Thursday, 29 September 2011

Book Review: Howl: A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg, Animated by Eric Drooker

This week is banned book week.  In honour of this, I chose to read Allen Ginsberg's Howl, a poem written in 1956 and was the subject of obscenity charges in 1957.  The charges were dismissed.  I have heard a lot about this poem in recent years, especially when the movie came out, and was curious about it and thought now was the perfect time to read it.  For a list of more recent banned books, you can check the American Library Associations site here.

Book:  Howl:  A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg, Animated by Eric Drooker, Harper Perenial, 2010, 224 pages, adult, poetry.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Allen Ginsburg's legendary and groundbreaking epic poem, Howl, is now a graphic novel—a tie-in to the major motion picture starring James Franco. Featuring graphics by acclaimed New Yorker cover artist Eric Drooker, Howl is a magnificent visual interpretation of a classic work by a seminal Beat writer and contemporary of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

First published in 1956, Allen Ginsberg's Howl is a prophetic masterpiece—an epic raging against dehumanizing society that overcame censorship trials and obscenity charges to become one of the most widely read poems of the century.

My Thoughts:
I enjoyed reading this poem, even though it was difficult sometimes, as well as morbid and full of angst.  The words and language are so rich, I found myself savoring them at times, rereading lines in order to unpack their meaning and meander on their wonderful combinations.

It starts with:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...
...starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves though the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, (p. 18-19)
This lays out the theme for this long poem.  The first section is one sentence, listing how the best minds have been destroyed, so many kinds of madness.

Then there are lines like: 
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue mid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerin shrieks of the fairies of advertizing...
...& the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editor, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality, (p. 98-100)
This is just an example of the writing.  The phrases are so packed full - this is not a poem to race through.

There is definitely the historical significance of this poem, with what was happening in society at the time, the dehumanization of society, the social unrest, the wars.  However, much of this is still significant today as, in many ways, our society is becoming even more dehumanized through technology and television.  There is also no shortage of wars and intolerance.

This particular edition of this poem has been animated by Allen Ginsberg's friend and colleague Eric Drooker and I think he did a brilliant job.  This must have been a daunting prospect, but the pictures are amazing and go so well with the poem and helped me to take in the words.  For the most part, the pictures are dark, sometimes hazy, sometimes without a lot of detail, but they capture the spirit of the words perfectly. 

The whole package of the poem and the animation is beautiful and well done.  I am not sure if I understood the whole poem, but I did enjoy reading this piece of history and savouring the words.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Book Review: Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

Book:  Fire Study (Study #3) by Maria V. Snyder, Mira, 2008, 441 pages, fantasy.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The apprenticeship is over—now the real test has begun.

When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder—able to capture and release souls—spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena's unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena's fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before....

Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself—and save the land she holds dear.

My Thoughts:
This is the final book in the Study series.  As much as I loved these books, this one was my least favorite.  I still like Yelena and think that she is a great character, along with Valek, but this book just did not come together in the same way.

Snyder is still very good at creating excitement, this book starts off quite exciting and she has a knack for cliffhanger ending chapters.  However, I found this book to be a bit repetitive with many of the details.  I also found Snyder spent a lot of time filling in background from the other books.  Sometimes this was seamless, but sometimes it felt like a bit much.

This book brought together a lot of the best characters from both of the previous books. It was great to see Maren, Yelena's old sparing partner, back, along with Janco, Ari, Valek, Moon Man and Leif.  Sometimes it felt like there were guest appearances saying goodbye, as former characters appeared briefly or were talked about.

The action in this book was non-stop, as Yelena faced one horrible situation after another, as she or someone else was endangered, someone needed to be healed, Yelena exhausted herself healing them and could barely rest up before the next perilous situation presented itself.

