Friday, April 29, 2011

The Iron Fey- Julie Kagawa

The Iron Fey Trilogy (and a half) by Julie Kagawa

So, rather than attempt to review each of these books individually, I'm just going to give you my opinion of the whole series. Not that each of these books isn't worthy of it's own review, each is, I just know that if I try to make it harder for me to keep up this blog, it will never stay current. So, four books, one review.

Since I can't really tell you about the plots of all of the books without giving away spoilers for the earlier books, I'll just give an overall concept for the series. Megan Chase is half faery; her father is Oberon (yes, that Oberon) Summer King. Her little brother has been stolen and taken to faery, and Megan must go to save him. Meanwhile, the Iron Fey are taking over faery and slowly killing both Summer and Winter's lands.

I really liked this series. I loved the way that Kagawa wove known stories of faeries into this new tale. I loved all the Midsummer Night's Dream references, including Puck as Megan's best friend. (Probably because I love Midsummer Night's Dream so much) I thought the love triangle was believable, even though I was irritated that it was YET AGAIN a fantasy love triangle. I felt like Megan was an actor in her own story and definitely not passive. I also loved how Kagawa incorporated modern day into the world of faeries. It was an interesting take on a very old idea and I think it worked quite well.

These were definitely quick reads. I don't know that you would necessarily need to read Winter's Passage. It bridges the gap between the first and second book and follows Megan on a short journey. It was quite nice, and I liked the novella, but much of it was covered again at the beginning of the second book. If you like YA Fantasy or faeries at all, they are fun books to read!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Unsuspecting Mage- Brian Pratt

The Unsupecting Mage by Brian Pratt

I think I will in fact be able to keep this review very, very short. This book is terrible. Don't read it.

Wow. Now, I feel bad saying that. I'm sure that someday I will be reading reviews of my own book (hopefully) and I'll come across someone that doesn't like my own writing and you know what, I'll probably be devastated. I hope, however, that I'll be able to take whatever criticism they offer and move on. Regardless, I just don't have really anything nice to say about this book.

To be fair, I don't think that I am the demographic that this book is geared towards. I'm not a nerdy high school boy, or a man who once was a nerdy high school boy. A short summary is this: James, a high school student looking for a job, replies to an ad in the paper about someone wanting to learn magic. At the office he enters a door and is deposited into some Middle English-type world, where he learns to use his magic, puts all of his Dungeons and Dragons time to good use and gets in a lot of fights. This book read like one long D&D script, and I've never played D&D, or any other game like that. the writing was drab and terrible. The book itself is a case against self publishing- the editing is awful and there were countless typos and errors. Granted, the book is free, but I still don't think it was worth the time. A friend of mine recommended it to me, with the caveat that there were typos and such, but he thought the plot was great. I did not. People who love playing World of Warcraft and other such fantasy role-playing games might like it because that's how it read. Very episodic, lots of magic, finding trinkets and fights, no real plot or character arc.

Now, if that sort of thing appeals to you, then by all means check it out. It's free for Kindle, so you're not going to waste anything other than your time, but it really was not my cup of tea, or bourbon, or really anything.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Even More- Rules for Writing

It seems that everyone has some opinion on writing, actual writers or not. Any time I tell people that I'm an author, which I tend not to do, they have some sort of opinion on what I should be writing and when I should be writing and how I should be writing. Every one's a critic. However, I do rather like reading actual author's rules of writing. Taking advice from someone who has been there before is far easier than taking advice from someone who will never even try to go down that road.

So, without further ado, here are Elmore Leonard's Rules for Writing, shamelessly lifted from Melody Godfred over at Write in Color. I found her website with StumbleUpon, which is super fun, but such a time suck. Just FYI... you've been warned. Also, if you, like me, had no idea who Elmore Leonard is, here's a short bio of him and his works. My own opinions on each of these rules follows in italics. What, you thought I'd let everyone else have an opinion and keep mine to myself? Ha.

1 Never open a book with weather. This seems reasonable, and seems to follow with the understood rule to never open a book with your character waking up. You've got to grab the reader and immediately give her someone she cares about. I do think that an excellent example of this is Graceling, where we are thrust immediately into the action with the main character.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. Mmm.... maybe. I waver on this rule quite a bit. Some prologues I think are fantastic, especially if they give me a good hint at how the book is going to end, but other times they are annoying. I think prologues must be treated very delicately, because a bad one can definitely stink up the whole novel.

3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. OH man... yes, yes, yes. This totally drives me nuts and smacks of a middle school child with their first thesaurus. I hate when writers use all kinds of ridiculous dialogue tags. It's just bad writing. SHOW that your character is angry, or grumbly, or gaspy, whatever, don't tell me.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” We're always told that adverbs are the death of writing. I think it probably true, but definitely something I have a hard time with. My writing isn't strong enough without adverbs, so I know that is something I personally have to work on. (Disclosure: I just had to bite back using like 5 adverbs in that last comment... ugh, really need to work on it!)

