Archive | March, 2013

Book Review: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

29 Mar

When Castle Glower grows bored, it grows rooms. Or takes them away. Or lengthens hallways,Image 
or adds secret staircases, or makes a shortcut from the throne room to a secret spyglass tower. The castle is alive — it 

can choose the next king, like it chose Prince Rolf by placing his room closest to the throne room. It will make life uncomfortable for anyone unfaithful to the royal family and has been known to eject such people from its halls.

Princess Celie has lived in Castle Glower all her life, and knows her way around best. She listens to the castle, and the castle listens to her. So when her parents and oldest brother are pronounced dead but the castle hasn’t changed their rooms at all, she knows something is suspicious is afoot. Soon, Celie and her siblings Rolf and Lilah are fighting for their lives as an foreign prince attempts to take over the castle. Fighting him is easy with the castle so obligingly forming ramps so they can wheel in barrows of manure, or making the prince’s chamberpots disappear, or providing a secret hideaway only they can access. But then the castle stops, and Celie and Lilah are trapped, and the evil prince has their father’s crown at his fingertips–but Celie won’t let them take Castle Glower. She’s determined to stop them, whatever the cost.

This is exactly the kind of book I would have gobbled whole at the tender age of ten with three years to wait until the next Harry Potter book came out. Castle Glower is like a new and improved Hogwarts, more magical and more alive–yes, I said it. I loved how it could practically read Celie’s thoughts and make new doorways and secret passages for her and responded to things she asked of it. As a kid, I would have been utterly entranced–I still was.

The only thing is, as an adult, you can’t read too much into it. For instance: the castle creates a door and makes it disappear for Celie and Lilah when they have to hide in one of the towers. But when Celie goes to her room and finds it padlocked, the castle doesn’t do anything like make a new door into the room. There were a few situations where I was like, “But couldn’t the castle just…” which would have made everything too easy, of course. Again, this is a book for 10-year-olds, so you can’t get too picky.

I loved the characters. Celie was great–fun and spunky and smart–but I particularly loved Rolf, who I felt made a pretty good king while he had to be. Lilah got on my nerves a bit with her mothering, but I felt like it was believable enough if you think your parents are dead and you’ve got these two siblings to look after. The various minor characters were great, too. Cook made me laugh every time she walked onto the page.

The children’s mischief and shenanigans was fun to follow and it was a fun, light read overall. Kids will wish they lived in Castle Glower. I know I do.

Book Review: Alice in Love and War by Ann Turnbull

24 Mar

Alice Newcombe is unhappy at her uncle’s farm. When soldiers from the royalist army seek food and shelter there, she is infatuated with Robin, who gives her kisses and is kind to her. As their relationship quickly develops, Alice knows the path she wants to take: she’ll follow the army train so she can be near him at all times, and soon they will be married.

But war does not always go as planned, for anyone. Alice is thrust into the tumult of the English Civil War at the tender age of sixteen, surrounded by strangers, homeless, with no wealth but the knowledge in her father’s apothecary book to support her. Her journey leads her to the arms of good people and bad, and just when all seems to go well, it goes horribly, horribly wrong.

The back of this book makes it sound like a typical  romance–please do not go into it thinking it is, or you will probably reach page 35, chuck the book across the room, and wonder how anything could be even worse than Twilight.

By page 35, Alice meets Robin for the first time, sneaks out of the house to smooch him a bit, he takes her virginity, and she’s convinced she’s completely and totally in love and that they’ll get married soon and live happily ever after.

At this point, I was groaning. I had never encountered a character so unbelievably stupid. There was no character development (save for Alice’s stupidity) and I thought for sure that this was how it was going to continue: lalala, love love love, then maybe Robin gets killed in the war and she has to grow up a bit. The end.

But then the book shaped into something so much more. Perhaps I should have seen it then–because really, when a character is so mind-numbingly dumb, where is there to go but up? And Alice reaches for the moon and lands among the stars. While she’s still hoping on Robin for a good half of the book, the reader begins to see that the situation is hopeless–Robin isn’t all he seems, and didn’t want love at all. This isn’t a happily ever after. Alice goes through difficulties which make her grow up sooner rather than later. She is employed in a good house making herbal teas and poultices for the family. She witnesses the horrors of war first hand and has a great responsibility thrust upon her shoulders. She sees more of the world, and craves to see even more–to learn and grow and become useful.

Alice by the end of the book is nothing like the Alice in the first 35 pages. She is more careful, likable, clever, and bold–at least as much as she can be as a woman in the 1640s.

And the plot, while still a romance, focuses much more on Alice’s growth as a character. There is so much symbolism chucked in here I started writing an essay in my head before remembering I’d already graduated. It’s a coming-of-age story and a becoming-a-woman story. While set in a historical period, I think there is much to be gained by teenage girls of today reading this book. It’s an empowering story of faithfulness and friendship, and faithfulness to yourself.

