Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge Wrap Up

I have just finished reading The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers (translated by John Brownjohn,) which marks the final book in my reading challenge for 2015. This has been an awesome experience, and I'm really glad I did it.

One great thing that came out of this challenge was that it encouraged me to keep track of my books for the year. No, I didn't blog about all of them as I had planned, but I did update my Goodreads more faithfully than I ever have done. This is a habit I hope to keep up on, as it's really helpful to see what I've read and what I thought of it (information I tend to forget.)

The best thing that came from this challenge was a feeling of productivity connected with reading. It's my belief that we should all read as much as we are able, especially those of us who wish to be writers. Reading is a productive pastime. The trouble is, I never seem to be able to convince myself of this. Whenever I read, I always get this anxious feeling that I should be doing something else, something "more productive." Having a check list of books to read helped combat this feeling. I'm stubborn enough to be determined to complete the challenge, and I knew I had to put in time to do so. There was a feeling of fulfillment every time I checked off a book, and apparently I need that.

I will be doing another challenge next year, although this one will be rather different. More on that later.

For now, here are the books I read as part of my 2015 Reading Challenge (reviews attached.)

A book with more than 500 pages
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

A classic romance
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

A book that became a movie
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

A book published this year
Winter by Marissa Meyer

A book with a number in the title
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary - ☆ ☆ ☆ 

A book written by someone under thirty
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

A book with nonhuman characters
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

A funny book
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

A mystery or thriller
The Ghost of Raven Hill by Emily Rodda

A book with a one-word title
Cress by Marissa Meyer

A book of short stories
The Unicorn Treasury compiled by Bruce Coville

A book set in a different country
Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne

A nonfiction book
The Story of Hans Anderson by Esther Meynell

A popular author's first book
Carpet People by Terry Pratchett 

A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
Mike by P. G. Wodehouse

A book a friend recommended
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

A book your mom loves
The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

A book that scares you
The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft

A book more than one hundred years old
Dracula by Bram Stoker

A memoir
Ride the Butterflies by Donald Davis

A book you can finish in a day
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

A book with antonyms in the title
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A book that came out the year you were born
Winter Moon by Dean Koontz

A trilogy
The Rondo Trilogy by Emily Rodda
The Key to Rondo
The Wizard of Rondo
The Battle for Rondo

A book from your childhood
Backyard Angel by Judy Delton

A book with a love triangle
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

A book set in the future
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A book set in High School
Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

A book with a color in the title
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

A book that made you cry 
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

A book with magic
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

A graphic novel
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask by Akira Himekawa

A book by an author you've never read before
The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel

A book that takes place in your hometown
Meet your Match by Stephanie Fowers

A book that was originally written in a different language
The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers, translated by John Brownjohn

A book set during Christmas
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

A book written by an author with your same initials
Hannah by Kathryn Lasky

A play
The Tempest by William Shakespeare - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

A banned book
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

A book based on or turned into a TV show
Avatar: the Last Airbender - The Search

A book you started but never finished
The Golden Journey by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

A book on the BYU honors list
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Simon Armitage

An LDS nonfiction
Mary, Martha, and Me by Camille Fronk Olson

A book of poems
Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Challenge: A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

Book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (age 21 at publication)
Pages: 197
Date Read: 12/5 - 12/7/2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could have fit into:
A book that became a movie - I haven't seen any adaptations yet, beyond parodies which are amazingly inaccurate
A book with nonhuman characters - just the one
A book with a one-word title
A book set in a different country - it goes all over, actually, though predominantly set in Switzerland
A popular author's first book
A book more than one hundred years old - published in 1818
A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
A book that made you cry - we all know I cry in everything
A book by an author you've never read before

I'm unsure how I felt about this book. I adored the beginning. Having read many books from the 18 and early 1900s recently, I was expecting something similar in tone. But I found Frankenstein to be impressively readable, and with a pleasant and easy to follow story structure.

It was about halfway through that I went from loving this book to feeling uncertain about it. The thing that changed for me were my feelings about Frankenstein and his creation. I began liking them both. Frankenstein had many aspects of foolishness, as to be assumed from someone rash enough to try to create life without first considering the consequences, but he was not the cruel, devilish mastermind popular culture had led me to expect. And his creation was duly sympathetic; I wept knowing he would not have the happy ending he sought.

