Friday, August 31, 2012

First Line Friday No. 4

Welcome Back to First Line Friday!

This week I'm looking at TWO books -- the first and second books of a series I read earlier in the year.  My darling friend Kirsten bought me both of them as a birthday gift (through Amazon, which I LOVE -- they went right to my Kindle!  No shipping required!) and I'm so excited about the possibility of reading the third one that I had to share my enthusiasm with you.

(You can read my reviews of the first two books here and here)

Book No. 1:

"Ms. McMartin was definitely dead.  It had taken some time for the neighbors to grow suspicious, since no one ever went in or came out of the old stone house on Linden Street anyway.  However, there were several notable clues that things in the McMartin house were not as they should have been.  The rusty mailbox began to bulge with odd and exotic mail-order catalogs, which eventually overflowed the gaping aluminum door and spilled out into the street.  The gigantic jungle fern that hung from the porch ceiling keeled over for lack of water.  Ms. McMartin's three cats, somewhere inside the house, began the most terrible yowling ever heard on quiet old Linden Street.  After a few days of listening to that, the neighbors had had enough."

From The Shadows: The Books of Elsewhere,Volume 1 by Jacqueline West

Book No. 2:

"Everyone who lived in the big stone house on Linden Street eventually went insane.  That was what the neighbors said, anyway.  Mr. Fergus told Mr. Butler about Aldous McMartin, the house's first owner, a weird old artist who wouldn't sell a single painting and who only came out of the house at night.  Mrs. Dewey and Mr. Hanniman whispered about Annabelle McMartin, Aldous's granddaughter, who had kicked the bucket right there inside the house at the age of 104, with no friends or family to notice she was dead except for her three gigantic cats, who may or may not have begun nibbling on her head.  And now there were these new owners -- these Dunwoodys -- who appeared to have already bought their tickets for the crazy train."

From Spellbound: The Books of Elsewhere, Volume 2 by Jacqueline West

Creepy, right?  Here's what pulls me in:

1. The Dickensian beginning: "Ms. McMartin was definitely dead."  ...Why add the definitely in there unless...unless Ms. McMartin is going to appear again later in the story?!  Heavens!

2. I love that it's the cats that everyone talks about or listens to -- nobody bothered the house until the cats started yowling, and they're the ones everyone's whispering about -- did they nibble Ms. McMartin, or no?  Gruesome details.

3. The neighbors are shadowy figures, who may or may not be in league with whatever's going on in Linden Street.  Only time will tell...!

4. The gun on the table -- will the new people, the Dunwoodys, be driven mad by the house?  Why or why not?

5. I love the beginning of book two because it lets people in on a bit of the first story in case they somehow managed to skip reading it, but it isn't annoying for a reader if they've already read through the first one.

The slightly dim, grey, creepy tone of the books is delightful.  There isn't another story quite like this one, and even though there are similar elements to other children's fairytales (magical objects, talking animals, etc.), the Books of Elsewhere are more akin to OLD children's stories -- these could be classics one day.  The themes presented in these tales are ones we all struggle with, and that's a big decider on which books continue to be read.

AND NOW -- I have just discovered the third book is out and that you can read the first few pages on Amazon.  Here, then, are the first words of The Second Spy: The Books of Elsewhere, Volume 3 by Jacqueline West:

"If you believe that death is about to spring upon you at any moment, you won't spend much time watching television.  You won't devote a lot of thought to bathing or tooth-brushing, either.  Even things you once enjoyed, like reading, doodling, or daydreaming, will slide right off your daily to-do list. 

If you believe that death is coming for you, you'll do a lot of jumping around corners.  You'll turn on all the lights in every room you enter, even on bright August afternoons.  You will get surprisingly good at walking backward up staircases.  You will never forget -- not even for a minute -- that doom could be waiting just through any doorway.  Your life will revolve between two things: spending as much time as possible with those you care about, and hiding."

THRILLING, isn't it?  I can't wait to have my own copy and dive right in!

So what do you think?  Would you give these books a try?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Write Wednesday: Interview with Harlan Roddey

FINALLY, as promised, a two-part interview with Harlan Roddey.  Enjoy!

And, part two:

You can find Harlan and his work at The Time Vortex (Madness At the End of Time) or on Twitter: @harlanroddey

Coming up:

A First Line Friday where we'll look at a book my friend just gifted me on Amazon (yay!)
More Hufflepuff Sightings
Another review (or two)!

Stay tuned!

Monday, August 27, 2012

How-To Review: A Double Feature

I hope you had a pleasant weekend!  I'm still enjoying mine (which was crazy on Saturday and meant that le husband and I spent yesterday and today at home, lounging between bouts of housework) and thought I'd surprise you by doing *two* reviews in one!