I am torn about this book - I really did like it.  Despite some of the issues I had with the book, I raced right though it, it just wasn't as good as the other two.  However, it is nice to see how everything ended and to enjoy the adventure of how Yelena learns to counter her most fearsome enemy yet, the Fire Warper.  All in all, a good book and worth the read, especially if you have read the other two in the series.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

50 Things That Are Right About Me

A little while ago, my friend and creativity coach, Janet Whitehead of Musings and Mud Studios, wrote a blog post called:  There is nothing wrong with you.  Nothing.  Isn't that a relief.  I finally got around to doing the exercise of writing down 50 things that are right about me on Friday, the first day of fall.  I needed a shift in my focus and this certainly helped!  I have to say that doing this exercise was great for me and made me feel better about some things going on in my life and left me feeling energized and happy.  That is not to say it wasn't hard.  Very hard.  I hit a block several times, sure I couldn't finish (the first one after about number 9).  

I thought I would share my results, though this is hard too.  I am doing this to inspire others to take the time (like Janet says, set aside 20 minutes of your facebooking time - it's worth it) and just do it.  Thinking about all of the things we do wrong, are not good at, should be doing, is a complete drain.  Getting rid of that energy frees us up for creative projects and other things that are important to us.  Give it a try, and if you post it somewhere, feel free to leave me the link.  Or if not, leave a comment about how this felt.

50 Things That Are Right About Me

  1. I love to write and am learning to recognize how this feeds me.
  2. I love to read.
  3. I am a good mom.
  4. I am a good friend.
  5. I am passionate.
  6. I can cry.
  7. I recognize that my creative spirit does not lie in the kitchen.
  8. I enjoy being by myself sometimes.
  9. I am getting better about doing things "wrong" but doing them anyway.
  10. I am open to new ideas.
  11. I prioritize writing, having fun and meeting up with friends above a tidy house.
  12. I enjoy spending time in nature.
  13. I am learning to ask: How can I make this fun?
  14. I am learning to listen to my intuition.
  15. I like to be on time.
  16. I take nice pictures.
  17. I speak up when it is important to me.
  18. I am (overly?) involved in my kids school.
  19. I am really good at research.
  20. I have read The Odyssey in the original Greek.
  21. I have a Master's degree.
  22. I have great family and friends.
  23. I appreciate art and creativity in many different forms, not just traditional ones.
  24. I know how to use spell check.
  25. I love rainbows.
  26. I love and get exhilarated by stormy days.
  27. I set goals.
  28. Sometimes I let goals go when necessary.
  29. I am good at taking many views into account.
  30. I have a natural talent for growing weeds.
  31. I believe in fairies and magic.
  32. I have shown up for editing my novel at least 5 times a week since school started.
  33. I started and maintain my blog.
  34. I love raking the leaves from our out of control maple tree every fall and watching the kids jump in them.
  35. I'm okay letting my hair go grey.
  36. I like to look at clouds.
  37. I love going out for coffee.
  38. I like being barefoot.
  39. I am determined.
  40. I love learning new things.
  41. I have written two novels, each within one month (thanks to Nanowrimo!).
  42. I had to courage to post some chapters from my first novel on my blog.
  43. I work well with deadlines.
  44. I appreciate beauty.
  45. I love mythology.
  46. I am being persistent with this exercise even though it is hard.
  47. I am taking the time to learn more about myself.
  48. I am making following my dreams a priority in my life.
  49. I love dandelions because they are wild and free and can live anywhere, then they turn into magic puffballs that can grant a wish just by blowing on them.
  50. I finished this exercise!!!!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Chapter Three: The Prophesy of Ilverzah

Here goes Chapter 3.  Thank you everyone for your feedback so far.  If you want to read Chapters 1 and 2, click on the "My Writing" tab above and you will find the links.

Chapter 3

That night after dinner, in the quiet of her room, Mara's mind raced. What a day, she thought to herself. It started off such an ordinary, boring old I feel as if my whole world has changed, and I don't even understand how!! Maybe it's all in my imagination, and nothing really happened. Maybe if I understood Quantum Physics better, it would all make sense. Still, I'm sure if I told anyone they would think I'm crazy.

Mara leaned back into her cozy, protective nest of pillows and closed her eyes, trying to sort out her thoughts. She couldn't. She couldn't relax and she couldn't think. She pulled her journal from the drawer of her bedside table, rummaged around for a pen, then opened the book. The blank page stared at her. She stared back. Where to begin? Mara turned on some soothing music to ease her busy mind. Drifting away with the song, she started to doodle mindlessly on the page. As the tension started to leave her body, she was vaguely aware that her hand was drawing something and her thoughts started to order themselves.

