Monday, February 28, 2011

Fellowship of the Ring Read-a-long: February

Chapters read: 6, "Fog on the Barrow-downs" through "Many Meetings." This time around, I'm just going to give you a few thoughts on each chapter, because I have a lot to say and there's not really a better way to organize it.

"Fog on the Barrow-downs" If I saw this chapter filmed, specifically the bit in the actual barrow, I'm pretty sure I would pee my pants. SO UNSETTLING. I love how it's terrifying and yet we don't actually see much. Also, Frodo is pretty cool in this chapter (except for the "Oh, Tom Bombadil didn't REALLY mean that we shouldn't sit on the east side of wight-y things, right?" I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed this entire chapter, cuz generally I skim the TB trilogy. Also-also, I think it's cool how Tom Bombadil often has a sort of loose rhyme to his speech. Example: "Few now remember them, yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless."

"At the Sign of the Prancing Pony": I have an absurd love for Nob. No, really. I love every little bit that he is in. Frodo is back to failing epically in this chapter. Strider's entrance: omfjam win. Favorite quote, though, goes to Pippin and Merry: "Mind your Ps and Qs, don't forget that you are supposed to be escaping in secret, and are still on the high-road and not very far from the Shire!" "All right!" said Pippin. "Mind yourself! Don't get lost, and don't forget that it is safer indoors!"
Merry really is the responsible one, isn't he? I always thought of Frodo as the sensible one, but Merry gets things done.

"Strider" is traditionally my favorite chapter, just because Strider/Aragorn finally comes into the story, although I was surprised to notice that really not much else happens in this chapter. But I really like how Strider is desperate for trust, and Frodo really wants to trust him. THEY ARE DESTINED TO BE FRIENDS. Also, more Nob in this chapter.

"A Knife in the Dark": I strangely wasn't scared by this chapter like I usually am.

"Flight to the Ford": Glorfindel, my dear, let us retire to a quiet corner of the Hall of Fire and....discuss poetry.
Ahem. I also like the actual "fleeing" bit at the end of this chapter.

"Many Meetings": The Hall of Fire is one of my favorite locations in The Lord of the Rings. If I went to Middle-earth, I would hang out there the most (hopefully accompanied by an Elf-lord or two). I like Arwen and Elrond's entrances here, and also Bilbo and Aragorn's discussions about poetry. "As a matter of fact it was all mine. Except that Aragorn insisted on my putting in a green stone. He seemed to think it important. I don't know why. Otherwise he obviously thought the whole thing rather above my head, and he said that if I had the cheek to make verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond, that was my affair."

A Note On Dreams: Someday I'd like to read through this, write down everyone's dreams, and note where they come true, and how. Frodo has some really interesting foresight-y dreams early on, but I can't really remember that habit continuing.

A Note On Poetry: I love the barrow-wight's song ("Fog"), Strider's poem ("Strider"), Gil-galad song ("Knife"), and of course, Bilbo's "Earendil" chant ("Many Meetings").

Coming Up: I meant to get to "Council of Elrond" this month. I think I'll devote an entire post to that chapter this next week, and tear it apart (analytically, not angrily). That chapter is a beast.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hello from the Writing Ogre!

Have a photo of a deeply unsettling ogre. You're welcome.

So those of you who are following me because I write, not because I read, have probably noticed I don't post much about my writing any more. The main reason for this is that I usually say everything I want to say about my writing on my Twitter. So if you're serious in your stalking of me, you might want to go over there.
That being said, I figured I should talk about some of the writing projects I'm working on right now. I am writing much more this year than I have since 2008 (ah, the good old days!??).

Beta version of "Mad As Gods"
This is my 2010 Nanowrimo. It's a sequel to my 2007 Nano, it's quite rough, and it doesn't really know what it's trying to be, who it's trying to star, or what it's trying to say. There's a lot of love and bad jokes (as in stupid) and innuendo (as in sketch) and gratuitous snakes. I'm sharing it slowly with my small core of awesome Nano-ites, and getting super fantastic feedback (as in helpful, not as in "omg this story is perfect in every way" XD). It's always great to know what people like, and more importantly what they do NOT like. Then I can get a sort of idea of what is working and what isn't.
I am also getting to read my friends' Nanos, and giving them feedback. That's also really helpful for me (besides them, of course, lol) because it forces me to look at how their story is working, how they've structured it, etc, and how various bits work and various bits don't work. The benefits of analysis, fellow writers, are legion.

