Saturday, January 29, 2011

An Epiphany of Sorts

Ever since I was little I've been telling stories. It started, I think, when I went through a phase of not being able to fall asleep at night. My dad's solution -- make up a story; theoretically this would distract me from trying to fall asleep, making the process easier. And it worked. It also ignited my imagination in a fantastic way. I had a whole series that centered around moving to Seattle and solving mysteries -- while meeting a super cute boy of course. I would write sequels to my favorite books and alternate endings to those that didn't end quite to my liking. I'd spend car trips imagining adventures for myself or fictional characters.

At some point, I began writing some of my stories down; but I'd get discouraged, or lose steam and not finish them. I cringe at the fact that I threw most of them away. Fast forward -- I still love to write. But I'm a lazy writer, I'll admit it. I've attemped NaNoWriMo twice and missed the goal. But the stories are still in my head and they want to get out! My previous philosophy of "write when you have spare time" just doesn't work (did I mention I'm lazy?). I need a plan and a schedule that I can stick to. But when to schedule time? I work, and I have a family and social obligations. But...I had an epiphany. I'm currently training for a half marathon. I run Monday-Thursdays, plus Saturday. During the week, I get up at 6:45 or 7 in order to make it to work on time. Friday is a rest day. So I've just been getting up later -- bingo! What if, I asked myself, I still got up at 7, but instead of running, I write. Doing something during that time is already built into my daily routine.

I know it's only once a week, but I'm focusing on baby steps right now. An hour a week is better than nothing. And hopefully, it'll grow into something more. And hopefully, some of my stories will gain their freedom during that hour a week.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review - Plain Kate

Plain Kate, by Erin Bow

Summary: Plain Kate is the daughter of a wood carver, and a talented carver herself. She and her father are happy and content until failing crops and terrible sickness sweep through their small town. When Kate’s father falls to the sickness, Kate is forced out of her home and into a struggle for survival. An encounter with a witch leads Kate reluctantly into an adventure that involves not only a fight for her own future, but the future of thousands.

Review: This is great middle grade/young adult fantasy novel, with a heroine that is one of the most sympathetic characters I’ve read in a long time. Kate’s just trying to survive the best she knows how, and you just feel so bad for her. Even when she’s making a very questionable decision, you know that she’s just doing it because she doesn’t see any other way. And I love how throughout the book Kate digs deep to find strength and resilience that you know she didn’t think she had. She just faces life and does what needs to be done.

The book has the feel of a kind of fantasy/folk tale blend, and the world has a Russian feel to it, which I found very refreshing and unique. But it’s the story and characters that are the central focus of this book. One thing that really stands out about this story is that it’s not a strict black and white/good versus evil story. Yes, there is that element, the classic “hero saves the day, defying all odds;” but the situations and characters and choices are complicated and conflicting and gray. But at the end of the day, hope beats despair.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review - Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson


In March, Amy’s dad died in a car accident. As Amy’s junior year ends, her brother is in rehab in North Carolina, and Amy’s mom has decided to move from California to Connecticut. Amy hasn’t driven since the accident, but her mom wants Amy to bring the family car with her as she makes the move to Connecticut. So Amy’s mom enlists the help of her old friend’s son Roger, who is also on his way east to spend the summer with his dad in Philedelphia. The trip is all planned out – four days on the road, hotels booked. But as they hit the road, Amy and Roger decide to chart their own way across the country. As they see new places and meet new people, they each experience a personal journey – Amy as she grieves for her father, and Roger as he comes to terms with a lost relationship. They also take a journey together, discovering in each other something that they need.

My Thoughts:

This is the best kind of warm and fuzzy book. It was heartwarming, humorous, but delightfully un-cheesy. I liked that Amy and Roger had never seen much of the U.S., so they got to discover things like the vastness of Nevada and Utah, and new foods like roadside diners, Sonic, Chic-fil-A and sweet tea. Even though the book could be viewed as light and simple, each part of their trip moved the stories and the characters forward; it wasn’t stagnant. I also really appreciated the romance in the book because it wasn’t a typical “love at first sight” love story, but a love story that developed. So refreshing! Lastly, I really enjoyed the scrapbook touches in the book – pictures, receipts, journaling, playlists. It really contributed the road-trip feel of the book. And it made me want to go on a road trip!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review - Revolution

