Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten childhood/teen books I'd like to revisit.

Once upon a time I did a Top X list every Tuesday; I'm not bringing it back, but I am joining in on The Broke and Bookish's Top Ten Tuesdays meme. You can find out more about it HERE.

This week's topic is top ten books you read as a child or (younger) teen that you wish you could revisit. I'm changing it only slightly to my top ten childhood/(younger) teen books because I frequently revisit most of the books I read as a kid/(younger) teen. What can I say, I love re-reading!

As I began compiling this list in my brain, I realized that I skipped that awkward out-of-picture-books-but-not-quite-to-full-chapter-books stage. You know, the stage where you read The Boxcar Children, Goosebumps, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Judy Blume, Babysitter's Club, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The only books like that that I ever read were... well, you'll find out. ;)

Warning: This post contains lots of pictures of books at weird angles. I was having a little too much fun playing with the camera I got for Christmas.

1. Picture books.

Including: Harry the Dirty Dog, Bread and Jam for Francis, Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel, George the Terrible Eater, The Thingumajig Book of Manners, The Surprise Garden, Tuesday, and Peggy Rathman's books.
Did anyone else read these books with the strange-white-creature-waving-a-bowler-hat as a kid?

Or how about the Little Golden books?

2. Thomas the Tank Engine.

I found this complete collection of Reverend Awdry's stories at Half Price Books one day. I think it's the best book purchase I've ever made (other than the $1 Complete Works of Shakespeare I found at an estate sale once and the beautiful Hobbit book from Barnes and Noble).

3. Richard Scarry.

These are wonderful stories. The TV episodes were great, too.

4. The Magic Treehouse.

These were some of the first chapter books I ever read. I read them all up through about the tenth Merlin Mission.

5. Katie John.

My mom ordered these books from a catalog when she was a kid. They follow the adventures of tomboy Kaite John and her friends (and later her dog). There are two more books after these two, but I never read them.

6. American Girl books.

It's so hard to take pictures of American Girl books when your bookshelf is rainbow colored and some books are in the red sections, some in the blue, some in the orange, some in the purple...

American Girl books had a huge impact on my life. They taught me so much about history and about being a friend. Any and every young girl should read these books (but make sure to get the old versions with the illustrations and "A Look at the Past" sections, not the new versions which have neither).

7. I Am Lavina Cumming.

My mom and I got this book on tape out of the library so many times when I was little. We listened to it over and over and over again. When our library was bought by a rival library and they started getting rid of half of the books and replacing them with computers, we even bought the cassettes from the library to save them. Last year I finally bought an actual book edition and read it for the first time. It is just as delightful as I remember (though shorter. I suppose when you are little, everything seems longer than it is).
I Am Lavina Cumming is a story about a girl who leaves the ranch where she grew up with her father and brothers to live with a maiden aunt, widowed cousin, and terrible second-cousin (is that what the kid of a cousin is called?) in San Francisco, shortly before the San Francisco earthquake.

8. Sharon Creech.

Sharon Creech's books would be classified as "middle grade," I think. I've read nearly all her books, but these three are my favorites and have impacted me the most. I read Bloomability when I need a reminder that it's okay to go outside my comfort zone and try new things. I read Replay when I'm feeling alone and forgotten. I read Ruby Holler when I need a familiar story with a dash of adventure. Sharon Creech is my security author (like a security blanket, only cooler).

9. Tintin and Astrix and Obelix.

This is my Tintin shelf. Complete with Tintin books, books about Tintin, Tintin pencils, Tintin notebook, Tintin in Dutch, Tintin bag, Tintin figurine, and Tintin art project (the moon rocket).
Tintin has had just as big an impact on my life as American Girl. Like American Girl, I learn SO much about history from Tintin. I used to go running to my room to grab a Tintin book during history lessons... I still do that, in fact. In my AP World History class we learned about tensions between China and Japan in the early 1900s; there's a Tintin book for that. The Blue Lotus. 

Told ya I was having too much fun with my camera! 

