Thursday, 31 January 2013

"Graceling" by Kristin Cashore

(Graphia, 2008)
I’d heard about Graceling through the Internet. It sounded like an interesting book, something I might have read when I was a teenager. And that right there was my problem. Something a teenager would read. There was no way I was going to go to the young adult section of the bookstore, by myself, to pick this up. I know many adults read young adult, but I felt ridiculous at the thought of finding myself in that part of the bookstore. I don’t know, for me it would just be weird (no offense to anyone here). Then came the solution.
One day, my fifteen year old niece asked me to take her to the bookstore. Holy hell! I didn’t know she liked to read or write. It’s a recent occurrence, apparently. I was so proud, so happy that she’s into books now. So I strolled through the young adult section with her, perusing the many paranormal teen love triangles and giggling at many a cover. And then I saw Graceling. I had forgotten it by that time, but I picked it up anyway and decided to buy it – it wouldn’t look so weird among all the other young adult  books I was buying for my niece (I’m sure the Bernard Cornwell book I also bought for myself looked a little out of place that day).
It’s been a while since I read young adult. Actually, I can’t say that I ever really read much young adult. I seem to have gone from middle grade to Fear Street and Christopher Pike books straight into adult fiction, with Harley, like a person being the only normal young adult book I remember reading (and loving). I don’t know what I was expecting with Graceling, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Okay, so enough rambling, onto the actual review now.
Katsa is the niece of King Randa. She is a Graceling. These are a special few people who are Graced with certain abiltities and have two different eye colors to show it. Some Graces are pretty useless, and the king of that person’s particular kingdom (there are seven in this fantasy world that we know of) will leave those alone. Others, like Katsa, are more useful, very useful even, and the king has the right to take these people under his command. Katsa is graced with fighting. She’s her uncle’s thug, beating and killing at his command. She hates this, but feels like there’s nothing she could do about it. To make up for this disgusting life she leads, she started a Council. This Council does covert operations that undermine not only Randa but the other six kings as well. It is during one of these operations that she meets Po, a Lienid prince who will change everything for Katsa.
Po is also a Graceling. He is searching for his grandfather, Tealiff, whom Katsa had rescued from another king’s keeping. This kidnapping is a big mystery to Po and he knew Katsa had rescued Tealiff from harm. Katsa doesn’t really trust Po at first because he is also a Graceling but there is something more to him that she can’t quite put a finger to. They become friends, eventually, something which is hard for Katsa to do, and Katsa gains the courage to finally break free from Randa’s control. Only, it’s one of those out of the frying pan and into the fire scenarios, for on their way to investigate King Leck of Monsea, whom they think had something to do with Tealiff’s kidnapping, things get very dire.
All in all, I think this book was very creative and original. I liked the idea of people being Graced. It was interesting to read. The writing was well done. Katsa was a pretty believable character. However, I find that my interest waned in the middle of the book and I kind of got bored. I thought King Leck as a villain could have been fleshed out a little more. We never really see him and when we do we just see a maniac. We don’t get to find out why he’s like that, what he really wants with his daughter Bitterblue (thought its obviously something very disgusting), and how he managed to hide, well, what he was hiding all that time. And the ending… I was expecting an epic battle instead we just get a dagger throw (hidden spoiler). It was a little disappointing. Oh well.
I liked this book but sometimes I was just “meh”. So, once again I’m not sure where I stand on a book. But I’m going to be a little more generous than I usually am. I guess, in the end, I am glad that I purchased the book. It was something different from what I usually read and something closer to what I write ( thus I guess you could say it was something of a learning experience).
Final verdict: 4/5

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Of Monsters and Men - King and Lionheart

I love, love, love Of Monsters and Men. I saw them perform twice last year. The second time I paid a ridiculous amount of money to see them because the show was sold out but I really, really wanted to see them again. It was so worth it. The first time I saw them was too short. That time was at Osheaga and they only had around 20 minutes to perform, in the scorching, stifling summer heat, but it was great! And worth the sweat dripping down my legs and the dust blowing and sticking onto my skin (that was so disgusting, boy did that shower I took when I got home feel good). They are really great live, whether outdoors or inside a cozy concert venue. They just released the video for "King and Lionheart", one of my favourite songs from them. Take a look and a listen! It's a very eye catching video.