Today's books are:

How to Draw Cartoons by Brian Platt

and A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life by Fiona Robyn

The first book, How to Draw Cartoons was labeled: "this book will help the complete novice turn out professional looking cartoon in minutes".  I was intrigued.  It was also a free book and that always influences my decision.

The nice thing about the book was that the label proved true -- I (a complete novice) was able to amp up my cartoon abilities quite a bit by trying out some of his tips and tricks.  I have since scribbled down a few characters and people seem to like them.

The problem with this book is that it doesn't cater to anyone's unique style.  It shows you how to draw one style of cartoon -- the old, plain, easily recognizable 'simple' cartoon, and doesn't give you room to grow beyond it.

So, if you don't draw, this might be a good book for you -- you can learn the parlor trick of quickly sketching out a little guy or girl holding a cocktail.  But if you'd like to do more, I recommend finding some tutorials online -- particularly about physiology (learning to draw around a skeleton form, or paying attention to muscle structure, etc.) or details like eyes, hands, and feet.  (there are several free tutorials on that are very helpful without cramping your style -- just adapt their tools to fit you)

A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life was a much better book -- although the author comes from a distinct spiritual background (which is very different from mine), she is brilliant at ensuring it isn't the centerpiece of the book -- it complements her writing but doesn't intrude and so the book allows for everyone to be able to use it.

What I deeply appreciated was the fact that you can dip into it from time to time (it is divided by season) or you can read it all at once -- which I did because it was so helpful.  The questions at the end of the little vignettes were slow, careful proddings into the conscious, and helped me think about the time I need to spend with myself in order for me to be healthy -- processing emotions, paying attention to how events are affecting me, and learning to be still and enjoy the sun on my face or the wind in my hair.

A lot of wisdom is shared through the book, and it was definitely helped by Fiona's heritage -- she's from the British Isles and you can tell -- the crisp, professional tone she uses, the vocabulary (delightful), and her polite, gentle affirmation of the need for self-reflection, quiet time, and time off.

I'll be re-reading this again once fall hits, in hopes of discovering more about falling in love with my life.

What books have you been reading?  Do you ever read How-to books?

Look for an interview on Write Wednesday, and another great beginning on First Line Friday.

Keep reading!

Friday, August 24, 2012

First Line Friday No. 3


Today's First Line Friday choice is a book I have been raving about for months.  Nobody else I know has read it (although since I purchased a copy I'm hoping my husband will so we can discuss) but it is so breathtakingly beautiful and real that I must share it.

Here are the opening lines:

"Look up at the Plaza Regent, Blink, in the shivery morning light.  Count the floors -- take your pick. 

You're wearing the Blessed Breakfast Uniform: the Adidas, sparkly white; the tan Gap cargoes; the yellow Banana Republic polo; the red cotton hooded full-zip.  Lifted, all of it, from a gym locker at Jarvis Collegiate, where the posh children drift down from Rosedale on shining bikes or are disgorged from BMWs.  You pick a boy about your size.  You followed him to school one day, which was against the rules."

From Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones

Why I love it SO MUCH:

1. The unique character voice/POV.  I've never read another book that uses this style.  And I can't imagine it's easy to do. I also love the character names and development, as well as how they process their world.

2. The Capitalization of Important Words.  For some reason, I adore this.

3. "disgorged from BMWs" is perfect -- I see it.

4. I love the line, "You followed him to school one day, which was against the rules."  (Mary Had A Little Lamb?  I just caught it this time -- I don't know if it was on purpose or not but it makes me giggle)

5.  The redemptive theme is so strong and bright here.  It's my favorite theme and whenever I see it displayed so brilliantly it lifts me up and gives me wings.

(Note: there is language in the book as well as a few scenes where adult situations are talked about, as well as some violence.  There's no sex, however, and trust me, this book is phenomenal.)

What catches your eye from these first few lines?  Do you think you'd like the character Blink?  And what do you think will happen next?

I'll see you all over the weekend for a review and then get ready for a REAL Writer Wednesday.  Sheesh.

Keep reading!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Technical Difficulties

So, I am experiencing technical difficulties.


I got the interview done and the video made but am having problems uploading.  I've got my best man on the job so I will have it ready next Wednesday.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets: More Stuff About Hufflepuff

I'm back with more Hufflepuff Sightings in the Harry Potter Series!

