Thursday, October 28, 2010

Half Magic by Edward Eager

Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha are bored.  It's summer and they have nothing to do, except sit at home and clean while their nanny, Miss Bick, tells them what to do.  Their father died years ago and their mother cannot stay at home with them.  So, the four children think hard about what they can do to make their summer not so boring...and that's when they find a small little nickel on the ground.  It looks like an ordinary nickel from afar, but when held up close, you can see the strange runes carved onto it.

Before they know it - and without them knowing it! - the four children are sucked into a great and terrible adventure, full of halves and doubles and gray houses and knights and jousts and being half-there and half-not.  It is full of lessons and love and learning what it means to become a happy family.

For an advanced reader, the first chapter isn't amazing.  Nothing really happens and Edward Eager's writing is very simple.  When the charm (the nickel) comes into play, however, and begins working its magic, the story picks up.  It was a laugh!  There were so many funny one-liners that made me giggle out loud.  Puns, was all there.  The children are all well-developed: Jane is the sensible one, Mark is the smartest (because he's the boy), Katherine is the romantic, and Martha is the most outspoken.  Their mother and Mr. Smith were great additions to a great story with a great, lovable ending.  The story had twists and turns that led you right where Eager wanted you...where you want to be, too.  Happy.  All in all, this was one great read and I highly recommend it to children of all ages - and adults too! - who want to laugh and smile with a lighthearted story that will always be loved.

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer

Cosmo Hill, nosponsor, orphan at Clarissa Frayne.  Guinea pig for new chemicals and medicines.  One of hundreds of thousands who long to be free of the dreadful orphanages.  He has one friend, Ziploc.  Well, if you could call him a friend.  He was a nosponser like the rest of them, and the only one with the audacity to talk more than needed.  If anything, Ziploc would get him into more trouble than he already was.

And that's exactly what happens.  When Ziploc, chained to Cosmo, jumps off a building to avoid being taken back to Clarissa Frayne, Cosmo is pulled with him.  With the accident comes terrible consequences - Ziploc dies almost immediately from the force of the impact.  But Cosmo...Cosmo is different.  He's alive, yes, but he's also seeing things.  The little blue creatures around him are sucking the life out of him - he can see the life flowing through their small bodies and back into the sky.  It is then that the Supernaturalists come to Cosmo's rescue, saving his life and killing many of the life-sucking Parasites.  Cosmo soon discovers that he and only a few other people can see these blue Parasites, and he is pulled right into a mystery that he never would have dreamed existed.

If you've read my review for Colfer's newer novel, Airman, you know that I'm a fan.  This was my second Colfer book and once again, I was thoroughly impressed.  I picked it up because I needed a filler for my free time, unsure of what I would find behind the cover of the book or if I would like it.  However, I found within the first twenty pages that I loved it.  Not only is it written fantastically well, but it has an atmosphere that was entirely unexpected.  It takes place in a futuristic world, one where you would expect people to be living large.  A world where everything is perfect.  Where everyone has jobs and everyone is happy.  At least, that's what you would believe if you lived in the upper class of society.  But this book takes place in the slums, where food is scarce, clothes are torn and used thin.  Where children are trying to survive and gangs are strong and hard and cold.

The characters are believable, even with their strange, futuristic attributes and/or their flaws.  Stephan is by far my favorite.  Dark, handsome, tall...trying to be a leader but unsure of how exactly to help those around him.  He loves his friends with a sacrificial love and only wants to rid the world of the Parasites that are sucking the life out of us all.

And the writing...  Colfer is one of those writers who knows what he's doing.  He's got the story structure, the characters - and the style.  He is his own voice, and his voice carries like a shout in the mountains - one that echoes and echoes and echoes.  One that will always be remembered.

I encourage you to read this book.

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, Quotes

I will be washed away.  I will be battered and picked at.  I will stoop and sag.  My skin will be stretched and folded and eventually pounded into sand.  Decay will catch me.  But for now, until the day I lose, I will win.  I will pack my body's walls with strength it cannot keep.  I will eat and drink.  And when the tide is out, rocking back, I will close my eyes and rest my bones.

- Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson
Page 162, Summer Hiatus: Sand Castles

Favorite author.  Read read read read!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What I'm Reading...October, 2010

What I'm reading right now:

What is the What by Dave Eggers

Shockingly, it is my only read right now.  (It's like old times when my mom limited me to one book at a time...I kind of miss those days...)  I was reading the Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, but it's a bit boring.  I want to spend my time reading books that are captivating and I will love.  I'm putting Phantom down for a while to read something easier...probably a kid's book.  I feel like I haven't read a kid's in a long time.  Plus I have no time for anything more advanced.  The end of November, my musical will be over and I can read and write more often. :)

Possible reads:
Half Magic by Edward Eager  (most likely this one...)
The Magic City by Edith Nesbit
Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

It's between one of those four.  We shall see...

Until my next post - Happy reading! :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Henry Fleming, a young man who joined the army against his mother's wishes, wants to know the meaning of courage.  He wants to be brave, to fight in the war and be honored for his love for his country.  But then come the doubts, the rage, the fear.  And Henry, the youth, must learn the hard way what it really means to wear the red badge of courage.

It's a short novel, and beautifully crafted and written and built, but it's not an easy read, per se.  (I want to read it again soon because I had a to read it a little fast for my liking in order to get my homework done.)  Most of the characters have names, but Crane tends to use their character handles in reference to them.  Henry is most often referred to as "the youth."  There is the "tall soldier," "the loud soldier," etc.  This is a very original and - I found - fascinating way to identify the characters, but for a reader who is not used to reading like that, it is more difficult and takes more time.  Crane also uses many metaphors to describe the battefields and what "the youth" is feeling.  He also uses a lot of color.  And while this makes for a beautiful story with beautiful illustrations, it is a bit harder to follow.

But don't let that stop you.  By all means, read this book.  What fasinated me most about it was the way I felt while reading it.  I could picture everything perfectly.  The battlescenes flowed from beginning to end, ever deathly and beautiful all in one.  I almost felt like I was reading in slow motion.  I could picture "the youth" scrambling in the field, avoiding every bullet and tumbling into the trees in fright.  I was there, among the soldiers.  I was fighting and killing and brandishing a weapon.  I saw the battles in a three dimensional whirl-wind of color, with bullets singeing my face and debris cutting my skin.

I wore the red badge of courage.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe

Uncle Tom lives in Kentucky under the kind Shelby family, where he has had the life of ease, even as a slave in America. He's treated with respect, both him and his family. He has helped work the Shelby's land for years. Tom loves the Lord, and serves Him all the days of his life. His heart is set on winning others to Jesus and serving the saved and unsaved. He is joyful. He has everything a slave could ask for.

But Shelby has some debts to settle. Tom, the most valuable slave on the plantation, is sold, and sent with a trader named Haley to be sold. It is the beginning of one of the greatest adventures ever put to paper. It is an adventure of sorrow, broken hearts, and a love that is more redeeming than any human love.

I was greatly impressed by this book.  Before I was finished with it, I read in a curriculum that many writers and publishers were very critical of Stowe's work, that many did (and do) not like it.  Even then I wasn't quite sure why, but at the end I was confused.  How could anyone dislike this book?  Even if the story is too sad for you - how can you not at least see the beauty of the characters and how Stowe formed each sentence?  It was all careful, taking one step, one breath at a time.  The book was like that.  Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.  Methodical, like breathing.  And what's the beauty of breathing?  It keeps you alive without you even knowing it.  In a sense, Uncle Tom's Cabin was like that.  Every breath was perfect, I didn't even realize it, but it kept the story going in a way that I will never, ever forget.

