Friday, December 21, 2012

First Line Friday No. 19

I picked up a book called "The Knife of Never Letting Go" which I was expecting to be a YA modern fiction about teenage angst, and holy crap it's something completely different.

It's a futuristic sci-fi about the difference between men and good men.  I was mesmerized.  I couldn't put it down.  Let's look at the first few lines:

"The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.  About anything.

'Need a poo, Todd.'
'Shut up, Manchee.'
'Poo. Poo, Todd.
'I said shut it.'"

-From The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Uh...what?? The entire situation is entirely ridiculous! But you keep reading and things make sense...and even become sympathetic.  This first part just captured the hilarity of something people have imagined and written about for ages, with much more seriousness (Redwall, for example).

This book grabbed me and would not let go.  I will warn you, get the second (and maybe third) at the same time because the ending is mind-blowingly cliff-hangerish.

I will be taking a break from posting, but drop by in early January for more reviews, thoughts on writing and first lines!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Write Wednesday: Defending Our Favorite Stories

Well...I finally succumbed to a Facebook argument.  ("Discussion")

I make it a point to never pick a fight online -- there's no point (usually).  All it does is cause internet rage, which we all know is absolutely worthless.  So I avoid it.  I avoid politics, religion, and every other heated topic I can so that I don't have to waste time online dealing with trolls, haters and "idjits".


A long time ago, I watched a movie with my friend Stephanie.  I didn't think my sister would like it so we discouraged her but she watched it with us and completely missed the point of the entire beautiful story.  She trashed it and we still argue about it today.  It's a sore topic with me because we're so different that I won't ever be able to explain properly in a way that she'll grasp.

So, my husband posts something about a new musical having to live up to this other particular one that he's loved for years and my sister starts in, whining about his lack of classical education.

...When the musical in question is a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice.


That did it.

I did not light into her (but I wanted to -- oh, how I wanted to!) but wrote a few paragraphs explaining the movie and what it all means and how there are so many wonderful, beautiful things about it.

She continued this morning with another ridiculous judgment and I wrote a couple more paragraphs concerning certain religious stories, the differences between those who love and those who judge, and generally told her that she was coming at it from the completely wrong direction.

And then (my family, excepting my brother and me, are Potter-haters) I repeated all the things that she purports to like and suggested she'd find all those things in the Harry Potter books (and then proceeded to drop my mic and walk away).

Why is it that we get so emotional about stories that mean something to us?  This particular story is my third favorite film of all time (OF ALL TIME) and it has inspired my husband and myself to be artists.

I am extremely passionate about story, both good and bad.  I don't believe I know everything or have all the right answers, but it does irk me to see (usually intelligent) people failing to grasp the truth and beauty beneath the world's ugliness or a different worldview.

I used to think I wasn't passionate about anything -- I worried that I'd just be one of those people that just drift through life with no aim or purpose -- I'd simply exist.

Then I started watching, listening to, reading and crafting stories -- and I fell even more deeply in love with the concept of stories (books were my constant companions as a child, but when I grew older I discovered an ardent love for serialized storytelling -- TV shows).  Stories have the power to move generations, to uplift, to teach, to inspire, to reach into the future and share our lives with our children.  They are powerful things.

Stories have helped people through depression (Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the HP movies), grief and despair (myself and countless others) and have changed the way we see the world (LOTR, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Battlestar Galactica -- the re-imagining of the show, etc.)

I think we have a right to defend stories, to protect the right to craft story, and to educate those who may not be aware of the several levels going on all at the same time in a story.

Have you ever defended a story to someone?  Would you (which one)?  What's your favorite type of story-telling?  And what story has changed your life?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck

Well, here's an unexpected tale...

I picked up Secrets at Sea because of the cover -- a delightful illustration of mice enjoying the high seas.  Since I love both mice (having thrilled to the tales of Miss Bianca and Bernard as a youngling, as well as the tales of Redwall, The Mouse of Amherst, and the Rats of NIMH) and the open sea, I expected to fall in love with this book.

But I almost didn't.

And I think the font is largely responsible (although I think the author's voice had something to do with it as well).