So, what did actually happen today? Mara thought to herself. It was a good day, really. It started off perfectly normal until that Science class. I met a new girl, someone who I have a lot in common with. I felt like we had an instant connection, and I could tell, she felt it too. It was great to meet someone I didn't grow up with; everyone in this town seems to know everything and nothing about me. Rose is different. All in all, not a bad day. Her mind then wandered to the field of energy, the faerie and the fact that she had lost an hour sitting on the rock. Others felt energy too, but they didn't see sparkles or colours, did they? They certainly didn't see faeries! Maybe it was a trick of the light, some image my mind made up from the background of the river flowing by, combined with my imagination. That must be it. As for the time, I must have just lost track of it. I must have been concentrating so hard, like meditating, and simply lost track of time. That is really the only explanation.

Mara started to feel better, thinking things were getting back to normal and that nothing weird had really happened to her that day. After all, she had simply followed her teacher's instructions and she must know what she is doing. Mara forced herself to believe her explanations, though there was a part of her that remained sceptical and kept nagging at her. She was pulled away from these thoughts, however, by a loud pounding on the door.

“Hey, what's up?” The door opened before she could even say 'come in' and Tom, her little brother, bounded into her room; he never did anything quietly or by halves. He was eleven years old, two years younger than Mara, with short brown hair, brown eyes, and an athletic build, though he was catching up to Mara in height. He loved to play sports and games of any kind, but soccer was his favourite and he always wore a soccer jersey, as he was now. This one was from the Brazillian national team, the best team in the world, according to Tom. Everyone knew what Tom thought because he never stopped talking.

“You should have seen me at soccer practice today. It was awesome! I kicked the ball half way across the field, over everyone's head and right into the goal!” Tom explained excitedly, doing a victory dance around the room. Soccer, again. “What are you up to? You seemed funny at dinner tonight.”

Mara thought Tom was pretty perceptive for a little brother. “Not much, just thinking,” she replied.

Tom walked across the room and sat on Mara's bed, bouncing his soccer ball along the way while Mara cringed. The pounding unnerved her. “What's this?” asked Tom, picking up Mara's journal. “That's not bad, it even looks like something, not your usual scribbles."

Mara grabbed back her journal. “What are you talking about? That's my journal, you know it's private! Besides, it's just doodles.” Mara looked down at her book and stopped, surprised by what she saw. It was a beautiful drawing of a faerie, and not just any faerie, it was a perfect drawing of the faerie she had seen in her energy field that afternoon.

“Some doodle,” Tom said. “Why do you looked so surprised? You drew it, didn't you?”

“Y-y-yes,” Mara stammered. “It's just that I was thinking, not concentrating on drawing. I didn't realize I had drawn it,” Mara finished softly, her mind could not quite take in what she was seeing.

Tom laughed, “You drew it without thinking? Ha, ha! Maybe that's your problem, you think too much. If you did more things without thinking, you might do them better, instead of always second guessing yourself.” Tom looked pretty pleased with his insult, though Mara felt stung by the truth underlying the jab. She did have a hard time committing to anything or believing in herself. “Seriously, though, how did you draw this faerie and not realize it?”

“I don't know,” Mara said. “I guess I was just thinking about faeries. And I've been reading this new fantasy novel. That might have something to do with it.”

“Uh, huh, and are there faeries like this in your book?” Tom enquired. Mara shook her head, puzzled, as Tom picked up the journal again and examined the drawing more closely. “There's a lot of detail here, it looks almost real. She looks pretty upset, though.”

Mara looked surprised again. “You think so?” She decided to take a risk. “Actually, it's not from my book. I was daydreaming earlier about faeries and this one seemed so clear. I guess it got stuck in my head, so I drew it.”

“Is that why you were so strange at dinner, I mean, stranger than normal?” Tom grinned at her.
“Hmmm, I guess so,” Mara said, thoughtfully, not even noticing the insult. Then she looked up. Tom was not laughing at her, so she continued, “have you ever had really vivid daydreams before, seen things in your mind, made things up, but at the same time they seem real?”