There isn't much else to say about this story...other than please, I beg you to read this book.  I laughed, I cried my eyes out, I went numb with fear and hatred, I was captivated by the love of God.  And Tom, the slave who is now free, will always be a hero.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs

Jamie McKie and his brother Evan are twins...and yet they are not.  Evan was born before midnight on Wednesday; Jamie was born after midnight on Thursday.  In Irish culture in the late 1700's, the firstborn is given the father's land and money when the father is gone.  But this family is destined to be different.  After the prophecy from the Almighty, "The older will serve the younger," the boys' mother makes sure that this happens, through deceiving her blind husband into thinking that Jamie is his hairier and stouter brother Evan.  When Evan threatens to kills Jamie, Jamie goes to Auchengray at his mother's wishes to a make a bride from one of his two cousins, Leana and Rose.  While the journey to Auchengray is trying, his stay with his family is even more so, and Jamie must learn what real love is before his whole life is ruined.

To anyone who has read the story of Jacob and Rachel in the Bible, this is a familiar story.  To me, it was like looking at the back of my hand - at least, for the first seventy-five pages or so.  Up until that point the story is almost exactly like the Bible story, only, of course, in a different setting and era.  But as soon as Jamie arrives at Auchengray, I was at a loss to what would happen.  The Bible story is written without the many details of your average love story; it gives only the details needed, those that are important.  However, to create a whole novel based on this story, Liz Curtis Higgs had to add things.  Some may have been true, and some may not have been.  However, Higgs fills her story with her own bright and lovely characters, a few of her own twists and turns, and and ending that you'll never forget, and one that will make you go wild to get the second one in your hands.

For one thing, this story very plainly shows deep and thoroughly felt emotions.  Jamie, Leana, and Rose are all wronged in the story, creating strife, anger, love, jealousy, and ravaging terror.  As you read it your emotions will change with the emotions of the character you are reading about at the moment; and then, when time comes to change perspective, you will feel exactly what that character is feeling.  Your view of the story will change multiple times; you will suddenly think completely differently about things that you once believed to be true; your eyes will be opened and all you will be able to do is keep reading.

Liz Curtis Higgs is very learned in Irish culture and is also very skilled with her pen.  Lord knows how she was able to create such an intricate story of deceit and love and forgiveness while still keeping as close to the Bible story as possible, and giving the character more life than many authors ever dream of.  As I stand thoroughly impressed, I highly recommend this hearty story of a braw lad and two of the bonniest lasses in Ireland.

(This book is an older romance novel; recommended for adults.  Several scenes involve a couple's marriage bed and certain difficulties with this that have arisen from another character's deceitfulness.  While these scenes are not, in a sense, explicit, they are at the very least very sensual.)

What is the What, Quotes

This is an extremely powerful book...I'm very happy I'm reading it.

TV Boy, you are no doubt thinking that we're absurdly primitive people, that a village that doesn't know whether or not to remove the plastic from a bicycle - that such a place would of course be vulnerable to attack, to famine and any other calamity.  And there is some truth to this.  In some cases we have been slow to adapt.  And yes, the world we lived in was an isolated one.  There were no TVs there, I should say to you, and I imagine it would not be difficult for you to imagine what this would do to your own brain, needing as it does steady stimulation.

- What is the What by Dave Eggers
Chapter 3, page 40

TV Boy, Valentine. Powder, and Tonya  -  Africa.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Jacob Reckless hasn't felt at home in our world for twelve years.  His haven in found beyond the mirror in his father's study; where people live in little villages and cottages, monsters are common talk amongst the town-folk, stone men rule and push for power, fairies are dark and deceptive, and the Empress of Austry is a treasure-hunter.  Jacob himself is a treasure-hunter, often working for Her Majesty to find her desires - a wishing table, a glass slipper, a golden ball.  Jacob lives here most of the time, lying to his brother that he is going on vacation, a business trip, a trip to see a friend in need.  He loves his brother, but too much pain lies outside of the mirror, where both of his parents are dead and his life is falling apart.  And all is well on this side of the mirror.  It is dangerous, yes, but Jacob has nothing to lose...  Or so he thinks.  Because of a simple mistake, Jacob's brother Will has followed him over.  And what's worse is Will has been clawed by a stone man, a Goyl, and now Will's skin is slowly turning to stone.  Jacob must do everything he can before his kind and gentle brother turns completely into a stone man, heart and all.