It is difficult for me to read some fonts -- isn't that rather unfair to poor storytellers who don't choose their own fonts?  I have no idea why it's so terribly hard for me, but it is, and that's all there is to it.

The voice felt very slow as well, and I had to pick the book up and put it down several times before I finished the story.

But, if you're unlike me in that you can read any font, you might really enjoy this story.

(Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it -- the last half of the book was hilarious while also thought-provoking)

This is the story of Helena -- a mouse, her sisters and brother, and their journey across the ocean with "their" humans (their families are intertwined -- the Upstairs Cranstons are the humans, and the Downstairs Cranstons are the mice, and they've lived in the same houses for generations), whereupon they meet several mice of distinction (and humans as well) in an attempt to make a new life for themselves -- and their humans.  It's the story of an eldest sister who feels left out, the decisions we must make to be happy (and let others be happy), and the surprises life brings our way just when we think we've got it all figured out.

It's sort of a Jane Austen high society satire with a look into the impoverished side of things as well as racial -- speciest? (well, mice vs. people) differences.

If you like madcap capers, romantic intrigue on the high seas, society weddings, witty dialogue and light-hearted, screwball comedy -- try this book.

See you on Wednesday!

P.S. Not quite done with the thrilling fairytale so that'll have to wait until after Christmas.  I'll be taking a break next week and will return on Jan. 1.

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Line Friday No. 18

In honor of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arriving at midnight in theaters everywhere this morning at precisely 12:01 (yours truly was seated near the front, dressed as Stryder), let's take a peek at the famous children's fantasy that spawned a new era in literature (along with Chronicles of Narnia and The Chronicles of Prydain, of course).

"In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort...(skipping a few paragraphs of description)...this hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins.  The Bagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected; you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.  This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.  He may have lost the neighbors' respect, but he gained -- well, you will see whether he gained anything at the end."

--from The Hobbit (or There and Back Again) by J.R.R. Tolkien

I will admit to having a difficult time reading Tolkien -- his descriptions are seemingly endless and I find myself unable to go on any further after spending twenty pages with the same tree.  BUT, I love his stories.  They're incredible -- he created languages, maps, charts, dozens of characters, each worthy of our attention.  I don't know many authors who are capable of creating a very real, other world.

So, I'm going to give The Hobbit another go.  Here's why:

1. The first sentence is perfect -- you have the setting and the main character in very few words! 
2.  You know exactly HOW a hobbit is before you know WHAT it is -- a hobbit's main concern is comfort.
3.  Baggins.  Great name (one of the many great names Tolkien imagined while writing this epic).
4.  The story of an atypical, unique hobbit who gives up his comforts (literally) to go on an adventure...this has got to be the beginning to a great story!
5.  ...well, now I must see if and what he gained in the end.  Clever, Tolkien.

Did you see the movie last night?  Will you see it this weekend/next week?  Thoughts?

 See you on Monday with a review -- I'm reading a proper fairytale (I'll explain what I mean on Monday) and I'm quite thrilled about it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Write Wednesday: Just Keep Writing

I go back and forth with the question "Am I A Writer?"

Sometimes, I think, "I only write as a hobby."  Other times, I envision myself in a writing room with a bunch of other writes creating stories on a well-loved, long-lived TV show.  And sometimes, I just feel the urge to write and a poem appears.

No matter what is happening, I get the itch to write.  It's a nagging sensation in my fingers and head that wants me to spill out a story.

And sometimes, to my shame, I ignore it and am completely unproductive.  Other times, I crank out a few thousands words and feel...assuaged?  I feel better.  Like something just came into focus.

I guess the more I write, the more I want to write.  So the advice today is...

Just keep writing.  Every day.  No matter if you have the itch or not.  Writing begets writing, and the more you exercise those muscles, the stronger they'll be.

If you are having a difficulty in coming up with stuff to write, watch something that inspires you or tugs at your heartstrings -- lately, for me, this has included everything from an episode of Glee, Freaks and Geeks, Supernatural, or the movie The King's Speech (or any Harry Potter movie).

