. Oliver is far from her first…interest.  Margo does not wait around to be rescued.  In fact, she rescues Oliver twice. Margo has realistic doubts about Oliver.  When she realizes that Oliver can transform himself to suit his mater’s wants, she questions how he really feels about her.  Is it all an act?  Something that’s against his will because of the master/slave genie thing?  Or is it genuine.  She also freaks out when he finds out how much of an age difference between them their truly is. Margo has issues with her parents, which are seen consistently throughout the book and not just in one or two throw-away scenes.

She’s snarky and witty.  So we get some interesting lines like:

(….) Oh god. I’m one of those girls.”
“What girls?” he asked, perplexed.
“Those girls. The ones in all those books and TV shows. Some dumb high school girl falls in love with some supernatural guy and he’s all, ‘Behold, I am five million years old!” and she’s all, “Oh my god, how can you ever love pathetic little me!” and he’s like ‘Because of destiny!’ or whatever. It’s just so…ew. You know?”
There was a pause. When I finally chanced a look up at him, he was biting his lip, like he was trying really hard not to laugh.
“What?” I said defensively.
“You’re in love with me?”
“Pffft. No. I’ve known you for like a week.” Another pause. “You’re a really good kisser, through.”

Ribar also has some passages in her book that poke fun of other books of various YA genres.

A minute or so passed by–not long but long enough to make me wonder whether Oliver was setting up mood lighting or hiding dead bodies. Or if someone was up there awaiting to stab me again. o r is someone was up there to hand me a crown and tell me I was the long-lost princess of Genovia. Or if I’d tumble into a pit of lava, only to get saved at the last second by a flying carpet.

The hero, Oliver, is not a certifiable jackass.  He is deeply into photography, waffles and getting a reaction out of Margo. He seems to be a genuine good guy and a role model for how boys should treat a girl and what a girl should expect from a boy.

 

The Negatives.

Although Oliver didn’t come across as flat to me, I felt his character, especially his past could have been deepened significantly in this book. We get the gist of his story but it’s obvious their could have and probably is a lot more.

Their were areas in the book that I wanted clarification on.  Genies can have genies for masters? How does that work?  And areas where I wasn’t sure of the time rush.  Why was Xavier in such a rush to get the ring? I mean, 3 wishes and he can have it again.  The only reason I can think of was that the book needed some tension and Xavier was convenient   Honestly, Xavier reminded me a lot of Akasha (in the book, not the movie) or even Yaksha who was after Sita, goal-wise anyways. I didn’t know the character quite well-enough to understand his deeper goal so he came across as cartoonish.

Although Margo and Oliver did not have “love at first sight”,  their was some “insta-love” in the book.  At first they were awkward, “Shit you’re a genie,” moments between them.  Then they became friends and then all of the sudden they’re kissing and in love.  I suppose considering how short the book is that’s the only way they could get to the “love” state.  But it seemed too sudden for a realistic relationship.

The ending….
Without ruining anything the ending was…well…a trope.

Can’t say anything else without ruining it.  But it ends in a place where it makes it obvious a sequel is on its way.  But if this had to be the last book you read…you’d be…okay with it.  Their was enough of a conclusion, a sense of what would happen to consider it a stand-alone.

Overall

I found the book entertaining.  I read it while in an airport or on a plane.  It’s a simple, light-hearted read. I have issues with aspects of it, but that’s expected with a debut novelist and, I’m hoping that those “issues” will be addressed in the sequel. I will be picking the sequel, The Fourth Wish, up when it comes out. It’s a cute book that takes a step in the right direction of where books needs to go.