I was also impressed with the historical details, big and small, that make it clear this is one well-researched book. The setting and time period jump from the pages and suck you in until you’ve read every last word.

The woes of visas, etc.

21 Mar

Dear god, does it ever end?

I have been staring at this visa application since before we got married in November, and I’ll continue staring at it because it is the visa that never ends, it will go on and on my friends. Some people started applying not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue applying forever just because…

No, but seriously.

My visa application STILL isn’t in. And you know what I realized today? I have two and a half months left on my current visa.

Two. and a half. months.

Now, we have everything sorted–and that probably sounds like plenty of time to someone who hasn’t been in a long distance relationship before and doesn’t know the pain and suffering caused by separation. So what I see right now is two and a half months before separation has to occur, and, well, it’s a bit panic-inducing.

I realize there’s nothing REALLY to panic about. We’re going to submit this mammoth on Monday.

Except we were going to submit this mammoth in early February. Then in early March when we couldn’t get everything certified. Then this past Monday (surprise work!). Then Tuesday (surprise work!). Then Wednesday (surprise plague!). Then Friday (surprise work!). (For those of you wondering, Thursday was planned-work).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining (well, except about the plague bit). But it seems like something is constantly coming up to get in the way of us submitting this thing. And it really shouldn’t be this hard to coordinate a time for us to both get to the post office to get some gosh-darned passport photos done, but dear god, it is.

Then there’s the uncertainty: do I include police checks and medical checks, or don’t I? They’re on the document checklist, yet the forums say to wait until you’re asked due to the time constraint–both things are only valid for a year, and if it takes more than a year for your visa to be processed, you have to get them redone anyway. I’m leaning toward that because it means I can submit it on Monday. And SO many people have posted it and also gotten their visa approved, how can I be nervous?

But what if we don’t have enough evidence of our relationship? For people who have been together for seven years, we certainly don’t have the kind of evidence they’re looking for! (Wills? We have to make wills? I’m 23, I don’t want to face my own mortality!)

I wouldn’t be this nervous if the visa didn’t have such a hefty price tag, but there you go.

What this post boils down to: I am going to submit this visa application on Monday, gosh darnit. I am going to pay that fee, and I am going to hand this mammoth across the counter. Then I will be on a Bridging Visa, which means separation does NOT have to occur until a decision is made on the partner visa. Then I will be asked for a medical and police check, which is a sign that the visa will soon be approved, and I will provide them. Then my visa will be accepted. Then everyone will live happily ever after.

And no one will have to say goodbye at an airport again.

The end.

(Hopefully this isn’t like Disney After Ever After.)

Thank you for allowing me this talk, everyone. You’re very kind. I’ll just be over here, breathing. Calmly. Rationally. Not thinking about airports.

New Blogging Challenge: Camp NaNoWriMo Status Updates

20 Mar

I have decided that I work best with short-term goals. This “blogging every day for the rest of my life thing” hasn’t worked out so well for me, but “blogging every day for a week” certainly did, and “reviewing every book that I read” is going well, too. Therefore I have decided to present myself with various goals once I’ve finished one up in order to continue blogging relatively regularly. My newest one is this:

Every day in the month of April, I will blog every day about the state of my April NaNo Novel. These blog posts will contain the following in formation.

How many words did you write today?
How long did it take you to write them?
How many times did you use Write or Die?
On what settings?
How many Facebook breaks did you take?
How many characters have you killed off to date?
How many characters have died for the sake of word count?
How many NaNoWriMo Angels have you murdered? (note: using the backspace key murders NaNoWriMo angels).
Have you stopped using contractions yet?
Total NaNoWriMo Word Count So Far:
Words to Goal:
Days Remaining:

This questionnaire is a work in progress and has the potential to evolve as the month goes on, but the basic idea is there. I will also probably include complaints about how hard life is, wondering why I do this to myself a few times every year, singing praises to the plot bunnies for a good idea, and possibly even post excerpts and hope no one judges me for my NaNo-content.

I invite as many people as willing to join me on this April blogging quest. Feel free to leave questionnaire suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them in! This is a fun way to keep track of your status and record your April NaNo journey.

Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

19 Mar

This is the second book in The Ascendance Trilogy which began with The False Prince. As such, this will contain spoilers for both the first book and also possibly this one once I get into it. If you don’t like spoilers, you should read the books before reading this review. Also, apologies for inconsistencies, incoherence, and typos–it’s late, I have a cold, and I’m still trying to work out my feelings about this book.

