Monday, November 25, 2013

Wake

Amanda Hocking, an author that I've heard about for years, is one of the authors that I've somehow missed despite all the talk. While on my mermaid kick (see last week's review) I found that I had, at some point in time, gotten Hocking's book Wake on my Kindle. I often do this, I get books and then they get lost in the hundreds of other books I have laying about waiting to be read. Anyway, I dove (ha!) right into this tale of sirens and quickly read through it with much pleasure.

Wake is a typical YA book where true love exists, there's hardship, and tough decision making with a splash of danger. The writing isn't anything you haven't seen before and I know mermaids have (had?) become popular recently but haven't read any of the other mermaid/siren YA books so I have nothing to compare it to. 

Gemma, our main character and future siren, is the best swimmer in all the land (okay, not really but close), beautiful, and now has a fully realized love interest in her neighbor Alex. What the synopsis doesn't tell you is that her older sister, Harper, is also a main character of the book. With the chapters flip flopping between the point of views of each sister I think this is a detail that the publishers shouldn't have left out. Not that there's anything wrong with it, I personally liked Harper's character more than Gemma, but I feel it should be mentioned because the book otherwise looks too much like another YA love story when it sort of ends up not being the type of love most YA books think of but a love between sisters.

Okay, I'm getting off track. There are three girls in the town who seem to attract all kinds of attention. They seem kind of ruthless and rude, beautiful, but jerks and while Gemma and Harper stay away from them they seem to focus in on Gemma. 

Things happen, bad things, and Gemma finds herself in a world of trouble. Gemma's character, to me, was a little flat. I felt somewhat indifferent to her but whenever I read of a character more or less being doomed to a supernatural life without making The Choice I always manage to feel a little bad, and I did, I felt bad for Gemma. 

The strong suits of the book, I felt, were the subplots. Gemma and Harper's mother was in a car accident and now has a strong enough disability that she's placed in a home while their father refuses to see his wife. It's a moving point and I felt for that. I was more interested in all of that than I was about the sirens!

I'm glad that Hocking went the route she did with the sirens: they are not nice girls and they certainly aren't very pretty in one of their forms. It's great to take a step away from Disney's Little Mermaid concept that mermaids are fun and cute and lovely and moving closer to the mythology that mermaids and sirens are kind of bad asses. 

Will I continue reading the series though? Probably not. No offense, Amanda Hocking; certainly keep doing what you're doing because you're good at it. But the characters didn't grab hold of me enough. They didn't linger in my mind after I finished the book. I need characters to stay with me, I need to wonder what happens next to continue reading, and I didn't get that from Wake.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mermaids

Oh, mermaids! You have held my attention since I was a tiny little thing. There is an album buried in the many bookshelves of my house with me, ages 3-7, in various bathing suits sitting in my kiddie pool with my legs crossed because I was a self proclaimed mermaid and I forced my legs to be a tail.

Mermaids have always held a soft, warm place in my heart and my friends know this well. For my birthday I received Mermaids by Skye Alexander in the mail from one of my friends.

First, the book is beautiful. Varying shades of blue with artwork within depicting different mermaids and blue print ink. It's absolutely pretty and small in size which makes it an ease to carry around. You can say not to judge a book by its cover but this is a book I'd leave out on a coffee table, if only for show, because it's nice to look at.

The book itself is informative -- this isn't a fictional story! Skye Alexander neatly describes the mythology behind mermaids and goes from continent to continent with brief histories of these finned creatures for different cultures. Much like other mythologies of the world, it's always interesting to see that what the beliefs are in, say, China are similar to something believed in England. Mermaids are a widespread idea and the book raises some good points. My favorite being that if mermaids are supposedly manatees mistaken for women (how you could mistake them for a woman I don't know...) then why were they spotted so far north where manatees don't live? Questions like that are raised but overall, the book gives you more information than you ever thought existed on these creatures.

I certainly came away knowing more about mermaids than I had before and was able to take what information I was given and supply it to further research which I did on my own which is great! This has helped to provide great fodder for creative writing that I do in my free time.