I am looking forward to anything they have in the works!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Revising and Editing Your Writing - Helpful Links

I am in the process of revising and editing the first draft of my novel. Actually, only the first part of my novel (it's not even finished yet). I had the insatiable need to edit it, so I gave in today when I realized I wouldn't get any actual writing done if I didn't edit.
There are some things I already knew on my own (spelling and general easy stuff) and there are other things I got help with, either from some critiquers (Scribophile - a wonderful writer's community) or from reading the many helpful blogs on the Internet. I thought I'd share some of the most helpful posts I've come across so far.
  • Do you filter your fiction? - I wasn't even aware of this term until I saw it mentioned at Scrib. I looked it up and I realized I was guilty of this. Not a whole lot of it was in my story, but still, I did catch some.
  • Filter Words - Another helpful post on filtering. This one features a list of some of the more common ones to avoid.
  • Overwriting - Something else to watch out for.
  • Cut the Flab - A post on how to make every word count.
That's it for tonight! I may post more as I go along on this journey of revision and editing. In the meantime, I hope you find these links helpful in your revision process.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Photo of the Week 20/01/2013

Good afternoon! Okay, so maybe this photo of the week thing will not actually be every single week, but I will try my best (even if the quality of the photo gets reduced when I shrink it; any tips for how to keep the quality in photoshop?). Here is one for you today; I call it cat under the steps. Very creative, right?

Thank you, Max, for posing so graciously in the cold, windy weather today!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

"The Red Scarf" by Kate Furnivall

(Berkley, 2008)
You might have heard of the labour camps Soviet Russia used to send its own citizens to (gulags). How hard they worked the prisoners and how inhumane they were. The Red Scarf tells a fictional story of Sofia, a young woman sent to one of these camps. She is forced, along with other undernourished women who have been declared enemies of the people for one reason or other, to build a railroad in Siberia. While there, she develops a friendship with Anna, once the daughter of a successful doctor in Leningrad. Anna keeps things lively with her tales of her childhood, and her childhood love, Vasily. In return, Sofia keeps a close guard on Anna, helping her through blizzards and staving off leering guards. She also helps Anna keep her strength up. A strength which is rapidly declining. Knowing her friend will not survive for much longer in the camp, Sofia plans an escape. And against all odds it is successful.
Sofia heads to a small, rural town called Tivil. She had promised Anna that was where she would go, because Anna told her that was where Vasily was hiding out, with a different name and a different identity. When she finally reaches Tivil, she finds a man who matches closely with Anna’s descriptions of Vasily. She gets to know him, placing herself in his life, and surprise, surprise, finds herself falling in love with the guy. She knows this is a betrayal of Anna, but she knows it could save her friend’s life as well.
Along the way, Sofia meets other characters; the gypsy Rafik and his daughter Zenia, the chairman of the collective farm Aleksei Fomenko, the stern schoolteacher Elizaveta Lishnikova, and a few others who will either help her in her quest or hinder her. There is also a hint of magical realism in this story. The gypsy has strange powers, something Sofia catches on to, but really can’t explain. It is all connected to her.
The book does a good job, I think, in bringing back to light that horrible time in Soviet Russia’s history. Stalin’s rule was a hard one. Nobody trusted each other. One whisper about you or from you reaching the wrong ears and you could find yourself declared an enemy of the people. Propaganda was rampant and it almost seemed as if everyone was brainwashed, a thing this book plays on well, in for example, Pyotr’s continued confusion as to whether or not everything he had been told was in fact the right thing. He is constantly torn between being a good citizen and doing what is right.
One thing that did annoy me was the fact that Sofia doesn’t even bother to change her name. You’d think an escaped enemy of the state would want to change their name to keep from being detected, but I guess it’s not that big of a deal in the end. I mean, it’s not like the OGPU had google or computer databases to cross reference names and stuff. Yet, Vasily did change his name. Anyway, that’s just a minor gripe (I’m nitpicking, I know, I’ll stop… soon).
Another thing I did not really care for in this story, was the whole gypsy powers and mind reading sort of magical realism. I think it would have been a great story without that gimmick. There’s enough drama and tension in Stalin’s Russia to go around without weaving mystical powers into it. That is just a personal opinion though. I don’t generally enjoy it when that sort of stuff pops up into historical fiction. Its fine in fantasy but not in historical fiction.
One more thing that sort of bothered me was the constant flashbacks. They were done well in that I was never confused that it was a flashback, but at times I just wanted the main storyline to go on and not to hear another story about Vasily and Anna rowing on the lake. I guess they were important to the story, so I am fine with them.
All in all, I was interested enough in this story. It took me a while to read through, even so. I guess I liked it, but was not in love with it. It’s hard to say where I stand on this book. I liked the history in it; Kate Furnivall clearly invested a lot of research in it. The story was all right, though a little farfetched at times (how many people actually escaped those camps? I’m not sure, but perhaps not a lot). There was a hook that had me turning pages furiously, but unfortunately it comes more towards the second half of the book. And as to that hook, I just have to say: I knew it.
So, I would recommend this book to people who have an interest in Russian history and to those people who enjoy a dose of magical realism to what they’re reading (seventh son of a seventh son kind of magic).
The final verdict: 3/5
·         See The Whisperers by Orlando Figes for an historical study of that time period, with harrowing and true tales of Stalin’s injustices.
·         The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is another historical fiction piece set in Stalin’s Russia, but during the Second World War. It also features secrets and a grand love story. Tatiana & Alexander, the sequel, is also worth a read.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Writing is Supposed to be Fun

