"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling

"To Harry Potter -- the boy who lived!" Strange things are happening in the suburbs of England, all over town, all over the countryside, when Harry Potter is left on the doorstep of his Uncle's house. Harry Potter is lone survivor of a murder plot, left in the care of relatives, to live out his childhood in relative normalcy. On his eleventh birthday, letters start arriving, inviting him to enroll in an unusual school... Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I have long regarded this story one of the best pieces of children's literature to come out of the 90's, I think my grandkids will be reading it, and I think someday it will be taught in schools.  It has the themes we've been brought up to expect in children's lit: made up words to add an air of silliness, a few funny rhymes, a child from a broken home who wants to do what is right. (See my late night ramblings on OrphanLit Here) Additionally, the story adheres to the rules set down for fantasy novels: language unique to the fantasy world, a clear border between where one world ends and the other begins, rules and restrictions for the possibilities of magic, and of course the age old tradition of a battle between Good and Evil.

The author could have stopped there. Isn't that enough? Isn't it enough to write a story that is simply entertaining? Sure, but then it wouldn't have been as good. JK Rowling also wrote a book that was as thought provoking as entertaining.

The main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione form friendship despite their extreme differences. Harry's famous, but he can't remember a time when he knew love. He's also just discovered that he's filthy rich. A lot of people want to be his friend, but he chooses Ron. Ron Weasley, comes from a large family. He feels overlooked, surrounded by hand me downs, in his lower income bracket. Hermione Granger, is raised by dentists! She's not just a bookworm, she's an academic addict, and like Harry, is just discovering what it means to be a student at Hogwarts. You've got three very different kids who are joined by the need to prove themselves worthy of the chance they've been given.

You are also granted the reccurring theme that money and fame isn't everything in life. The counter trio, Harry's schoolmates, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle are an important mirror. Malfoy, raised by magical parents with money, is little jerk. He doesn't need to prove himself, he feels perfectly entitled to get what he wants and has no problem hurting others for his own amusement or personal gain. Crabbe and Goyle allow themselves to be led, and occasionally used; they seek favor from a dominant personality...that's got little to do with loyalty. They think they've got the world at their fingertips... and they're not better people for it.

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live..." Then there's Professor Dumbledore, the benevolent headmaster, who watches over the school and it's inhabitants. He's both protector and enabler; he seems to understand that while Harry is a child, he is also a human being filled with need. Rather than shield Harry completely as a parent might, he decides to provide Harry with the tools to survive the hardships ahead.

"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty, but don't judge on what you see..."  Don't be quick to judge anyone, says the Sorting Cap. A sentiment that rings true beginning to end. Professor Snape is perpetually angry, Professor Quirrell timid and kind, Hagrid is enormous and hairy, and a dragon dealer in a pub appears fated. You can't ever know what's inside someone's heart and head, unless you think to ask. Being scary or angry doesn't make a person evil, just as giving a gift doesn't make a saint.

What makes a friend? Ron is willing to lay down his life for Harry. Hermione is willing to throw away what she holds close to her heart. Loyalty and courage are nothing to snub your nose at, but other things count too. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends..." Neville Longbottom, quiet and forgetful, accident prone and the target of bullying, tries to protect Harry, Ron, and Hermione from themselves. Any idiot can stand up and say, "Let's do this!" But when you tell your friends, "Let's not!" Even if it's for their own good, you risk having them not like you. Neville seems to have learned early in life, what friends think of you is irrelevant if they're all dead.

Needless to say, I've given this 5 stars. If you're looking to have a well thought out,  magical adventure with some really clever characters, and learn about Lord Voldemort the most evil wizard that ever lived, and thwart his attempts to return from the not-quite-grave... This is the book for you, regardless of age.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Orphan in Literature

I've been having trouble focusing, having trouble reading. I took a step back, and decided to relax with some old friends. Which led me to pick up a Harry Potter book and subsequently to a decision and a breakthrough. The decision of course, was if I was reading the series again for the umpteenth time, I really ought to come up with some kick ass reasons as to why the story is so good. The breakthrough, came when thinking about things that make HP standout. One of the things, isn't how it's different, it's how it's alike.

I want to examine (or ramble about) patterns. The most common theme in young adult media is a protagonist from a broken home. It occurs in Harry Potter, but if you're a movie fan, maybe you notice that Disney built its entire franchise upon this idea. Neglected, belittled, abandoned, or orphaned, children from broken homes tend to do really well in mainstream media. Even if an individual observer comes from a loving family, these stories of the lonely child remain appealing. Why is that?