I've loved Cornelia Funke's books ever since I read Inkheart "that fateful day" a few years ago.  Since then, I've read everything of hers I can get my hands on.  Almost every book has been absolutely incredible; only one has been a disappointment (Dragon Rider).  I preordered Reckless six months ago, hoping it would be another classic like the Inkbooks...

In a way it was wonderful, and in a way it was not.  I'll list the bad first.
First thing:  I didn't love the translation.  I wish wish wish Anthea Bell had translated this one (she translated the Inkbooks), but it was Oliver Latsch.  I like his stuff, but sometimes his wording is funny and doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Second thing:  Cornelia's books may be labled as "children's books", but don't believe it.  I can't imagine letting my child read this book.  I think a good age to start at is 15.  For one this is a very dark story (much of it is derived from the Grimm's fairytales); it also has some sensual scenes invovling men and the fairies they have fallen in love with.  The fairies, as stated before, are dark and deceptive, but also very seductive.  Jacob and the king of the Goyl love two different fairies, both of whom aren't always faithful.

And then comes the good...
Cornelia is a master at weaving a great story, from start to finish.  She draws power from folklore and her favorite stories, but she is also incredibly original.  Reckless was just so.  While it could have been a terrible retelling of Grimm's fairytales (what it was built on and after), it was a wonderful example of taking from the classics without copying them.  Another very good aspect of Reckless is that Cornelia is not afraid to give her characters pain.  It is what real stories are made of, and this author definitely knows how to toy with her reader's emotions for the characters by making them endure hardship.  This is much of what kept me into the book the whole time.  Sacrifice and hardship make books so much more real.

So, in all, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the next one (she plans on writing at least two more books about Jacob Reckless and his world beyond the mirror).  And while this is a novel worth reading (although not a classic in my opinion), it is not for everyone, especially not for children.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

Creel doesn't know what to expect when her nice but greedy aunt sends her to the dragon's cave to get rescued by a rich count - or prince, for that matter - and be swept away. Her aunt's hope is that Creel will end up with enough riches to support her and the rest of her extended family for a lifetime. Creel, however, manages to bargain with her dragon captor and even manages to win a pair of blue slippers from the dragon's lair. However, these slippers have more to do with dragons that she could ever imagine, and Creel is suddenly caught up in a whirlwind of adventures involving dragons (of course), princes, dress-makers, spoiled princesses, and angry kings. It is up to her and the power in her dragon slippers to stop the evil forces at work.

I really enjoyed this book; it flowed (mostly), it was sweet and clean, and it made me laugh. Creel's character was vibrant and spunky; the whole story she has a lot on her plate and she handles everything quite nicely. She finds herself battling a mean seamstress and falling in love with a handsome prince, all the while trying to save her friend dragon and his people. I was very happy with Dragon Slippers and the unique writing style that is Creel's voice. I thought George's use of Creel's one-of-a-kind talent with embroidery was also very one-of-a-kind; much of the story was built around a very entertaining group of seamstresses. The one downer of this story is the very beginning: while the rest of the book has depth and meaning, the beginning is a filler. While you're reading it, it doesn't really feel like there's a point to why Creel is heading up the mountain to face her doom. In fact, it feels stupid. I put this book down once before because I wasn't sure if I'd stay interested. I'm glad I picked it up again, but keep that in mind when it's your turn.

Side note: Dragon Flight, Creel's next adventure, was a major disappointment. Dragon Slippers ends with enough closure to allow you to leave off reading the rest. If this book sounds just too interesting to not read, go ahead and give it a try. It was wonderful and I enjoyed every last word. However, book two (one reason above many) got really strange with the magic of the dragons. And I felt like it took a whole different path than where she was going in the first one. Also, the beginning of book two starts in a completely different place and state of mind than the first one ends. It was overall confusing and not worth my time; I rarely do this but I put the book down half-way through.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vintage Books: Captain from Castille

Finally, I'm writing a Vintage post. It's been a while.

