Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: coming home

I love to travel and visit new places. Not all the time, but at least three or four times a year if I can, and it doesn't have to be far away or require a plane ticket, though that's certainly a bonus.

One of the things I love about travel is coming home. After a few days seeing new places, sleeping in different beds, living out of a suitcase, filling my senses with new sights and sounds, it's wonderful to cuddle back into the familiar. Being away for a little while makes you see the familiar in a new light. I remember how my first semester away at college was sensory overload, but when I came home it was sensory overload all over again: processing all the familiar things in light of the different perspective I'd had to adjust to.
December 23, 1988
After my last exam, Mom & Melissa came to pick me up from Oswego. Before I knew it we were back in Buffalo, in my old familiar territory and I was craning my head out the windows to look at everything – all the ordinary streets, stores and houses I’ve taken for granted for most of my life. As we drove up to the corner of Morris and Parker on the way to Melissa’s house, I was too excited to wait and I jumped out at the corner and ran the rest of the way home while Mom dropped Melissa off. Leia was right there and so was Dad and I hugged her, then Dad, then her, then him, I was so happy. 

Something I'm facing right now is the familiar, the coming home, has forever changed.  My dad died a couple weeks ago. Now I am processing the familiar in a different way. Coming home is now bittersweet. Walking into my parents' home and seeing his chair empty. Hearing something that I know he would've have quipped about - except he's not there anymore with his ever-ready quips and puns.

I've been going through old photos and journals and crying over memories. Even though the memories are precious, they've become much more fragile without being able to share them with him anymore.

In a sense, I'm not really able to "come home" right now. I'm on this new strange journey where I circle endlessly around the familiar without being able to cuddle into it anymore.

Writing about it helps.

Also, the cards and memories friends and family shared have helped. My mom and I received a letter from one of Dad's friends for over 50 years. He  listed memory after memory, and I was so grateful. Some of his memories overlapped my own (making them less fragile!) and some were entirely new to me, new insights into my father. It's amazing how you can know someone your whole life, and never completely know him. There's always more to discover - and does death end this? Absolutely not, I am convinced. Our bodies wear out, but our souls are eternal.
But when this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (I Corinthians 15:54-57).
 One of my favorite photos of me and my dad from 1992:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Five ecstatic stars to Uprooted by Naomi Novik

As a huge, huge fan of the Temeraire series, I am so excited to share my review for Naomi Novik's new book, Uprooted (releases today).  5 ecstatic stars!  

 Uprooted

Temeraire is a re-imagining of the Napoleonaic wars if dragons were used in combat. Like a mix of Master and Commander and How to Train Your Dragon. Now, there's only an occasional reference to dragons in Uprooted, and it was a lot scarier than anything I've read in the Temeraire series, but oh my goodness I loved this book! It had the classic feel of my favorites: it had a feel of Lord of the Rings in it, especially the forest parts (Old Man Willow!);  it had the awkward, strong girl hero like in The Blue Sword; it had the darkness and danger and complicated magic of Sabriel in it; and it's got an interesting romance and a wonderful story of the friendship of two girls, Neishka and Kasia. And that ending, oh, it had a surprising, beautiful, soul-wrenching quality to it that reminded me of the climax of A Wrinkle in Time. 

The main character Neishka is so unique I can't think of another heroine to compare her too. I loved that she was at one point mistaken for a young (and more trustworthy) Baba Yaga; she had that orneriness about her. (Speaking of Baba Yaga, this book had the wonderful feel of Eastern Europe and Russia about its edges and in its names). Neishka also reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, or Anne of Green Gables always getting into one of her scrapes, if these girls had been a little older and allowed to run more frequently barefooted through the woods and track mud back into the house. 