Unless you’re viewing this from your phone, you may have noticed the NaNoWriMo’s winner badge on the right hand side of the blog. Yes, I wrote 50,000 words in one month, and yes, I was amazed that I did so. Why? Because it is so hard to just sit down and write on a regular basis. This competition that isn’t really a competition gave me the motivation to do so. And thus, I was able to get all my ideas out to write the first part of a novel that I am still working on to this day.
December was a different story. I was proud of what I accomplished in November. I went to work all day, came home, and wrote. That was amazing for someone who only used to write on weekends and who used to make the tired after work excuse not to write. So how much did I write in December? A measly 2,000 words or so. So why such a huge difference? Life. Life got crappy and any leftover motivation I still possessed from the month before just flew out the window. Funerals and learning you’ll be unemployed come the next year will do that to your creativity.
Yet, I managed to get 2,000 words out. That has to count for something right? I still wrote. It was still a passion, and it did help me get through that tough time. I think the real reason that I did not write as much was that I had the uncontrollable urge to edit those first 50,000 words. That kept me from moving on with the story in the same free way I wrote it during November. I was no longer writing without worry about grammar, word choice, and all that, but thinking too much as I wrote. Thus, the slow word count. It’s a first draft; it doesn’t have to be pretty. So why do writer’s have that urge to edit as we go along? Do we think it will mean less work when the draft is done? Maybe.
January comes along. Another slow start to the month. I decide to give my story a break, sort of. Instead of writing, I played around with my cast for a few days. That’s right, I did a fake casting call, placing pictures of actors above my character’s names, searching/googling for hours for the perfect actors to play every role in my story so far. It was time consuming. And I guiltily thought to myself that I should be writing. In the end, however, it was worth it. Once I did get back to my story, I was able to write 4,000 words – in one day! Somehow, that little exercise sparked my creativity. January has proven to be a productive month, and there’s still two weeks left. I doubt I’ll do as well as November, but hey, you never know. I’ve already written about 10,000 words this month.
I find if I suppress the urge to edit and just sit down and write, that I can move my story along at a good pace. I do outline. In fact, I spent a lot of October planning my story. My outline changes as I go along, which is great, because sometimes initial ideas don’t work once you let the story take over. It’s good to have a general idea of where you’re going before you start writing, at least in my experience. Being a pantser might work for some, but not for me.
So, if you want to write a novel, just sit down and write. Because thinking of it, planning it will only go so far. You have to actually write it, you know? And don’t let real life get in the way of doing so. You have a job? Write on the weekends, in the evenings. It can be done. Need motivation? Set deadlines for yourself, in the same way that NaNoWriMo set a deadline for writing that many words, you can set your own goals. Ask a friend to cheer you on or write with you. Most of all, just write! Stifle your inner editor and let the words flow.
And if what comes out is so horrible and embarrassing, no one has to know. It’s only a first draft. You’re not going to send that to an agent, at least not right away… I hope. The most important thing for me when I write is to have fun. So have fun! Don’t let writing become a chore; make it something you look forward to after a long day. Good luck!