This beautiful copy of Captain from Castille (by Samuel Shellabarger) was a very happy find for me. I'd wanted to buy and read this book before, but I could never find a copy of it, until after a lot of research, when I found an expensive, pictureless copy on Amazon. While I doubt it's rare, it's hard to find. I was surprised to find this one in a small bookstore in the Escondido library, priced at 50 cents. Um, yah...I think I'll take that! It's in good condition; the cover is perfect but the pages are a bit soft (it's obviously been read). However, I plan on reading it someday because the words are still readable and the spine is only a bit loose.

50 cents. Good buy.

Happy reading! :)

A Dream Within A Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow --
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand --
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep -- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Impress - Words

Impress -
to apply with pressure so as to imprint; to produce (as a mark) by pressure; to mark by or as if by pressure or stamping
to produce a vivid impression of; to affect especially forcibly or deeply; gain the admiration or interest of
transfer; transmit
to stamp

Impress. I've used this word a hundred times. I'm sure it's one of the most used words in the dictionary, it and its variations and tenses. Only when I was writing the post for Uncle Tom's Cabin (I'm working on it right now) I really realized how often I use it without realized the intensity of the word.
You can use it as a simple, "There was an impression in the page." That's basic, and I understand that the page of whatever you are telling me about has had something sitting on it for a while and now it is dented in. However, this word can be used very powerfully as a metaphor. In my Uncle Tom's Cabin review, I mention that the book "impressed me." But what do I mean by that? When I say that, you don't picture me flattened on the ground, impressed into the ground, because in reality, unless the book somehow cut my skin, or was large and heavy enough to flatten some part of my body, it didn't impress me. Not literally.

But it did impress me. It impressed my heart and mind. It gave me new perspectives. When you think about the story that is inside those covers and you imagine it wrapping around your heart and squeezing - impressing - then you have seen what I felt while reading that book. That is truly impressive.

You can use this word as a filler; I will probably use it more than I really need to, just because I need a word to fill the sentence. But I will be more on my guard while using it. There will be times, more than others, that I really feel the impression of whatever I'm talking/writing about. It's then that you can see and feel the true beauty of the word.

The word itself is of Latin origin. Miriam Webster online says: "Middle English, from Latin impressus, past participle of imprimere, from in- + premere = to press. First Known Use: 14th century."

A New Idea

Actually, a couple of new ideas. I've been wanting to add this into my blog for some time now. Words. And songs. Words are the stuff that stories are made of. Songs can tell stories. So I will write about them both. I plan to break down the words and discuss their components, definitions, and different aspects. I hope it will encourage and inspire writers to take apart their writings and see how each word makes a difference in the story. And by writers, I include myself.

Happy reading! :)

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Quotes (3)

Tom looked up to his master, and answered, "Mas'r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I'd give ye my heart's blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I'd give 'em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas'r! don't bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than't will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles'll be over soon; but if ye don't repent, yours won't never end!"
Like a strange snatch of heavenly music, heard in the lull of a tempest, this burst of feeling made a moment's blank pause. Legree stood aghast, and looked at Tom; and there was such a silence that the tick of the old clock could be heard, measuring, with silent touch, the last moments of mercy and probation to that hardened heart.
It was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause, -one irresolute, relenting thrill, -and the spirit of the evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence; and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground.

- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Chapter 40, page 410

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oh, the weather!

I've been absent for a while, it seems. I've been on and off, working on random reviews, but I haven't had a whole lot of time lately. However, I will be making more time for blogging in the near future. I'm feeling extra inspired right now with this incredible, unusual weather (for San Diego at least). It's my favorite weather ever, rainy, cloudly, cold....with lots of opportunities to curl up on the couch and read or write.

It reminds me of picking up Brisingr, digging my sock-covered toes deeper into the blankets to warm them. It reminds me of grabbing a sweatshirt and zipping it up as I attach my flash drive to the computer, beginning to work earnestly and efficiently on the stories that the heat of summer drove me away from. At the moment, as I type, my fingers are stiff and are preparing to put up with the chilly air and a few months of cold, constant typing.

And my heart is fluttering. I know grand stories and terrific adventures and gripping love stories lie ahead. I know my own stories will grow tremendously, coming alive on the page as my fingers whirl (coldly) across the keyboard. My body feels it; my very bones are waiting for it.

And so fall has arrived...