Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Report Monday: Such Wicked Intent

Title: Such Wicked Intent, The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #2

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again—just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.

If only these things were not so tempting.

When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?:  <3 Frankenstein!

Favorite Line:  "And I turned back to the storm and thought: Such astonishing power."

This is the last line of the book and Victor's talking about the lightning struck tree. I was ecstatic to see the connection made to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books. Reading it a anew gave me goosebumps...because I'm a nerd.

Honorable Mention: "The sun cleared the eastern peaks and light glittered across the surface of Lake Geneva. I began laughing with sheer joy."

I could have written this line, because when I was in Switzerland it happened to me. Though unlike the character of Victor, I was listening to the Smiths at the time.

My Review: Life at Chateau Frankenstein is no longer the epitome of comfort and happiness. Victor's ideal childhood has been disrupted by loss. More loss, obsession and horror are on the horizon and we see in the sequel to This Dark Endeavor how Victor is changing.

Victor Frankenstein is not the classic hero. He can be very unlikable when it comes down to it. Selfishly one track minded, he gets an idea in his head and is unflappable. Yet Oppel manages to show us a young man who is both true to the nature of Mary Shelley's scientist and yet striving to be good. He wants to do the right thing, even though sometimes his reasons may be self serving.

The journeys into the spirit world leave the human visitors changed. Not only that they seem to have less inhibitions while there but that something about their basic, animalistic selves remain with them even after their leave.

After the first book I wasn't sure how Oppel's story would match up with Shelley's. I thought he was taking it into a different direction, but now I suspect the third installment will have even more references and I cannot wait.

Recommendation: Anyone looking for Young Adult that is not romance focused. It will appeal to boys as well as girls.

For Next Week: Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Report Monday: 'Salem's Lot

Title: 'Salem's Lot

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Synopsis: 'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in 'Salem's Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to 'Salem's Lot hoping to cast out his own devils... and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of 'Salem's Lot.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: At the urging of my friend Jason, I gave King another try. I love him, but he scares me-Stephen King, I mean, not Jason. Also, I like vampire stories.

Favorite Line: "The world is coming down around our ears and you're sticking at a few vampires."

My Review: I was worried that I'd be too afraid to read the whole thing, as sometimes happens with me and Stephen King, but it was just the right amount of scary for me. Of course, maybe I'm growing immune to vampires because 'Salem's Lot made me jump and cringe when I read it late at night but I never considered putting the book in the freezer. Or putting it down at all.

The delivery of back story was well-timed and spaced out perfectly. Ben Mears, the main character who returns to the town he once lived in (albeit for a short time) as a kid. Now a semi-successful novelist Mears plans to write a story about 'Salem's Lot and the mysterious Marsten House where as a boy he experienced a moment of pure terror, which may have been nothing more than an overactive imagination but this is Stephen King were talking about so you know you can't assume that.

The history of Mears, the Lot and its residents is alluded to when necessary and explained just enough without being boring or excessive. By the time you get the full story you are eager to know it. It even got to the point where I was ready for some scary vampire attacks, which for me is a pretty big deal.

The Lot, as the town is commonly referred to by its inhabitants, is full of characters that keep the story focused on what's happening to everyone rather than just Ben Mears. Some of the characters, like young Mark Petrie-a Van Helsing in training, I adored immediately. While others, like the abusive mother, are impossible to pity even when vampires are on the loose. Small town police with no desire to protect and serve when that extends to fighting dark forces. The bored priest with something to prove. The Van Helsing-esque English teacher at the local high school, Matt, is so cool and clever it's hard not to note that 'Salem's Lot began as a re-imagining of Bram Stoker's Dracula while King was a high school English teacher himself.

Recommendation: A great example of King's books if you haven't read much from him. Good for anyone who likes their vamps undead and unsexy.

For Next Week: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fun Friday: Fantasy Fashions

While most people are content to show their love of books and movies with t-shirts, reusable tote bags, or by hanging maps of Westeros in their office (or is that just me?) others take it a step farther. It's not a contest. . .but if it was those folks would be winning.

For fans of Game of Thrones there's a tumblr dedicated to the latest fashions which would most likely be worn by Daenerys across the Narrow Sea. Aptly called What Would Khaleesi Wear? the site has hairstyles, clothes, jewelry and more.

Tattoos are common enough that getting one inspired by a book or movie isn't too crazy, but I'll probably blog about it at some point. Still it's fan nature to one up each other and now you can go under the knife to live out your nerdastic fantasies.

While it's just a bad idea to accuse vampire-wannabes of being nerds, what else do you call someone who gets the dental implants semi-permanently attached to their teeth?
I mean when they go to Nana's 90th, those teeth are still there.  

You can now go the surgical route and have a small operation to get pointed ears like and elf or a Vulcan.

Like I said, it's not a competition....but this girl obviously likes elves more than I do...and I like them a lot. Even if I had "the nine" in Sindarin or Orlando Bloom's face inked permanently into my flesh, she'd still be winning.


