Archive | February, 2013

The E-Reader Experiment and a plea for books

27 Feb

I don’t own an e-reader and generally I think about them as a lesser entity, not worthy of bearing the words of perfectly legitimate books. I know my opinion is pretty extreme, and I’m sure there are plenty of reasons for e-readers (travel being one of them). But, other than reading a few pages of a book I didn’t like on Cal’s e-reader, I decided I should probably attempt a full book so that my opinion can be justified (or, I mean, refuted. That could happen too. Maybe).

Thus: A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith.

Crown Duel is one of my favorite books, largely because of Vidanric, so a book all about Vidanric is going to be awesome, right? What better way to attempt to like e-readers than this?

Firstly, it was really hard to find a book. Mostly I’ve just been having book-finding problems all around–books I want to read, availability at the library/in this country, and then books that were actually available in e-book format. But I’ve wanted to read this one for a long time.

The point being, I will update you all on this experiment over the next few days. I hope to emerge with a better opinion, but right now I just don’t see the point of not having a book in my hand. Please feel free to list reasons why I should like e-readers below.

ALSO, if you could PLEASE give me some book recommendations, I would love you forever! As you can probably see from reviews, my very favorite books are YA fantasy–usually historical, “sword and sorcery” in nature. However, I would be open to anything if you think it’s awesome.

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

25 Feb

Days before the dragon Ardmagar is due to arrive to celebrate 40 years of peace, the prince’s headless body is found, and the people suspect a dragon did it. With humans already on edge around dragonkind–even those in their saarantras, or human, state–the death of Prince Rufus creates more problems for the guards whose duty it is to keep the Ardmagar and dragonkind safe. Plots and rumors of assassination attempts abound, quietly dragging Music Mistress Seraphina into the foray.

A young woman wrapped in her own secrets, Seraphina together with Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda work together to preserve the peace. Facing down dragons, a steely dagger, dancing, and a gossip-hungry governess, Seraphina stumbles through her history, her mind, and the mystery, to come to one conclusion: love is not a disease.

Perhaps one of my more cryptic summaries, but accurate nonetheless. I barely remember reading the back of the book when I found it in a discount bookstore–I picked it up after recognizing the title as something I marked “to-read” on Goodreads–and I loved the reveal of Seraphina’s secret after those first few chapters, not seeing it coming at all.

On my copy of the book, there are two recommendations from authors. One from Christopher Paolini, recommending it as well-written with interesting dragons–an opinion which, my apologies to any fans, I took with a grain of salt given my personal opinion of his books, which isn’t very high. The second was a simple one from Tamora Pierce stating simply, “I love this book!” which is enough for me to purchase any book at all, supposing it’s written in past tense.

Seraphina did not disappoint. I’ve picked up so many books recently that I haven’t had the concentration or will to finish, and this was like a breath of fresh air. Beautifully written with gorgeous descriptions of a wintry, magical castle scene. Sentences about music I could hear as if it played in my ear; luscious gowns, playful balls, the grit and grime of the exiled knights’ cave–all of which I could see quite clearly in my mind’s eye.

I was astounded by the characters’ ability to grow–particularly Princess Glisselda who I hated the first time I met her, and adored by the last page. Lucian and Seraphina herself change, too, but more subtly. I think several of the dragons in their saarantras form were always the same, but they allow a deeper view into their suppressed emotions by the end of the book.

As for plot–the author had me fooled. At least, pretty much. I followed the characters’ every thought, which is probably a pretty silly thing to do, but both Seraphina and Lucian were so rational and so correct for so long that–well, why wouldn’t I believe their hunches? I did have the perpetrator pegged as an accessory rather than a mere annoyance by the latter half of the novel, but still. I’m usually spot on and it excites me when I’m not.

My only real complaint is an issue of what may have been edited-out continuity. I’m not entirely sure Seraphina ever divulged certain information in her teacher, Orma. I’ll leave out the information in question as it’s the result of another sub-plot I think would be more interesting to find out on your own. But I felt this information should have been divulged. At any rate, the secret is out by the end and is mentioned to Orma, who–heavily sedated he might be–didn’t seem to blink an eyelash. Part of me wonders if I missed the revelation somehow–I was interrupted quite a bit around the section where Seraphina makes the discovery–but I thought it needed to be in there a bit more prominently if that was the case. Long, drawn out conversation. If any of you have read it and know what I’m talking about, please leave a comment and let me know if I need to go back and reread.

Realistically, though, that isn’t really part of the main plot, which I felt carried on smoothly, and, like I said, I was surprised by the end of it. This book ranks right up there with Bitterblue and The False Prince for me right now, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’d like something new to read. Luckily, the end is left wide open for a sequel, which I will have my eager hands on the moment it hits the shelves.