While the character experiences literal loneliness, we the audience see something more primal, like the fear of darkness. We humans are social animals, and as social animals, we fear being alone. No matter our age, social or financial status, all of us have been made to feel alone at some point. All of us have understood, briefly or otherwise, what it means to feel small.

It isn't a pleasant moment, to stand before a villain and realize you don't know what the right thing to do is; that moment insecurity raises its ugly head and stills any response. Maybe your stomach twists, maybe your heart pounds, maybe you want to lash out or just run and hide... But there you stand. Later you'll ask yourself, "What could I have done differently? What could I have said?"  It won't matter to anyone but you, and it doesn't matter in the grand scheme because you can't go back... Or maybe you reacted. Quickly without fail, fearlessly without stutter. Maybe you said or did something, and later were left to second guess whether or not it was right. It stays with you: that moment you stood alone in the face of adversity and were forced to make a choice between passivity and aggression. A feeling of helplessness.

So maybe in this pattern, we see a fear personified. A child, alone and vulnerable, filled with the naivete that comes with youth. They're alone in this; you know it and they know it. Even surrounded by friends, the protagonist carries the weight of the world on his or her shoulders... And in this fearful moment we are given hope and comfort. Because while the child is small, the actions are big, the friends true, the consequences epic and bright. In this pattern we see that no matter how small you feel, no matter how weak the world tells you you are, you do matter. You can stand up, you can speak up, you can make a difference.

The only thing bigger than our fear of vulnerability, is our desire to matter in life. And if a child from meager beginnings can conquer his fears, why can't an adult from better beginnings do the same? Maybe we're all alone in this, but sometimes it's nice to think we're all alone in this together.

Friday, June 12, 2015

New Bookstore = New Books

Ever heard of Jeff Kinney? 

Well, Jeff Kinney bought an abandoned building last year, that was destined to be bulldozed flat, with the dream of turning it into a bookstore and Café. He made that dream a reality and just had the grand opening of An Unlikely Story, which went from the ugliest building to the prettiest building on the street.

 The only thing beautiful enough to compete with the blue and gold façade that looks similar to old encyclopedia bindings lined up, was the irresistible smell inside: new book smell and fresh coffee. Jeff Kinney is a brilliant mind, not because I read the books (I haven't), but because he's filling in a massive gap. 

 There was a time, when I could drive 10 minutes any direction and wind up at a Borders Bookstore... Borders who basically committed suicide, when they promoted reading tablets and e-books but failed to up the price of books, and miscalculated how much inventory they could move when digital downloads made shopping child's play. Borders went bankrupt, and Barnes & Noble became the only real book store on the block... And by "on the block" I mean that metaphorically; it's a 20 minute drive to the closest store and a 40 minute drive to the second closest store. 

An Unlikely Story: Bookstore & Café, is not a retail giant and I'm just fine with that. The store is beautiful inside and out, conveniently close to me (maybe not you), and perfect for when a digital download just won't do. Of course I didn't go check out the new bookstore without making a couple purchases.

 I picked up China Mieville, The City and The City,  since I'm struggling to focus (my Kindle Fire isn't the best kindle for reading) and The Yard by Alex Grecian.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pines by Blake Crouch

"His first instinct was to leave without being seen, and this puzzled him. He was a federal agent with the full authority of the United States government. This meant people had to do what he said. Even nurses and doctors. They didn’t want him to leave? Tough shit."
Special Agent Ethan Burke of the US Secret Service, wakes up in the woods outside of a quiet little town called Wayward Pines. He's been in an accident and he's having trouble with his memory. He knows he needs a hospital and somewhere to stay, but he can't find his wallet... or a working telephone. The longer Ethan stays in Wayward Pines, the more he realizes the town's got a secret, and the residents will kill to protect it.

I know this book was big when it came out. I downloaded a sample from Amazon and passed judgement the same day; the writing was simple, and quick to the point. This was light reading dressed up as horror. There's nothing wrong with that, but at the time I'd wanted something to sink my teeth into, something I could dissect. I passed it by.

This year FOX aired, Wayward Pines, the tv show. I thought I could be in on the storyline without having to read the book. With M. Night Shyamalan there's no way I was going to miss it (that guy's a genius!). Of course after the third episode, where viewers get a brief glimpse of a bizarre, fast moving, creature, I needed to know: What the hell is going on?

My original judgement still stands(to a degree). The author loves standalone sentences, doesn't make use of paragraphs as often as he could. This story is almost too easy to read. As a result the story moves right along, getting to the good stuff. Thank God there is good stuff to get to; the bizarre happenings combined with the confusion and fear of the protagonist creates an atmosphere of suspense. There's a creepy nurse at a near vacant hospital, missing persons who've impossibly aged, found persons who disappear without a trace...and something in the woods is screaming. I flew through the story to an ending I never saw coming.