Elfophiles (aka Alfariophiles*) who aren't prepared to go under the knife can buy accessories that show off their dedication to the Alliance, Lothlorien, Orilla, or pure logic.
*Yes, I made that word up.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Report Monday: Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Genre: Thriller

Synopsis: Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: My sister, the Florida one, said she was up all night finishing it. You have to know her to understand how serious this was. She loves sleep, it's precious to her. Normally, I suggest books to my sisters and not the other way around. So when it happens, I take their suggestions and add it to my list, since they usually trust me.

Favorite Line: "So I know I am right not to settle, but it doesn't make me feel better as my friends pair off and I stay home on Friday night with a bottle of wine and make myself an extravagant meal and tell myself, This is perfect, as if I'm the one dating me."

My Review: Relationships can make people crazy. Everyone knows that, but some people are already psychotic, sociopaths beforehand and after. . .well. . .you'll have to read Gone Girl to see what I mean.  

Real people are not easily filed away into categories of good and bad behavior and characters shouldn't be either. Gone Girl is full of fleshed out personalities. At the start, the story pulls you into the psyche of Nick beginning the morning of his wife's disappearance, but she teases with showing how much Nick knows. Is he guilty? Is he guilty? I needed to know. The chapters alternate between Nick's journey and Amy's diary entries which begin with her and Nick's first meeting seven years before she disappears. Both perspectives shed light into the darkest corners of the mind. I enjoyed the way Amy and Nick described the same events, it showed how they each viewed their spouse and what the other one was leaving out or altering.

Flynn shows the relationship ups, downs and insane bumps of Amy and Nick honestly, giving the reader just enough details to hope, cringe, laugh, admire, and worry about the couple's marital state and their psychological well-being in turn. It was an emotional roller coaster, complete with the nausea at the disgust with the extremes some people will go to save face or just to say they won.

Sometimes a book buzzes its way to bestsellerdom and everyone's reading it and they keep telling you to get on board because you're a big reader, are you not? So, you pick it up and it's fan fiction that makes you a little (or more than a little) uncomfortable. This is not one of those bestsellers. Gone Girl is a fast read and there are many unputdownable chapters that kept me up later than usual. 

Recommendation: If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even though you found the beginning a bit slow, you'll love Gone Girl which will pull you in without delay and none of the names will cause you to stumble and curse the Swedish language.

For Next Week: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Friday, September 7, 2012

Under the Influence

What I read affects not just what or how I write, but how I think about what I'm writing. Since coming out of the writer closet and actively honing some skills (or attempting to), I've begun to read more critically than before. Fortunately, I still become doe-eyed with wonderment when I'm swept up into other worlds, but I'm aware of the elements which pulled me off the couch and into the fiction.

How does one story affect me more than another? Why couldn't I put the book down? Why do I love to hate this character? These are the questions I involuntarily ask myself.

Recently, I've read The Night Circus and Gone Girl (Book Report coming Monday) and they both feature split or partially split timelines, where the story is laid out with the current events next to the past events. In Gone Girl, the husband of a missing woman deals with her disappearance in the present while his wife's diary entries shed light on their past.

The books are very different but the technique used is the same. It left me thinking about the timing of information revealed to the reader. Not that I will be using the past and present parallel in my writing, I'm not that susceptible to the influence. I see how the reveals were laid out in those books and wonder when I should mention a past event that affects the current action. How could I use the placement of information to change the way readers view my characters, plot, settings, etc?

Sometimes it's best to be direct, but it may be better when the information is alluded to, or only half revealed and as the reader you are left suspecting the truth is one thing, hoping it's something else and it ends up being completely different than what you imagined. That's what makes you turn the page, that's why being a writer is still a profession. Surprising people is harder than it seems. You need to do the little reveals in just the right way and at just the right time to lead them in the wrong direction, then when they aren't quite expecting it you BAM! them like Emeril with the truth.

It's easy enough to understand but the trouble is in the execution. I know what I want to convey, but how do I go about conveying? I know my story, I know my characters, and I know when my characters become privy to details. I just don't know where the reader needs to stand to watch it all play out. There isn't an easy answer. There never is...unless you're Emeril, in which case the answer is always, Bam!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Magical Realism

Synopsis: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

(from Goodreads)

Favorite Line: "The circus arrives without warning."

It's the first line and it's perfect for setting the novel's tone. Other first lines are getting jealous.

My Review: Magical from start to finish to start again. Fair warning: the nonlinear timeline may be disorienting at first, especially since most of the characters are involved in past and present events. One timeline begins before the circus is created, with Celia, a young and magically gifted child about to begin her training. The other starts after the circus has been established. Each chapter begins with a date and location to help clarify when and where you are. Though after a few jumps back and forth it, I felt it became immediately apparent which one I was reading. They grow closer and closer in time until they converge and bring the whole plot together. It is done very well and makes the climax all the more intense.