Jaron is king of Carthya, restored to his birthright and driving his regents mad with his sneaking out and insulting the servants. On the night of his family’s funeral, he can be found in the garden, early for his own assassination–attacked by pirates, he’s warned that if he doesn’t concede Carthya to Avenia, the pirates would take care of it for him. Meanwhile, his regents plot to install a steward until he is of age in order to put an end to his antics. Sent away from Drylliad, Jaron knows he has only one choice: kill the pirate king and put an end to the pirate attacks on his country. There’s just one problem… people who find the pirates don’t usually find their way back again.

Okay. First of all, please know that The False Prince is ranked right up there with Bitterblue and Sorcery and Cecelia and Tamora Pierce and Phillip Pullman and–well, you get the idea. I read the first book in this series as an advance, eight months before it was released, so soon it was still in manuscript form, all printer pages bound in a ring. I loved it. I loved Sage, I loved the mystery and the suspense, I loved the politics and not knowing what happened next or how it was going to get to the conclusion I was sure I had puzzled out.

This book, The Runaway King, didn’t hold as much appeal. There are so many different factors that I might repeat myself as I attempt to explain, but it simply wasn’t as good.

In short, I think the main, biggest, massive problem is that it’s marketed for Middle Grade–that is, under 12s (ish). I’m not sure what the published copy of The False Prince ended up being marketed toward, but my advance copy said “8+.” 8+? Are you kidding me?

For the False Prince I disagreed with it because of the violence and killings seen in the first few chapters. Also the fact that much of what went on in Jaron’s head would have been beyond most 8 year olds’ comprehension–which I suppose I shouldn’t judge, given that I quite enjoyed His Dark Materials at 10 and had no inkling it had anything to do with religion. But there you go.

For The Runaway King, I’m against the rating (10+) because I believe it’s placed restrictions on the book that held it back from being just as awesome as the first. It was short, only 322 pages. While the book takes place in the space of 10 days, I believe that when a story takes place in a short time frame there’s simply more reason to expand. This book could certainly have done with expansion. Character motivations, for a start (Jaron’s for insisting on trusting Roden, Roden’s for being trustworthy at the end). Political motivations. New character development. So much happened in those 10 days and I feel like the surface was barely scraped.

Other issues:

Sage. Jaron. He wasn’t the same as he was in the previous book, and perhaps having the weight of kingship on his shoulders had something to do with that. In which case, I understand that he’s a bit mean. But it also seemed like he wasn’t quite as clever, despite the fact that he does get up to a lot of mischief. Perhaps we were simply more in his head than we were in the first one.

Speaking of which, much of the fun was taken out of the book because of that. I could anticipate Jaron’s ever move, or nearly. He had a bunch of people who now knew his style of tricks–characters from the previous novel. Which is fine. But it seemed to me that it would make more sense to attempt to change his style and adapt rather than get up to the same old tricks again. Yeah, okay, the broken leg at the end threw a loop in his plans but it seemed forced.

Perhaps what I’m getting at is that there wasn’t as much intrigue in this one as there was in the last. How could there be, with that mystery solved? I suppose there was a mystery in this one too–“How will Jaron escape the pirates?”–but the ending was incredibly predictable. I could have told you that was going to happen at the start. Granted, I could have told you the ending of the False Prince at the start too, except with that one the more I read the more it seemed impossible. With The Runaway King, every solution seemed too easy. Which I guess goes back to the fact that it was marketed as Middle Grade, and thus had to read like it. If more of the characters’ motivations and such were shown, I would have been less inclined to think each solution was so easy. As it was, I was a bit disappointed with the plot and the characters.

I don’t mean to say it wasn’t worth the read. It was. I LIKE the characters well enough, I liked their interactions, I thought the plot line was good for what it was–a middle grade story. If I had gone into the book expecting to be taken on a journey with pirates and sword fighting and a medieval setting with a middle grade flair, I would have quite enjoyed it. But I went in thinking it was going to be The False Prince, and it wasn’t. It could be a book that sweetens with rereads, a theory I hope to test soon.

I also don’t want anyone thinking I’m not going to read the third book. Of course I will. It’s been my experience that second books in a trilogy aren’t always the best–it’s the first or third books that are usually people’s favorites. I’m excited to see what the third book has to offer (at the very least, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish an entire war in 300 pages. Here’s to Book #3 being longer than the last!)

If you have not yet read the False Prince, please do–it’s an excellent book that needs to be read by more of my friends so we can have excited talks about it. And if you read The False Prince, don’t hesitate to read its sequel. If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to know what happens next. The Runaway King wasn’t a bad book by any means–it’s certainly more entertaining than half the books I’ve read so far this year. It was simply different, and if you go into your reading adventure with that in mind, you won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

14 Mar

I finished this days ago and have been super lazy with my blog posts–apologies.