I give this story a rating of four stars because I truly enjoyed it but that ending... While it was satisfactory and I certainly couldn't stop thinking about it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I thought about it too long and I realized three irritating plotholes which I will not mention here because I couldn't reveal them without spoiling the ending, and maybe you didn't see them, or maybe your still reading and want to be surprised... In any event, the ending is surprisingly solid for a book with two sequels. So the book can be read as a standalone without having to worry,"Do I need to read the next two to learn what's going on?" No, you don't.

As for how it compares to the show: the first few chapters are like the first two episodes. The third episode is wildly different from the book. So even though I know where the tv show will inevitably go, I didn't spoil the show too much because I don't know how its going to get there.

Rating 4/5

Friday, May 15, 2015

Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

"Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow."
Robert Walton failed writer turned sailor, opens the story by writing to his sister Margaret. He is sailing far north, when the crew rescue Victor Frankenstein who is lost upon an ice flow. Victor is a broken man with a story to tell. Even if you haven't seen the movies, even if you haven't read the book, you're probably familiar with the concept of Frankenstein: a mad scientist sews a body together and restores life to dead limbs, creating a hideous monster.

This book wasn't at all what I was expecting. After Victor's mother dies he sent away to university where he studies science and discovers how to reanimate the dead. He becomes obsessed with his science experiment shunning all social contact and working tirelessly on proving his theory right. This story has been so puffed up that I expected more from the reanimation scene. But to my surprise there was little or no detail on how Victor figured out the key to life, to my greater surprise, Victor is instantly horrified by his creation and for much of the story they are separate. Victor falls ill and the creature runs away.

The monster winds up living in a pig sty attached to a cottage, where he watches, learns from, and grows to love the family that lives there. Meanwhile Victor is nursed back to health by a friend. By the time Victor is healthy, Frankenstein has been chased from his refuge. Victor is returning home to Geneva and the creature is hell bent on vengeance.

 This story was sadder than it was scary, and I admit I sympathized with the monster. The monster didn't have a choice, he was brought to life by an egomaniac who then rejected him. He struggled to survive, to find a family, but being hideous there was no one who could understand, no one who could love him. Everywhere he goes, he's met with hatred until he becomes the monster everyone thinks he is. A similar idea is displayed with Justine; accused of murder, she's eventually convinced to confess to a crime she didn't commit. It's an important concept: hate and ignorance breeds hate and violence. You have to wonder if Victor had tried to care for his creation, would his creation have turned out differently?

I also want to point to female characters versus male characters in the storyline. In classic lit, it's pretty much expected not to expect a whole lot from the ladies. And at first glance, this follows the usual generalization. Women as beautiful, compliant, care takers. But take a closer look at the men in this story. First Robert Walton, who writes his sister complaining that he has no friends on the ship; he requires a male companion who is an intellectual equal. He's failed at being a writer, and he's on the brink of being a failed explorer, but he can't recognize that someone else on the crew might add value to his own life. Victor Frankenstein spends most of his time talking about how brilliant he is, and how no one can ever compare... But he consistently fails. He created a monster but failed to control it. He watched as a maid is punished for crime she didn't commit, failed to tell the truth and free her, somehow managed to make her execution all about himself. Despite being intellectually superior he was incapable of understanding that his creature was planning to make Victor suffer and Victor failed to protect those closest to him even after he'd been warned...

Now take another look at the women. Elizabeth takes over the mother figure role when Frankenstein's mother dies. She's consistently willing to sacrifice her happiness for the good of her family. She doesn't try to be a good mother, she just is. Then there is Justine who fled from an abusive mother to help take care of the Frankenstein family in their time of need, and later returned to her mother, when her mother needs help. There is also Saffie the Arabian woman, born to a rich father, who refused to join a harem and bravely fled from a patriarchal society. She ran to a country whose language she couldn't speak, in hopes of marrying the man who maybe loved her, to help care for the family that promised her free will if they had nothing else to offer.

Although the male characters are centerstage, the female characters are doing brave things successfully, while the males flounder. What does it say that the failures of man are broadcast loudly while the successes of the women are merely glanced at? A study of snobbish male ego, maybe, or maybe it's a reminder that women are hardly inferior. I also thought it was interesting that the monster, was the only male character who considered a female to be a suitable companion equal to himself. That's right, The Monster, whose presence no one in their right minds could bare, and his only request was for a lady friend. Again I wonder: How would the monster think and act had Victor raised him? Victor, who even at Death's door, could not put away his sense of self importance and accept friendship...