There are also several short sections written in second person. They take you through the experience of Le Cirque des Rêves. They add nothing to the plot development but show the circus, the way the visitors see it. Each description is very short, about a page or two. It is important to understand the circus as it is the main character of the story.

Le Cirque des Rêves wove itself into my days and nights. I craved caramel-dipped apples and hot chocolate. It's probably the reason I'm so eager for Autumn. I watched Water for Elephants and had dreams where I was surrounded by roaring tigers while trapeze artists tossed each other through the air above me with no safety net between us. I found the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge and listened to it in my car. I don't know if everyone would agree with the Moulin Rouge-Night Circus connection, but when I read about the planning of the circus I couldn't help remembering the scene in Moulin Rouge where they plan out the show. Then I had that song stuck in my head for days, "Spectacular, spectacular. No words in the vernacular can describe this great event. You'll be dumb with wonderment."

Like Moulin Rouge, the love between Marco and Celia is riddled with complications. The star-crossed lovers are bound by magical agreement to compete against each other and finish the game while keeping their love and contest hidden. They cannot quit or surrender and live happily ever after. Magical contracts are cruel like that. Think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he had no choice but to fulfill the agreement.

Recommendation: Great for anyone who loves a little magic in their stories.

For Next Week:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Paris Wife

Title: The Paris Wife

Author: Paula McLain

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I love Hemingway. I loved A Moveable Feast. I even loved Midnight in Paris.

Favorite Line: "When I saw the rats the first time, I wanted to drop my basket where it was and run away, but we weren't rich enough for symbolic gestures. So I walked."

My Review: Hadley is a straight forward narrator, though at times she felt like a cardboard cut out delivering information, rather than a woman falling in love with a troubled young man on the brink of literary success. I feared that Hadley was a means to frame a well-researched Hemingway biography and call it a novel but maybe that is because as a writer and a Hemingway fan I found it hard to connect with her as a narrator.

I understood her desire to be with her husband and I pitied her loneliness when he was gone on assignment or lost in a world full of sentences. But I could not empathize with her. It takes a certain kind of person to be with a writer and Hadley wasn't made for it. She won't be happy being with someone who's talent intimidates her, she can't share her husband with his work. She's not happy being independent and I think that writers need supportive partners who can occupy themselves without feeling envious or jilted while the writer writes.

Though having her as a narrator stopped me from loving the novel, I still enjoyed it. There were many parts that expanded on A Moveable Feast and I loved them. As a whole the novel felt true, which Hemingway would have liked. McLain manages to write many beautiful and honest sentences, such as the one with the rats. And that is what really saved it for me. I would definitely read other books by McLain.

Recommendation: Good for anyone interested in Hemingway or Paris in the 20's.

Next Week: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Last Werewolf

Title: The Last Werewolf

Author: Glen Duncan

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Meet Jake. A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but you'd never suspect it. Nonstop sex and exercise will do that for you--and a diet with lots of animal protein. Jake is a werewolf, and after the unfortunate and violent death of his one contemporary, he is now the last of his species. Although he is physically healthy, Jake is deeply distraught and lonely.

Jake's depression has carried him to the point where he is actually contemplating suicide--even if it means terminating a legend thousands of years old. It would seem to be easy enough for him to end everything. But for very different reasons there are two dangerous groups pursuing him who will stop at nothing to keep him alive.

Here is a powerful, definitive new version of the werewolf legend--mesmerising and incredibly sexy. In Jake, Glen Duncan has given us a werewolf for the twenty-first century--a man whose deeds can only be described as monstrous but who is in some magical way deeply human.

One of the most original, audacious, and terrifying novels in years.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: Sometimes books just won't leave you alone. I first added The Last Werewolf to my Goodreads "To Read" list when I saw it on the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2011. I kept hearing about it and finally got it from the library.

Favorite Lines:  "There are beautiful women in Manhattan who would have married me on the spot for the charm I had over their mutts."

"Just live in it and let it bring what it brings."

My Review:  I was hooked by the opening scene. It wasn't the devil may care, intelligent, snarky tone of the narrator, Jake Marlowe-werewolf, womanizer, scotch drinker. Though all of that played a part, it was more personal. Jake was relaxing with some fancy booze and a Camel filter while his friend smoked a Gauloises. Fortunately, for my lungs and lifespan, I quit smoking years ago. But while still full of bad habits, I enjoyed both brands.

I started smoking heavily during my semester in Italy because, well do I need to explain? I tried Gauloises because they were recommended by a cute bartender. They're a French brand, not sold in the States. I figured if you're going to smoke, it might as well be French cigarettes and if you're going to have the hots for a bartender, he should be infuriatingly aloof and Dutch.

Marlowe is a werewolf James Bond...who eats people. This isn't a monster with a morally-instituted Vegan diet. Make no mistake about it every month when the moon gets full, Marlowe gets an appetite for a human being. Nothing else can satisfy him. Despite this, I was rooting for him to find his will to go on living another 200 years, to kill and eat thousands of people.

