Friday, January 23, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - Ghosts

            A man, covered in blood, stood at the gate. And another man behind him. And a woman. There were about a dozen in all, drenched in enough blood to fill a lake.
            They tugged at the skirt of my wedding dress, trying to pull me away from the house.
            “He did this to you, didn’t he?”
            They nodded, pulling, pulling me away.
            “My husband is a murderer.”
            They gestured for me to run, to get away from the one who killed them. I struggled out of their grip and turned back to the house, grinning.
             “I knew we were well-matched.”


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "A man, covered in blood, just walked up to the gate."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Challenge: A Book From Your Childhood

Book: Backyard Angel by Judy Delton
Pages: 107
Date Read: 1/19/15
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into:
A funny book
A book you can finish in a day
Ever since school had closed in late spring, Angel sat on the back steps every morning. When she was younger she had sat waiting to be old enough to go to school. Now she just sat waiting. 
This is one of those weird books that I've always owned but have no idea where it came from. I don't know how old I was when I read it for the first time, but I do remember thinking that the ten-year-old heroine was so old.

It's kind of a sad little book, to be honest. It's about a girl who never smiles. Her father left when she was six, and her mother is now over-protective and a little paranoid. Angel (whose real name is Caroline; her mother calls her Angel when she's mad at her because it sounds less harsh) has inherited her mother's worries. She has an over-active imagination and always assumes worst-case scenarios.

But it's beautiful. There's a lot of thought in this book, and ideas that are still applicable as an older reader. It reads realistically as how an anxious ten-year-old would think. And her little brother, Rags, is just adorable. I really love this story.
She wondered if that was the way all of life was: Things were so much fun when you were very small, and then, bang, all of a sudden the excitement was gone. She looked at Rags and suddenly felt very sorry for him. Here he was, jumping up and down thinking about the oil truck, and then one day he'd come here and find he didn't want to climb on it anymore. If that's what growing up was, Angel decided, there was no reason to be in a hurry. 
I learned today that there are six more books about Angel and Rags! I'm really excited to track them all down and read them.

I would recommend this book to those who like children's fiction along the lines of the Ramona books; especially if, like me, you read Ramona and related more to Beezus.


Book Challenge: A Book You Can Finish in a Day

Book: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
Pages: 121
Date Read: 1/19/15
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into:
A book that made you cry - I mentioned before, I cry in everything
A book by an author you've never read before - I'd like to find more of her work
A book set during Christmas - only the last scene, but that scene was incredibly Christmasy; it didn't just happen to take place at Christmas, instead that holiday was very relevant
For reading is another door in the wall.
Before I start on my actual review, I would like to take a moment to express just how much I hate the cover art of this book. There are plenty of other editions, but the pictured one is the one I have, and it makes this book look comical and stupid and it frustrates me. That's all. If you ever see this book lying around, just remember the old cliché about judging books by their covers.

Those grievances aside, I will say that I loved everything about this story. I was just thinking sadly the other day that there are no books with invalids as the protagonist, and then I happened to pick up this beautiful little book. As a bed-ridden invalid, I found this story incredibly inspiring.
"Fret not, my son. None of us is perfect. It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have. That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have."
Amazingly, this book didn't feel preachy. It is a very moral book, I won't deny, but because the events came about naturally it never felt didactic. It just felt like everyone in the story was trying to do the best they could, and as they encouraged each other they encouraged me, too. In a longer book I might have found it annoying, but this book is the perfect length for a story of its kind.

The characters are just wonderful. Everyone is nice, even the one bad guy we talk to. Which sounds absolutely ridiculous and boring, but it really worked. It's a very happy, safe place to go -- which is something I appreciate on my bad days.

The quotes I collected from this book are things I needed to hear. Maybe it's just my particular stage in life that makes this book so beautiful to me, but I really adored everything about it.
"Each of us has his place in the world. If we cannot serve in one way, there is always another. If we do what we are able, a door always opens to something else."
I would recommend this book to those who are discouraged, or simply need a place of refuge. If you want a book with little external conflict, but regular people who are trying to get through daily struggles (well, and plague, and there is actually a siege at one point...) then I definitely recommend this little book. It's heavily historical, but, again, lets things come out through the story instead of beating you over the head with it. It's just a simple, beautiful little book and I love it to bits.