 Overall I enjoyed this read, it was surprising and I'm glad I finally got around to this story. I suspect this is one of those stories where you see and understand more, the more times you read it.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Coyote Stories by Charles de Lint

"You and me, everybody, we’re a set of stories..." 

This was a very smart story written in a very silly way. The narrator is telling a story about a homeless Native American man, who goes by many names, but refers to himself as Coyote. He left his home a long time ago and lost himself. Coyote likes to scam and drink, but mostly Coyote likes to tell stories...

This is a story about the importance of stories.

Stories help us avoid painful truths and bring us comfort when there's nothing else. Stories speak to our heritage and remind us who we are, where we come from, and why we're living. They remind us that no matter what other people think of you, you are your own story, and it can't be summed up in one sitting or one hurtful word, it will take a lifetime to tell. Stories have the capability of unifying us, and a person's story lives on in the minds of those who witnessed that first story, to be retold and incorporated into other stories.

Maybe what separates men from animals, isn't thumbs, but the ability to achieve immortality through a good story, if we're only brave enough to remember.

Short Story Sunday

Monday, May 4, 2015

A-Z Reflections

I had a surprising amount of fun with my first A-Z Challenge! It made me remember why I started a book blog in the first place: so I could give my opinion on bookish subjects, to people whether they wanted my opinion or not! My blog had grown a bit stagnant lately, I was growing bored with memes and there was a lot of time lapse between reviews. I felt unsure of myself. The A-Z Challenge made me realize that I don't need to wait for a book to review or meme to schedule; if I have something on my mind, post it and someone will read it.

It also got me a little more exposure as my follower count has doubled, and I'm hoping they will continue to follow (and interact with me) now that the challenge is over. I've also found some great blogs that I otherwise never would have seen, and added to the list of blogs I want to read more from.

With that let me take a moment to share the love and list my newest reading material:

I also want to give a special shout-out to the following blog: Tiny House Homestead, who I am also newly following. Although not a participant of a A-Z Challenge, the author kindly let me use a photo from her blog as a reference in one of my posts.

I do admit one aspect of this challenge was disappointing: not everybody I visited and commented on, felt obligated to visit and comment back. I was also surprised that people who did take the time to comment didn't necessarily leave clear link backs to their own blogs; turning the blog hop into a scavenger hunt. But given the increase in comments and followers alike, I've chalked it up to people being too busy or uninterested in my subject matter... It happens, it's not the end of the world.

If anything, the non-commenters made me very grateful to those who were consistently interacting; by Z = Zombie, I was very proud to find not a single letter was missed and my following was still expanding.

 Which brings me to say:
Thank you for stopping by; thank you for your comments, words of encouragement, and book reccs! And really, really thank you so much for deciding to stick around!
I also want to acknowledge the sheer size of the experience because it gave me something incredibly beautiful to observe: Smart, creative minds at their finest and kindest, on an international level. I was seeing blogs from places like Switzerland, Australia, and India from people who were devout Catholics, Mormon, and Muslim about farm living, city living, and just living (among other things,lol)... And all these people were managing to do the same exact thing for 26 days without conflict.

If I was on Twitter I would pair AZ Challenge with #faithinhumanityrestored... But since I'm not on Twitter, maybe one of you fine people can help me out.

 Peace, Love, and Books!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

In Which We Meet Jilly Coppercorn by Charles de Lint

"We live in a consensual reality where things exist because we want them to exist."

A wizard named Bramley Dapple entertains Jilly Coppercorn's questions; she wants to know why she can see things other people can't. Things like Goon, Bramley's goblin butler who is serving tea...

This is a story about belief. It's important for anyone who's ever felt different or out of place. It's important for anyone who's ever wanted a little more magic in life. And whether you're a devout Catholic looking for the hand of God or just a dreamer looking for the extraordinary in an ordinary place, your belief and strength of conviction is paramount. Because what you believe in life matters, regardless of what other people think.

Short Story Sunday

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z = Zombies

Z is for Zombie! I want to end A-Z Challenge with a look at a popular modern day obsession: the reanimated corpse!

It's really bizarre. At least with vampires you can point and say: thats a metaphor for something.  But more often than not zombies are rooted deeply in science fiction than entities of fantasy; they were once human, then by disease or scientific hubris, (occasionally by miracle and magic) they died, and then tried to eat someone. It's impossible. It can't happen. But we can't stop asking: What if? What if the dead rose up to wage war against the living?