Or, find a writing prompt.  Ask someone to give you a topic.  Read up on something you've always wanted to know more about (Amelia Earhart, Grace O'Malley the Irish Pirate Queen, the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, whatever strikes your fancy) -- or write about something you know too well (little brothers, for instance).

And on those days when you yearn to write...don't kid yourself that the elaborate prose you dictate to your fingers is The Next Big Thing.  But don't throw it out with the trash either, because it COULD be TNBT with a little editing...perhaps.

Just keep writing, writing, writing, writing, writing.

Those who are determined and keep writing eventually, I believe, find an audience.

 Go write something.  Your audience will find you eventually (and for now, YOU are your audience, so write what you'd like to read).

I'm going to go follow my own advice now.

(Do you have any advice for me?  Writing prompts?  ...Anything?)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Although it probably looks like I've been reading only YA for the past month or so, that isn't really the case.  I've peppered my reading with the Dresden Files (Jim Butcher -- amazing writer) and a few grown-up books here and there (including an ill-fated turn in Rowling's new book -- A Casual Vacancy) -- including this one, Why We Broke Up.

I was surprised and delighted to find that Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) had paired up with an illustrator to tell the tale of a break-up.

I know that sounds disheartening.  A story full of young love, woe, and several objects relating to the relationship -- a book of matches, beer bottle caps, rose petals, etc.  All the trappings of a bad romance.

But the book is surprisingly delicate, sensitive, and hopeful.

I loved it.

It spoke to me in a way I've never been spoken to before except in the occasional, and quite rare, beautiful indie movie.

It spoke to me about my own bad romance, painful breakup, and the happiness of finding love again.

It spoke to me about the fragility of relationships and the care you must take in keeping them, no matter if they're friendships or romantic entanglements.

It reminded me of a past I'd tried to push down and forget instead of processing.

It helped me heal.

It's a beautiful portrayal of life at the age where everything seems magical up until that moment when everything goes dark and you reach adulthood.

There are gorgeously written descriptions, spare bits of dialogue, and an overwhelming feeling of "I remember this..." enclosed in these pages.

And although there are, of course, a few things that might offend (although not in detail), the overall message is one of hope, and I'm deeply grateful it chose to end in such a way instead of taking the overused (and abused) typically indie ending of "No one is happy, and that's life."

Instead, this brilliant and illuminating story ends with an affirmation -- that you will love again, that love will find you, when you least expect it.

This is going on my Christmas list.

I can't wait to read it again.

Friday, December 7, 2012

First Line Friday No. 17

Today I'll be doing things a little differently...we're going to be talking about CHRISTMAS books!

One of my favorite holiday memories is getting a huge stack of books from the library and carefully selecting one each night for my mom to read.  We'd all snuggle onto the couch (or the floor by the tree), beg my dad for a fire and listen to Mom read before she got too sleepy and started yawning.

My favorite Christmas books had to be special.  They had to be beautiful in both word AND illustration and they had to mean something BIG. 

Here, then, are some of my favorite Christmas stories, and their first lines.  Enjoy.

1. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (words & pictures)

"On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed.  I did not rustle the sheets.  I breathed slowly and silently.  I was listening for a sound -- a sound a friend had told me I'd never hear -- the ringing bells of Santa's sleigh."

Can you hear the magic in those words, especially the last line?  It takes my breath away.

2.  The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston (words) and Barbara Cooney (pictures)

"It was getting toward Christmas in the valley of Pine Grove.  The wise folk said the old woman in the sky was picking her geese, for the Appalachian mountains were blanketed with snow.  The road wound like white ribbons around the misty blue ridges, tracked by the runners of wagons, sleds, and sleighs.  Occasionally an auty-mobile chugged its way through the silence.  Across the ocean the Great War raged, but in the valley all was peace.

It was getting on toward the Christmas that Ruthie would never forget.  The Christmas when the village almost did not have a Christmas tree.  It happened this way.  Ruthie told me so."

I love the tone of this story -- it's so rustic and simple and sweet.

3.  Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble (words & pictures)

This one was apparently out-of-print so I can't find the first few lines.  :(

4.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

"Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!"