From a fantasy standpoint, it was refreshing to read a werewolf-centric story. Too often they are bit players in  the vampire show.

Duncan walks the line of werewolf mythology pretty closely. He addresses how one becomes a werewolf and the effects of silver and wolfsbane. He makes a few alterations as well. Most notably that a werewolf not only eats people but consumes their life. The description reminded me of vampires who absorb memories of their victims through blood.

After centuries of monthly feasts, he carries thousands of lives with him, giving dual meaning to his pronouncement, "I just don't want any more life."

Recommendation: Not for the faint of heart. Some scenes are as bloody and scandalous as an episode of True Blood. In my opinion, the novel would appeal to non-fantasy readers who enjoy smartly written and/or darkly comic novels.

Next Week: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Middle of Things

At present, I'm in the midst of several writing projects. It seems an apropos position to be in today, considering it's the middle of the week, middle of the month and smack in the middle of August's two full moons.

For the most part, I'm an organized and patient person who is rarely lacking in focus, so it's an unsettling place for me. My apartment is full of scraps of paper. I find them in my closet on top of my belts and on the end table where I had an idea the other day while reading. I don't even bother to put my laptop away anymore. It just stays on the dining room table because that's where I work best. 

I worry when I step back and consider the three projects I have up in the air. One which, I realized is actually only the first half of the story. When I wrote it, I thought it would have a sequel but now I see how short and lacking in substance it is. I'm excited to be editing it and I want to write the second half to tie it up, but wasn't I supposed to finish writing my YA Retelling? I'm excited about that story too. And I have notes from beta readers for my YA Fantasy which I was going to edit into a polished fourth draft...or will it be the fifth draft already? And what about the new story ideas bouncing around, begging to be written?

As you can see, I'm a bit frazzled.

It's good to leave your comfort zone or so I've been told. Maybe it will shake things up and influence my writing for the better. Or maybe it will end with tears and chocolate chip cookies. But if the worst case scenario involves cookies, what am I stressing about?

What I need to do is tackle one project at a time and see it through to completeness, then move on to the next. I'm not sure why but that makes me nervous, as if left unattended my other manuscripts will grow disconsolate and unreadable.

But that's just silly, right?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Report Monday: Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon

Title: Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (Burton & Swinburne #3)

Author: Mark Hodder

Genre: Steampunk

Synopsis: It is 1863, but not the one it should be. Time has veered wildly off course, and now the first moves are being made that will lead to a devastating world war and the fall of the British Empire.

The prime minister, Lord Palmerston, believes that by using the three Eyes of Naga—black diamonds possessing unique properties—he’ll be able to manipulate events and avoid the war. He already has two of the stones, but the third is hidden somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, the fabled source of the Nile.

Palmerston sends Sir Richard Francis Burton to recover it. For the king’s agent, it’s a chance to redeem himself after his previous failed attempt to find the source of the great river. That occasion had led to betrayal by his partner, John Hanning Speke. Now Speke is leading a rival expedition on behalf of the Germans, and it seems that the battle between the former friends may ignite the very war that Palmerston is trying to avoid!

Caught in a tangled web of cause, effect, and inevitability, little does Burton realize that the stakes are far higher than even he suspects.

A final confrontation comes in the mist-shrouded Mountains of the Moon, in war- torn Africa of 1914, and in Green Park, London, where, in the year 1840, Burton must face the man responsible for altering time: Spring Heeled Jack!

Burton and Swinburne’s third adventure is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and bizarre events, completing the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I read the series at the behest of Jason, my Steampunk writer friend.

Favorite Lines: "Good grief! It's 1918 and that's still considered unconventional? Has the human race not evolved at all since my time?"

"I haven't a clue! I'm just a poet! But you'll find a way."

My Review: There were parts, predominately in the first half of the story, which were all about the African journey. I'm more interested in the characters driving the plot than the foliage and the heat and the way of the African landscape shimmered and blossomed in all its wild glory around Captain Burton. Though many people would undoubtedly enjoy being taken on a safari, I was distracted. And as a result the first half dragged a bit. The main plot was touched upon, but only just. I trusted Hodder to get there eventually but if there has been a little more to keep me curious I would have turned the pages faster.
That wasn't an issue for me in the first two books which were page turners from start to finish. The second half was character driven and I finished it in a few long reading sessions. I enjoyed the culmination of the bifurcated timeline. I thought it merged seamlessly.

One of my favorite things about the series were the geneticists, scientists who alter the genetic make up of plants and animals. That's how they move technology and industry forward. They turn dogs into mail carriers, breed swans big enough to ride, make a pistol out of a cactus, etc. Yet all these inventions come with a hilarious design flaw. The messenger parrots are my favorite. You recite your message, the bird memorizes it and flies off to repeat the message to the recipient. Handy for the 1860's, no? Or it would be but the parrots interject their own colorful language into the message, insulting the message recipient with inventive verbal abuse.