Which brings me to the Wood, and what an enigma it was. It was evil, oh so very evil, and I really struggled with that because, you know, Ents!! And even Huorns (scary things, but they used their dreadful power to destroy evil). This Wood was like that scene of Snow White running through the forest with the trees snagging her dress and trying to grab her that terrified me endlessly when I was 5 years old. This Wood made you feel five years old again, surrounded by trees with horrible eyes staring out of them. This was much worse than the Old Willow trying to swallow up Merry and Pippin. This was so WRONG. But there's a reason for the wrongness that finally makes sense in the end. 

Then there is this interesting tangle of a - romance? - not quite the right word! about it too. I expect a lot of people to go up in arms about 17 year old Neishka taking advantage of 150 year old Sarkan; I expect even more outrage over the horrible way he mocked and name-called our heroine, but I've thought about it carefully and I think the author took care to explain the complicated creature that was the Dragon (Sarkan). He was like an army drill sergeant in charge of shaping a spindly raw recruit into a fighting machine, only to discover she was his equal, but in an entirely unexpected way. It was when they discovered that their magic was so different but complimentary that I truly fell in love with this story. And Sarkan's crankiness is so very adorable (in a sort of Gandalf way), because along with it we'd get these tantalizing hints that under all the crusty salt he was golden:

I darted a quick glance at him. He was staring down at the dough trying to keep his scowl, and flushed at the same time with the high transcendent light that he brought to his elaborate workings: delighted and also annoyed, trying not to be.

Oh another thing I loved about Sarkan are all the spells he planted in his tower. Neishka is creeping down one of this hallways when this really cool, scary thing happens (see my longer Goodreads review if you want hint of it). 

And oh gosh there is so much more that I love about this story. There is a wizard's library, the Charovnikov, and Sarkan has a library too in his tower. Neishka isn't like Belle in the Beast's library, though. She's too unique. She goes after a book about Summoning the Truth, and how she and the Dragon summoned Truth in this story gave me happy chills. 

I had the feeling the Summoning wasn't really meant to be cast alone: as if truth didn't mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn't come and listen.

This was just one of the themes running through this book like the river Spindle running through the valley and the Wood. Of all magic spells, Truth is the strongest but how many people actually want truth? How many of us seek illusion instead? And how hard it is to face Truth in another person, how they REALLY see you? What Neishka and Kasia had to face in each other? 


Note: this is not a young adult book, even though Neishka is 17 years old. There are two extremely violent battle scenes and two sex scenes.

I received a digital copy of Uprooted for my honest review. I was not paid or in any way compensated for raving about it. I truly, honestly, deeply enjoyed this book. I plan to buy myself a copy to always keep, but thank you to Del Rey and Net Galley for giving me a sneak peek.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Insecure Writer: supercharged descriptions

When I'm insecure or discouraged with my writing, I tend to go on a reading binge. (Truthfully, I can use any excuse to go on a reading binge!) I've read a bunch of great books lately, and they've inpsired me with my own writing, and taught me a few new things too.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
The young blind protagonist of  All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, caught my attention, especially since one of my stories is about a girl who has lost her sight temporarily. It's a tremendous World War II book about two children: a girl in France and a boy in Germany and how at their lives intersected even though separated by enemy lines. I'll be posting more about the book soon, but right now here's three things I learned about writing descriptions:

1)  Even if your protagonist isn't blind, it's a powerful exercise to pretend she/he is just as an exercise. When you are forced to describe everything by sound, scent, touch and taste and can't use sight at all, it actually deepens your descriptions and makes them much stronger. The descriptions in this book were vivid and transporting, like I could almost put my hand through the page and touch the things Marie-Laure touched.

2) A description "flipped" can have a powerful impact. Here's an example of Marie-Laure's father observing German and Allied planes fighting in the sky:

...in a moment of disorientation, he feel's that he's looking not up but down, as though a spotlight has been shined into a wedge of bloodshot water, and the sky has become the sea, and the airplanes are hungry fish, harrying their prey in the dark.

3) Take a natural phenomena and transpose it upon a traumatic event for another powerful description:

The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city... and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots...the ramparts crumbling, streets leaking away, block-long mansions falling like toys.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Girl At Midnight



A book that promises mythical creatures always makes me prick my ears, and The Girl at Midnight   (debut young adult fantasy), by Melissa Gray, had a really unique take on the firebird legend. 