Friday, 11 January 2013

"The Divining" by Barbara Wood

(Turner Publishing, 2012)
Ulrika has a gift. Visions and dreams of the future come to her. In the beginning, they frighten her and she cannot control them. It is more a curse than a blessing. When she finally gathers enough courage to tell her mother of what ails her, the world as she knows it gets tossed upside down. She learns that her father is in fact alive and that he had left her and her mother for his homeland in Germania. Her gift is from his bloodline. Ulrika decides that she needs answers. So she sets out on a journey of discovery.
Throughout her long journey of discovery in which she travels from the forests of Germania to the deserts outside of Babylon, she meets people who help her harness her gift and understand her place in the world. And at the very beginning of the journey, she meets a man, Sebastianus Gallus, who will also change her life forever. The Roman trader is on his own personal journey – to China. Their two paths intertwine and diverge but ultimately converge.
This is an interesting coming of age story set in the time of the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Nero. The characters that fill these pages are truly fascinating; from Timonides the Greek astrologer and his simple minded son Nestor, to Primo the battle hardened veteran of the Roman legion, to Rachel the widow living alone in a desert oasis. The settings are rich with description, from the caravan camp to Luoyang, and it is easy to tell that Barbara Wood weaved a lot of research into her story.
I only wish that some sort of historical note had been included in the end of the book. I haven’t been to Sunday school in a very long time, but I had a feeling that Rachel and then Judah might have been the same from the Bible. This is only made sort of clear at the end of the book. I am still not sure if these characters and perhaps others are based on historical figures (well, I know Nero was real – student of the Classics here). Shame on me, I guess, for not knowing my Bible well enough. And I had previously read about possible trade caravans from Rome going to China, but I don’t know how much of this actually happened. Again, a historical note at the end would have been a bonus.
In any case, I did enjoy this book. It was an interesting story. However, sometimes I felt like I didn’t care what happened to the characters. I just didn’t feel for them. Perhaps it was the way it was written – sometimes it read like a history text book. I am all for this, being a lover of history, but I also love to escape into an adventurous tale. I found the love story a little too shallow. Ulrika and Sebastianus seemed to fall in love on the spot. And they continued to love each other after being separated for a long time and did not question each other’s loyalty throughout those years. It was a tad unrealistic. All in all, I think this book fell a little short for me. I would, however, recommend it to fans of Roman history.
The final verdict: 3/5