But both characters took unforgivable turns for me. Time and again, Frankenstein showed criminal lack of decision. After allowing his creation to roam free (seeming unconcerned as to where it had gotten to,) he failed to kill the creature, even knowing he had killed his young brother. He did have a plan then, to create a female, but when he turned away from that plan, he again failed to try to stop his creation from killing anyone else. And then again, later, while he had plans to fight with the creature, he did little to ensure that this battle would actually take place. He seemed constantly wrapped up in his own tragedies that he failed to do anything to stop more from occurring.

And, yes, I know that the creation of Frankenstein ought to be sympathized with. But he had some example of the difference between right and wrong, and still he murdered. He didn't do so blindly, unwitting of the crimes he committed, but with intent. And I truly believe that there were those who would have sympathized with him, if he'd been able to give them a chance (Walton actually did, returning to hatred only by recollection of the horrors the creature had perpetrated.)

Both Frankenstein and his creation were so convinced that they were the only ones who knew suffering - that their suffering was greater than any known being had ever felt - that they time and again did horrible and foolish things. Perhaps it's only my state of mind as I read it, but I felt that this was the greatest lesson to learn from this book; that we must look out at the trials of others and realize we are not alone, rather than trying to aggrandize our own miseries. Frankenstein and his monster both possessed an obsession with self (perhaps forgivable in the creation, but not in the man) that led to their downfall.

Anyway, I suppose all of this is me philosophizing and not actually reviewing the book. In spite of my frustrations with the characters (especially difficult as I grew to detest the first person narrator,) I did adore it. The writing is thoughtful, yet constantly moved forward and never became heavy-handed. The characters were thoughtfully crafted, and each stood out individually. There were a lot more moral implications in the book than I here discussed, and so much food for thought that it's hard to take it all in at once. It is a beautifully crafted book; thoughtful and engaging, full of adventure and horror. And I feel the need to point out the descriptions; they were handled really well, to the point where you felt like you got to enjoy lovely scenery, without having it bog down the narration. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that handled description so well.

I would absolutely recommend this classic -- it is quite sad, and in some ways unbearably frustrating, but it's worth it for the ideas and the beautiful writing.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Book Challenge: A Book that Scares You

Book: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft
Pages: 365
Date Read: 10/31 - 12/5/2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could have fit into:
A book with nonhuman characters
A mystery or thriller
A book of short stories
A book by an author you've never read before

I discovered in this reading challenge that I am not easily scared by books; though that might be because I am not willing to delve too deeply into horror. But this book introduced me to the genre, and did have some terrifying aspects, so it qualifies.

Lovecraft is a classic author, and I'm really glad I decided to give his stories a try. He's a prime example of early American writing, while clearly influenced by Poe, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I loved this collection and will be looking for more of his writing.

Each story was so individual that I would like to go through them and review them separately. Bear with me, there are a lot.

The Tomb 
"In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement in this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt for the authenticity of my narrative."
Those were the first words of Lovecraft's I ever read, and I immediately fell in love. How could you not?  The greatest horror stories always begin with the insane, and the voice was perfection.

This story had elements of a classic ghost story, with the draw of death and the appeal of all things beyond. The twist at the end, though heavily foreshadowed, was still worded perfectly to send a thrill through you. Though most of the following stories were written from the perspective of someone outside the horror, this one is up close and personal with the madman (but is he mad?) himself.

The tone and pacing of this story had me excited to read the next.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep 
"I have frequently wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong."
There were some familiar science fiction elements to this story that felt almost Ray Bradbury-esque. Of course, Lovecraft came first, writing science fiction before that was officially a genre. This piece was thought-provoking, and opened my mind to the expansive world that Lovecraft imagined and explored in his other stories. There was also the classic insane asylum, which reminds me a lot of those sections from Dracula and lead me to believe that Lovecraft was heavily influenced by that book.

This is one that I look forward to rereading, as I am sure there is more to be gained from it.

The White Ship
"I am Basil Elton, keeper of the North Point light that my father and grandfather kept before me."
This story was lovely, and most intriguing in that the mythology felt familiar while being entirely new to me. I wonder how much Lovecraft's work has made its way into other stories I've read, that I knew his worlds before I was ever officially introduced to them. I don't have a lot to say on this one, other than that I would like to reread it and follow up some of his references, tracking down some of his other stories, so that I can get a firmer grasp of the ideas he was exploring. Reading it the first time it was a bit beyond me, but I look forward to going deeper into it.