10. Warriors.

I graduated from Magic Tree House to the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. This series is about cats who live in clans in the forest. For a good six years this series captured mine and my friend's imaginations. We came up with our own clans; hundreds of days worth of playing Warriors. I wrote my only fanfiction for this series. My very first books were set in the world of Warriors. I had several that I finished.
These books are wonderful, especially the first three series. The cats have their own laws, their own customs, their own naming system, their government system, and even their own religion. I'm thinking about re-reading the whole series (a monumental task, since there are about forty books spanning all five series, not including super editions, mangas, and extra books) this summer and doing a review on it.

Honorable mention:

This flabby, fat, lasagna-loving tabby has followed me through the years. I had a friend when I was growing up who introduced me to Garfield when I was about six or seven. I didn't start reading him right away... but when I did, I read every single book all the way up to #50 or so, plus a bunch of extra books. I even did a report on Jim David, the cartoonist!

What books from YOUR childhood and teenagehood (teenagerdom?) would you like to revisit?

Live long and prosper.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hidden Pearls, a giveaway!

Hayden Wand, who blogs at Story Girl, was one of the first bloggers I ever followed when I first started way back when. After lots of works, Hayden has published her first novel, Hidden Pearls! This story is a historical book set in the Regency Era. Constance Steele receives a letter which sends her sailing across the Atlantic... only to run into pirates! You can learn more about the book HERE.
Hayden is having a giveaway this week to celebrate the release of her book. There are all sorts of fun things happening on her blog as the week progresses, so check it out! The giveaway can be found HERE.

Look how gorgeous the cover is. Boats and pirates? I'm there!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Writing update: March 2015

In December I "finished" the fantasy novel I wrote in 2014 (I say "finished" because I got nearly to the end battle and then gave up, because I desperately needed to get my plot, characters, and world developed before I could continue writing).
Then, I posted my plan for planning, re-writing, and editing that novel. I finished the first step on Thursday night!

Step 1- Read through book, writing down inconsistencies, plot holes, and disappearing details. Also, taking note of changing scenes by separating them by a line.
Step 2- Go through story again, this time writing down each scene on a separate note card. Also, note (in the notebooks) all character traits and quirks with sticky notes.
Step 3- Arrange, rearrange, add, and subtract note card scenes. Eventually, come up with a detailed outline, complete with places for theme and character and plot development (via sticky notes attached to the note cards). Do world building on this step as well.
Step 4- Rewrite.
Step 5- Analyze. (Send to beta readers?)
Step 6- Rewrite and analyze some more.
Step 7- Edit. Copiously.
Step 8- Decide what to do with brilliant, finished manuscript.

Overall, the novel is much better than I anticipated, as far as the actual writing goes. The plot, however, is another subject. It could—and does—go so many ways! I think I've figured out which way is best, though, which makes me excited! My next step is to write out a summary of that plot and then start going through the book again, writing down scenes and looking for character traits (as step #2 says). I'm hoping to have this step done by June (July at the latest). Then, over the summer, I can work on an outline and world building. After that, I can rewrite! I'm hoping to have the second draft done by the end of the year. Then I can send it out to beta readers and get their opinions on the story and characters.

Meanwhile, I have some other writing projects looming on the horizon. First: Camp NaNoWriMo in April!

This is 2013's banner, because I don't think they've issued 2015 ones yet.
I'm going to be writing the fourth book in that one spyish series that I've mentioned millions of times. I don't know what to call it, because Daniel and Varina aren't spies, but they aren't secret agents either. They aren't detectives and they aren't really investigators. Mostly, they do paperwork, and undertake missions for a super secret government agency which specializes in finding important information.
Although this series lacks in plot (for the most part), it makes up for it in the characters. Daniel and Varina are the characters that I hold closest to my heart (sorry After the Twelfth Night and 2014 Fantasy Story and unwritten Steampunk Novel casts). They are probably the most developed of any of my characters and I love exploring their friendship and their dynamics with their families.
One of the characters—Andrew—is the first character I ever created. He's jumped from series to series, always staying relatively the same, and he ended up paired with Daniel and Varina. 
I have three Daniel and Varina novels written already, with the help of NaNoWriMo's of yesteryear. This fourth one follows Daniel and Varina as they go to London, to help Daniel's snobby, rich family with some sort of plot problem that I haven't come up with yet. To make matters worse, Varina has fallen and broken her leg, and her sister Beatrice has invited herself to come along to London to be Varina's caretaker.