Book Challenge: A Book Based on a TV Show

Book: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search (parts 1, 2, and 3) by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and Gurihiru
Pages: 76 each, 228 total
Date Read: 01/19/15
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into:
A book with nonhuman characters - a couple spirits and, of course, Appa (no sign of Momo, though)
A funny book - classic Sokka
A book set in a different country - mainly the Fire Nation
A book you can finish in a day - reading all three books took about as long as watching an episode of the show
A trilogy
A book with magic - well, bending
A graphic novel

I honestly enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It felt very much like an episode of the show. Maybe not one of the best episodes, but certainly on-par with the average ones. 

Most importantly, it answered a question that has been killing me since the show ended -- what happened to Zuko's mother?? I'm not sure how canonical this book is considered, but I really like the answer it gives and am completely willing to accept it. It kind of broke my heart, but in a good way. 

This book is getting four stars because, for what it is, it was awesome and I was pleasantly surprised. I came out of it feeling totally satisfied. I'm actually thinking of tracking down the other graphic novels for this show, even though I don't have any more pressing questions, that's how much I liked it. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the show and is dying to know what happened to Zuko's mother. 


Book Challenge: A Book a Friend Recommended

Book: The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Pages: 201
Date Read: 11:30pm January 18 - 1:00am January 19, 2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 
Recommended by: Joshua Fagg

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into:
A book with nonhuman characters
A funny book
A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
A book you can finish in a day - (or a single sitting)
A book that made you cry
A book with magic
"Magic is always impossible," said the magician. "It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic."
Kate DiCamillo is steadily becoming my favorite author. Her prose is poetry; wondrous, delicious. Even moments that aren't sad make me cry because they're so unbearably beautiful.
"Have you, in truth, ever seen something so heartbreakingly lovely? What are we to make of a world where stars shine bright in the midst of so much darkness and gloom?"
Elements of this story are kind of unsettling. And there's an anti-war motif that I really didn't like. In fact, I almost gave the book four stars because of it. But, on reflection, I decided that it's ok. You don't have to agree with something to love it. This book is beautiful, and has a lot of truth -- Sister Marie's dream is one of the most breathtaking things I have ever read. And, honestly, I don't necessarily disagree with the views on war -- it is horrible, and often pointless. But I felt like there was some disrespect to soldiers by the complete dismissal of war, as though it never matters, as though it's never necessary. However, this was somewhat countered by the realization that Vilna Lutz is not actually a villain, but a completely sympathetic character. In the end, I decided the war motif was more intriguing than offensive; it's good to read things you disagree with sometimes.
But I know something. I know something. What is it I know? ... Ah, yes, I know what I know. Life is funny. That is what I know. 
I filled an entire page of my notebook with quotes from this little novel. I almost wrote down Sister Marie's entire dream, before reflecting that I own the book and therefore that might be a little excessive.
"But perhaps you do not understand, I was crippled by an elephant! Crippled by an elephant that came through the roof!"
I highly recommend this sad, dark, beautiful little book. As usual in Kate DiCamillo's work, there is pain and beauty, darkness and light, all wrapped up into one simple, or not so simple, story.
The impossible has happened again.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Challenge: A Book from an Author You Love that You Haven't Read Yet

Book: Mike by P. G. Wodehouse
Pages: 297
Date Read: 01/07 - 01/18/2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into:
A funny book - naturally, it's Wodehouse
A book written by someone under thirty - Plum was 28 when it was first published
A book with a one-word title
A book set in a different country - the U.K. 
A book more than one hundred years old - First published in 1909, though it was republished and added to several times after that
A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit - though I have no particular desire to visit an English boys' school, I should like to go to England

"One of the Georges," said Psmith, "I forget which, once said that a certain number of hours' sleep a day--I cannot recall for the moment how many--made a man something, which for the time being has slipped my memory. However, there you are. I've given you the main idea of the thing; and a German doctor says that early rising causes insanity."
I read this book specifically because it was Wodehouse's favorite that he ever wrote. It didn't necessarily win through as my favorite, but it certainly has all the Wodehouse charm. The humor was right in line with what I'm used to (there was an entire speech that can be found almost word-for-word in A Damsel in Distress, which was published ten years after this book's debut.) It was absolutely on par with his usual work, and I love it to bits.

The only, only complaint I could have against this book is that there was rather too much cricket in it. And, honestly, I might not have minded if I understood cricket. However, since I have no idea how the scoring or play or anything in cricket works, I was left to struggle through several chapters trying to imagine that it was something like baseball, which I actually don't understand much more than cricket. However, the important thing was who played well and who won the game, and that was all spelled out, so I could skim along through those sections without missing any of the plot.

Otherwise, the book is perfect. The characters are all so wonderful it's impossible to pick a favorite -- Mike's brother Bob, Wyatt, Adair, Psmith, or, of course, Mike himself. All were great and realistic and hilarious.