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Passion

You search through your closet, digging through piles and piles of purses, shoes, and clothes you’ve only ever worn once (some with the price tag still on). You ask yourself where you put it, how you could have let it fall underneath all this stuff. Your heart races, your frustration rises. You begin to panic.
Where is it!? Where is it!? You scream.
Your cats look at you as if you are the craziest person on the planet. And maybe you are.
You just vowed to yourself that you would not cave. That you would not give in to the passion that courses through your blood. The passion – it is a fabric of your life, a part of your being. It lay dormant when it should not have. In a fit of madness, you cursed the gods for taking away the only thing that brought light to an otherwise dark winter.
Greedy turds, you repeated like a mantra for months. You promised you would never follow your passion again, that you would punish it for becoming so elusive.
You stare at your closet, your nostrils flaring, and your breath rapid. You tear through a leftover piece of Christmas wrapping paper. The holidays could have been so much better, had you had your passion. And then you see it.
Hiding in the far corner of that haphazard closet, covered in dust bunnies, cat hair, and spider webs: the bleu, blanc, et rouge. Your hand brushes over it; the feeling of 100% polyester brings tears to your eyes. Gently, you pull it out from the dark abyss. Into the light it comes, gleaming, shining like a beacon of hope. That “c”, that “h” – its love at first sight, all over again.
The hockey gods have answered your prayers (the ones you made after apologizing profusely for the curses).
You hug the jersey to your chest, embracing it like a long lost love, breaking away only to spit out a hunk of dust bunnies. You realize you have been waiting for this moment for too long. Far too long.
You trace your fingers over the name stitched onto the back. Price. And the number. 31. Your heart continues to race, no longer out of anger, but out of excitement. Could this be the year? Could Lord Stanley’s Cup finally return to where it belongs?
But you are getting ahead of yourself. You promised you would boycott the season. After all, what’s half a season worth to you? Just more of your hard earned money wasted on a team that did not even make the playoffs last season. Just more heartbreak.
Yet, the passion; it stirs within you. It fights to break free. You yearn to feel the cold, biting winds outside of the Bell Centre, to sit with twenty one thousand others consumed by the same passion, and chant that simple chant: Go, habs, go!
You sigh. It has been far too long. You place the jersey over your head and wear it; like a second skin it moulds to your body. You want to be proud again. You want to root for something again. You remember your Classics. A worthy man is not mindful of past injuries. Euripides. You can forgive.
The passion burns too brightly within you.
You begin a chant. Go habs go; go habs go; go habs go…
Leafs @ Habs, February 12, 2011 (personal collection)
Glory to all, the passion has returned!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Lord Huron - The Ghost on the Shore

I thought I would share with you one of the songs I am currently in love with. Lord Huron's "The Ghost on the Shore" is a beautiful song. It is one of those songs that tell a story. The lyrics are just great.

I'm just a man but I know that I'm damned
All the dead seem to know where I am
The tale that began on the night of my birth
Will be done in a turn of the earth
It has a folksy feel to it (must be the harmonica), which I am really into right now. They even sound a little bit country, but I don't really mind that. I grew up with my dad blasting Conway Twitty, George Jones, Red Sovine, and company. In any case, I think Lord Huron is a great band and this is a great song, along with "In the Wind". Both songs are from their "Lonesome Dreams" album.

Take a listen:

There is still hope for music! 
 Full lyrics

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Photo of the Week 06/01/2013

Good evening! I thought I'd do a photo of the week thing, since I love photography. It's not a serious hobby of mine, but it does give me joy. I mostly like to take pictures of the sky and other facets of nature. I will shrink the photos, as the originals are very large. They won't always have been taken in that week, but hopefully I get inspired every week to take an awesome picture (by my standards, awesome that is). I have a Nikon Coolpix L120, and it is the best. It's about two years old now but still takes great pictures. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy!

This is one from the archives. A November morning. 08/11/2012

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A new beginning

“Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!” – Maximus (Gladiator, 2000)

Elysium was where the gods sent you after you died, if you were righteous and heroic. There you would spend your days in much the same way that you did in life. Only it was a blessed existence, one in which only happiness existed and where sorrow was only a word. You did not have to toil so hard, the weather was always good, and sweet fruits could be harvested three times a year. It was paradise after death.
But there is another Elysium. It is not a place beneath the earth and it is not for the dead. It is a state, right here on Earth. It is a condition of the mind. It is perfect bliss. Some say it exists only in the imagination. Perhaps they are right. Maximus said, “Imagine where you will be, and it will be so.” And so I close my eyes and try to imagine my Elysium... and nothing comes to mind.
 I can’t remember the last time I was happy. I took an online test for depression yesterday, and it told me that I had a “high risk” of major depression and a “high risk” of dysthymia. Granted, these online tests are not actual doctors, but I do feel that it came out right. Hell, I am tired of feeling this way. I think I might actually talk to someone about this. It’s time to take control of my life. It’s time to find my place of happiness, my Elysium.
And so I have started this blog. Writing is something that I have always enjoyed and have only recently returned to. The blog is not going to be about depression. I am not going to whine about all the things that are wrong with my life. I do hope to write about many things; books, movies, television, video games, history and life. I figure if I write about the things that make me happy, I could somehow make myself feel better.
With that, I end my first post. May you walk a shining path in this new year and reach your own Elysium. I’ll be rooting for you. J