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi is a mess. Her brother Truman is dead; her mother spends every day painting pictures of Truman, never able to get them "right"; her father, a Nobel prize winning geneticist, is out of touch and rarely around. Haunted by guilt and grief, Andi isn't living so much as surviving. It's her senior year, but she has blown off nearly every part of life at St. Anselm's except her music lessons. In fact, her mother and her music seem to be all that Andi can bring herself to care about.
When her father finds out that she's in danger of not completing her senior thesis and not graduating, he comes to New York, where he promptly checks Andi's mother into a mental hospital and forces Andi to come to Paris with him for 3 weeks where she is to work on her thesis, primarily about an 18th century French composer and his influence on mondern music. In Paris, Andi finds a diary written by a girl intimately involved in the French Revolution. She is immediately swept up in the story and its ultimate connection to her research. Andi also meets Virgil, a musician with whom she begins to connect with in a way she hasn't connected with another person in a long time.

My thoughts:
When I first heard about this book, I wasn't really interested in reading it, despite the good reviews. I'm often frustrated by the spin many people put on the French Revolution, and I was concerned that I would find the very priveleged Andi unsympathetic, and that the story would either be too depressing or too emotionally overwraught. But, a patron at my library who has a similar taste in books as myself recommended it very highly; and I decided to give the book a chance.

I am SO glad that I did. Revolution is layered, compelling, mature and hopeful. First, the characters: Andi was such a sympathetic character. I wanted to hug her and smack some sense into her. I cheered for her as she overcame obstacles and just really, really wanted things to get better for her. And I wanted her to teach me to play the guitar. The supporting characters really shone as well - Virgil, Andi's parents, G and Lili. The diary's author Alex also lent a real depth to the story. Her voice was so distinct.
There are essentially two plots going on in this book, Andi's and Alex's. Each was well-paced and they complimented each other, rather than becoming a distraction. The historical aspect of the book was great. The author really put you right there in the midst of the French Revolution. In addition to establishing the 18th century setting, the author also puts you right in the middle of Paris in a way that makes you feel like you're there, but subtely. You aren't smacked upside the head with it. I also loved how music played such a huge role in this book. Music is such a huge part of my own life, and that aspect really connected with me. It gave the book a richness.

All in all, a great book. I would definitely read more from Jennifer Donnelly.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Odds and Ends

Wow, I was sure it'd been longer than a week since I'd posted last; but it's been a full week: my parents came for a visit from Missouri, I got a bad cold, it snowed and my parents' flight got cancelled. Today's a back-to-normal day: back to work and back to normal routine. I like routine, so that's not a bad thing. But I did enjoy the time with family and the unexpected snow day. (the cold...not so much). I'm a bit behind on reviews, as well as a little behind on my reading in general; but I'm looking forward to attacking my growing to-read pile.

In related news: I got a Kindle for Christmas! Now, I'm a book girl all the way, but I can definitely see uses for an e-reader, and I'm super excited to use my new one. The first book I have planned for it is The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton. I'm supposed to read it for a book club and my local library doesn't have a copy available. Sounds perfect!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review - Heaven Eyes

Book: Heaven Eyes, by David Almond

Summary: Erin Law and her friends are damaged children. At least, this is the label given to them by Maureen, the woman who runs the orphanage where they live. Damaged, beyond repair, because they have no parents to take care of them. But Erin knows that if they care for each other, they can put up with the psychologists, the social workers, the therapists -- at least, most of the time. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but run away - run for freedom. And that is what Erin and two friends do, run away one night down the river on a raft. What they find on their journey is stranger than you can imagine, maybe, and you might not think it's true. But Erin will tell you it is all true. And the proof is a girl named Heaven Eyes, who sees through all the darkness in the world to the joy that lies beneath. (summary from GoodReads)

My thoughts: I'm having a mixed reaction to this book. The story is simple, yet still managed to touch my heart. I could feel Erin longing for her mother, feel January longing for someone to love him. I could feel the bond between the characters in the book, a bond born of shared suffering. I loved the joy in Heaven Eyes, and her simple, yet peaceful outlook on the world. I loved the slow reveal -- like looking at a magnified part of a larger picture. As the story unfolds, you see more and more, and the picture becomes clearer. I also liked the ending, and the sense of hope in the story -- I love a hopeful story.

Yet with all these things I liked, somehow I didn't really connect with the story as much as I wanted to. Maybe it was the simplicity or shortness; I didn't quite feel like I had enough time with the characters to really connect. I also didn't get much of a sense of place, but I think that was deliberate, or at least not accidental.

I guess the bottom line, is that I can recommend this story to someone not looking for a simple, stark story with a lot of heart and a feel-good message.