Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Disreputable History, the Kentucky Derby, and Shakespeare High

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a weekly meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to.

What I've been reading:
I just finished two great books. 5 stars people, 5 stars! (I don't give those lightly: only if I am for sure planning to re-read them). These books are both sophisticated YA... but still fun.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart (YA contemporary)  Frankie is a FORCE! She is clever. She is a strategist: she thinks before she speaks, weighing all the options. But she's also vulnerable. She turns the pranks of an all-boys-sort-of-secret-prep-school club inside out. Written with great narrative voice.

The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. (YA fantasy).  Nothing is what it seems in this book of palace intrigue and plotting. Full of witty repartee and a character, Eugenides, you will not soon forget.

Currently reading Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Also reading the Bronze Bow by Elizabeth Speare (a Newbery medal) with my kids. Next in the queue to read: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick, an April new release and Played by Liz Fichera, a May new release.

What I've been writing: 
Querying my YA science fiction, Star Tripped, and editing my MG fantasy, Refuge. Doing some free writing and writing from prompts to find some voice. It never comes easy, and then only in small fragments, but when it does finally appear oh it makes it worth the work.

What else I've been up to: 
Planning a birthday party for my 7 year old twins, it'll be this Saturday May 3, which is Kentucky Derby Day (what? you didn't know that?) So the theme is the Kentucky Derby, of course. The kids will get to pick which race horse they get to be and (if the weather cooperates!) we'll have some relay races and three legged races and so forth... and watch the race on TV of course. And have pony rides (not races) (again, if the weather cooperates: its SNOWING outside as I type this. The disadvantage of living at 7200 ft in Laramie, Wyoming).

What's inspiring me:
I have a very grudging admiration for Shakespeare (mostly due to his fantastic insults!), but recently I came across this documentary called Shakespeare High that, well, inspired me. It's about several teams of drama students in the greater Los Angeles area competing in a Shakespeare festival. One team includes former drug dealers and gang members. Doing Shakespeare. Yes, really. Here's a couple quotes from the film that I actually replayed several times so I could write them down, they were so thought-provoking:
A former gang member: "Do you know why an actor acts? Because he doesn't like who he is. When you act, you get to be somebody you're not. You can make up the character... you can become something you're not. You don't have to work up to it, you don't have to pay, you don't have to do nuthin but be it."

Richard Dreyfuss: "one of things that Shakespeare offers is that immediately you can't understand him, and you have to work immediately just to understand what he's saying. And overwhelmingly he's right, and overwhelmingly he's witty, and overwhelmingly he's wise. And when you start to unpeel the lessons offered you find that that gesture never ends." 
So, after watching this, I have to ask: what's your favorite Shakespearean work (play, poem, etc)? (I'm still trying to figure this out myself)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

There's dialogue... and then there's repartee

Once in a while I'll come across a book where the dialogue really stands out; where the conversation takes on a unique art form of its own. I love the term "repartee" - conversation characterized by quick, witty comments or replies.  Pride and Prejudice is a great example. Here are Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy parrying each other:
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome." 
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody." 
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them.” 

Another book dripping with fantastic dialogue is Jane Eyre. Mr Rochester would totally intimidate me, and I think Jane is intimidated, too, but surprises herself with her own strength:
"You are afraid of me, because I talk like a Sphynx." 
"Your language is enigmatical, sir: but though I am bewildered, I am certainly not afraid." 
"You are afraid; your self-love dreads a blunder." 
"In that sense I do feel apprehensive - I have no wish to talk nonsense."

Some more recent examples of excellent repartee are in the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, Soulless by Gail Carriger, and Stolen Songbird, by Danielle Jensen, which has some great lines between Cecile and Tristan:
"Mark my words, the boy was of a vile sort." 
"Then you are two of a kind," I snapped. 
"Ha ha," Tristan snorted. "How dreadfully clever. And speaking of clever, is this to be your bid for escape?" He contemplated my clothing. "In a dressing gown and bare feet? Now tell me, if I go put on nightclothes and slippers, might I join you, or is this a solo adventure?"
Interestingly, my favorite love stories do not have much repartee; it's the characters actions that seem to really shine (or maybe I tend to fall in love with the quieter, humbler characters that don't have sharp, witty comebacks). But though it may not stir my heart as much, witty dialogue makes my brain exceedingly happy.

A few more words about Stolen Songbird, which just came out earlier in April.

I found this to be an entertaining high fantasy that reminded me in parts of The Blue Sword (girl gets kidnapped and transplanted into a mysterious and magical place), The Silver Chair (a spooky underground kingdom), Beauty and the Beast and Twilight (the twisty and dangerous romantic factor). No vampires here, though: this story is about a human girl kidnapped by trolls  and forced to marry the troll prince to end a curse upon their kingdom. These aren't your standard fairy tale trolls under the bridge type. These are cunning, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, and dangerous both in strength and subtlety.