Recommendation: The series as a whole is a great for anyone interested in Steampunk.

Next Week: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Report Monday: Name of the Wind

Title: Name of the Wind, The Kingkiller Chronicles Day One

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Told in Kvothe's own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet's hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: Suggested to me on several occasions by a fellow fantasy buff. Many thanks to the glorious Free Library of Philadelphia.

Favorite Lines: "You have the sweetest face," she said looking up at me dreamily. "It's like the perfect kitchen"

"You do not know the first note of the music that moves me"

My Review: When someone tells me a book is the best fantasy they've read since Lord of the Rings, it raises my expectations considerably. The high fantasy world Rothfuss builds, sticks to classic fantasy rules in some ways and brings enough original ideas that you are comfortable and surprised to be there.

Magicians, called Arcanists, are feared and mistrusted by many. Magic itself is thought to be a myth among most of the population. The Arcanists handle magic as though it were a branch of science. Similar to The Magicians and A Song of Ice and Fire, where the magicians and maesters, respectively, are the most intelligent and educated.

The book is set up with Kvothe narrating his story to his assistant, Bast, and The Chronicler. The Name of the Wind is day one, of what Kvothe promises will be a three day tale. There will be, I assume, a progression of the current story framing the telling at the end of book three as the present plot moves along through a series of interruptions.

Kvothe has a tendency to ramble and there were times (particularly in the beginning) when I wondered, where his point had gone to, but he came back to it eventually. I trust the lengthy back story will be important in the next two books which I will read. The second one is out now.

Recommendation: If you loved Lord of the Rings and/or are currently waiting impatiently for The Winds of Winter then you should check this out. Besides Martin takes forever, so you've got the time.

Next Week: Expeditions to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Bell Jar

Title: The Bell Jar

Author: Sylvia Plath

Synopsis: "The Bell Jar" chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under--maybe for the last time.

Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.

Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made "The Bell Jar" a haunting American classic.

(from Goodreads)

Favorite Lines: "I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence."

"The day I went into physics class it was death."

"I waited, as if the sea could make my decision for me."

My Review: I always struggle with what to say about popular and classic novels. The majority of my blog readers are fellow writers and there's a good chance at least half of you have read them. So, can I say anything that you haven't already heard or figured out yourself? Probably not.

I enjoyed The Bell Jar despite the obvious depressing theme. The novel's tone seemed to me to be darkly comic at least at times. I laughed, maybe I shouldn't have. I wanted to quote half the book as my favorite lines. Even cutting down to three was difficult. When Esther explains how she overcame her fear of eating with the wrong utensils, she describes a meal shared with a poet who disregarded the silverware with confident certainty. "The poet made eating salad with your fingers seem to be the only natural and sensible thing to do." After which she decided she'd eat with whichever fork she wanted and as long as she did so intentionally it wouldn't matter if it was wrong by the rules of etiquette.

Esther's mental deterioration came off as refreshing at least in its honesty and lack of melodrama. Knowing the novel is semi-autobiographical, that makes sense. Plath isn't guessing about Esther's plight, since it is her own. Also unsurprising is how The Bell Jar reminded me of Girl, Interrupted. I never read the memoir but I saw the movie, which is based on a woman's time in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960's. There are a lot of parallels. The reaction to electric shock therapy, the final resignation to accept help and try to get well, and both stories show the main character visiting a "cured" former patient.

Next Week: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Keeping The Readers Happy

Recently, I had some welcomed guests, my newlywed Harry Potter friend, Ashley and her husband, Ryan. We reminisced while we wined and dined. A naturally loquacious person, wine has the troubling tendency to increase the topics I'll ramble on about. My point is, I'm usually tight lipped about my writing, but after half a bottle. . .I'll talk about it without an end in sight.

When I described my first book which I wrote, considered editing but inevitably shoved under my dresser-don't ask why I put it there, I don't know-they were obviously impressed.

In fact, they wore his and her stunned expressions complete with open mouths. I love when couples are so perfectly matched as they are and it was a great sight to see them making the same face.

 There's not much in the world I find as impossible to resist as an attentive audience. It's like a warm chocolate chip cookie and I'm not one to just leave it on the counter to harden.

They urged me to finish the edits and please, please, if it's okay, to let them read it. I can't recall when I last felt so flattered. I've got a lot of writing projects in the works but I think it's smart to focus your energy on where the pull is strongest. Of course, it would be different if I had contracts and deadlines with publishers. Since I don't have any deadlines, I decided to do a quick edit. In addition to wanting, the intrigue still fresh in Ashley and Ryan's minds, two other beta readers are traveling to the British Virgin Isles in late July and I just know they are dying to read about magic on those white sandy beaches.

Even if the story remains unworthy of publication I'll have gained some more editing experience. Besides, it's never too soon to build your reputation as a writer who does it all for her fans.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Report Monday: American Gods

Title: American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.

Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace... Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman's epic novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I read and loved Stardust and Neverwhere. I have every intention to read all of his books and I got this one from the library.

Favorite Line: "I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself."

That's only one line from Sam's "I believe" speech. I was tempted to post the whole thing, but decided it was too long to include. Though apparently not too long to put on a shirt.

My Review: Though there are gods and mythological folks throughout the story, this is not a retelling of any kind. Gaiman doesn't cling to the commonly done Greek-Roman stories. Instead he reaches into the farthest corners and pulls out the gods who are forgotten. And you probably won't know who they are and Gaiman probably won't explain it because it isn't a history lesson in ancient beliefs.

It's a story about a man called Shadow, who is stuck in the middle of a war. On one side the old gods-no, not Jon Snow's, though you've probably never heard of these either. The old gods were brought to America by their followers and cast aside by subsequent generations. Following the common idea that gods need to be worshipped or they cease to exist, they are in danger of meeting the ultimate death.

Americans now worship the gods of television and Internet. Digital gods, credit card gods. They have the masses supporting them and they don't want to share America with the washed up old gods any longer.

Gaiman lets the story build around Shadow. It doesn't feel rushed or forced. I wanted to know more details about Shadow, his life before prison and what led him to his incarceration. That's not a criticism I think the back story was sufficient enough to intrigue and leave the reader wanting more. If there had been some huge information dump, I wouldn't have enjoyed the book as much as I did.

America is a character in her own right. The journey takes the reader through small economically depressed towns and popular road side attraction varying from the expected to the so bizarre I wanted to google to find out if they really existed. Trust me, they probably are real as my parents have stopped at half of them.

Note on Library-Amazingness: I read this as an eBook from the library. It was so convenient. If you have an eReader, you should check out your library's options. My favorite thing so far is the surprise of getting the email that a book is ready for download. Sometimes I know what is next on my to be read list, but I still get stuck not knowing what to read and the fabulous library helps by giving me deadlines and forcing me to read what I added to my list weeks ago. For instance, today I was emailed that The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan is available and I have three days to download it.

Sorry for gushing. It's been a while since I had a library card and with all those free books at my reach without leaving my apartment I'm as pumped as I am lazy.

Recommendation: Strongly suggest for adult fantasy fans, though non-fantasy fans could still enjoy it.

Next Week: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On My Writing Playlist: The Flys

Yet another one from the 90's on my playlist, "Got you where I want you" was a hit in 1998 from The Flys. I don't know any of their other songs but like a lot of music from my teen years this transports me back to high school and puts me in the proper mindset to write my young adult characters.

The lyrics are sweet but there is, in my opinion, something kind of creepy about his determination considering he doesn't even know her name.

Love at first sight is cute and romantic, but when it's one-sided it can come off like obsessive stalking. The lyrics are set to a slower, haunting rhythm which adds to the feeling that this is an unrequited crush. It leaves me questioning if the girl being admired even knows he exists.

Monday, June 18, 2012

To Query or Not to Query

Since my Beta Readers have (for the most part) read my story the feedback is slowly coming in on my most recent draft. Every time someone mentions reading or finishing or even enjoying my book, I get this queasy feeling and struggle to make eye contact. I keep wondering if it's possible to have an illustrious writing career where no one has to read your work. I wish I was joking. Still I'm easing up to the idea that folks are reading my book. And they claim to want more! They're so sweet. While they beg me for spoilers about a potential sequel, not all the questions are on the novel's content. One thing being asked, is if I will try to get it published. And that, as my writer friends know, is a loaded question.

And wrapped up in that one little voiced curiosity are many other questions:

Do I think it's good enough to be published?

Do I think I could find an agent? 

Is this a book I want to be known for?
If I edit it again, it might be. 

Will anyone want to read it?

Do I have the nerves of steel necessary to handle rejections and professional critiques from agents, editors and publishing houses?

Will I break down in Barnes & Noble because nobody is jumping to publish my book when I see the huge Fifty Shades of Grey display?

 Oh, and I'm terrified at the thought of contacting agents.

The thing is, while writing and editing it, I had confidence. I believed it was a story worth telling and I felt-if I got it right-it would be worthy of publication. I don't think I could have spent so long on it if I didn't.

Now I'm working on a new project and I feel more confident. This could be the one. But isn't that how I felt before? Maybe I'm growing as a writer and this is all normal, though the little doubtful voice in my head wonders if I'm like Charlie Brown and every time I convince myself this is it, I'm going to get it right and kick that ball, I'm wrong.


Only there is no one playing Lucy in my analogy. I'm my own Lucy. Someday when I do send out query letters, and submission to editors there will be many faces to Lucy. There will be a lot of disappointment and maybe it's fear of the inevitable rejections that's keeping me from answering with a definitive and hopeful, "Yes, I will try to publish."