The firebird doesn't actually show up, or any other true mythical creatures, but instead you get two magical sort of half-human races, one descended from dragons and one half-human, half-bird, each person with some similarities to different kinds of bird (owls, peacocks, ravens, etc). The two races, the Drakarn and the Avicen, live on the edges of contemporary society, hidden by their magic. And they are at war with each other. In the middle between them is Echo, a potential bridge to peace, a young human girl. The girl at midnight. 
The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight, #1)

It's wonderful when you have so many things you love in a book that you start numbering them because you're so excited to see how high your numbers will go: 

1) A secret room in the New York City Public library where Echo lives and hoards books. 

2) Echo's whip-smart but vulnerable character: "she had the unflappable compsure of those who have lived too long in too short a span of time"

3) the interesting use of travel via the "in-between"

4) The collection of foreign words that don't have equivalent meanings in English (but should). "Kalverliefde. The euphoria you experience when you fall in love for the first time. For a word that contained only four letters, love felt like a monumental leap"

5) Wonderful characterization! "Echo did not giggle. She chuckled. She cackled. Occasionally, she even chortled. But giggling? Heavens, no." 

6) Laugh out loud moments! "If her hormones had a face, she would slap it"

7) A Lord of the Rings reference! "Greatness is not always good." "Yeah, yeah, one ring to trule them all, I get it"

8) Real life truth for teens. Actually, great advice for any age. "The young always think they are invincible. Right up to the moment they learn otherwise. Usually, the hard way" "To know the truth, you must first want the truth"

9) a delicious new mythology developed out of the real Serbian mythology of the Ala, a female spirit associated with bad weather, sometimes seen as a raven, whose traditional enemy is the dragon. 

10) The clever reimagining of the firebird as the only possible bridge for peace between two warring mythical races: the bird-like Avicen and the fire-breathing dragon-descended Drakhar. 

11) the symbolism of the magpie and the mirror!

"They make excellent thieves, you know."
There was something unbearably sad about him. For a brief moment she saw the person he might have been long ago, before the war had taken its toll. "They're smart, too... they are the only birds that pass the mirror test... The humble magpie is the only bird that can recognize it's own reflection."


12) the hints about Echo's name. "The firebird?" Yes. The word held an echo, as though it were spoken by many voices at once.

13) masks and the past: "just because it's in the past doesn't mean its over"

14) an epic betrayal

15) An interesting collection of settings, from delicious but too-short moments in Scotland and Kyoto, to Strasbourg (needed more of that, too), followed by the Black Forest in Germany. I've decided I love fantasy settings even more when they are intermixed with with real settings that I might have the opportunity to visit someday.

Though the book is a respectable 360 pages, I wish it could have been longer. I dearly wanted to see more of the marvelous settings and characters (definitely want more of the Ala!) Perrin was developed so well I thought he would be critical to the story, but he had only one early-on scene! 

I thought all the characters were memorable (even Ruby), and I wanted to see more of them; I wanted this to be an EPIC fantasy cast. I wanted more back story! More history! More world-building! I got fantastic HINTS of all this, but I wanted MOOOORRREEE; and not as a sequel. Sequels give you more, yes, but what I mean is I wanted THIS book to give me more. I still felt an itch when it finished. 

Many reviewers have compared it to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I definitely see the same appeal. The parallels between the stories didn't bother me; I don't think The Midnight Girl was a copy cat, but it didn't quite have the same depth as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. However I think it will appeal to readers who want more action and less description and introspection. I've only read one of Cassandra Clare's books but my gut feeling is it will appeal more to her fans than to Laini Taylor's. 

Disclosure: there is some kissing in this book and sexual innuendo but no sex. There are two male side characters that become romantically involved. 

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the free advance copy. It did not influence my review in anyway.

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