From our trip.

Are any of you working on any exciting projects? 

Live long and prosper.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The biggest mystery in the Tintin movie

I got curious after watching the Tintin movie: is the song that Castafiore sings the famous "Jewel Song" from Faust that she continually sings in the comic books? So I looked up "The Jewel Song" on youtube and, while the two songs sound similar, the song Castafiore sings in the movie is NOT "The Jewel Song" from Faust.

Fast forward a year or two and I start singing "The Jewel Song" in voice lessons. The very next song after "The Jewel Song" in my book is the song that Castafiore sings in the movie.

Both songs are from operas by Charles Gounod. "The Jewel Song" is, obviously, from Faust, and the song that Castafiore sings in the Tintin movie is from Romeo et Juliette.

Why did the people in charge of picking music choose "Juliet's Waltz" over "The Jewel Song," especially since both songs are by Gounod, and both songs sound so similar (featuring lots of "ah" runs)?

In the movie, Castafiore sings her highest note and it shatters a bulletproof glass case which homes the third Unicorn ship model, which is important to the plot. Did the song-choosers pick "Juliet's Waltz" because it goes one note higher than "The Jewel Song," and a higher pitch is needed to break the glass? And is that why they made Castafiore go a whole fourth HIGHER* than the actual highest note in the song?

According to my (minimal) research, you can shatter glass at any pitch, you just have to be loud enough and keep a steady pitch. (I guess the reason opera singers don't shatter glass with those high, high notes is because their vibrato.)
So did the song-choosers in the Tintin movie make a sloppy error with their musical research, or did they have some other reason for choosing "Juliet's Waltz" over "The Jewel Song"?

This question will haunt me for the rest of my life. If anyone can think of a plausible answer, please let me know.

Live long and prosper.

If you want to see someone shatter glass with his voice, check out this video:

*Going up the additional fourth bugs me. A lot. And not just because it's not in the original music. It bugs me because, listening to the song, it sounds like the sound editors electronically moved the pitch from the C (the red note in the picture) to the F (the orange note in the picture). While an F6 (which is the sixth F note on the keyboard) is difficult to hit (my highest note is an E6, which I can only hit on warmups), it is not impossible. Most coloratura sopranos can sing a G6 (the white note to the immediate right of the orange note in the picture) or even a G#6 (Diana Damrau, for instance). If the movie people wanted to change the music and go up to the F, they should have hired a soprano able to do it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

King's Warrior and Second Son by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

(Minor spoilers to follow. Also, I'm using everyone's original names except Brant's, so I don't give too much away.)
Ooooo, gorgeous covers. (Do you like my purple rug?)

King's Warrior by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt.

Rumors of war reach King Arnaud and Queen Zara's ears and they send their daughter Princess Kamarie and Kamarie's maid, Darby, in search of the former King's Warrior. Accompanying them is Oraeyn, a squire who would rather be anywhere else than babysitting the princess and her maid. They succeed in their mission and bring Brant and Yole—a lost boy—back to the capitol. The threat of invading Dark Warriors becomes very real as Kamarie, Darby, Oraeyn, Brant, and Yole travel the land of Aom-igh meeting new friends and having adventures.

My rating:
9/10 stars.

One of my favorite plot devices is when there is a story within a story (such as the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and my other plot device is when the characters travel to many different places, having adventures the whole time (such as The Red Sea Sharks, a Tintin book). King's Warrior employs this latter plot device. We follow the characters through forests, mountains, farmland, and underground tunnels; we follow them at the palace, on the battlefield, near the sea, and through a desert. Everywhere they go they face new challenges. Jenelle Schmidt weaves their adventures together seamlessly, building to an exciting climax where everything is tied together.
The book does, perhaps, start a little slow. I remember having a hard time getting into it the first time I read it. However, after a few chapters, I got sucked into the world and the character's quest; by the end, I didn't want to leave the pages!