Still, you don't want to query before your book and you are both ready. Hesitation isn't necessarily a bad thing but I wonder, am I being realistic or just lacking confidence? Maybe it's like falling in love, once you finally experience it, you have no doubts. The doubt is proof that it's not right.

It's tough. I've heard writers claim to never feel done, never feel completely confident in their work. It could always be better in their minds. Is that what I'm feeling? How do you know the difference anyway?

I see you shrugging.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Literary Pilgrimage

Hey, where'd those mountains go?
The best day of my trip to Switzerland began with a grey dawn and a cool dampness in the thin mountain air. Unfettered, I dressed in layers and marched to the station. The only train that stops there is called the Mountain Train. I took it down the mountain to a larger station with more options, including service to Geneva.

The total journey took about 2 hours and for much of it, I had pretty views of the lake.

I spent the ride reading and thinking about Mary Shelley. Switzerland, and more precisely Lake Geneva, interested me ever since I first read Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus a decade ago. 

Going to the place where the book was written and where the title character, Victor Frankenstein, grew up just felt like something I should do. 

Jet d'eau

When I arrived I made my way down to the water to get my bearings. I'd looked at a map online (millions of times) beforehand, so I knew that the Jet d'eau (a giant spout of water in the corner of the lake) would have to be on my left while I walked about 40 minutes (thanks Google) around the lake to Cologny.

No sooner had I stepped onto the paved path that hugs the lake than the clouds dispersed. A bright yellow sun sparkled down. The steel colored lake turned to diamonds. 

Perfect weather for exploring Switzerland on foot. 

Joggers, walkers, and moms with strollers went by with many bonjours. I got to pet dogs.

In June of 1816 Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron at Villa Belle Rive in Cologny, a suburb of Geneva. It's the Beverly Hills of Geneva, full of expensive mansions with tall privacy gates.

They make it so easy.

Making the pilgrimage was the main reason I went on this trip yet at no point was I concerned it would be a disappointment. The Serendipitous Swiss Vibes wouldn't allow for negativity. And you'll be pleased to know they didn't steer me wrong. Not once.

Plaque on the main house.

I simply followed the lake until I saw signs for Cologny. Then I climbed up steep hills until I reached the thoroughfare of Cologny. There I found the above map. It very clearly showed where I was and where Villa Diodati was. I noted the two turns I'd  need to make and continued on.

I walked the streets Mary Shelley walked, though they are much smoother and easier on the feet now. If you can ignore the security cameras and the water jet added to the lake in 1886, you can imagine what she saw. I cannot explain why I wanted to do that so badly, but I wasn't disappointed.

Front Entrance

Today, the house they occupied is called Villa Diodati and it's owned by a private resident who 
does not-at this time-allow visitors or tours of the home. Not even for very polite American writers traveling alone and who have a purely scholastic interest in seeing where one of her favorite written works was born.

Sign explaining the history of the house.

Though I couldn't get into the house itself, they have a large public park right next to the gated and tree surrounded estate. The park allowed the traveling American writer girl to mildly stalk the place where Frankenstein came to life. 

View of the Villa from my park bench.
It may be hard to believe a dark tale of horror, unchecked obsession and revenge was conceived there. Seriously, butterflies flitted around the flower bushes while a girl sat in her boyfriend's lap laughing on a bench not far from mine. 

But it was a dismal rainy period which plagued Mary Shelley and her companions. The bad weather forced them indoors and they decided to make up ghost stories to entertain each other.


View of Lake Geneva from the same bench.

Of course, I had my favorite copy of Frankenstein in my bag and I did read some of it but I spent most of my time writing. 

I wrote 1,500 words on that bench. It was only hunger and wanting to make the train leaving at seven which finally got me to stop.

Back entrance

I took a different route when I left, which was lucky. I found a great spot for not-so-obstructed pictures. 

View from the lake.

I still have my fingers crossed that someday the current owner of Villa Diodati will allow tours. Maybe for the 200 anniversary of the events of 1816 or of Frankenstein's publication in 1818. 

Until then I'll settle for this. 

The lake was beyond anything my camera in all of its purple glory could hope to capture. I took my time walking back. Stopped for a scoop of Swiss Ice Cream. And I felt I understood why Mary Shelley chose it as Victor Frankenstein's home. His was an ideal childhood. His parents were affectionate, happy and wealthy. He was so spoiled they even adopted a pretty blonde girl for him to marry.

As you can see from these pictures growing up in proximity to Lake Geneva was definitely a factor.

Lake Geneva

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pictures From My Story (Somewhat Obligatory Post)

Switching up the Wednesday post this week. Rather than give you yet another song, I decided to find some pictures that represent parts of my story. Don't worry I haven't run out of songs. My writing playlist just keeps growing.

Pictures can be so very inspirational. I'd even go so far as to say that they are generally worth much more than a thousand words.

However, finding images for things already formed in my imagination took way longer than I thought it would and I am still not satisfied with most of them.