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. This also reminds me of middle schoolers. I can't tell you how many, "This Summer I Rode a Roller Coaster!!!!!!" stories I've had to read in my career, all dripping with exclamation points. No, just no.

6 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. Heee... this reminds me of a conversation the lovely Cari (my writing partner) and I were having the other day about character motivation. It seems, if you have to use "suddenly" and the likes, then there hasn't been sufficient motivation set up for the character. If something is "suddenly" happening to the character, then just show it!

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Hmmm... this makes me think of Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is riddled with dialect, but it works. I've heard dialect described like salt. A little can really accentuate a plot and characters but too much and no one can stomach it.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters Well, this one I may have to disagree with, or at least, partially disagree with. I love having a clear picture in my head of the characters and the setting. I like it when the author gives me most of that picture. It's not that I don't have an imagination and can't come up with something myself, but if the author has someone in mind, I want to have that same person in mind. That being said, I don't want a long monologue of description because that is rarely entertaining. Also, get the description out of the way up front, in the first few chapters at least. I hate when I've formed a picture of a character, only to find out halfway through the book some key detail that is not how I originally pictured it. It's so jarring. I never went to see the movie version of the book Eragon by Christopher Paolini because when the movie came our, Eragon was blond and the whole time I'd been reading the book I thought he was a brunette. Small detail? Yes, but it bothered the heck out of me.

9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things Again, I have mixed feelings. I love beautiful sweeping descriptions, but I think these are probably better suited to lovely works of literary fiction where the plot takes a backseat to the characters and their changes. I do like description though and being able to get a clear sense of the place.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip Now this one really made me think. What parts of novels do I skip? I honestly couldn't come up with a lot. I know that when I'm getting close to the end of a book or close to what appears to be the climax that I'll skip dialogue or descriptions that seem unimportant because I want to find out what happens, but that is usually because the writer has gotten me so excited about the plot that I just can't stand to wait any longer than necessary. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

How to Turn a Book into a Vase

So, some of you may have guessed based on the title of this blog, regardless of the lack of knitting content, that I'm a bit of a crafty person. I've always loved making things. In my old age, I've tended to focus on knitting just so I have a focus, but I love to paint, draw, make ornaments and decorations and I'm planning on learning to use my new spinning wheel and sewing machine this summer. At any rate, because of my inherent craftiness I thought I would share this amazing video on how to turn an old book into a vase. I don't necessarily advocate tearing up books, but I'm sure I could find some random ones at the thrift store to sacrifice. I think these are super cute and I would love to have a little collection of them filled with pretty faux daisies in my classroom. Maybe I'll take a break from knitting for a bit to churn out a few. :)

The how-to video below is via Green Upgrader, which I just stumbled upon, but it looks like a super fun website. Anyway... enjoy! And please share pics if you decide to make some vases for yourself. :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Born Confused- Tanjua Desai Hidier

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

A super short review for a super long book. Born Confused is sort of the epic quest of one Jersey-born Indian girl who doesn't quite fit in to either her American or Indian culture. Dimple had never been that interested in her Indian roots, until her beautiful blonde friend Gwynn starts to take over her culture, including the boy Dimple's parents have set her up with. Over the course of 500 very long pages, Dimple finds herself, her culture, love and friendship.

I had a bit of a hard time with this book. I loved the main character, Dimple. I liked her family and the plot, but the book felt too long. To be honest, I'm not sure what I would cut, because it all felt relatively important when I was reading it, but it was a struggle to finish because it just dragged. I liked the friction between Dimple and her Indian heritage and Gwynn. I think that the book is quite relatable for any girl who doesn't feel like she fits in, but the prose lumbered.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sleep Toward Heaven- Amanda Eyre Ward

Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward

Another super short review. My lovely librarian also recommended this book to me. This is Ward's debut novel, and she really started her career well.

The book follows three women who, while all connected, don't know each other at all. Karen is on death row for murder. Franny is a doctor, who after losing a child cancer patient whom she cared about deeply, ends up in Gatestown, Texas as the doctor at the prison where Karen is held. And finally, Celia, whose husband was murdered by Karen. The story tells each woman's struggles as she works her way through the difficulties in her own life. And though each of their lives are drastically different, they feel eerily familiar.