Princess Karamie- Although Karmarie enjoys riding horses and sword fighting, she is not your typical kick-butt princess who feigns masculinity and doesn't need anybody's help with anything. Kamarie is very well-written. There is a nice balance between femininity and toughness. She grows a tremendous amount over the book, and it's a fun transformation to watch!

Oraeyn- Oraeyn is my favorite character. He is a squire training to be a knight, and he is the only one who can be spared to travel with Kamarie and Darby to find the King's Warrior. At first, he and Kamarie clash, but they eventually grow to be friends. Like Kamarie, Oraeyn grows a lot over the book.

Darby- Darby is Kamarie's maid. I didn't like her very much the first time I read King's Warrior, and I'm not completely sure why. There is a plot twist surrounding her that really surprised me and, after the twist, she is quite different. Her character seemed to just be there, and not have a set purpose (besides butting heads with Brant) or personality (besides her stubbornness; whereas her sisters each had a distinct facet to their personalities—Calyssia was the Keeper, Leila loved animals, Zara was queen and an archer. What is a female archer called?). I liked her much better the second time I read the book.

Brant- The mysterious "King's Warrior." Brant is a likable character from the beginning. He is strong and noble and tragic. He is kind of like Aragorn in that he's secretive about himself, but very knowledgeable about traveling, camping, tracking, and fighting.

Yole- Yole is a boy that Kamarie, Oraeyn, and Darby find wandering in the mountains before they reach Brant's house. They take him under their wing (no irony intended) and he travels along with them. Poor Yole has never fit in anywhere and doesn't know why. Finally, he finds friends in Kamarie and company. They teach him squiring skills along the road. Yole is a very likable character. I can't wait to find out what happens to him in the Book #3!

There are many, many supporting cast in addition to the five main characters. Most interesting, perhaps, is Kiernan Kane, the wandering minstrel, and his mule, Silver (I keep waiting for him to say "Hi ho, Silver, away!"). Also, the host of magical creatures who have disappeared below ground. And who can forget about the looming Dark Warriors, sailing from their unknown lands to attack Aom-igh?

World building:
Jenelle Schmidt has created a wonderful fantasy world! It feels much deeper than what is portrayed on the page, as most great fantasy books are wont to do. Each race of beings has their own culture and their own characteristics. It's cool to see how each are expressed in the book.
Also, Aom-igh has a thought-out history, which I appreciated. I loved the references to former kings of the realm.

Word choice/diction/syntax/grammar:
My biggest complaint about King's Warrior is the recurring comma/semicolon problem. Haha, I know, huge complaint. Often, there is a comma where a semicolon or a period should be. Other than that, however, the book's grammar and word usage were wonderful! Places and people were described very well. I was really impressed with how Jenelle Schmidt was able to portray what her character's were feeling and going through internally, as they grew and developed over the story.

Would I recommend this book? 
Absolutely, yes! If you enjoy fantasy books or adventure books, pick this one up! It is definitely worth it. 

Second Son.

The story of Brant. How he grows up and how he ends up in Aom-igh.

My rating:
8/10 stars.

The first part of the book felt like a bit like a Downton Abbey episode—skipping from important scene to important scene, years lapsing in between. Of course, Jenelle Schmidt does a much better job because she does not skip important discussions and she tells us what goes on in the interim. Even so, Second Son felt a little disjointed because of the time jumps, but I think any time you skip a significant amount of time in a story it will feel disjointed. It settled down halfway through the book.
Like King's Warrior, this story follows its characters through many, many adventures in many, many different places. As I said, I love this type of storytelling! I wished we could have more time in each area in Second Son, to get to know different people and cultures more (especially when Brant was training under Sheyardin).

Brant- This story explains much of the mystery about Brant. You don't learn a lot about him in King's Warrior, but in Second Son, you get to see him grow up. It was interesting to see how each experience he went through changed him into the Brant we meet in King's Warrior. Jenelle Schmidt did a great job with his character development.

Ky- Brant's brother. Even more interesting that Brant's development was Ky's. It was fascinating watching him make decisions that I knew would eventually destroy him.