Tom thought for a moment. “I don't dream about faeries, if that's what you mean. I do visualize doing well at soccer, though. Our coach showed us how; I just sit and picture myself running across the field and scoring goals. Is that what you mean?”

“I'm not sure,” Mara replied, “maybe.” She paused before continuing. “I was taking Homer for a walk this afternoon, and I sat down on the big rock and watched the river. I guess I was daydreaming and then I pictured this faerie.” Mara deliberately left out the part about the energy experiment. She knew her brother would have a field day with that. He was pretty understanding right now and she didn't want to push it. It felt good to talk to someone about this, though, even if it was only part of the truth. Tom wasn't laughing at her and it made her feel like less of a freak.

Tom looked at Mara with a funny expression. “It must have been a pretty vivid daydream. Sounds like you were meditating. Did the faerie do anything? Did it talk to you?”

Mara was taken aback by the question. Tom was really taking this seriously. “What do you mean, did it do anything?”

“You know, move, speak, blink...” Tom said, looking directly at Mara. “Did it do anything?”
Mara thought for a moment, but before she could speak, Tom broke the silence. “Something else happened, didn't it? Daydreaming about a faerie wouldn't make you act like this.”

“You're right,” Mara confessed, and decided to tell Tom the whole story. Really, the worst thing that could happen would be that he would laugh at her, maybe tease her for a few days. She had dealt with worse. The whole story came tumbling out, her science class and their experiment, the pull of the energy, sitting by the river with Homer and how she had created another, stronger energy field, how it sparkled and she saw the fluttering shapes, how she thought they were butterflies at first, but then realized it was the same faerie that she had just drawn, and then how Jason and Rose interrupted her and how she had lost an hour. When Mara finished talking and they looked intently at each other without speaking for a long minute.

“Well,” Mara said at last, “aren't you going to make fun of me? Tell me how crazy I am?”

“No,” Tom replied, “I'm not. You are one of the most steady people I know, you don't have it in you to something like that up.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Really, Mara, it's incredible, what you've just described. If what you are saying is true, there is a faerie somewhere, maybe it's in trouble. Maybe it was asking you for help.”

“You're serious? You actually believe me and that I saw a real faerie, one that is in trouble and needs my help? How can I help a faerie? It had to be a daydream, a figment of my imagination. Faeries are not real. They don't live in energy fields. And they certainly don't need my help.” Mara was confused and frustrated. How could her brother think it was her job to help out a fictitious faerie?

“How do you know? Really, that's honestly what you think? If that's true, then why were you so weird at dinner, and why have you been sitting here, spacing out, drawing an absolutely perfect picture of a faerie you don't believe is real and didn't even know you were drawing? It's even a really good drawing and you are not that good of an artist. ”

Mara looked deflated. She knew that Tom was not trying to insult her this time, but she was tired and her brain was numb from thinking. “I don't know.”

“So, what are you going to do,” Tom asked, his voice much more gentle now.

“Do?” Mara repeated, “what can I do?”

“You can help the faerie. You love all animals...creatures.” Tom picked up the drawing of the faerie and looked at it. “You know you can't stand by if you know one is suffering or in trouble; you're a bleeding heart when it comes to these things.” Tom seemed so confident in his assertion that it bolstered something in Mara. Tom looked down sheepishly. “It is one of your better traits.”

Mara was shocked, had her brother actually complimented her? “But, how do I help it? I don't even know how to get to her, or what she needs.”

Tom looked at Mara squarely in the face. “You'll have to try to create that energy field again, maybe with someone with you. Maybe while you create the field, someone else can help the faerie.” Tom looked shy all of the sudden. “I'd be willing to try,” he whispered.

Mara was surprised and touched. Her little brother was really concerned about the faerie. He believed everything Mara had said, and was urging her to take action. If he could be so confident, well then, so could she.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Author Interview: Two Brothers Metz

Today is my stop for the Gypsy Knights by Two Brothers Metz book tour.  This book tour has been set up by Roxanne Rhodes of Bewitching Book ToursYou can read my review of their fun, young adult book here.  It is my privilege to interview these brothers below.