Travel Review: Shorncliffe Beach

22 Feb

We were going absolutely stir-crazy in this house. No internet, constant stream of rain, I was at work when it wasn’t raining–we’ve barely had a chance to think about doing something fun, let alone get out and do it. And more to the point, with Emily, Sarah, and me all unemployed, it’s hard to find something that’s cheap and fun to do. So–to the mobile interwebs I went, looking for something new and exciting.

I found Shorncliffe Beach a few pages in on Trip Advisor. It wasn’t a top attraction, but it was a beach, all we had to pay was $8 total transportation to get there and back, and the reviews said it was “lined with fish and chip places and coffee shops.”

Well… I can say that it was not lined with fish and chip places and coffee shops, at least none that we saw.

It took just over an hour on public transport to get to the beach, taking a train from Roma Street station to Shorncliffe Station, and the beach was just a short walk from there. It isn’t the prettiest of beaches, but I was expecting that, and I’m not sure if I would have wanted to swim in the water. It reminded me more of a big lake than an ocean–there weren’t any waves, the sand was brown, and the water a bit mucky. But Cal had said that the beaches right off the coast of Brisbane weren’t great. We’re obviously going to go to the Gold Coast at some point, so they can get their fill of pretty beaches then!

Anyway. We walked down to the beach, which was at the very bottom of a hill. Maybe the fish and chip places were lining the street above, or something, but we didn’t go up to check. First we went to the pier, but it was closed off, so we walked down the beach to another pier-like-thing that probably wasn’t meant to be walked on and we climbed on it and walked to the edge.

The beach area was pretty tiny, but it was an awesome place for shell collecting. While there were a lot of ground-up shells, there were also tons of whole ones without any crabs or anything living in them. We found lots of cool ones. Sarah even found some sea glass. Also, tons of jellyfish–the big, proper, these-look-like-they-fell-out-of-Finding-Nemo jellyfish, not the bluebottles that wash up on the Gold Coast.

Then, of course, because they decided to go to the beach with an Upton–that is, me–it started raining. Which wasn’t such a bad thing, because once we left the beach area the wind died down and when it wasn’t raining, it was hot and humid.

We took shelter in the playground, which was AWESOME. I mean, I’m almost two-three and I thought it was awesome. Kids would love this thing. Lots of secret hideaways and staircases and ropes and slides. There were only a few kids there, all a bit too young to play on the “big kid” equipment (there’s a place for little guys too)–probably because it was raining. Though, I did read in the reviews that Shorncliffe is usually a bit quiet, so it might be a good idea to visit if you don’t want crowds.

After, we walked back to Sandgate–one train stop before Shorncliffe–along a nice walkway that would be excellent for running if people are into that sort of thing. It was lined with covered areas complete with barbecue facilities and drinking fountains–perfect places for family get-togethers or something. When we reached the end of the walkway the rain just started coming down, so we briefly took shelter under a pavilion and left Cal to look up where the nearest food place was while we ran out and conquered the rain (as we do).

Turns out, we were mere feet from a fish and chip place, whose name I regrettably cannot remember. We all only ordered chips. Cal and I probably had gotten a few too many, but I was dying for something salty at that point so I was okay with that. We went back to sit at a picnic table by the water, and that’s when a reenactment of The Birds took place.

Seagulls everywhere. Not even kidding. One of them didn’t have a foot (he was very mean). Cal and Sarah started throwing chips at them, which only encouraged more to surround us, and when we got up to leave they followed us. I’m not sure how we shook them.

From there, we had a short walk to Sandgate Station and hopped on a train back to the city.

Overall, I don’t think it was the most fun we could have had in a day, but it was cheap and enjoyable, and we got some pretty cool pictures with a stormy-sky backdrop. I wouldn’t call it a top attraction, but if I had more guests who were coming to stay for an extended period of time, I’d take them there, too.

Things I Haven’t Done

21 Feb

This blog is about reading, writing, and blogging–and over the last two internetless weeks, I’ve barely done anything of the sort. That’s pretty sad really, given that the lack of internet distraction should have provided ample time to get all of those things done. Alas, I did play a lot of board games, worked extra hours, and rolled about on the floor attempting to make amusing my internetless existence.

I DIDN’T READ, at least not very efficiently, largely because every book I pulled off the shelf turned out to be rather boring, actually. I keep having problems with this: I get a book from the library/bookfest/wherever and think it’s going to be awesome, and then I start reading and I want to fall asleep. If I can struggle through one of them I’ll put a review up, but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I don’t like about them… I guess the action isn’t moving fast enough, or I just don’t like the characters. Either way, I was never excited to start reading, with the result that my biggest reading time–right before bed–was mostly spent sleeping instead.