This time I delved into Chamber of Secrets and discovered:

  • Second house mentioned in the book, right after Gryffindor
  • Gryffindor and Hufflepuff take Herbology together
  • Justin Finch-Fletchley introduced -- Harry knows him by sight.  Justin was going to Eton but once he was discovered to be a wizard he chose to come to Hogwarts
  • The Fat Friar attends Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington's Death Day party (and seems to enjoy himself)
  • Justin becomes suspicious of Harry as the attacks start and after the snake "attacks" him during dueling turns against Harry
  • Hannah Abbott and Ernie McMillan introduced as minor Hufflepuff characters
  • Justin is Petrified
  • Oliver Wood insists on practicing every night leading up to the Hufflepuff/Gryffindor game
  • After months of no attacks, Ernie and Hannah support Harry wholeheartedly and even apologize
  • After Justin is unPetrified, he apologizes to Harry, which is one of the best parts of Harry's night
  • And of course there's more! The above are just the highlights                                                         
It's so interesting that Hufflepuff plays a rather big role in this book.  Justin Finch-Fletchley is mentioned or written about twenty times (often interacting directly with Harry), and Ernie and Hannah are characters mentioned in the rest of the series.

I also find it interesting that the Hufflepuff's are displayed as somewhat competitive rivals with Gryffindor.  They take double lessons together (in Herbology, at least) and Oliver seems to think the Gryffindor team needs every free second to ensure they win against the Hufflepuff Quidditch team.

I do love that Justin, Ernie and Hannah display the Hufflepuff spirit -- they aren't dumb.  They have their doubts about Harry but when the attacks stop, they quickly realize (and apologize) that Harry just can't be the Heir of Slytherin.  Justin even apologizes after he is released from the hospital wing, making Harry feel like everything is right in the world again.

I can't help but wonder why people have such a hard time accepting Hufflepuff as a legitimate house.  Though Justin can be a bit pompous, the Hufflepuffs seem to be capable of putting puzzle pieces together, accepting that they're wrong, and backing Harry up, all while working hard.  Though Ron doesn't think much of Hufflepuff, a lot of that can be traced to house loyalty and stereotypes, although I am not sure at the moment where the stereotypes come in as I haven't seen a truly stupid Hufflepuff yet.

I'll be doing another post on my findings in Prisoner of Azkaban in the next few weeks, so check up soon.

ALSO: Write Wednesday is almost here!  Get ready for an epic interview with Harlan Roddey!  Also, First Line Friday is going to be a blast -- we're going to discuss a truly incredible, inspirational, intriguing book.

Keep reading!

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Line Friday No. 2

Welcome back to First Line Friday!

Today we'll be looking at a book that has been described as "Part Little House on the Prairie, Part X-Men".  Seriously.  I read it a few years ago and it's true -- a sparkling mix of on-the-farm life and science fiction, with a dash of heart.

I ordered it off of Amazon last week and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.  I dash home from work every day to check the mailbox, hoping that there is a shiny new book in it.  Maybe today?

"Piper decided to jump off the roof.  It wasn't a rash decision on her part. 
This was her plan -- climb to the top of the roof, pick up speed by running from one end all the way to the other.  Jump off.
Finally, and most importantly, don't fall.
She didn't make plans in the event that she did fall, because if you jump off of the roof of your house and land on your head, you really don't need any plans from that point on.  Even Piper knew that."

--from The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

Don't those first few sentences pique your interest?

First of all, I love the name Piper.  My mom had a friend in high school with that name and it always intrigued me.  How did someone decide that was a name?  But it's a nice-sounding name and it brings to mind the Scottish Highlands and brass instruments and the color green.

Second, I love that the author begins with a sentence that seems crazy -- someone's jumping off a ROOF??  Why?!  And then comforts you with, "It wasn't a rash decision on her part."  The emotional roller coaster has already begun and we're just two sentences in!

Third and finally, the morbid undertaker-style humor gets me.  (" really don't need any plans from that point on.")

The tone of this book is such fun -- the authorial voice is crisp and subtle and never detracts from the story.

I am curious about what a film adaptation would look like.  I had a discussion with friends a few nights ago about how people get angry when a film is created based on a book -- they don't realize it is an ADAPTATION because it's a different medium.  Some things can only be done in books (can you imagine a movie-long voice-over?  It isn't often done).  It's interesting to see what's left out of a story (like Hunger Games which was for a younger audience, so the violence was filmed with a handheld camera so you couldn't see the grisly details -- the book was much more graphic) and what's added in.

Have you read The Girl Who Could Fly?  Could you see it as a film?  If you haven't read it, are the first few lines tugging you in?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Write Wednesday: Hold Your Horses!


Write Wednesday is a new weekly segment in which I will be posting several writerly-related things.  These weekly installments will include:

  • author/writer interviews (!)
  • writing advice
  • writing updates from me (these will be fewer and further between)
  • writing prompts (for CONTESTS)
  • discussion starters on writing topics (continued in the comments)
  • reviews of writing books/websites
  • short pieces from me with a chance for the audience to critique (!) and a PRIZE to the best one (!!)
  • links to relevant writing websites (author blogs, NaNoWriMo/Camp NaNo, etc.

