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.

September 5

Young Adult: A Movie Critical Review

In Young Adult, anti-heroine Mavis Gary returns home to reconnect with old flame Buddy Slade, despite knowing he’s married and a new Dad. As disgusted as views are with Mavis’ homewrecking goals, they cannot help sympathizing with her.

Audiences feel a mixture of disgust and pity for her from the beginning. They’re disgusted with how she lives: she neglects her dog Dolce, ignores calls from her editor and drinks a lot. And yet we pity her situation: she’s lonely, which is demonstrated by the fact she sleeps with a guy she doesn’t connect with, her email and a phone message reveals she’s only one book away from ending a series she’s been writing for years and not by her choice. Then she gets an email from Buddy Slade announcing the birth of his daughter. The photo of a baby, audiences later learn, that could have been hers and Buddies almost two decades earlier if she hadn’t miscarried, and probably spurs her decision to get Buddy back.

Mavis doesn’t delay once she’s made her decision. She packs and leaves with her lover still asleep in her room. Once she’s checked into her hotel, she calls Buddy and leaves a message that lets him know she’s in town and would like to meet up. She then goes to a bar, where she runs into former classmate Matt, whom she’d never given the time of day to in High school. She confides her plan to Matt and the following conversation ensues:

MAVIS. Buddy Slade and I are meant to be together and I’m here to get him back.

Matt laughs, assuming this is a joke.

MATT. Really? Awesome. Buddy Slade, huh?I’m pretty sure Buddy’s married. With a kid on the way.

MAVIS. No, the kid’s here. She had the baby. I don’t care though. I have baggage, too, you know?

MATT. Wait, are you not joking?

MAVIS. I know people won’t understand, but things like this happen. They do happen. Usually they happen in slow-motion. Like, two people are meant to be together and then they slowly get rid of what’s keeping them apart. They get divorced, they reconfigure. And everyone’s cool with that, right?Society’s okay with that–if you take your time like a god damned emotional glacier.

Again audiences are disgusted with Mavis but must admire her ability to go after what she wants and sticks to her guns when someone tries to discourage her. How many times has an audience member given up on a goal because of an obstacle or discouraging word and envies Mavis’ fortitude?

Another trait Mavis has that audiences admire is that she doesn’t get flustered. This is beautifully shown when Mavis is checking into her hotel. Instead of getting flustered when she gets caught in a lie, she remains unaffected.

FRONT DESK GIRL. Is that a dog in your bag?

MAVIS. Nope.

She’s surprised by her own lie.

FRONT DESK GIRL. We actually allow small pets with a cleaning deposit.

MAVIS. In fact,I do have a dog, but he’s in my vehicle.

The bag wriggles wildly, betraying Mavis instantly.

FRONT DESK GIRL. Okay. I’ll put that you have a dog.

We see her calm again when she’s caught writing in a book at a bookstore.

ASSOCIATE. Are you writing in there?

MAVIS. I’m the author. I’m signing it.

The associate still looks concerned that his merchandise is being

vandalized.

ASSOCIATE. You’re Jane MacMurray?

MAVIS. No. Jane MacMurray just created the series. I wrote the book. I’m Mavis Gary. Crane. See?

She points to the flyleaf, which does indeed read: “Story by Jane MacMurray. Written by Mavis Gary-Crane.”

Although audiences may not use her nonchalance for different reasons than Mavis, they can imagine how much embarrassment they could have saved themselves if they’d had Mavis’ ability to remain unflustered.

As the story progresses, the audience sees evidence that Mavis may be mentally ill. In one scene Mavis tells Matt about her date with Buddy:

MAVIS. Good, good. It was eye-opening though. Buddy–he’s clearly not happy.

MATT. He told you that?

MAVIS. He implied it. You can tell he’s suffering. He looks completely exhausted. He told me he feels like a zombie.

Mavis takes in Matt’s childhood bedroom. A twin bed.A record collection. A desk strewn with Testor’s hobby glue, paint, and disembodied toy figurines.

MATT. I was there, and I suspect he was being flip.

MAVIS. It’s a pretty strong statement to make. A zombie is a dead person, Matt.

The audience can assume she’s purposely misconstruing what he said to further her belief that she and Buddy could get back together. A more aware audience member may suspect something else is going on or that she didn’t misconstrue but simply doesn’t understand the true meaning of the saying. Either way, the former suggests an obsession with Buddy. The latter suggest a lack of societal awareness. In another scene, Mavis is at Buddy’s house, visiting his wife Beth. During the visit Mavis asks about a chart with various expressions on it:

MAVIS. What’s that chart?

BUDDY. Beth teaches special needs kids.

MAVIS. Ah.

BETH. A lot of my kids learn emotions cognitively. It doesn’t come naturally to them the way it does for you or me.So we need to show them: This is what happy looks like. This is what

anxious looks like. And so on.

Mavis is fascinated with the chart.

MAVIS. How about, like, neutral? What if you don’t feel anything?

BETH. That’s kind of how they are a lot of the time, so. Yeah. Don’t need to teach it.

This allows the audience to infer that Mavis frequently feels neutral and that is like the children Beth teaches. This revelation in no way excuses Mavis’ behavior but it does deepen her character in a way that softens her, especially when she confesses to her parents that “I think I’m an alcoholic” and confesses to Matt, “I’m depressed,” and both parties disregard it. At one point, Matt even jokingly tells her “You’re mentally ill.”

Despite the implications in such scenes, author Diablo Cody do not make excuses for what Mavis says and does. Their is no apology presented when Mavis asks her mother mother, “Have you seen it? Up close?” The it being Buddy Slade’s daughter or when Mavis tells the Macy’s employee she needs an outfit to make an impression on the wife of her “former flame.” They show Mavis how she truly is, which is part of her appeal.

Mavis Gary is unlikable and her goals despicable. Their is no reason to like Young Adult. However, due to some admirable traits in the character, some hints in the story and a blunt characterization, audiences can sympathize with anti-heroine Mavis Gary.