 In Max Brooks's World War Z, he examines the zombie apocalypse from a pessimistic but eerily realistic viewpoint. You see the confusion in the initial stages of the outbreak, the fear of citizens and the people who will try to profit from that fear. You see government reactions across the globe, as they struggle to contain the outbreak and later, their people.

 The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant, introduces zombies as an obstacle course for political bloggers who are about to discover the conspiracy that destroyed life as everyone knew it, the conspiracy that will continue to destroy unless they can survive long enough to blow it wide open. There's something endearing about these characters; they speak to modern day phenomenon of tech-addiction and vaccine fear, while embracing a future where the dead are never far away.

 Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is one of the rare instances where no explanation for the zombie uprising is given. Its not about the dead, or even the Undead, it's about the living. It examines the moral implications and the emotional obligations of what it would really mean if your loved ones returned from the grave. How far will the living go to protect the deceased?

If you're looking for metaphor and meaning in zombiehood perhaps the lesson taught is this: No matter how bad the dead behave, the living can always behave worse. And isn't that a frightening thought.

Got a favorite Zombie novel?
Why do you think we love zombies?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y = Young Adult

Young Adult Fiction, is fiction written and/or marketed to adolescent readers, between the ages of 12-18 -- although advanced readers may have been reading these well before 12.

For me, Young Adult maybe the most important literary category; while picture books introduce us to words, introduce us to morals, its not until YA that we really start to understand how powerful words are and what you can do with them. And what we read in that formative, angst-filled, and confusing time period can shape how we view the world.

 The Sight by David Clement-Davies, is probably the first book I put my hands on after I ventured bravely from the children's section at my local library. I couldn't have been 10 yet. It was a shock to my system, this fantasy world where wolves waged a war of good versus evil, nurture and nature. Where an evil she-wolf wants to enslave her species to create an army to overthrow man...and the wolf pack that will fight for freedom. I just enjoyed the ride, but I came away with an understanding that being good was key, having faith in something greater than self was important too. I understood the importance of family, friends and love. I was too young to analyze, what I now know to be themes: underlying messages in the story. I absorbed them even if I couldn't name them.

 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, was set in my hands by a middle school teacher who noticed me. "The main character reminds me of you," she said. The main character was Melinda Sordino; she didn't have friends and she refused to speak even when spoken to... I was quiet, I had trouble fitting in, and I struggled to hide from those who would make life harder. But this wasn't just the story of someone who didn't fit, someone who struggled with loneliness and depression, and couldn't always speak up... This was the story of a sexual assault victim. 9 times out of 10, fantasy uses good and evil as plot devices; this was my first look at how contemporary young adult fiction could be used to teach kids about a serious real life problem. I was aware of the birds and the bees; it hadn't occurred to me that someone might put their hands on you without permission. Suddenly I was seeing an ugly part of life: a victim blamed, left afraid, struggling to name what happened, and ultimately fighting to find her voice. 

YA is a powerful thing; an author has the ability to help form a still developing mind. A book built for entertainment can still broadcast a message, whether the author intended it to or not... Which is why I beg authors to think deep about their words. To quote Spider-Man: With great power, comes great responsibility.

Do you have a favorite/influential YA novel from your past?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X = Xanadu

Xan·a·du (noun) used to convey an impression of a place as almost unattainably luxurious or beautiful
I'm rather pleased with myself for finding a X word and figuring out a literary tie in. Given the definition of Xanadu, I wanted to pay tribute to stories with impossibly beautiful settings described in extraordinary detail.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is at the top of the list. Welcome to a circus, each room uniquely enchanted with the magic of warring magicians. You can smell the carmel popcorn, taste the excitement in the air...Erin Morgenstern left no sense deprived of fantasy experience, in her debut novel.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin is a story of good and evil, true love, and miracles, passing down through the generations in an unforgettable snow-covered New York. You can feel the cold on your cheeks, feel the burn of grief in your heart in this story of love and redemption.

 Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente; a seductive and imaginative story of a parallel world that can only be found by the unhappy souls who've managed to have a sexual encounter with someone who'd already been there. See an impossible world with trains that breathe and insects built in factories; feel the anxiety as desperate people cling to hope of something more...

Got a favorite beautifully imagined book?

Monday, April 27, 2015

W = Wide Awake

Today, I want to talk about books that keep you up all night. I'm talking about those books that make you say, "Just a few more pages..." And then sometime around 2:30 AM you close the book that you've just finished, glance at the clock and realize, "Aww, crap it's late!" And then no matter how hard you try you still can't fall asleep because you're thinking about that book and that ending.