Drafting "Batty, Batty, Bats"
This is one of those projects that is pure sugar and cream. There is nothing not fun about writing this story, but I'm certain that once I finish it, I will never touch it again. It's just not publishable for a lot of reasons, mostly structural. It's kinda like one big character development/psychological exploration. It revolves around one character who has a lot of trauma in his past, and I start with him as a teenager and then go through his 30s or so, just kind of visiting the significant turning points in his life. Almost like a coming of age story, but prolonged and, yeah, very psychological. This description almost makes it sound smart, LOL! But it's mostly hilarious banter and panic attacks and misunderstandings and BAD CHOICES. It's also set in a night-club, so, seriously, what is not fun about that.
This story was/is also a great outlet for all of the stuff I wanted to include in "Mad As Gods," but couldn't, either because of plot constrictions or world constrictions or because I was trying to keep tiny-minor characters from hijacking the story. "BBB" grew from "Mad As Gods" in a lot of weird, unexplainable ways.

Short stories
A couple of friends and I committed to sending each other a new short story every week, or at least an excerpt of something we're working on. There has been a bit of cheating going on, for all of us, I think, but we've all written a lot of stuff we otherwise never would have written. I'm actually struggling with this project right now, because all I want to write is "BBB," but hopefully soon I will get back in gear.

Editing Snazel's stories
I'm also helping a friend edit some short stories that she's going to submit to get into a writing workshop (or somesuch). It's a lot of pressure, lol! I want to be as helpful as I can, which means I'm wayyyy over-analyzing everything, and I have to figure out how to communicate my thoughts on various bits and word choices and such. It's a hard game, but it's also helping my writing-brain figure stuff out, which is fabulous.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is the first book I read for the Victorian Reading Challenge. I didn't realize it was an unfinished novel until I, well, finished it, so I am pointing that out now for any potential readers.
But from what we get (9 chapters), it looks like it was supposed to be a sort of bildungsroman for a Scottish aristocrat trying to escape the shadow of the father. The novel focuses on Weir, Sr., and Weir, Jr., who are reasonably well-to-do noblemen. Sr. is a judge, infamous for harsh justice and no mercy. Jr. (named Archie) is a bit of a thinker, shy, but usually comes off as reserved and proud, so he has trouble making friends. He is eventually banished to the country house, Hermiston, by his father, for being an outspoken prat. There he tries not to rot away, and has to deal with two different Kirsties who both seem a bit obsessed with him.
There's also a villainous sort of guy, Frank, who is the worst of the best of Archie's peers, if that makes sense. He was the most intriguing, 3-dimensional character here, I think, because he doesn't exactly have malice at work in what he does, but he is hugely self-centered and moves himself through life by ruining or putting down other people. Sorta like the guy who trips his friend so the bear will eat the friend and he can escape. But he's charming and really doesn't think, "Hey, I should ruin lives today," he just sorta does it. It was fascinating for me to watch and I really would have liked to see what happened to him.
Archie is the sort of character that you really want to see grow and stand up to his father and get the girl, but in this novel we only see tiny foreshadowings of that transformation. Young-Kirstie starts out as a flat, typical-adolescent girl, but we also see some glimmerings of character and personality for her, notably in the final scene where she tells Archie she won't be used.
Robert Louis Stevenson is one of my favorite Victorian writers. His writing style is just really lush, if that makes sense. I love watching the man describe stuff. He is also very good with young male heroes who have good intentions but have to learn how to...execute their intentions properly, as it were. The pacing of this story is a bit slow, although depending on how the rest of it turned out, it might have been okay. There is also a lot more Scottish dialect than I was expecting, which can take a bit of time to "translate" as you read, unless you have much Scottish experience, which I don't.
Overall, Weir of Hermiston is a bit slow and never gets far enough to really flesh out its characters, but has a lot of potential and a few good moments. I gave it 3/5 stars.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dragon and Soldier by Timothy Zahn

(I didn't realize until after I finished reading that I can totally use this as a Men In Uniform book, because he is totally in uniform, albeit a mercenary one, for most of the book. I am going to bend the rules for all of my challenges as much as possible, if that wasn't clear.)