The only downside I found to the book was that at times I felt like Skye Alexander was making a sales pitch for various mermaid creations. Fake tails and the likes. She also had a tendency to be repetitive in some parts. Granted, many of the mermaid stories across the world are very similar but I am sure there are a few parts where she literally repeats the same information over again. 

All in all, I have a feeling I'll be going back to this book while writing if mermaids somehow pop up in my stories. It was fun to read, especially in the summer (I know, I'm posting this in November but I definitely read it in the summer... sorry!). A wonderful gift, something to leave out for people to look at, and enjoyable to reference.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Borgia Apocalypse, or rather, how Neil Jordan tried to destroy a fandom

I've read a few scripts in my life for drama club (back when I was a wee little teen) to helping edits of a film friend. Hell, I even wrote a few back in High School for our class skits at the end of the year (which we won). They're simple and pretty much to the point, at least in my opinion.

The Borgias, if you haven't caught on yet, was a TV show I absolutely loved. Every week that it was in season I'd eagerly await the new episode and devour it as if it was the only sustenance I had in seven days. Much like with The White Queen and The Tudors, historical shows often catch my interest and then I become obsessed with the subject manner. I read all the books I can about that particular time and the famous people involved in it (See: The Family and coming soon, Blood and Beauty). 

The TV show was based on Mario Puzo's book, The Family, and centers around Lucrezia, Rodrigo, and Cesare Borgia. In The Family Puzo takes the rumored romance of siblings Lucrezia and Cesare and runs with it and seeing that this show was based on the book, I expected that to happen. Neil Jordan, the director of the TV show, right away expressed his distaste for the union of the sibling characters but, it seems, the fans and Showtime had a different idea. 

The actors who played these siblings had great chemistry and eventually, to the joy of the fans (myself included), the siblings made their sinful love for one another an open and consummated thing. I know, anyone who is reading this and hasn't seen the show is totally disgusted. But you need to see the show to understand, I swear. If you've seen it and you still find it gross then you're welcome to your opinion.

Anyway, historically there was a rumor of the siblings being romantically involved but there is no hard evidence stating as much. What probably happened was that people who hated the family began to circulate the rumor and it's stuck with the family history through all of these hundred years. 

Back to the TV show. The relationship was official and the fans rejoiced! Then it was announced that the show would be ending after three seasons rather than continuing with a final fourth season. The fans mourned. Myself included. But hold on, don't worry, Neil Jordan to the rescue! He submitted the final screenplay for the movie that was also axed for all of us to comfort ourselves with!

I bought it. I bought that thing so fast that my bank account didn't know what happened to it. Hindsight, I should've just waited for an illegal download of it, it wasn't worth my money. 

I read the screenplay in a matter of hours (and by hours, I'm pretty sure it was only two) and had fully expected that when I settled down to read the screenplay I would've come away from it feeling satisfied. Like getting a final hug from something before it goes. Like I could have properly said my goodbyes to my beloved Cesare and Lucrezia.

Nope. Wrong.

The only thing this screenplay did was make me remove my hatred for Showtime (I blamed them for canceling the show) and instead thank them. I think they were trying to save the fandom from what dastardly things Neil Jordan had planned. It seemed that a lot of other people agreed with me and the fandom, from my point of view, was in an uproar.

This is a little learning exercise for me as I realized that something can go very wrong, very fast when it comes to writing. I had expected a lot out of the screenplay but ended up wanting to throw my beloved Kindle across the room. Reading a conclusion to something, or maybe a sequel, in no way means you will be satisfied or find closure--at least not in the way you expected. I found myself relieved that this had not been produced and much more preferring my own daydreams of how the show ended rather than ever considering what Neil Jordan wrote as possibility.

If you enjoyed the tv show, if you had any ounce of caring for Lucrezia and Cesare, don't read this.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thirteen Reasons Why

Clay Jensen, a good guy, smart kid, and known for nothing bad, comes home one day to discover a box with seven cassette tapes waiting for him. That's odd enough; in this day and age who uses cassette tapes, anyway? And who has recorders to make them? Actually, who has a music system in their house that isn't only usable by iPod and can play a cassette?