 We've all had those books. Much like book quotes, the story that stands out to the individual might not be the story that stands out to the crowd. But in that book that you can't put down, there's an edge of suspense that appeals to you personally and it pulls you in and forward.

And I don't know where I'm really going with this train of thought beyond: those books are fantastic! Those blue rings under your eyes from those books are less fantastic.

It's sort of grand that someone could write a book as if they knew exactly the kind of story your soul would need and it wound up in your hands at exactly the moment you need it... But nobody really needs zombie face.

 Do you remember the last book that kept you up past your bedtime?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V = Vampires

They're undead, they feed from the living. They scare us, they seduce us. They can save or condemn us. And whether your favorites are good or evil or somewhere in between, there is no denying that despite the hundreds of legends, myths, monsters, and all around paranormal and supernatural tales, there is something about the idea of vampires that human beings cannot let go.

So what is it about vampires? Are they a cautionary tale, showing us the price of living forever is too steep to live with? Does it speak to a primal fear of a pretty face hiding a deadly secret? Or the burning curiosity of needing to know more about the dark and mysterious forces of nature surrounding us at any given moment, dictating whether we live another day or die alone in an alley?

Whatever the reason, you can't escape vampires. They've been in books for decades. They conquered movie theaters without even trying. Now they've made themselves quite at home inside your television. Vampires aren't going away.


 Why do you think vampires are so popular? Who's your favorite creature of the night?

Friday, April 24, 2015

U = Upcoming Features

I'm inventing a theme for Sunday. I have not yet decided whether or not it will be a permanent fixture, but right now I like the idea of it and I'm going to see how it goes. 

My first short story collection ever reviewed on this blog was by Scott F Fitzgerald and there was a problem. How do you review one book when it's full of many stories? I wound up trying to do both: review the book as a whole and acknowledge each individual story inside. This made for one long ass review.

 So instead I thought: why not review each individual story as an individual and then upon the books completion review the book as a whole? That way short stories have short reviews and the book review looks a little bit less like pretentious word vomit.

 So when the A-Z Challenge is complete, I will be starting Short Story Sunday. It will feature the first story of the following:

 Second order of business: when the AZ Challenge draws to a close, I will be shutting off the Anonymous comments and turning on word verification. It's nothing personal I just hate spam. So if you'd like to comment in the future, please sign in.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T = Tranche De Vie

Tranche de vie is a French phrase that means "slice of life". In literature it refers to a storytelling technique where a character does seemingly arbitrary everyday things in a plot with little or no conflict.

This is a weird literary device, and I don't see it used a whole lot. I think most modern writers learn young "must have plot" and not necessarily "must-have theme". Plenty of stories are meant to be enjoyed and not necessarily analyzed. But on the rare occasion tranche de vie pops up, I get to ask the fun question: What does it mean?

Sometimes it means the story is incredibly well-thought-out; the author is using an arbitrary and otherwise dull moment in a person's life to illustrate a point. Sometimes it means the opposite: the author simply got carried away and had no point except that he didn't know how to end one scene and move onto the next.

 If little else, tranche de vie offers an opportunity stop and think, to  complement or critique.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S = Science Fiction

S is for science fiction and all its glorious nuances! Science Fiction is imaginative fiction that often deals with futuristic societies, technologies and discoveries.  Popular themes include time travel, space travel, extraterrestrial life, and parallel universes. Unlike fantasy which requires readers to suspend disbelief in the supernatural, science-fiction usually offers logical and scientific explanations for how impossible things are made possible. Sometimes Science Fiction even inspires real life inventions!

  Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction in which the world as we know it has been devastated and changed by war, pandemic, or some ecological  or astronomical event. It's known well by it's currently popular sub genres, dystopian and Utopian. Dystopian which depicts a futuristic society where you wouldn't want to live... And Utopian which depicts a futuristic society where everything is peaceful and you might want to live there; except in Utopian is usually some devastating plot twist where you find out why peace isn't always better.

 Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton is a classic example of scientific innovation gone awry. Scientists in science fiction are constantly creating, mutating, and designing must have products and creatures that turn around and bite humanity in the ass. Sometimes literally.

 The Map of Time by Felix.J Palma, is both steampunk and speculative fiction. Steampunk is one of my favorites, it usually involves clockwork in steam powered inventions sometimes but not always located in historical locales. Speculative fiction usually takes ( not always) place in the past and examines "what if this happened?" And "how would it affect the future?"