When Andrew Hope inherits his grandfather’s field of care, he doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. It’s much more than taking on a crotchety old gardener who dumps tasteless vegetables into his arms each day; it’s more than an equally crotchety housekeeper who keeps shoving the piano back into its place in a dark corner, and only makes cauliflower cheese for dinner; it’s even bigger than a giant named Groil who eats all those tasteless vegetables after they’re tossed up on the roof, though he has something to do with it. Where it really starts and ends is with Aidan Cain, a boy who shows up on Andrew’s doorstep with things chasing after him, bearing little more than a wallet that can make its own money and a handy magical trick with his glasses. Together with a handful of other quirky characters, they must find out why Aidan is being pursued and how to stop him from being taken by those pursuing him.

Reading this book was bitter-sweet, as it’s one of the last books Diana Wynne Jones–one of my absolute favorite authors–published before she died. I drank up each page knowing that there would be nothing new from her in the years to come. Perhaps that’s why I put of reading it for so long. I feel like awesome authors should be granted an exceptionally long life, if not immortality.

That said, it wasn’t my favorite of hers by a long shot. It did contain all the magic every DWJ novel contains–that quaint, small-town-England, magic is every day and completely accepted, magic. Not only giants and were-dogs and ghosts and fairies, but that small-town feel that makes you feel like you’ve been plopped in the middle of the British Isles and you don’t want to return home. Harry Potter had that, and so did His Dark Materials. I don’t know what it is about Britain, but it’s magical. And DWJ knew that, and she wrote it perfectly.

Her characters are always fantastic, too–full of quirks like those above, completely individual and persistent in their individuality, funny and lovable even at their most annoying, the kind of people you wish you could sit in a room with and just watch with your knuckles tucked into your mouth to keep from laughing. They’re so real you can see them in the room with you. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Stock was based on my grandmother, but don’t tell her I said that.

The magic and the awesome characters are what kept me going. The plot itself dragged a bit for me. I don’t think it was a case of “I’m getting too old for this” either–I didn’t really see where the plot was going for a while, it seemed like mostly it was an exploration of character, which is fine, but a balance does need to be struck. 3/4 of the way through I had trouble keeping focused on what was going on and getting a bit tired of cauliflower cheese.

That isn’t to say that this book isn’t worth a read–like I said, I quite liked different aspects of it, it just didn’t fully come together for me. Besides, it’s Diana Wynne Jones–if you’re a fan, you have to read it!

If you haven’t read any Diana Wynne Jones before, I highly recommend starting with the Chronicles of Chrestomanci (Charmed Life OR The Lives of Christopher Chant first!) or Howl’s Moving Castle. Both of them are awesome and really give you a feel for DWJ. Like I said, she’s one of my favorite authors, and one of those people I think is in the “new children’s classics” category, right up there with Harry Potter.

Updates

10 Mar

Phew–well, this week flew by in a mess of deadlines and topic brainstorming! I’ve sent in my first articles to both of those writing jobs I was talking about in a previous post.

To clarify, I’m definitely doing one of them each week– the one where I get to pick whatever I want to write about and put it up once (or more) a week. That’s for Top Shelf Magazine, which I highly recommend for some fun reading. And to my writerly friends, I’m not sure, but they might still be taking new writers on, if you’re interested. It’s unpaid, but a great way to get your name in print and something to put on your resume. I know a lot of you would be writing for fun anyway–why not get it published?

The second was for Today I Found Out, the site with articles about random facts. I was presented with three different options to write about. I started off writing about how blackboard chalk isn’t actually chalk, but couldn’t find enough information about it to write a nearly 1000 word article (yes, okay, chalk is gypsum–but when did it switch to gypsum? Why? Couldn’t find answers to my burning questions.) The one I ended up writing about was on Vasili Blokhin, the man who killed over 7000 people in 28 days, one at a time, becoming the world’s most prolific executioner. Interesting stuff. I’ll link you if it gets put up on the site.

With that job, I sent in a few writing samples and was put on a short list. The people on the short list were all sent a few topics (not sure if we had he same ones or not) and they’ll pick 1-3 people to write regularly for them based on those articles. Fingers crossed mine was better than the majority, but to avoid disappointment I’m not holding my breath–even if this would be a really cool opportunity!

It felt SO good to be able to put up some deadlines on the calendar. I’m submitting Mondays for Top Shelf, so my Mondays this month all have “TS article due!” on them. Ahh, at last–a schedule of sorts!

I’ve also told TIFO that I can write two articles each week. Might submit to them and TS more often than that if I don’t get a real job soon. Something to fill my days, right?

Meanwhile, I’ve been neglecting this blog. No worries, I’m just going to finish reading “Enchanted Glass” by Diana Wynne Jones and also attempt to get rid of this ick-feeling I’ve been having so I can get out and DO something. So–stay tuned.

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