However, we did just stop at a discount bookstore in the city, which didn’t have a lot of selection but DID have a book called Seraphina, which caught my eye because I was pretty sure I’d added it as “to-read” on Goodreads some time before (I was right). Slipping into this book was like breathing for the first time after all those duds, so I can happily report that there will be a review–and quite a favorable one, if the first 50 pages are any indication–quite soon.

I DIDN’T WRITE because, in terms of blog posts, I had so little to write about and no Google to find some topics (that is the lamest thing that has ever come out of my mouth–er, fingertips?). In terms of story, I did do a bit more planning on my new project, through chapter five. I’d love to start writing it but I’m trying to make myself wait until I have a middle and an end planned out or this one will go the way of just about every other story I’ve started–the recycling bin. I did ad a stunning number of mini-conversations between characters to OneNote, but I’m not sure if that counts.

I DIDN’T TRAVEL nearly as much as I wanted to with Emily and Sarah here and all–it was raining, again we were internetless so once we reached the bounds of my knowledge we were without travel sites telling us where to go (so why didn’t you just go to the tourist information centre like a normal person, you ask. Not entirely sure.) We did get out and about a few days, going to Shorncliffe on Wednesday, which I suppose I could write up a post about and probably will if I don’t come up with anything else that’s interesting.

So–there you have it. My confessions. And from this day forward, as long as I have internet, I solemnly swear to return to my writing of blog posts every day, so help me spatulas.

Book Review: Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

15 Feb

Nimira isn’t expecting to be hired by Mr. Hollin Parry to accompany a piano-playing automaton, but she jumps at the offer. Rumors abound that the automaton is haunted, but Nimira is willing to take the chance if it means higher pay and a better living situation than her current one. The moment she’s alone with the automaton, he comes to life and informs her that he is the spirit of a fairy prince, trapped in the automaton’s body. Soon, she and her employer are wrapped up in quest to save the fairy realm–a quest that risks their very lives.

Okay, so I mostly paraphrased the back of the book–but it’s a good summary. This book wasn’t quite what I expected, but I’ve wanted to read it for a very long time. It’s one of those books that I saw as soon as it was released, thought I should get it, but then someone else reviewed it for the bookstore website before I could and I needed to review other books, so it got pushed to the end of the pile. Needless to say, when I found this in the library a few days ago, I was quite pleased!

The book was much lighter and fun than I thought it would be–it only took me a few hours to finish it. That said, it wasn’t a waste of time by any means. I was caught up in Nimira’s adventures, excited to learn about the automaton, charmed and beguiled by Mr. Hollin Parry (who confused me greatly when his name was used in the possessive), wishing for the fairy prince to be restored to his real body–and disappointed when the story ended, though I’m happy to say I’m going to reserve a copy of the sequel at the library after I post this.

A few of the twists I saw long before Nimira did, but I tend to, so I wasn’t too disappointed. The story was fresh and different, played out by characters who were interesting and filled with their own secrets and history, in a world with magic and fairies and unicorns.

This review is quite short… but the book was relatively short (225 pages) compared to most things I read, too. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, entertaining read.