As usual with Wodehouse, there were sections of great wisdom:

One's attitude towards Life's Little Difficulties should be that of the gentleman in the fable, who sat down on an acorn one day and happened to doze. The warmth of his body caused the acorn to germinate, and it grew so rapidly that, when he awoke, he found himself sitting in the fork of an oak sixty feet from the ground. He thought he would go home, but, finding this impossible, he altered his plans. "Well, well," he said, "if I cannot compel circumstances to my will, I can at least adapt my will to circumstances. I decide to remain here." Which he did, and had a not unpleasant time. The oak lacked some of the comforts of home, but the air was splendid and the view excellent.
And some lines of absolute truth:
Man's inability to get out of bed in the morning is a curious thing. One may reason with oneself clearly and forcibly without the slightest effect. One knows that delay means inconvenience. Perhaps it may spoil one's whole day. And one also knows that a single resolute heave will do the trick. But logic is of no use. One simply lies there. 
All-in-all, I was absolutely pleased with this book. I would recommend it to anyone who likes Wodehouse -- and, if you haven't read Wodehouse, then I highly recommend you do so if you have a sense of humor at all. And, if you are a cricket fan, you should make a beeline for this particular book (and then maybe explain the process of the game to me, because I'm completely fogged.)

If you would like a free digital copy of Mike, click here.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - Where Did You Go?

“I love you,” you say.
            “I love you, too,” I said.
            “What was that?” asked the man behind the counter.
            You laugh like music.
            “You're so beautiful,” I said.
            “I think you’ve had enough,” said the man.
            “Let’s dance!” You leap up from your chair and you spin across the floor. The light shimmers in your copper brown hair. Your skirts are flower petals caught in the wind.
            I dance, too.
            “Whoa, buddy, you alright?”
            “Someone call him a cab.”
            You spin and you spin. But you’re drifting away.
            “Sleep it off, buddy. You’ll be alright.”
            Where did you go?


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray

Friday, January 9, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - True Name

            “Before I die,” rumbled the great beast to the boy sobbing beside him. “I will tell you my name.”
            “I don’t want to know!” The boy clapped his hands over his ears, but couldn’t drown out the rumbling voice.
            “Someone must know at the end. My name is Unuma.”
            “Unuma, thou must not die!” shouted the boy, tasting power on his tongue.
            The dragon’s eyes widened. “You would not make such a command.”
            “Unuma, do not die.”
            “It is a cruel thing you do to me.”
            The boy wiped away his burning tears. “You shouldn’t have told me your name.”


Today's Novel Idea Prompted by: "You don't even know my real name." 

Read the other responses:

Click to read my other FFF responses

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Love You Too Much To Hurt You (Stodder)


            Lemmink√§inen held my life in his hands. And he let me go.
            Scrambling through the woods, I channeled the rest of my magic into healing my wounds. I had no notion of where I was going or what I would do now. Why had he left me alive?
            I fell to my knees, passing a trembling hand over my face, pressing against painful bruises and cuts. The pain brought me harshly back to reality. In seconds, a new plan was formed.
            “What did he do to you?”
            Looking up, I saw her pale face, framed by her Titian hair, filled with concern. She’d followed me in spite of everything.
            “You look awful,” she said. Kneeling in front of me, she passed a hand over my skin, doing in a gesture what my weak powers had been unable to do, brushing away the pain like dust from a tabletop.
            “Go back, Alice,” I said, pulling away from her and staggering to my feet.
            She looked up at me, still kneeling in the muddy leaves. “No.”
            I looked down into her dark eyes, then started to walk away. She didn’t fit into my new plan. I hadn’t expected her to want to.
            She followed me. “Where are we going?”
            “You’re going home.”
            Catching up to me, she twined her arm in mine. “You’re so funny.”
            “I’m not joking. You know what happened today.”
            “If you mean I have to choose between you and Lemmin, it’s ok. It’s not a hard choice.”
            “He’s your family.”
            “Why are you being this way? I know what you did today, and I want to help you.”
            “There’s nothing to help with.” I fixed my eyes straight ahead, ignoring her warmth and the smell of honeysuckles emanating from her.
            “Of course there is. You have another plan.”
            “I don’t.”
            “Why are you lying to me?”
            “I’m tired, Liss.” At last I was telling the truth. “All I want now is a warm fire and a pot of tea.”
            “You don’t mean that.”
            I smiled wanly. “I told you I was too old for you.”
            “Sure, you want a break, I get that. But, after awhile, you’ll be ready to strike again. And I’ll be there with you.”
            “I don’t want you to come,” I said curtly. I stopped, wrenching my arm from hers. “Can’t you understand that, you silly little girl? I was only with you because it helped my plan. But that plan failed, and I’m sick of the sight of you.”
            She took a step backwards. “You don’t mean this.”
            “Of course I do. Now go away.” I started off again, feeling a proper crotchety old man.
            “Emeric!” she called after me.
            I didn’t look back, and she didn’t follow.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Challenge: A Book that Became a Movie