March 8

The Things They Carried Critical Review

 

The Great Descriptions They Carried

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carriedportrays the Vietnam war through numerous short vignettes. Some stories are fiction others non. In his short story, “Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong,”a story in which O’Brien admits he’s not sure if the story is real or not, Tim O’Brien reveals through internal and external description how war can rob a child robs of their innocence.
The story starts with Lt. Mark Fossie arranging to have his girlfriend, Mary Anne Bell, brought to Vietnam for a visit.  Medic Rat Kiley, who narrates the story to his companions, describes Mary Anne upon her arrival to the Song Tra Bong outpost as follows:

The cute blonde—just a kid, just barely out of high school—she shows up with a suitcase and one of those plastic cosmetic bags. (…)  She’s got on culottes.  White culottes and this sexy pink sweater. (90)

Kiley provides a pretty picture of Mary Anne Bell with three sentences, and readers see the words Kiley didn’t say: innocence, an innocent girl.  By using the term “kid” to describe Mary Anne, Kiley gets readers to immediately think of the innocence of childhood.  The mention of her being “barely out of high school” has connotations of her still growing up and having little or no experience out in the world.  The plastic cosmetic bag is an interesting detail.  By itself, the detail can attest to her vanity and naiveté.  Here she’s brought a non-essential item into a warzone, a place where people are too busy fighting for their lives to worry about their appearance or how someone else looks.

According to wisegeek.com, Culottes are “a form of split skirt. They are usually made full or calf length, and consist of a pair of loose, flowing trousers which strongly resemble a skirt until the wearer engages in vigorous physical activity.”  In other words, a fashion accessory that is like the cosmetic bag: useless in a warzone, pretty, but impractical. The fact they are white easily refers to purity, the untarnished innocence that white is often associated with.  The pink sweater returns readers to Kiley’s descriptor of “kid,” which is when the favorite color of girls is most often pink.
Mary Anne Bell’s innocence in reillustrated a few pages later when readers are given the history between Mary Anne and Mark Fossie:

Mary Ann Bell and Mark Fossie had been sweethearts since grammar school.  From the sixth grade on they had known for a fact that someday they would be married, and live in a fine gingerbread house near Lake Erie and have three healthy yellow-haired children and grow old together and no doubt die in each other’s arms and be buried in the same walnut casket. (94)

This description shows the idolized life Mary Anne sees for herself.  O’Brien chose his words carefully to convey that this was a fantasy she had, without actually saying it out right.  He mentions they were “sweethearts since grammar school.”  Grammar school refers to a time of innocence and a lack of expectations.  The fact she would get married “someday” instead of a specific date also indicates she’s thinking of a vague concept of time that can easily slip through her fingers.  There is no basis of reality to the assumption yet, no date set.  The “gingerbread house” is possibly the strongest evidence that this is a fantasy, as it refers to the “Hansel and Gretel” fairytale told to children, which links readers back to the “grammar school” reference.

O’Brien also shows Mary Anne’s loss of innocence with descriptors in the story.  Changes in Mary Anne start to show around the time she starts helping treat injured people and saving lives. She also learns how to use M-16s. Within weeks of arriving:

 

There was a new imprecision in the way Mary Anne expressed her thoughts on certain subjects.  Not necessarily three kids, she’d say.  Not necessarily a house on Lake Erie.  “Naturally we’ll still get married,” she’d tell him. “But it doesn’t have to be right away.  Maybe travel first.  Maybe live together.  Just test it out, you know?” (99)

The new imprecision shows her dreams and plans have changed.  She’s gone from the childish certainty that she will marry and have three kids, to a more adult attitude about maybe this wasn’t what she wanted; a realization that there is more out there than marriage and motherhood.  She could do other things with her life, like travel.  Mark Fossie noticed other differences about Mary Anne:

He couldn’t pin it down.  Her body seemed foreign somehow—too stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be.  The bubbliness was gone.  The nervous giggling, too.  When she laughed now, which was rare, it was only when something struck her as truly funny.  Her voice seemed to reorganize itself at a lower pitch.  (99)

The description of Mary Anne being “stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be,” is a metaphor.  The softness and flexibility of her childhood has faded, and became hard, adult, tarnished. The bubbliness, and the nervous giggling, are often associated with childhood as well, innocence.  The fact her voice reorganized itself at a lower pitch is another indication of her growing up, stripping the childish innocence she arrived with. All these changes occurred as she learned more about war, saw more of the war: learning how to shoot, how to live like a soldier, learning how to treat wounds.