Many other characters filter in and out of the pages such as the Rambler woman Brant become friends with, and the thief whom he also meets in the Rambler's camp (he's one of my favorites). There is also his mentor Sheyardin, who I felt could have used some more page-time so I could get to know him and feel for him more. And then, of course, there is Arnaud. I loved seeing his and Brant's friendship grow over the years! And who is that mysterious minstrel names Kiernan Kane, with the mule named Silver?

World Building: 
The world building for Brant's home country is very well done. Their culture and traditions are very different from any of the other cultures I encountered in this series. When Brant arrives in Aom-igh he faces a bit of culture shock, and must learn to adapt to something different than he's used to, which is great (especially when asks Arnaud a dumb question and Arnaud looks at him like he's crazy. :P)
Brant and Sheyardin did quite a bit of island-hopping while Sheyardin mentored him. That got a little confusing... Without a map, it was hard to tell where they were and how far from home and which island did what. They all blurred together in my mind. The islands where Brant spent significant time were better, but not as fully portrayed as his homeland or Aom-igh (which was probably good, otherwise the book would have been 1000 pages long, instead of 400+!)

Word choice/diction/syntax/grammar:
Again, there was the comma/semicolon thing, but that's not a huge deal. Also, for some reason, my copy didn't have page numbers. That wasn't a huge deal either; I had fun writing in my own (it felt kind of sacrilegious, writing in a book :P)
Sometimes the descriptions seemed a little rushed due to the time-lapse parts, but otherwise were really great!

Would I recommend this book?
If you read King's Warrior, this book is a must! You find out many important things about Brant and the world outside of Aom-igh (mostly, that it's much bigger than anyone suspected!)
If you are jumping into this series for the first time, I would read King's Warrior before reading Second Son, even though Second Son happens before King's Warrior.

You can pick up both books (in paperback or for Kindle) on Amazon.

Live long and prosper.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nightstand Books of March

February was a month of great success reading-wise. I finished eight books, including all of the ones on last month's Nightstand Books!

Before I share this month's Nightstand Books picture, I want to say that I am not currently reading all of these. Even I—who feel most comfortable when reading three books—would not be crazy enough to try reading eight books at once. No, these just happen to be the book that are currently on my nightstand.

On the top we have There's Treasure Everywhere by Bill Watterson, which is a Calvin and Hobbes book. This one and Revenge of the Baby-Sat are the only two I have left to read before I've read them all this year.

Next is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. After hearing so many wonderful things about this Cinderella retelling from several different people, and since I love the movie so much, I decided to pick it up when I saw it at the library. I'm about halfway through right now and really enjoying it! Although, currently, I think I like the movie better... probably because I've been watching it since I was a little kid.

Below Ella is The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen. This is the third book in the Ascendance Trilogy and I am also about halfway through this book. This trilogy is blowing my mind. There are so many plot twists! If you haven't read them before, check them out! They are really good. The first book is called The False Prince. The series follows an orphan named Sage and his dealings with the throne of Carthya.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse is next on the stack. I started reading this because I needed a Wodehouse fix, but didn't want to start anything new. This book isn't a novel, but it's not short stories either. It's like several short stories spread over several chapters.

Next up is 1984 by George Orwell. This is my reading challenge book for March. In my writing class we've read several of Orwell's essays and I like his writing style. I've never read any of his novels; I don't even know what they are about. I can't wait to start!

Underneath Orwell is Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, another author I have heard much about but have never read. My history class just finishing studying the early 1900s, when this book is set. Wikipedia says that Babbitt is a satire of American's conformity culture, so it should be interesting to read, especially because of when it is set. The early 1900s are my favorite historical time period.

A Tale of Time by Diana Wynne Jones is underneath Babbitt. I love Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones so I figured I should read another one of her books. This one is about a girl who has to time travel to save the world... or something like that. It looked interesting. I'll probably start it after I finish Ella Enchanted and The Shadow Throne. 

Finally, Four Faultless Felons by G.K. Chesterton is on the bottom. Again, an author who I have heard many good things about, but have never picked up. I don't know if I'm going to get around to reading this one before it has to go back to the library. I picked it up because it was there, on the shelf, and seemed to be calling my name. It's also rather short. But I do have quite a few other books to read this month. We shall see. 

What are YOU reading?