I've listed a strange combination of comp titles, but those are the stories that sprang to mind for comparison. Except for the main character, Cecile: she's not like any of the characters in the books I've listed. I'm trying to think of a similar character, but I can't, and that's a compliment. Cecile is put into a helpless position, yet somehow she manages to not be helpless, ("it was a game of cat and mouse to them. But I was no mouse.")  The other characters are excellent too and the setting is dark and lovely at the same time... I got some Phantom of the Opera-ish vibes reading this one. But the story's biggest strength is its dialogue: like steel hooks and crystal spikes and burning sparks.

Do you have any favorite examples of great dialogues / repartee?  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Unconventional, complicated female heros

Some of my favorite girl characters are fighters: literally sword-fighters or kick-boxers or killer archers or have super powers like Katniss Everdeen, Sabriel, Alanna, Buffy, and the Avengers' Black Widow.

This Tuesday Top Ten is NOT about them! (This week's theme is Top Ten Characters Who ARE X... we get to pick, from the Broke and Bookish blog). 

I love strong fighting girls. But I don't want every dystopian, fantasy, science fiction or action/thriller book I read to feature a girl who can hold her own in physical combat, or has special powers to the same effect, and I definitely don't want that to become the main requirement for a "strong female character."

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.  (quote from Sophia McDougall's article here) 

Does anyone else feel like the kick-butt heroine is overdone in YA? So many of them in paranormal/dystopian stories in recent years. (tweet by Michelle Witte)

So this is my list of girl heroes in science fiction or fantasy that saved the day, with unconventional strengths.

Elisa in the Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson.
In the first two books and part of the third, Elisa does have a special power that sets her apart, though she struggles with insecurity. Without spoiling the third book, I think I can safely say her power changes enormously. She saves the day in an unexpected way with unconventional strength.

Lilac in These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner.
Spoiled, rich, smart, fashion-saavy, clever with space ship mechanics, party girl, chased up a tree, great at putting guys down, dangerous with explosives, determined, dogged... there are so many dimensions to Lilac.

Seraphina, in Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. I need to read this one again because I honestly can't remember the details of the ending and how Seraphina triumphs: but she's a very complex character with a lot going on in her head and no special abilities to help her stop a war between humans and dragons.

Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle.
Her stubbornness and love is what she uses to save the day.

Miri in Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale.
If I remember correctly, it was primarily Miri's diplomacy and smarts that saved everyone.

Ani in the Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale.
Ani's discovery of her magic doesn't impact how the ending turns out. In other words, the magic isn't what "saves" her, except in a very small way. 

Hermione in the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
While Harry Potter often gets credit for the "big" saves, Hermione saves the day and Harry's skin in many smaller ways. I loved that she was Muggle-born (nothing special, no magic in her family) and that her strengths were that she worked really, really hard to study and learn and observe and figure things out.

Okay, here's a couple more who did have some special powers/fighting prowess/weapons to help them along, but their strength was evident in many others ways too:

Ismae in Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers.
She's trained to be an assassin, so at first I didn't include her in my list. But in the end it's not her special skills that make her stand out, but her mercy.

Karou, Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, by Laini Taylor.
She's pretty keen with a knife and has some unusual powers but she mostly fights (using this term loosely) her enemies in surprising ways.

I am sure there are more great examples of girl heros like this that I've missed. Help me FIND THEM, please!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book hangover. Series hangover. Serious hangover.

The term "book hangover" shows up in the Urban Dictionary!

When you've finished a book and you suddenly return to the real world, but the real world feels incomplete or surreal because you're still living in the world of the book.

I just finished the last book in a trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor,  and I'm going through a bad book hangover. I don't want it to be over! I want prequels and sequels and spin-offs! I want more mythical creatures, more clashes between our world and Eretz, a fantasy parallel world.  I want more of the characters: Karou and Akiva and Liraz, Zuzana and Mik and even Fake Grandma and the White Wolf. I want more of Prague and Morocco and Rome, and the Kirin caves and Astrae and the Far Isles. Chimaera and seraphim, Stelian and stormhunters.

But more of what I want is not likely to show up for another couple years, if ever, so in the meantime I'm chewing over just what drew me so much into this series. I've read several very good series over the years but only one other (the Lord of the Rings) has gotten under my skin as much as this one.

Things that drew me in both series, the Smoke and Bone series and Lord of the Rings:

1) rich world building, including mythology

Both Eretz and Middle Earth have different sentient races, cultures, traditions, rich histories and mythologies and languages. Middle Earth also had a detailed geography (Eretz needs a map! please, Ms. Taylor, make us a map!)  I've started other fantasy series that have similar world building richness, such as Game of Thrones, but was never tempted to finish the series, so there's something more than excellent world building

2) epic scale

Nothing short of the entire world (or even worlds, plural) is at stake and there is a generational aspect to the story, with a long history of conflict.