What do you think of Write Wednesday?  What installment are you  most interested in seeing?

EDIT: Had to re-schedule the interview I had planned.  Next week I will be talking to Harlan Roddey, independent filmmaker, director, writer, and videographer.  Harlan can be found at Madness At The End of Time.  You should go read some of his blog entries before next week.

Also, watch some of his work on Vimeo

See you on Friday for First Lines!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sorcery & Cecilia: Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

I forgot to mention that for me, the weekend is Saturday-Monday since I only work Tuesday-Friday.  Therefore I am excused for my tardiness in posting my review.  ;)

An interesting tidbit about the authors and the creation of this book, before I begin:

Patricia Wrede (who wrote such lovely books as Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons) and Caroline Stevermer (who wrote A College of Magics and River Rats) began this story as a letter game.

The Letter Game is a gloriously fun way to concoct a story, since you write from the perspectives of the characters and further the plot from their letters to each other.

In this Letter Game (which is simply correspondence between cousins in the novel), Kate and Cecilia are bemoaning the fact that one of them is in London (coming out in Society) while the other is in the country.  A faint whiff of magic unites them in the purpose of uncovering several secrets revolving around their neighbors.

The story twists and bends and finally intertwines, and all resolves in a highly satisfying conclusion.

I love re-imaginings and alternate histories, and this one did not disappoint.  Think Jane Austen (romantic mix-ups, high society, wit and hilarity) and Magic (of the old children's literature type -- Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks).  A delightful, charming mix of laugh-out-loud hijinks and capers with a dash of thrilling intrigue, peppered with romance and sorcery.

I am thrilled to discover that there are two more books in the series (published in 2004 and 2006) and I intend to beg the library for them in short order.

And just for the fun of it, here's a taste of the epistolary style:

"...I wish Aunt Elizabeth were not so set against my having a Season this year.  She is still annoyed about the incident with the goat, and says that to let the pair of us loose on London would ruin us both for good, and spoil Georgy's chances into the bargain.  I think this is quite unjust, but there is no persuading her.  (I believe the fact that she would have been obliged to share a house with Aunt Charlotte, should she and I have come to London this year, may have contributed to her decision.)"

Isn't that charming?  It reminds me (maybe because they chose a similar font) of Joan Aiken at her best -- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Have you read Sorcery & Cecilia?  Do these few sentences intrigue you?  What alternate history fascinates you?

I'll see you Wednesday for a new weekly segment -- until then!

Friday, August 10, 2012

First Line Friday

What is First Line Friday?

A new weekly post about a novel's first breath!

What does it mean?

Each Friday I'll post the first few sentences of a story and we'll look at how it helps us enter the world and kindles a desire to dive deeper.

Today's Book: Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart

First Few Lines:

"It was his eyes.  The color of blue forget-me-nots, piercing, like two novas in a sky of dying stars.  Profoundly melancholy, yes.  Except when James was angry, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly."

I can quote this one almost verbatim.


Those first few words draw me in completely.

"It was his eyes."

What do you mean?

What about his eyes?

What kind of eyes are they?

Why are they?

Whose eyes?

What makes him angry?

When you write those first few words, you want the reader to start asking questions.  Why?  Because they will read further in order to answer them.  J.V. Hart does a fantastic job at fleshing out a character we already know, and imbuing him with a sense of hopeless romanticism.  Although you know the end of his trajectory, young James Hook does not and following him through his journey from Eton student to the notorious Captain Hook is a thrilling, spine-tingling ride. 

Would these First Few Lines from Mr. Hart make you want to read further?

What are some of your favorite First Lines?

And do you like the idea for these weekly posts?

I've got another weekly segment coming on Wednesday, and a review which will be posted over the weekend.  It's Friday, everyone!  Go home and curl up with a good book!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day 3

3,500 words and counting!  I've found that I write best late at night (9-11), so today's 1,700 words haven't been written yet, although I've been listening to the 'soundtrack' to my novel all morning (in case anyone's wondering, it's a bunch of classic 80's rock 'n roll).

I've also got two books to read over the weekend and then review (one by a friend!  How exciting!) so you'll have something more interesting than my life to read next week.  ;)

Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo?  Are you reading/writing anything currently?

And: what would you like to see MORE of on here?

-Articles on Writing
-Links to helpful writerly/readerish things
-Book suggestions

Let me know and I'll do my best to polish up a pretty post in the middle of next week.

Have a great weekend, everybody!