The Temple 
(Manuscript found on the coast of Yucatan.)
"On August 20, 1917, I, Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein, Lieutenant-Commander in the Imperial German Navy and in charge of the submarine U-29, deposit this bottle and record in the Atlantic Ocean at a point t me unknown but probably about N. Latitude 20°, W. Longitude 35°, where my ship lies disabled on the ocean floor."
Definitely the best part about this story was its voice. Though a bit slow, dry, and military (as you can tell from the first line,) there was definite character. And a German U-boat captain written by an American in 1925 was interesting to say the least. He captured the exaggerated German pride and over-logical thinking to a nicety.

Then there was the lovely ghost story aspect to this story. Ghosts at sea are a special favorite of mine, and this had all the best elements of such a tale. There was a definite sense of impending doom that made the ending inevitable. There were also some really wonderful, eerie visuals. This story may have been a bit harder to get through, but it was definitely worth the read.

The Quest of Iranon
"Into the granite city of Teloth wandered the youth, vine-crowned, his yellow hair glistening with myrrh and his purple robe torn with briers of the mountain Sidrak that lies across the antique bridge of stone."
This story was downright tragic, easily the saddest in the collection. It was also beautiful and haunting. I think it was my favorite.
"Wherefore do ye toil; is it not that ye may live and be happy? And if ye toil only that ye may toil more, when shall happiness find you? Ye toil to live, but is not life made of beauty and song? And if ye suffer no singers among you, where shall be the fruits of your toil? Toil without song is like a weary journey without an end. Were not death more pleasing?"
There was a lot in this story about the nature of man and dreams. It broke my heart, and I look forward to reading it again.

The Music of Erich Zann 
"I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d'Auseil."
One of the great things about Lovecraft's horror writing was that Hitchcock-esque quality of never quite showing us everything, but leaving the greatest of the horror to our own imagination. However, this story, I felt, left too much to the imagination, to the point where I felt like we didn't get the story at all. Something terrifying was no doubt happening, but I can't even begin to guess what, which makes it less terrifying than it could be. The setting was on point, and the characters distinct, but I would have liked more details. As it was, I found this story obscure to the point of boring.

Under the Pyramids
(with Harry Houdini)
"Mystery attracts mystery."
This story was ghost written for Harry Houdini, which was really exciting. I love Houdini, and hadn't even thought about him and Lovecraft being contemporaries. They go together perfectly.

However, this story was a bit... long and slow. Sometimes you get the overwhelming feeling that Lovecraft was being paid by the word. Scenes of this story were really interesting, and some truly horrifying, but I think several pages could have been cut to the story's betterment. That said, it was fun to get the Houdini style, and still have all the Lovecraft horror. Plus, there are some really interesting descriptions of Egypt. Overall, I enjoyed this story, but it did drag a bit.

Pickman's Model
"You needn't think I'm crazy, Eliot--plenty of others have queerer prejudices than this."
And here we come to the story that made me count this book as "a book that scares me." This one struck a little too close to home as being possible and horrific. I'm glad I don't ride the subway. This is exactly the sort of thing I want from contemporary horror -- taking distant and ancient evils, and then bringing them right up to your door. I also really loved the voice, which was conversational and familiar. The dramatic plot twist at the end was obvious from about halfway through, but it was horrifying enough that knowing it ahead of time really just served to make things worse. I really loved this story, though I'm creeped out just remembering it -- which I suppose is a compliment to a horror story.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward 
"From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person." 
This is the longest piece Lovecraft ever published, crossing the line from short story to novella. But, to be honest, Lovecraft's strength was in brevity. His longer works tend to be redundant, exaggeratedly mysterious, and simply not as clean-cut as his short ones.

That said, this still had a lot of quality in it. The premise was properly disturbing, with necromancy being practiced in a way that almost made it seem almost logical. And Lovecraft did have a gift for making the horrific seem possible, even plausible, which makes it that much more terrifying. The characters in this one were distinct, and you felt bad for Charles Ward, in over his head and exploring things that ought to be left alone. This one was certainly thought provoking; I only wish it had been pared down a bit.