But this skylight situation is pretty close.

Hot chocolate can fuel writing

...and science.

Warning: Searching for clothes your characters wear will (most likely) send you into a shopping frenzy.

Can't you imagine the smell of this journal? Or is it just me?

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Enchantress of Florence

Title: The Enchantress of Florence

Author: Salman Rushdie

Genre: Literary Adult Fiction/Magical Realism

Synopsis: A tall, yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself 'Mogor dell'Amore', the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital.

The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar's grandfather Babar: Qara Koz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbek warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan.

When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerized by her presence, and much trouble ensues.

"The Enchantress of Florence" is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man's world. It brings together two cities that barely know each other - the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia's boyhood friend "il Machia" - Niccolo' Machiavelli - is learning, the hard way, about the true brutality of power.

These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both. But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess? And if he's a liar, must he die?

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: A staff suggested read while I was at Tattered Cover, where I visited last June. And yes, sometimes I take a year to read a book on my shelves.

Favorite Line: "Seems that even the plague was no match for Mamma's sweet polenta."

My Review: It's difficult to write a non-spoiler filled review for this one. It's more than a story within a story. The Enchantress of Florence has stories within stories within stories being told to characters and the reader simultaneously. Rushdie keeps the pages turning by having unanswered questions in the present tale of the yellow-haired traveler who narrates the inner story to the Emperor of India. The past story of Qara Koz, the lost princess, and three childhood friends in Florence provides the meat of the middle of the book.

Vlad III

Of course, I loved the bits set in Italy the most but I also loved the historical figures mentioned. The Medici family, Vlad the Impaler also known as Dracula, and Ghengis Khan.

Historic fact blends with fantastical myth and a dash of magical realism to create a patchwork tale or rather a collection of tales. I think, if you know a little of Europe's history-particularly 15th century-you will be pulled in to the story easier than if you do not.

There's a lot of magic used, even if much of it is the sleight of hand variety. Some of it can be explained as skill and the right application of perfumes but other events cannot and that magical ambiguity pleased this fantasy-loving-writer-girl immensely.

In the beginning, I thought the yellow-haired visitor, Mogor, was a charlatan but it turns out there is some enchantment about him. Whether it is enough to save his life once his story is finished is the question that kept me reading.

Next Week: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It's my first e-book from the library!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Switzerland is Amazing. Here's Proof.

At the end of April, I journeyed to Lake Geneva in Switzerland for a week of quiet travels, writing, reading, staring wistfully at mountain peaks and wine tasting.

Here are a few photo highlights.

My windows had stellar views of the Swiss Alps. Note the photo above which was taken from my balcony. My first morning there, I found myself leaning out the open window, laughing uncontrollably at the impossible majesty of it all. How could it be real? Was I really standing in my pajamas seeing this right now? I felt so much happiness. So much of the world's splendor was being shown to me. I was unworthy but grateful. I was at a loss for words and laughing in disbelief. Then I banged my head on the weird tilted window and went to find some breakfast.


The food was fabulous and healthy-much of it is organic-and I couldn't get enough. I didn't taste anything that wasn't delicious. Even though I was in the French speaking region, there were obvious German and Italian menu items available everywhere. 

My friend asked if I liked the wine or beer better, and I said I was most impressed with the milk. Though an admittedly silly response. It was kind of true. While I'd have to say the wine and beer were equally good. I hadn't thought about the milk and was therefore surprised by its yumminess.

Honestly the whole week there was like living on that line that divides reality and fiction.
It turns out that is a very serendipitous place. I never needed a map or stressed about train schedules-for the record the trains are always on time in Switzerland. It was an intuitive place, at least for me. I've traveled to Europe before so maybe that's why.

The mountain town of Leysin, where I stayed, is a mecca for skiers in the winter. I arrived at the start of their off-season and found it to be a sleepy village that I enjoyed tiptoeing through so as not to disturb the inhabitants. It was an ideal escape for someone, like myself, who appreciates her solitude.

Every day I was laid back and happy and I knew things would be good. It was like I drank a week's worth of Felix Felicis.

While hiking up steep stairs built into mountainsides and finding myself in the middle of Maria von Trapp hills I had to stop for spins, pictures, and reading under a big shade-providing tree.

On the shores of Lake Geneva.

I looked for Victor Frankenstein but couldn't find least not in Montreux where this was taken.

Chillon Castle across Lake Geneva.

Mountain, Lake, Purple Tulips...what's missing here? 

Oh, wait nothing*.

Aigle Castle and surrounding vineyards.

One day I was walking down a hill and saw these little guys munching on some grass. 

Fondue in the land of fondue. It's a peasant staple in Switzerland, and that is the vibe with which it's served.
Nothing fancy.
Some bread, some cheese, bon appetit.

The highlight of my trip was a day I spent in the city of Geneva.

That deserves its own post next week.

Happy Friday!

*I also had ice cream.