Book: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Pages: 429
Date Read: 01/04 - 01/06/2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into:
A book with nonhuman characters - well, just one character happened to be a demon (who is wonderful)
A funny book
A book with a love triangle - and one in which I got very emotionally invested
A book with magic
A trilogy - I didn't know it was a trilogy! In the back, there was an interview with the author, and it referenced the next two books. So I immediately bought them. I can't wait to read them!

This book does not fall into the category of "A book by an author you've never read before" because, unbeknownst to me when I bought it, it was written by the same author as The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. I don't know why this surprised me so much, but it was just really strange when I entered it into my list of books I own and realized I already had a book by this author.

Omigoodness, everything about this book is beautiful. I'm having to really fight the temptation to start it all over again instead of moving on to my next book.

The characters are fantastic. Howl is ridiculous and terrible and I love him with all of my soul. Michael is a sweetheart. Calcifer is a pill, but a darling. Fanny, Lettie, and Martha read like real people -- lovable and with definite faults. The entire ensemble was good. And Sophie was just straight-up awesome. Sassy and rude, but also way too nice for her own good and a total pushover. It was really interesting to read things from her perspective. She was super bright, but also wrong about a lot of things (since things were rather confusing) which made her an awesomely inaccurate narrator.

The magic was so much fun! I love the moving castle and the door that leads to so many different places. All the spells were cool and interesting, and the witches were what witches should be (high praise from me.)

So many plot twists I did not seem coming. It was a lot of fun to keep learning more and more about each of the characters and the world and the plot that was so much more complicated than I realized.

I didn't know anything at all coming into this book, except for the title and that it was made into a movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With these two pieces of information, I managed to come up with an idea of this book that was totally wrong -- and I like what it really is so much better! I was delightfully surprised by how fun, silly, and charming this book is. I enjoyed every moment of it, and will definitely be reading it again (though probably not just this minute, since I have a Book Challenge to complete.)

The movie:

I decided that, since this category is a book based on a movie, I should watch and review the movie, too. Not surprisingly, it wasn't anywhere near as good as the book. They changed so many things they really shouldn't have. They added a war (I mean, there's a war in the book, but it's not as relevant,) messed with the magic, and changed all sorts of characters. They turned one of my favorite characters from the book into a villain (whose motivation didn't make a whole lot of sense,) and turned the main villain from the book into a pathetic old lady (ok, she's kind of a pathetic old lady in the book, too, but in a much cooler way. Though, admittedly, she was kind of hilarious in the movie.) They also changed the time period it took place in, and took out one of the coolest plots from the book, which was all sorts of frustrating. I hated the flying ships and the train and everything; that's not the sort of story it's supposed to be.

Then again, they did a lot of things right. Howl was really good, even though they took out his tendency to woo every woman he meets (which was frustrating, since that's kind of a relevant character trait.) Michael was adorable, though they made him younger and inexplicably changed his name to Markl. Calcifer was SO PERFECT! And he was voiced by the same guy who does the voice of Mike Wazowski. And I loved Sophie. She's one of my favorite characters of all times, and I feel like they did a really good job with her.

I don't know why movie adaptations always feel the need to over-explain character motivation; I was really frustrated by some of the heavy-handed dialogue ("I finally have something to protect. It's you.") Over-all, the movie was fun, but nothing like the book. I probably would have liked it better if I hadn't read the book. But I'm grateful to it for existing, because I probably never would have read the book if I hadn't heard about the movie.

I would definitely recommend reading Howl's Moving Castle to anyone who loves a good fantasy novel. The movie is ok, and if you do alright with movie adaptations that don't stick to the book, you'll probably like it more than I did.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Challenge: A Book of Short Stories

Book: The Unicorn Treasury compiled by Bruce Coville
Pages: 202
Date Read: 01/03/2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into: 
A book with nonhuman characters - one was even told from the point of view of a unicorn
A funny book - not all of the stories were funny, but some had me laughing aloud
A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
A book you can finish in a day - at least, I can if I don't do anything but read that day
A book that made you cry - once again, I wasn't bawling, but tears came to my eyes during more than one of the stories
A book with magic 
A book of poems - I'm not sure it would really count for this one, but there were some poems mixed in with the stories

Wherever else they may have come from, unicorns live inside the true believer's heart. Which means that so long as we can dream, there will be unicorns. 
Rating this book was difficult, given how many stories are in it. Some of them deserved four stars, and at least one deserved five, but there were plenty that I wouldn't have given more than two. Hence the three stars -- which means I liked it, but wasn't blown away. However, as I said, some of the stories deserved more than that.