It doesn't end there. 

Clay finds an old portable stereo of his father's in the garage and pops the first tape in. What he hears crackle to life is something he least expects: the voice of his classmate who had recently committed suicide.

Straight away you're plunged into the tale of Hannah Baker and the various events in her life that aided her in sinking so far into a dark hole that she decided it wasn't worth living anymore. That's a tough subject, teen suicide, and it's even tougher to be hear a voice from the grave number off the various reasons that she felt her life was unlivable.

This book held some special interest for me as a few years ago a woman I know messaged me about it. Her son's teacher was assigning the book in class and her husband felt it was wrong, he wanted to demand that their child not read it, but she wasn't so sure. I hadn't read the book yet myself but knew the subject manner, "He should read it!" I told the woman, "It's a tough subject and maybe he'll have some questions due to it but it's a subject that shouldn't be ignored."

I felt a little guilty telling her that with such confidence when I had not actually read the book myself but I am a firm believer in people reading books if they want to and certainly not trying to ban them from the classroom. I have my own experience with suicide or near suicide, not personally, but through people I knew--well or otherwise. Why would someone want to kill themselves? It was something that I couldn't quite comprehend as a middle schooler when a kid on my school bus had committed suicide. Why would they do that? It was the first death I experienced of someone who was young. Mind blowing.

But suicide is often a hushed subject just as various other issues in the world are. Bullying, victimizing girls, slut shaming, it's all common knowledge if you pay an ounce of attention but in mixed company, in schools, it doesn't seem to be greatly highlighted. At least in recent years there seems to be a greater attempt to end the issues I listed above, which is great, but sometimes you need to be reminded of the affect it can have on people.

While Hannah records the tapes and recounts her story she often sounds bitter and I found it hard to be sympathetic with the character. I feel, in some ways, the author did a disservice to the subject manner by making it so hard to like Hannah. At times I wanted to tell Hannah, "Get over it," but who am I to say that? The reasons Hannah lists often sound like common experiences for teenagers. It's that kind of stuff a lot of people experience day to day or, if they're lucky, only once or twice in their miserable teen years. But sometimes it doesn't take much for someone who is already exhibiting signs of depression to fall further under. For Hannah, the varying instances are enough to push her over the edge. 

The book also has Hannah recounting the number of times that no one helped her or tried to save her. All the while, Clay listens to the tapes and goes through a myriad of emotions that are completely understandable if you were to be in his shoes. His reactions, to me, were honest and I felt for him as a character. With surprise, shock, and anger he kept thinking, "But I could have helped you. I didn't know you needed help. You didn't say anything." Again, this is something (at least in my experience) can happen. Outsiders may not catch the signs of someone spiraling down and the person who is drowning in the pressures of the world may think they're making it quite obvious when it's not. 

I'm going to say this, the book wasn't an enjoyable read. Not to say that it wasn't written well or any of that. The book was emotional and it was hard to swallow because of what it dealt with. This book isn't meant to be happy. There is no happy ending. It's tough as suicide is and to make it fluffy would be a disservice to the illness of depression and suicide.

When I finished the book I thought of the woman asking me if she should let her son read that book. I never found out if she let him read it or not but I wonder, if he read the book, how did he react? How did his class react? Maybe I'm too removed from High School now in my great old age of late 20's to grasp how teens would handle this book but based on that, I still think it's readable for teens. I'm sure even as a teenager, when my emotions were all over the place and I was still experiencing the horrors of life for the first time, the book would have upset me but I think it could have gotten me to think a little more and reconsider the spreading of rumors, whispered "secrets," and other various things that teens innocently do without the mind that they are really harming anyone.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Five Years and a Bit of Change

Pictured above from left to right: Flight to New Orleans; location of the Battle of New Orleans; my signed copy of Neil Gaiman's book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane; my friend and I outside the Capitol Building during the Fourth of July; my roommate and I further away from the Capitol; myself on a boat off the coast of Virginia Beach; Poseidan statue, Virginia Beach; and the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington while President Obama spoke.