 And I can't leave out alien invasions that would just be crazy. The Host by Stephanie Meyer is the science-fiction romance, young adults safe, and light on the science bit, but I didn't like Enders Game by Orson Scott Card and War of the Worlds by HG Wells felt a little on the nose. People have been planning for hostile invasion by aliens longer than people have been planning for the zombie apocalypse and let's face it: we're really excited about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.

 As for my claim that science-fiction inspires real inventions the iPad was first seen on episode of Star Trek. The technology in Jurassic Park is being used by zoos to resurrect endangered species. Jules Verne imagined the submarine before it was invented.

 How do you feel about science-fiction place in our world?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R = Realistic People

Today I want to talk about some of my favorite contemporary stories. No witches , wizards, time travelers,no vampires, aliens, or zombies or anything else like that. I want to talk about realistic fiction  and characters that are just like you and me, except maybe more entertaining.

 I adore Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill. It's about a little girl who falls down an abandoned mine shaft and the miracle of her existence. It's not just about the little girl, it's about her ancestors who nearly didn't live, who nearly didn't conceive children of their own. How a chance survival affects the future.

 The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. The best part about this story is that I could look at these characters and point to their mirror image in my own town. The busybodies, the teenagers who think they're so smart, the moms who don't know when to grow the hell up, the power-hungry and the downtrodden... The town of Pagford is at war over whether or not they should expand to include a nearby ghetto.

 A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice. This story is lumped in with GLBT genre which I don't appreciate. Because to me you don't have to be gay to understand the story, I don't think it's really about that. The main character is gay. What spoke to me isn't the main character sexuality but how the people in the story view him and how he views himself. This is really a story about what it's like to be different and learning how to live with that against a backdrop of humanity who might never accept you. You don't need to be gay to understand what it's like to be bullied, to understand how as children growing up sometimes means growing apart.

 Do you like contemporary fiction? What's your favorite?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q = Quotes

Quotes are often personal things; a sentence here, a passage there. They might have a deep philosophical message or just be a beautifully crafted sentence that you could never forget.

“For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” 
-- John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

“Music explains itself...It is the road and it is the map that shows the road. It is both together.” 
-- Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear

“Before cruelly vilifying them from a great height, the mudslingers at newspapers and journals should bear in mind that all artistic endeavors were by and large a mixture of effort and imagination, the embodiment of a solitary endeavor, of a sometimes long-nurtured dream, when they were not a desperate bid to give life meaning.” 
-- Felix J Palma, The Map of Time

“Every hour wounds. The last one kills.” 
-- Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“the love had grown cold, and in the night he heard it whistling through the chambers of his heart like a lost and gently crying wind.” 
-- William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist

Got a favorite quote to share?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P = Pleasure and Pain in Reading

It drives me crazy when I hear people say, "I don't like books...Reading is boring." I have a suspicion this stems from how we're taught to read as children. We go from having cute picture books and silly rhymes read to us by the people we love, to school where the teachers pick out the most brutal and boring and occasionally upsetting books and force children to read them for grades.

I love books, but I remember reading in school and it sucked. Bad things were constantly happening to people and animals... I didn't like that. The writing was so dull, I'd rarely make it 3 pages in to find out what horrible thing was happening in fiction this semester.  I remember my mother yelling at me, "How can you be have an F on a book report! You read!" 

That's true. I read. I never left the house without a book, and that was before I was ever enrolled in school. I didn't have a security blanket, I had a security Where the Wild Things Are (and a pretty tattered lion rattle). After school became a thing I had to do, I still read. Before school, during recess, at dinner, under the blanket with a flashlight... but never the book assigned.

So now I wonder about what exposure to books book-hating-adults had before they were adults. Did reading start at home? Did it end with school? And why are schools allowed to pick such dreadful reading material? And why didn't the parents, having seen their kids starting to hate the written word, never go to a library to find the right book?

I still won't leave the house without a book, you know? I still read before sleeping, with my morning coffee, during road trips, in between chores, in waiting rooms...the idea of hating books is foreign to me. I love them so much. 

So what happens that so many people strive to avoid books forever, once they're free of academic institutions? Why are so many academic institutions failing to teach kids the most important thing about books? 

Books aren't just for teaching; they're for enriching life. Good books are like  good spouses: They're there, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer...

What are your thoughts on the issue?

Friday, April 17, 2015

O = Offensive Storytelling Tactics

Today I'm talking about literary pet peeves; those little things that shouldn't ruin your day but inevitably drive you crazy!