I really enjoyed the first book, Dragon and Thief, in Timothy Zahn's YA sci-fi series, "Dragonback." An orphan teen, Jack, who has been raised as a petty criminal, teams up with Draycos, a symbiotic alien, and the two of them try to save Draycos' people from another alien race bent on genocide. The first book chronicles how they meet, learn to work together, face off with some villains, and clash ideologically.
In the second book, Jack and Draycos are trying to track down the people who are helping the villain-aliens, and to do this they decide to infiltrate a mercenary group. Draycos is increasingly uncomfortable with Jack's ambiguous moral center and selfish attitude. Draycos takes it on himself to train Jack as a warrior, both mentally and physically. His task is NOT helped by the mercenaries, who are kind of the worst example of a militarized body ever, and the fact that Jack really, REALLY does not like guns.
Reading this book directly after Starship Troopers was a little bit painful, because of how incompetent all of the military figures are in this book, except for Draycos (because Draycos is awesome). But Zahn generally has awesome military characters, so he makes sure that all his characters make fun/criticize the ineptitude exhibited by the mercs here.
I think a big strength of this series is how different Jack and Draycos really are. Draycos thinks about others first, he is very skilled in fighting, stealth, and such, he's a bit of an intellectual, and he has a very strong moral code. Jack is very clever, good at getting in and out of tricky situations, and of course knows all about stealing, breaking into places, hacking, and manipulating people. He usually ends up doing the right thing, but it's a struggle for him. This dichotomy between them, of course, is nicely echoed by the fact that Draycos literally can't live without Jack (or a similar biological pile of life-force, lol).
I think a weakness in this series is that Timothy Zahn is very careful about his content-level. He usually writes for adults (and his adult-novels are very clean, generally) so I think he's not quite in tune with just how much dark violence teenagers can take. At several points in these books I'm expecting something much darker than what it will actually happen, so then it's like, oh, okay, everything's fine, everything's chill. But maybe the stakes will heighten in future books?
Specifically in this one, I loved the rivalry between Uncle Virge (the AI computer on their ship) and Draycos, especially the warrior-poetry sub-sub-plot (is that a term? It SHOULD be!).
We are also introduced to a new character, Alison, who is a teen girl with Secrets and may or may not be a love interest for Jack. I think I would have cared more about her if she wasn't quite so soulless, and also if she had a little more common-sense. But I have hopes for her in future books. She's a bit like a young, learning-curve Mara Jade (for TZ fans).
Overall, not the best Timothy Zahn book I've read, but it's a good setup for the rest of the series, I think, and I am eager to have time to read the rest (which are sitting on my shelf, all pretty and clever). I gave this 4/5 stars for enjoyability.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

10 Signs of Book Addiction

I borrowed this from The Story Siren:

10 signs of Book Addiction

I have a problem.... do you? If you find yourself nodding your head to any of these statements, you might suffer from Book Addiction. Don't worry you are not alone.