3) destiny

Can Aragorn reclaim the lost throne of Gondor that is rightfully his, but so much stands in the way? Can Karou and Akiva realize their dream of peace finally, the end of the thousand year war between their races?

4) longing stories

Not just love stories, but longing stories (and stories, plural). Aragorn and Arwen, Eowyn and Aragorn and Faramir; Akiva and Karou, Ziri and (spoiler). Longing for other things too, like the the elves longing for the West or the dwarves for their lost Moria. Karou longing to know who she is in the first book, Eliza longing to know who she is in the third book. These books convey a deep pathos, a twining of love and loss and sacrifice.

5) layers and intertwining threads

My head spins trying to think of how the authors fit together all the layers of stories throughout the series, with complicated histories and prophecies and  twists, set-ups, and implications.

6) family, friendship or fellowship

The nine in the fellowship of the ring (including the one traitor) and all their different personalities and quirks and a little bit of picking on each other or one-upping each other. Zuzana and Mik and Issa as Karou's friends and foils and Hazael and Liraz as Akiva's.

7) laugh out loud moments

No explanation needed.

Other admirable series I've read:

Iron King, Iron Daughter, Iron Queen, and Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa
Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Wings, Spells, Illusions and Destined by Aprilynne Pike
The Harry Potter series, of course
The Mitford series, by Jan Karon (not fantasy, but arguably just as much world building!)

Series I plan to finish:
Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, and Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
Shadow and Bone, Seige and Storm, and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
The Archived, The Unbound and hopefully a third book by Victoria Schwab
The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

Have you ever had a book hangover? and what kind of literary cocktail caused it? (grin)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top Ten most unique books I've read

I picked books for this list that I couldn't think of any other books to compare them to. These were not the easiest books to read, but I love how their different perspectives made my brain work a little harder.

Top Ten Tuesday is  an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here). 

1. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
A demon instructs another less experienced demon on how to tempt mankind. Imagine a story from the perspective of your worst enemy who knows you entirely too well, while he/she is plotting against you. When you see how your enemy perceives you, it is very eye-opening.

2. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
About the friendship of two women during WWII . This book was written in a very odd, bold perspective that made me roll my eyes numerous times; but at the end I slammed the book shut and shook my head in amazement. I do believe the book wouldn't have been half as memorable if it had been written with a more traditional perspective.

3. Feed, by M.T. Anderson
I should have hated this book; it's written from the perspective of a bored, spoiled teen boy. Everything is blah blah blah to him; he has everything he could possibly desire but nothing satisfies. Somehow this book absolutely hooked me and amazed me (and terrified me).

4. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Just... just... words fail me... so good. So scary amazing mind bending good. Like many of the other books on this list, some aspects irritated me because it was so unusual. But SO WORTH it if you stick it out to the end.

5. Snowcrash, by Neil Stephenson
A twist on virtual reality. My first experience with cyberpunk, and it rattled me and amazed me. I'm not sure if it qualifies as unique but from my perspective it certainly was.

6. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
I vehemently disagree with many things in this book, and at the same time think it is very perceptive. Not as colorful as the Great Gatsby, but this one was even sharper. The most memorable of all the required reading I survived in high school.

7. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson.
A matriarchal society set in a far-future Brazil. I have never before met such a cast of vain and unlikeable characters... with powerful character arcs that left me very impressed.

8. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
The main character, the narrator, is Death. A very interesting character, too, with an opinion on everything.

9. Shatter Me, by Taherah Mafi.
Sort of a stream of consciousness book, unique (to me) because half of the main character's thoughts are struck out on the page, and the other half are numbered.  It was hard to read, but some of it was like visiting a museum of the rarest and finest of beautiful and unique expressions

10. The Mitford series, by Jan Karon
These books were unique to me in that I never thought I could identify with a 60 year old single man (and an Episcopal priest) as a main character. I still don't know how Jan Karon did it, but these books are some of my all-time favorites.

What's the most unique book you've read?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A little writing wisdom and fun

I am out of town so this month's contribution to Insecure Writer's Support Group is really short and sweet, just a few recent writing pins to share:

"Editing is like killing your story and then very slowly bringing it back to life" -

Editing sometimes feels more chaotic than organized. 

If only I were like Tony Stark when it came to research and novel writing...

"All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet, it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you." - Joss Whedon. 

So true!

At first I didn't agree with Tolstoy's insight here: "I have found that a story leaves a deeper impression when it is impossible to tell which side the author is on."  But the more I think about this, the more I am intrigued by this.

What have you recently seen or heard that made you look at something in a new way, writing or otherwise? 

The first Wednesday of the month is Insecure Writers Support Group, hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his excellent team. Click here for a list of all the participants and to join in. (I'm posting a day early since my schedule is all weird this week. I also won't be able to catch up with other posters and commenters until this weekend, but I'm looking forward to it). 
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