I love the Grinch.  :3

What are your favorite Christmas stories?  Tell me in the comments!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Welcome back to Write Wednesday!  Today I'm going to be talking about one of my favorite subjects in the entire universe, and I'm really not exaggerating.  We're talking about VILLAINS.

If you know me, you know I'm a sucker for a misunderstood anti-hero/villain.  I can really hate purely evil villains, but I love a story where the evil character is evil because of REASONS.  So...

Today I thought I'd show you some awesome villains from books and films (all good stories) and talk about what makes them so good -- and so creepy, evil, hate-invoking, amazing, heart-wrenching, whatever.

I think I need this because I'm struggling with a villain in my current WIP.

Since this blog is mainly about stories told through the medium of written words, I'll go with our literary villains first.

1. Delores Umbridge from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

I know I said I really love a character who is evil because of REASONS but Umbridge really is the most detestable, despicable, deplorable villain in the known universe, despite this lack.  My reasons?  She feels she is doing the RIGHT thing.  Villains are so dangerous because they (usually) are doing something they really believe in, for the "greater good" or whatever other silly reason they've concocted to pacify their consciences.  Umbridge wants ORDER and she will do anything (literally) to get it -- including TORTURING CHILDREN.  She even talks herself around it until she's completely comfortable with breaking laws.

Her drive and passion for ORDER upset the entire school (and probably wizarding world, come to think of it) and her love of "cute" pink things and kittens only intensifies my  hatred because something so innocent as the color pink (young love, ballet, blush, etc.) and kittens (soft, loveable, etc.) belie Delores' battering ram personality and her real, vicious enjoyment of other peoples' pain.

(Severus Snape, one of my favorite characters on the earth, does not count as a villain, but rather an antihero, which is why I excluded him from this list.  Also, Voldemort is scary and everything but I've never wanted to kill anyone more than I have Umbridge, so that's why she's replacing him as best villain in the Potter Series)

2. Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Seriously.  This (completely incompetent, but his incompetence is only noticed by children) villain is one of my favorites for his sheer bravado brand of cartoony evil (think Dr. Doofenshmirtz from the awesome cartoon Phineas & Ferb).  He firmly believes HE is the hero of his own story (as every great villain does) and will do absolutely anything (ridiculous or not) to achieve his goals.  His costumes and disguises are the worst, he can't bluff to save his life and somehow, he still gets away with murder -- at least where adults are concerned.  I love to hate him.  A true deliciously evil villain.

3.  Jeb from the Maximum Ride Series

Here's where we get to a villain with REASONS.  Jeb is *trying* to do the right thing, in a twisted, save-the-world complex sort of way.  He creates these beings with wings (flying children -- awesome) and raises them together like a flock.  Only problem?  He's actually evil.  He's got the I-am-a-scientist-therefore-I-know-better-than-most-of-the-population complex, he's trying to do what he thinks is right (which is actually terribly WRONG -- the kids see that) and meanwhile tries to remain on good terms with the children.  It's heartbreaking, really.  He has to see the eventual crumbling of his family and even though he tries his hardest, he just isn't good enough...he's evil.

Those are probably my top three from this year.  Who are your favorite love-to-hate villains in literature?

And now, for the film part.

These villains are more of the villains-with-REASONS type that I was talking about earlier, and these particular films do a fantastic job of showing you WHY they are this way.  I think that's one thing about the books I read that I wish was done better.  I want more villain back story (but that's hard to do well unless your MC is a villain...GASP).

1. Joker from The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan

Might be my all-time favorite villain.  Umbridge is my favorite literary villain (in terms of being the greatest), but Joker takes the cake for one reason: his anarchic tendencies terrify me.  He is literally crazy.  Psychotic.  A Sociopath.  Pure evil, unadulterated by anything.  His only dream is to live in the chaos of humanity, and you just can't get any scarier than that.

His made-up stories about how he got his scars and his ability to unnerve everyone make me suspect he had a wretched parent.  Maybe Umbridge?