Busy. That is the simplest term I can use to describe the past several months -- busy. Somehow, since I went off to college, my busiest seasons are late spring, summer, and fall. Every year spring rolls around and I think, "Wow, I really have nothing planned," and every year I am proven wrong. What's crazier is that it seems every year I'm becoming more and more busy with those seasons. Last year I experienced "the August that never was" which is literally that. August flew by and I know I was horrendously busy but I still can't for the life of me tell you what I was doing that entire month unless I go digging through journals or stalk Facebook posts. By autumn of last year I thought, next year will be easier, next year I'll actually remember what I did from month to month.

Well, it was easier in that I can easily recall all the things I did this summer. But it was also much more busy. I packed a lot into my day-to-day schedule and this summer has been a blast, as has this fall.

I called this The Year of Travel but I hope there are many more and to bigger destinations. For the first time in my life I could really afford to go from place to place and that's exactly what I did. New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Tampa, Boston with various other adventures sprinkled through out. I realized with my most recent trip (to Boston) that I've finally become familiar enough with airports and flying that I am no longer over thinking every step in the process. I also flew home for the first time without feeling an ounce of panic during the flight. Beforehand, flights home always had a moment where I'd get nervous. I think it only happened on the way home because my excitement for the vacation ahead was diminished.

Besides travel I've been busy working my full time job, running, and taking a copyediting course at home (which I am taking a break from this fall with hopes to continue it in December/January). And most recently, enter Bruce, my adorable boyfriend who is capturing my attention and time too.

Pictured from left to right: In-flight to Tampa; the clouds from my cousins back yard in Tampa; a picture of myself with a pickle at the Maryland Renaissance Faire; the jousting field at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire; Paul Revere Square, with the church behind his statue that is a part of his history; myself with the statues of Make Way for Ducklings; the Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts; the Boston Public Library Reading Room; and my boyfriend and I while attending a bonfire (roasted marshmallows!) at a Field of Screams attraction.
All in all, I've been trying to better my life with this year. It started out rather terrible with a lot of pain and misery in my family. It taught me a lot about love and loss and the impression you can have. This year has been a year of growth for me. I'm proud of the person I'm becoming and I hope that I can continue on this path and become a better person and live a better life. Not that my life was horrible before, but I feel I didn't see quite as clearly and if I had to answer the above questions a year ago I would have had to say that I wasn't satisfied with the life I had lived. I want to change that, I want to be excited and proud and live a life worth talking about.

Well, within reason, because I've also discovered that doing what you want costs. But that's neither here nor there.

This year I've tried my best to better my life and I am progressing along quite splendidly. I've learned more about myself in this past year than I have in the majority of my 20's. I've learned that I really like some aspects of life and... not so much others.

For one, I love to travel.

When I graduated from college it was the start of the economy downturn. There weren't any jobs, I had thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off, and I was feeling rather helpless. There went my dreams of traveling and doing so much more.

I began to write book reviews because I liked to look back at my thoughts on books later on and see how my opinion had changed but also because it was an escape. Through books I could travel while I wasn't doing much in real life.

Jump forward five years and my book review blog has taken on something else for me. It's a job but an enjoyable one. In the past year I've realized that the void that this blog filled was slowly being replaced by something I had always wanted to do: travel. I still read like a fiend but I was finding I had less time to write reviews. That's not a problem though, I still find the time, even if it means writing off a few weekends at a time and focusing solely on writing my backlog of reviews. But finally I was achieving some of my dreams, I was traveling.

Then came classwork and a boyfriend and I'm finding that while I love to travel and most certainly do, I don't have to go far to find enjoyment. I'm quite happy at home as well but my free time is still shortening.

Where will this next year take me? I haven't a clue. But I'm excited to have been here chatting about books for the past five years. Will I do another five years? I don't know. Will I travel more? Surely. Will I still read? Of course! I obviously haven't had as much time to devote to this blog in the past number of months but I hope those of you who still read this understand. I'm just finding my place in this great big world and settling in.

So happy five year birthday, my dear little blog. You've been my constant companion through thick and thin since I've entered this "adult" world.