I really loved this book. My first novel was a work of literary fiction, and despite how much Young Adult fiction I've been reading lately, I do really love a good work of literary fiction. Ward captures each woman's voice and personality perfectly. The way their stories interweave was really lovely and I felt satisfied at the end. My own personal mantra is that if your story doesn't have a strong plot pushing it forward, it must have strong characters and they must change drastically so that the reader is compelled to keep reading. Ward did a great job of creating characters that I not only loved, but rooted for and wanted redemption for each of them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A bit of Knitting

I know that I said I wouldn't be posting knitting on this blog any more, but I feel compelled to share this project with you as it took me quite a while to finish. One of my very best friends, Jenny, had a baby about 6 weeks ago. This is the blanket I made for her. The pattern is Interweave Knits Yggdrasil Afghan. (ravelry link). Yarn is Knit Picks Comfy Sport in Marlin. I made the medium size, but didn't measure it before I gave it away. I think it was about 60" square-ish. I love the look of this blanket, but it was a bit fiddly to knit, especially grafting the braided borders. There are plenty of mistakes, which I won't point out, but suffice to say, it's definitely hand made. I hope that little James loves it for years to come. :)

The whole thing. The color is a little more saturated than that.

a close up of the center tree secion, knit from the center out

close up of the third border, the braid and leaves

close up of the first border, the braid. Love how this looks, but the corners and grafting were a huge pain
I've cast on for the next baby blanket. I'll not disclose details here in case the momma reads this, but I hope that it will be as beautiful as this one. :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jazz in Love- Neesha Meminger

Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger

I went on a bit of an Indian book jag, which turned out to be really enjoyable. I try to read books from a wide variety of cultures, but don't always succeed. I really liked how this book blended some traditional aspects of the Indian culture with modern American life.

Short summary- Jazz is a Indian high school student who has always been smart and all around wonderful. However, her mother freaks when she hears about Jazz hugging a male friend and decides that she needs to be pushed into arranged dating immediately. The arranged dating doesn't go as planned and Jazz is falling in love with a completely unarranged and unsuitable boy instead. Additionally, she's on a quest to fix her aunt's love life and find the auntie's long lost love.

I really liked this book. It was sweet, light and funny. I thought that Meminger really captured how teenagers feel when they're in those first relationships (at least as I remember it, we'll not talk about how long ago that was). The story progressed well and Meminger also introduced us to the culture in a way that didn't feel like a school lesson. It was very natural and all around wonderful. I think it's a great romance book for teen girls, especially since it has a strong heroine who does her own work rather than being saved by everyone else (cough, Twilight, cough). So, if you want some cute and fun chick lit, check it out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Marcelo in the Real World- Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

This is unfortunately going to be one of my short reviews. I say unfortunately because this book really deserves a lot more of my time. I actually finished it forever ago, and just never got around to reviewing it.

Short summary- Marcelo has autism and has been attending a special school for years. His father, a big-shot lawyer, wants him to learn to deal in the real world and gets him a job in the mail room at his law firm for the summer before his senior year. At this job Marcelo meets a lovely girl, a nasty boy and finds out some secrets that he wishes he didn't know. (really short and crappy summary, I know)

I would say, don't worry about my summary, just go read the book. It is so beautifully written and I thought that Marcelo's voice was perfect. Stork really captured the autism (at least in my relatively limited experiences with autistic kids and adults), without letting it be distracting. The story is a little bit mystery, a little bit love story and a lot of growing up. I think that teens and adults alike will really love it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wee Bit of Me- and an update

Hey ya'll, sorry it's been a while again. I was in NYC for a vacation and as much as I love to travel, I hate the whole getting there and back part. I hate packing and getting the house ready to leave and then all the catching up when you get home. At any rate... I'm back and while I don't have a legit blogpost, I'll try to satisfy you guys with a Wee Bit Wednesday, which I haven't done in a while.

I've also got a ton of books that need reviewing and some writing updates, so those will come soon. The next few book reviews are going to be short because I just need to get them out there. Many of the books are ones that I'm sort of ambivalent about, and I think that's why it's taken me so long to write the reviews. But, some are great books and I just haven't set aside the time to blog. So... anyway... that's what's coming up! Now, on to more of things you probably never cared to learn about me. :)

{one} what is one food that, as an adult you love, but as a child you said you’d never touch?

 Blue Cheese. My mom always used to eat it and I thought it was disgusting, but I love it now!

{two} did you go to college? if yes, what was your major?
Yep. Undergraduate majors were English Literature and Secondary Education. Masters is in Literacy Education.

{three} what’s the most wild animal you’ve seen in real life (not counting the zoo)?
Um... elk? Wild boar? I haven't really seen that many wild animals in real life!

{four} have you ever been to a fortune teller?
Not a fortune teller, but a psychic... which was interesting.

{five} can you juggle?
Not any more. I used to be able to juggle; a coworker one summer in high school taught me.

{six} hardwood floors or carpet?
I have carpet now, but would like hardwood floors. I have mixed feelings about both.

{seven} is it called “soda” or “pop”?

{eight} what was your first car?

A blue 1976 Jeep Wagoneer. Her name was Bessie and my parents bought her for $100. She was one of the crappiest cars ever! Here's a picture for reference (not my actual car). I really hated that car.

{nine} what is the most decadent dessert you’ve ever eaten?

Uh... there is this cake from Whole Foods... chocolate explosion or something. It's pretty delicious.  I also had an amazing goat cheese cheesecake from the Dessert Truck in NYC.

{ten} how often do you rearrange your furniture?

Rarely. Our place is pretty small, so there aren't really a lot of options for where things can go.


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