2.  Loki from The Avengers by Joss Whedon

Ok...I adore Loki.  I get where he's coming from.  We all do.  All of us understand what it feels like to not be enough.  We live with that fear, and Loki embodies it.  What if we aren't what our parents wanted?  What if we fail?  Those seeds of fear grew as Loki did and took root, causing him to lash out at his father (who he admired), his brother (who loves him) and the whole Avengers team (who kicked his butt).  But Coulson's right -- Loki doesn't have the conviction that most villains do, and that's why he ultimately fails.  He doesn't really want to be the bad guy.  That's what's so heartbreaking about Loki.

(I have high hopes for this storyline in Avengers 2, since Joss is still at the helm.  I'm extremely interested in a Spike-type character arc for Loki -- yay flawed anti-hero given redemption storylines!)

3.  Silva from Skyfall by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan

I just saw Skyfall in theaters last week is my favorite Bond movie (husband and I are currently loading up our Netflix with Bond films so that we can talk about it more accurately, although most critics seem to agree that it is one of the better, if not the best of the Bond films).  Partially, I admit, because of the villain.

Silva, at first, is someone you don't understand.  Why's he so hellbent on cyberterror?  Why is he terrorizing M?  And how bad could a cyber villain actually BE?

Um, REALLY BAD.  Actually, horrifying.  Slimy.  Uncomfortable.  And then horrifyingly sympathetic when you realize the reason behind his madness.

He's a hurting human being and he's lashing out like a child.  He got left behind.  And he's back to seek revenge on the person who left him.  It's a powerful villain role and one that will be stuck in my mind for a while.

The emotional resonance is there.  You FEEL for him.  But he's so undeniably creepy that it makes you uncomfortable.  Would YOU behave like him if it happened to you?

No matter how blown out of proportion he assumes his relationship is (with the person he hates so much), no matter how uncomfortable he enjoys making Bond feel, and no matter how careless he is with human life (he uses a girl for target practice to see if Bond will break), there's a beating, grieving heart inside him and it's absolutely painful to realize just how far out of humanity he's been driven.

 I guess I'd sum up the best villains as:

1. Those who have a purpose to which they are seriously wedded -- they will do ANYTHING to achieve their goal
2. Those who are like they are for a REASON
3.  Those who know the hero intimately (and can make us squirm when they tempt the hero with the hero's own goal)

Who is your favorite cinematic villain?  Why?

Other favorites of mine:

Dr. Horrible from Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog by Joss Whedon

Alpha from Dollhouse by Joss Whedon (and other various villains from that show)
Dexter from the show Dexter developed by J. Manos, Jr.

See you on Friday for First Lines!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

I'm delighted to discover that there are a host of books devoted to the mash up of magic and history, particularly specific historical periods in Great Britain.  Who wouldn't love the idea of Regency England and Sorcery?  I dare say Miss Austen would have enjoyed such tales herself.

Therefore, I was thrilled to poke my nose into Kat's business and learn about her vexing old sisters, forbidden magic, and dangerous society snobs.  The blend of politics, familial drama and societal standards are what make the magic so intriguing (and Kat so miserable).

Monetary demands must be met, so Stepmama (who is more tiresome and meddling than evil) pressures Kat's oldest sister (who has a penchant for Gothic novels and fancies herself a heroine martyr) to marry an older man who they have never seen in order to preserve their societal standard of living.  Unfortunately, he's rumored to have murdered his first wife (and the truth is...not far from that).  So Kat and her other sister, independently of each other, scramble to their dead mother's magic texts and items to uncover a way to save their sister.

Unfortunately, they can't keep their magic hidden forever and different factions of magic users make themselves known in a (polite and well-mannered) battle for one of the girls.  Who can they trust when everyone seems to want them for their own purposes?  How will they escape the clutches of a possible murderer, two highwaymen, and an accidentally besotted admirer?

Pick up Stephanie Burgis' delightfully whimsical mixture of ball gowns and spells to find out for yourself.

See you tomorrow, when I'll be discussing delightfully detestable villains for Write Wednesday!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review Postponed

Too sick to post today.

Will post the review tomorrow.