You might be a book addict if:
  1. You buy your purses based on how many books you can fit inside. [ALWAYS. The smallest purse I own can fit a small paperback. The largest purse I own can fit five hardbacks.]
  2. The Fed Ex and UPS carriers, know you by name. [Well, no. They tend to drop and run.]
  3. Your family refuses to buy you books because they don't want to support your habit. [My family rarely buys me books. This last birthday was an exception.]
  4. You own multiple versions of the same book. [Yes. Mostly books I love like The Lord of The Rings, Henry James, Shakespeare, etc.]
  5. You dream about books. (Getting them... meeting the authors that write them.) [Yes. I've had dreams about being BFFs with authors.]
  6. You always have at least one book on you at all times. Even if it's just a quick trip to the dollar store. [Like I said, my purses are important. If I don't bring a book, it's like not bringing my cellphone: I fidget and worry.]
  7. You usually help shoppers at the bookstore, because you are more knowledgeable than the staff. [LOL no, sorry. But I do know my local Borders like the back of my hand.]
  8. You've been known to skip family functions or outings with friends because you can't stop reading. [Would I actually admit to that?]
  9. There are books in every room of your house. [Hm well no but I share my house with several other people who steal books.]
  10. If you are within five miles of a bookstore, you find yourself drawn to it like a homing device from the mothership. [YES YES YES YES TAKE ME MASTERS.]
Score: 6/10.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

This review contains *SPOILERS* for the first half of the book.

I went into this book very cautiously. I liked the Percy Jackson series, but by the end of the series I was a little weary of all the characters and plotlines that settled out exactly as I expected them to. I wasn't sure if this would just be more of the same, or have even less interesting characters.

But, lucky, I was pleasantly surprised. I loved all three main characters, which rarely happens in any book, and I was definitely not expecting it from Riordan (I like Percy, but am pretty meh on the other leads). I found Jason, Leo, and Piper to all be lovely and interesting in different ways. Jason is a natural leader but he's also really sweet, and doesn't remember anything, which is his issue. Leo is an inventor-genius with a snappy wit, but is haunted by guilt (DUN DUN DUN). Piper is fierce and smart but has her weak spots. Did I mention I liked the darker backstories? Like Leo's mom's death and Piper's insecure movie star dad? Yeah, I did, quite a bit.
All of those things are well and good, but these characters were just extremely likeable for me, and since I read primarily for characters, I would have enjoyed this book even if the rest of it was meh.

But it wasn't! Riordan didn't just do the same old plots. I mean, it's a similar formula, with the three heroes on a quest, but the way he incorporated the Roman pantheon (and everything that that implies), the darker backstories to the three main characters, and villains that we weren't able to see before, because they're DEAD...all that was lovely. Plus, we're getting Hera/Juno in a big way, and Romanies like Khione and Aeoleus. Lots of possibilities here. I also liked that the Hephaestus/Vulcan cabin is more important, because of Leo and also because of all their cool inventions! Festus, too, was a great addition to the story and especially Leo's journey.

The overall plot with the sleeping soil-covered lady/the giants/the living dead is really cool, too. In some ways I think it's cooler than the whole Kronos thing. Most of the major Kronos plot points, especially the ones involving Luke, I spotted from book one (I'm not bragging, really! It was transparent!). In this book, I was never sure what was going to happen. Plus, Riordan has now enabled himself to bring characters like Minas and Medea in, which is ALWAYS a great idea. :D So many villain opportunities now!

The main things I didn't like were a couple of characters, specifically Coach Hedge and Chiron. Coach Hedge had all of the things I disliked about Grover and NONE of the things I liked about him. Pretty much any moment where Hedge was unconscious/frozen/gold were good times for me. And Chiron....don't get me started on Chiron. Gandalf or Dumbledore or Oreius, thou art NOT. I'm never sure if Riordan means for him to be a strong, wise, mentor type or not. Certainly the MCs in Percy Jackson and this book view him that way. But when has Chiron ever been helpful? He's always really depressing and just discourages and emotionally abuses the MCs, and then let's them go to fight and die. /rant

4/5 stars from me. I'm excited for the next book and am actually considering picking up The Red Pyramid now, which I was definitely on the fence about before.

PS-Reading this book while also reading The Aeneid is a bit of a mind trip.

Monday, February 14, 2011

So I just wrote this.

"He yawned and shifted, and realized that not only was someone lying beside him, but that someone was breathing in the room besides himself. As opposed to waking up next to a corpse, which would be ten times creepier."

It was one of those times when you're writing, and stop after a sentence, and question when, exactly, you thought you might have the skills to write for a living. XD