Love at first sight. Not the cutesy fairytale kind, where the author wants to save space and get to the point, but the other kind: The kind where the main character goes, "Oh my God, he's so hot! I'm in love...because he's hot!" Bitch, please. If that's you're only reason for loving him, you need help. I've met pretty faces, nice abs, and soft hair... I understand the appeal, I do. But if the pretty face belongs to a jerk, no amount of manscaping or money is going to impress me. I have little respect for women characters who don't know the difference between love and lust. I especially don't like this concept in young adult fiction. Is that what we ought to be teaching kids? How important looks are to a relationship? Needless to say, I avoid most contemporary romances.

Failure to world build. You see this in badly written sci-fi and fantasy novels. The author has this great and elaborate idea for a story and character and just starts writing. And why not? The concept is solid, right? But a concept isn't everything. Characters need motives and they need to fuel those motives with history, preferably their own, otherwise why are they involved? And you can't just say a civil war is taking place, you need to say what the people are fighting over, what they hope to achieve by fighting. And no, you can't just have a sorcerer cast a spell and save the day because he's magical; every world, even imagined ones, have to have rules: things that can be done, things that can't. Actions need corresponding consequences. If the author doesn't know the answer to "why?" and "how?" he or she can't reasonably expect an audience to know...the audience isn't telling the story.

Editless novel. This drives me crazy. I know not everyone who writes is topping the sales list, editors are pricey, but come on. An author should never ask for money for a book that is full of grammar and spelling errors. Why don't Indie's handout a half dozen manuscripts to any educated humans in their life and say, "If you've got time, can you highlight everything that's wrong with this story?" Independent authors are turning into Yard Sale authors: "Please, won't you buy my unloved junk?" And I've read a few good ones, don't get me wrong... But so many are bad, that it gets awfully easy to start stereotyping. That makes it so much harder for the good ones to get noticed. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.

Do you have any literary pet peeves?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N = Neologism

Neologism, is a new word or phrase -- or new meaning for an old word or phrase --that enters into commonly used vocabulary.

This is a word I think every modern day human being should know, as it is basically the evolution of language! And we're seeing language evolve faster than ever as the digital world grows and people look for more effective ways to communicate with each other... But this is a book blog (blog is a neologism!) not a communications seminar.

Neologisms are commonly found in fantasy and science fiction to help readers dissociate from the world they know and believe in a world they don't know. Obviously, not all words found in fictional worlds are going to be accepted in ours, but some take off.

For example, most people understand 'chortle' is another word for 'laughter', but this word didn't exist until Lewis Carroll wrote Through the Looking Glass. Books that contain themes of totalitarian governments and anti-utopian societies are often called 'Orwellian' after George Orwell who penned 1984. There's also a concept called 'catch-22' where an individual can't escape from or solve a negative situation due to a set of rules that conflict with each other. This neologism is based on a novel by the same name, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

I also think it's interesting to note that in the world of pscychiatry, neologisms are considered normal in children, but can be a sign of mental illness in adults... It's a fine line between imagination and hallucination.

Ever invent your own word? Got an example of a neologism?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M = Malapropism

* What is it?

Malapropism, is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound. It is a form of wordplay.

* Why is it used?

Malapropism, can be used for a few reasons.

One reason is just because it's funny. A character saying a word with confidence, when the audience knows it is the wrong word, can be comical.

Another reason is to show a character's state of mind; stress, confusion, or in Jack Sparrow's case, drunkenness. The character is flustered, knows the word he wants to say, but says the wrong one instead.

A third reason, is use by accident or ignorance. The speaker simply doesn't know he or she is using a word incorrectly. The word they use sounds similar to the one they want to use. They know the definition of the word they want to use, but they don't know the word that matches that definition.

The third example of malapropism is especially hilarious, when used by real life politicians!

Got any favorite examples of malapropism?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L = Library

What is a library?

A library is basically the nexus of the universe. It's where ordinary citizens can go and be transformed into Time Lords; see what happened, what's happening, what could happen. See every dream and every nightmare ever pulled from the minds of mere mortals.

Just pull a portal off a shelf and go to Hogwarts, Narnia, or Middle Earth; go to 1922, 1590, or 3306. Go watch Hitler commit crimes against humanity, watch Monet create a masterpiece, or visit with your favorite Intergalactic Queen... What ever adventure you desire can be located at a library... Unless it's in your head, then you need to write it down and add it to a library.

Some libraries can be quite beautiful, like this one in Austria's Melk Abbey.

Some can be very large, like Trinity College Library in Ireland.

Or oddly shaped like Stockholm Public Library.

Some can be built for comfort and accessibility like Prague Public Library, Oklahoma.

What libraries, big and small, all have in common: You go there, to go elsewhere.

*Please note: I am not responsible for your failure to portal jump.*