The last time Kiley says he saw Mary Ann Bell was after she’d disappeared for weeks with the greenies, special force members, and Mark Fossie, after waiting a long time for Anne Mary to come out, goes into the special forces building:

It took a few seconds, Rat said, to appreciate the full change. In part it was her eyes: utterly flat and indifferent.  There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewelry.  At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable. (110-111)

The eyes are known as windows to the soul.  Those who are innocent, tend to have a playful spark in their eyes, a sense of life and wonderment. But in this description her eyes are perfectly flat and indifferent, no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it, a sign that any innocence she once had has now been killed. She has been corrupted by the war and the person she once was has been murdered.  The jewelry she wears is also a sign of who she has become.  Instead of the jewelry being sexy, cute or pretty, it’s grotesque.  The tongue necklace shows she has nonchalance about the lives that have been taken, a lack of horror, and is a sort of badge of what she’s done and lost: her innocence.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, possess a short story titled Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong. The story is narrated by Rat Kiley, and through O’Brien’s word choices and descriptions effectively show how Mary Anne Bell and how soldiers lost her innocence by going to Vietnam.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.” The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1990. 89-116. Print.
Smith, S.E., and Bronwyn Harris. “What Are Culottes?” WiseGeek. Conjecture, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

March 1

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch By Constance Hale

Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language—from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch  guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. A lot of books on writing that I do read at this point often re-hash the same information as other books: new information is rare. This book focuses not necessarily on writing, but on words.  We learn the history of English, how some words are stronger than others, proper grammar usage. If you follow me on Facebook  you’ll have noticed I quoted this book several times.  What you may not know is that I have a long list, from this book alone, of books I should do my best to eliminate from my story and everything discussed is well explained.

I found this book invaluable and I will probably purchase it for my own shelves.  I borrowed it from the library.  I also plan on checking into Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.

November 20

And I’m back!!!

I’ve been gone for a while. Time just managed to escape me but I’ve had a lot going on recently, some of it too personal to say on a public blog, but others are writing-related.  I also suspected my blogging would die down once I was out of school and will probably pick back up when I’m back in school. I haven’t gotten a handle on writing a blog semi-regularly yet.

Anyways, to update you on what I’ve been doing:

I have a freshly edited draft of Shadowed.  Now I can start working on the changes I realized I’d need to make while I was working through this latest draft of Shadowed. Afterwards, I’ll go through the draft looking for other things that need changed or written better.

The story has changed so much during this draft that I no longer believe Shadowed is the best title for it, not that it was perfect for the story before the massive changes to the book..  I’ve continued looking for a new title for the book though and I keep returning to a phrase I used in my book: Land of Blood and Sunlight. Now whether I call it Land of Blood and Sunlight  or  simply Blood and Sunlight, if I use it, I don’t know. Any opinions?

One of my friends, Cyna of Your Killing Me, has been working on making a book cover for my story.  Some of you may have already seen the one my mother made. The picture is a scene from Shadowed, which remains relatively unchanged even with the major changes I recently made to it. This one was made primarily of oils.  And came to life after I gave my mother multiple descriptions and searched the internet for hours for pictures that looked similar to the characters I imagined. A lot of emails and back and forth commentary later, we got the result to the right. She left the title off so that should I change the name of the book, as I’m leaning towards doing, I can simply change the title on the computer.  The title and byline  is  my own work.

Cyna is using the computer to make the cover.  The first cover she came up with was nice, very clean, and much more traditional, less artsy, but it didn’t feel right to me. I told her what I would like to see changed, sorted through several images with her and saw the rough draft of the new cover today. I like this version much better.  Their were a few things I asked to have changed and we sorted through images again.   I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.  Once the cover is complete, I’ll probably post it here for viewing.

For those who are curious both my mother and Cyna are always willing to discuss the possibility of working on other projects. Both of them have an eye for imagery that I envy and have patience. I may be prejudiced, but I’d recommend either of them for projects.

In January 2013, I become Vice President of Communications for the Coeur du Bois chapter of Romance Writer’s of America. This will be an interesting new challenge for me as I’ve only had training in communications. I’ll also be starting another semester in school in May, which will end in October, and working as many hours as I can at my job, while working toward my writing goals. Phew.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it. But I’m looking forward to it.

Lately, I’ve been consuming books like chocolate and got together with a few friends to discuss one of them.  You’ll see the results of that discussion on tomorrows post.  I hope you enjoy the change in presentation.