The Dunwich Horror
"When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean's Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country."
This wasn't one of my favorite stories, and was quite slow in spots, but it had some great visuals. It had more action than some of the others, and some classic monster attacks. Honestly, it could have been done as a really great horror movie from the 1960s -- and I wouldn't be surprised if it inspired some of those B monster movies. It was entertaining, and had great characters, but wasn't as thought provoking as some of the others.

At the Mountains of Madness
"I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why."
Again, this story is longer, and I just think Lovecraft did better with fewer words. Writing has changed a lot in the past hundred years, and Lovecraft's story structure is often meandering and over-explanatory. Sometimes I really enjoy that, but with this story I just got impatient to get to the exciting things that he was referencing time and again.

I would like to reread this story when I'm in perhaps a more patient frame of mind. I did really love some elements of it. They explore an ancient city, its art and history, built by beings that predate earth life, and it was truly fascinating. The descriptions were gorgeous, and it built a whole idea of this culture without actually showing it to us. I also felt like the narrator was refreshingly understanding, and it was cool to have some non-evil aliens. And there were some exciting scenes at the end. This is one where I felt like Lovecraft left just enough to our imaginations to be haunting, without being obscure.

The Thing on the Doorstep
"It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer."
First off, that may well be the best first line I have ever read. Second, this story was perfect. I completely adored the characters and the concept. It was hugely stressful, since you worry no one will listen to the narrator and the horror will just continue growing. The fact that it didn't really end was perfect for a horror story. As for the rest of it -- walking corpses, hypnotic possession,  a quest for immortality -- it had all the perfect elements for a truly creepy story. It was exactly what I wanted, and made for an excellent ending to this anthology.

Over all, I really enjoyed this collection. I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in classic horror, similar in style to Edgar Allan Poe. Lovecraft's style is beautiful, and his stories dark and deep.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: Demolition

            “Look, lady, it’s not my idea to destroy them. But it’s my 
job to get it done. So get out of the way.”
            “Please!” She clasps her hands. “I’ve worked so hard on it! I’ll get more money.”
            “Can you get it in the next five minutes?”
            “Well, no, but-”
            “Then move. It’s coming down.”
            It’s beautiful, but then they always are. Its crystal spires sparkle towards the heavens. She must have poured months into it.
            And now I have to use my power to tear down her Dream Castle because the money has run out.
            I hate my job.


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "It wasn't my idea to destroy it. But it was my job to get it done."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: Excuses

            “I have to go... iron... my cat.” I winced, unable to believe that I’d just said those words.
            He arched a perfect dark eyebrow in classic romance novel fashion. “I see. Well, I’d hate to keep you from something so important.”
            “I’m sorry. I’m not good at this.”
             “It’s alright. I understand. I won’t bother you again.”
            He walked away and I let him go. I had to. Nothing could interfere with my mission.

            But as I set off to find the landlocked mermaid, I wished that I could have just one ordinary Friday night.


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "I have to go... iron... my cat."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - Death Date

            “I think I’ve been dead since ’98.” Marianne stirs her smoothie with her lips scrunched to one side.
            “Can’t you keep anything straight?” Karlie asks over her coffee mug. “It was ’99. I remember you complaining about just missing the millennium.”
            “It doesn’t matter anyways,” says Max, “Y’all know I died in the eighties.”
            “But Richard died in ’76.”
            “Richard doesn’t count. I’m the oldest in the group.”
            “I think youngest should decide where we haunt next.” Hayley grins, licking her ice cream cone.

            “Hasn’t even been dead a week, and already she wants to boss us around,” Karlie complains.


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "I think I've been dead since '98."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Virtual Writing Club || Week 2

Flash Fiction Friday: The Butterflies

            “Please,” Shelly clutched my arm, “Help him.” She gestured to the door off the lab.
            I went through and caught my breath. The hallway was filled with hundreds of butterflies, nestling on the walls. It took me a few minutes to find the scientist; he was covered in butterflies, too. But I could see his eyes. Haunted. Streaming tears.
            “It’s beautiful,” he whispered.
            “It is.” I knelt before him. “Doctor Richards, will you come with me for a little while?”
            “They told me about where they come from.” His shoulders shook, dislodging a few butterflies. “I want to go there.”


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "The hallway was filled with hundreds of butterflies, all nestling on the walls."