Book Review: The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill

13 Feb

Oliver Mackenzie Brown hates the thought of leaving everything he knows to live in a run-down house in the country his parents thought would be a good idea to buy. When the family arrives, there’s no heat, the roof is leaking, the barn is falling in on itself, and strange rune-marked stones are appearing everywhere. Olly soon meets KK and Nonny Dreever who explain that the Stone King wants to take back Gullywith. With only an army of brass tortoises and bats on their side, and some help from a mysterious bookseller, will they be able to save the house—and themselves—from the Stone King?
I think if you are a younger reader than I am, who has read a lot less than I have, who is more willing to suspend your disbelief, you would enjoy this book a lot more than I did. Though I am 22 years old and an avid reader of children’s fiction, I don’t find that I come across books that make me say “if I was younger I’d like it” very often. (Ask me again when I’m thirty—attending a university that cancelled classes once a year to encourage everyone to dress up like fairies might have extended my childhood a little bit.)
The point is, this was technically urban fantasy (maybe that’s not the right term—modern fantasy?). It took place in contemporary times and strange, wacky things kept happening and Olly kept looking at them like “Oh, isn’t that interesting, I’ll roll with that” and as readers we don’t get an explanation as to why moving brass tortoises suddenly appear, or why a colony of bats is helping out, or how the characters know they’re helping in the first place. We are completely thrown when a Stone King starts turning Olly and KK to stone. And I wasn’t entirely sold on the Stone King’s role as an antagonist even after that, because from what I can understand, Gullywith was his to begin with and was taken away and now he wants it back—legit, right?
And if the plot was confusing, the characters were irritating. I mean, they actually had their own personalities and acted within each personality’s bounds, but I couldn’t stand any of them. Olly’s parents were probably the worst—the mother wanted to buy Gullywith in the first place, and all she did was complain about it from the second they walked through the door. The father was a bit of a pushover and reprimanded Olly a handful of times for reasons I couldn’t understand, and both of the parents kept foisting the toddler sister onto Olly, who was only 10, and had some saving the world to do. (I actually wasn’t entirely sold on the sister’s whole purpose in the book. She probably could have been cut and no one would miss the “dada gaga mama” babble in the background of conversation.)
It seemed strange to me that Olly himself was so dead set against Gullywith, and yet a few hours after they arrive, as he’s sulking on the garden wall, KK appears and magically everything is okay with Gullywith. Yeah, his adventures start and whatnot, but it just seems too sudden. If he’d had some internal monologue about “wouldn’t it be great if we’d never lived here so I didn’t have all this responsibility on my shoulders” I would have been more okay with it. Alas.
That said, I thought the setting was quite well done—described well enough to be magical, while keeping in mind that it really is more modern. Despite all the happenings, it made me want to live at Gullywith—but I have a thing for cool, old, magical houses.
The book isn’t without its merits, but I had trouble stemming a flow of questions with each turn of the page. The intended audience would enjoy The Battle for Gullywith a lot more than I did.

Excuses!

13 Feb

I have failed in my goal—actually, did I make it a week? I don’t even know. Ha!

At any rate, I do have the excuse of having no internet for several days, which is pretty legit given that it would be impossible to put up a blog post without the internet. This does not, however, excuse me from not writing them in the first place, since I have had access to a computer and electricity to charge the computer, and even if I hadn’t there’s a perfectly good notebook and pen right over there.

So. What’s been happening? My last few days went something like this:
On Friday I woke up at five in the morning to get ready and head out the door so that I could meet my lovely friends joining me in Australia. I was a bit nervous they would already be out when I got there because the earliest public transport got me to the airport an hour after they landed. Taking into account getting off the plane and going through customs and getting their luggage and taking their luggage through the scanners and dog-sniffers, I thought I’d be cutting it close, but not that close.
Turns out, my bus was just early enough that I was able to catch the train before the train I was supposed to catch and arrived 15 minutes early. There, I thought—I’ve definitely beaten them now.
I did a quick cursory look around the arrival area just to be sure, and went to stand in front of the customs exist with my camera in hand and practically bouncing for joy. And I waited. And waited. And waited. (There will be a video of this later.)

Finally, at 7:30 when I started to see people from LAX coming through, I peeled away from the exit and started another circuit of the airport. I hadn’t done it earlier because I thought, what if they come through while I’m wandering around and then I go and stand in front of the arrivals section again and they’re off sitting somewhere? I headed toward a coffee place first, thinking that’d be the first thing I’d be doing if I had just gotten off a 15 hour flight, and as I’m walking over I hear “EMILY!”

And sure enough, there they were, waiting there for over an hour while I stood stupidly at the gate. Well then. Many hugs and squeals ensued, and we headed over to the taxi rank to get a taxi back, and when we got to the house I tossed ‘em in amidst the mess of boxes and suitcases, because we were moving that day.
Not a very convenient time for awesome people to arrive, and I felt SO bad about not being able to hang out with them much those first few days. On Friday, I was packing up little stuff while other people were getting the big stuff out of the house, and then I had an interview for a nanny position in Toowong that took about two and a half hours with travelling included. And on Saturday I was supposed to be working but moving had been so inefficient (I won’t even get into frustrations there, it’ll just make me angry all over again) that we had to keep moving stuff on Saturday AND on Sunday. Sunday I was so fed up that Cal and I went early and put every single item that was left in that house outside and started cleaning, and thank goodness, I was out of there by noon (angry and hungry and exhausted and sore—but gosh darnit, done!). Got back to new house, took a shower, and took Emily and Sarah to the shopping centre so they could finally get things they needed for comfort and meals.
By this point, we were pretty well set up in the new house (I mean, it’s livable, but there are still boxes everywhere you turn). I could have taken time to write some blog posts then, but we still don’t have internet here (as of February 12, 10:07 a.m.).
Yesterday we had loads of fun, which I think I’ll write up in a separate travel-y blog post later. Let’s just say, raspberry margarita slurpees from 7/11 were the low point of the day—and those were probably the most amazing things I have ever tasted!
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