First was Ragged John, a poem by Beatrice Farrington.

I know there's nothing sadder/ Than a heart that feared its dreams. 
It was a really poignant poem, and the first one that got me crying.

Next was Homeward Bound by Bruce Coville.

They were all beings of power and light. The terrible thing was, they didn't know it.
This story started out kind of ordinary, and would have been a three-star story, if it hadn't been for the ending. It was so powerful I simply gasped. I was blown away by the truth in that simple line.

Also noteworthy was The Boy Who Drew Unicorns by Jane Yolen, which was really powerful and uniquely written. The dialogue had no tags and was all in italics, whereas the boy's thoughts and the things he saw (whether real or not) were written as normal text. This separated reality from his feelings, and gave a really disjointed feel that was perfect for the story.

Many of the poems were mediocre, but I did enjoy The Paint Box by E. V. Rieu.

I was frustrated by the amount of excerpts in this anthology. They dropped you in the middle of a story, with a brief summary of what had been happening up until that point, and then ended long before the ending. Though it did remind me that I want to read more of Madeleine L'Engle's books, and made me want to seek out The Transfigured Hart by Jane Yolen (though I've now read the ending.)

My absolute favorite story of the entire collection was The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn by Patricia C. Wrede. She caught the personality of a cat in absolute perfection.
"Shhhh," she said. "Poor puss! Shhh. It's all right."
"It is not all right," said the cat crossly. "How would you like to have your tail stepped on?"
"I don't have a tail," Elyssa said, considerably startled. "And if you hadn't been lying in front of me, I wouldn't have stepped on you."
"Cat's privilege," said the cat. 
This was a fairytale where nothing happened the way it should, and it was glorious. It had me laughing out loud more than once, and was just light, bright, and exactly the kind of story I like.

I enjoyed this anthology over-all, and there are definitely stories within it that I will be rereading -- though there are others I will skip over and be just fine. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes unicorn stories and fairytales.


Book Challenge: A Book Set in a Different Country

Book: Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne
Pages: 188
Date Read: 12/28/2014 - 01/03/2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Other Categories this book could 
have fit into: 
A book that became a movie - which I refuse to watch because they added a woman
A book with a number in the title
A funny book - I was surprised by how many times I laughed out loud reading this 
A popular author's first book - I didn't realize this was Verne's first novel; it's really well-developed and doesn't read like a first work 
A book more than one hundred years old - published in 1863
A book that made you cry - ok, I wasn't sobbing, but I teared up in a few spots
A book that was originally written in a different language - Cinq Semaines en Ballon (who knew it was originally in French?) 


I went into this book expecting something factual and dull. And there is much more information on how to build a hot air balloon than I wanted. But this book was so much more than that, and I'm really glad I read it!

It's really quite character-driven. The doctor, the Scotsman, and Joe are all individual and real. By the end of the book, I felt that they were friends of mine, and I was sorry to see them go. The doctor is always imperturbable, solving problems calmly and intelligently while the others panic. The Scotsman is the protector of the troupe, and, though he tries to talk the doctor out of going on the trip, never for an instant considers not going with him. And he's always willing to shoot any problem that comes in their path.
And then there's Joe. Wonderful Joe! I fell in love with him. He can live with any problem, since problems are, "Quite natural." He's always willing to sacrifice himself for the others. And he's ridiculous. All three men were funny, but Joe had me cracking up throughout. He's selfless, loyal, chill, and absolutely silly.

One has only just to follow things along as they happen, and he can always work his way out of a scrape! The safest plan, you see, is to take matters as they come. 

As mentioned above, this book fit into many categories, but it wasn't hard to decide which one I should count it for. Not only does this book take place in another country, but it thoroughly explores that country. We travel over Africa in a balloon, and learn much of its geography and its people. It was an adventure! This book had everything I wanted from a story of its kind -- cannibals, daring rescues, lion hunts, crocodiles, desert oases... the list goes on.

There were also some surprising thoughts on war and death. I loved this, because it wasn't overly didactic -- the topics were spoken of only as they came up, rather than being the cause of the book.

Death, the commencement of things eternal, is but the end of earthly cares. 

 All-in-all, I would definitely recommend this book.