Fourteen-year-old Durriken Brishen has lost his parents, his grandfather, and though he doesn't know it, his Gypsy culture's dangerous gift.

Taken in and raised on the rails by the first woman to pilot a freight train, Durriken has one remaining connection to his Romani roots: a small wooden box that hangs from the hammer loop of his overalls.

The last gift he received from his grandfather, the box contains the world's first chess set. But a piece is missing: the Red Queen. According to Durriken’s family lore, the complete set awakens the power of Tărie, a mercurial gift that confers unique abilities on each new Master.

When a suspicious fire erupts in the Chicago rail yard, Durriken's escape produces an uneasy alliance, though not without its silver lining. Dilia is a few inches taller, several degrees cleverer, and oh yes – very pretty. While Durriken is uneasy allying with a girl whose parents were convicted of sedition, there's no doubt she is a powerful partner. And while it's not immediately clear to either, her own Guatemalan culture and family history are deeply entwined with the ancient Romani mystery.

Jumping box cars, escaping riverboats, deciphering clues, crossing swords with the brilliant madman Radu Pinch – with great American cities as its backdrop – Gypsy Knights is the page-turning saga of Durriken Brishen and his quest to rediscover his past.

How did you get started writing? 

Product of our misspent youths, reading everything, everywhere, anytime.  And there’s a long tradition of story telling in the family, stretching at least back to our great-grandmother Stapelfeld who talked so much she once swallowed a caterpillar that dropped off a leaf above her head when her mouth was open talking.

Who or what encouraged (or still encourages) you in your writing?

The list of people who have helped and encouraged us is deep and wide.  Our wives are big fans and we couldn’t do this or anything else without them (hey ladies!).  Our buddies Seth Groff and Josh Weinberger have had our writing backs at every step of the road.  And our Mom is a die-hard supporter who would do anything for us and really believes in our work.  Love you Mom!

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Willie Stargell, a Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates baseball player, once told a reporter at 3 a.m. in the airport, “I ain’t complaining, I asked to be a ballplayer.”  That’s how we feel about writing.  It’s a dream.  We ain’t complaining.

What made you decide to write a book together?  I would love to hear how the experience was.

We were both doing a lot of writing independently a few years back.  Rhett was writing screenplays and Lafe was traveling in Central America, doing a lot of travel writing.  Over Christmas, we took a long truck ride together helping our brother Beneau move home from Philly and got to talking about writing.  By the time we rolled back into the Burgh (Pittsburgh), we had a pretty solid outline for Gypsy Knights.  We’re lucky because we have natural brainstorming chemistry and know that we write better together than we do alone.  It’s a real privilege for us to work together.

What do you do when you are not writing?

We’re blood-sucking lawyers.  (Don’t tell anyone.)

How do you incorporate writing into your everyday life?  How do you fuel your writing?

We don’t sleep much.

Do you have any special routines or rituals for writing?

Romani are legendary for their sweet tooths and known to drink black coffee with sugar (no cream).  So we usually make Romani-style coffee and set about our business.  Beyond that, we have a little Gen X-Gen Y disparity going on.  Rhett sits at his dining room table with a laptop and slips in the earbuds.  Lafe works on Great Aunt Helen’s typewriter in his basement office in blessed silence.

I loved the Gypsy culture and chess strategies in the book. Can you tell us about this?

Our aunt and uncle adopted four kids and one of them – our cousin Eliza Rose – is from Romania and as near as anyone can tell is Romani (Gypsy).  She was our muse.  We got more and more interested in Romani culture and took a trip to Romania and Turkey together to do research (Turkey figures into the prequel).  And we also consulted with Dr. Ian Hancock – one of the leading Romani scholars in the world.

We’ve always loved chess and play whenever we get the chance.  Our parents have a beautiful chess table at their house where we can usually be found at some point after Thanksgiving Dinner and birthday parties.  That said, the chessboard in our book was really tough.  We insisted that it be a legitimate chess position that could have arisen naturally in a real game.  So we put a board together and just to make sure it worked, we asked resident Pittsburgh Chess Master Jerry Myers to review our board and give us some feedback.  In the nicest possible way, he told us it was complete rubbish and why didn’t we just let him know what we were trying to do and he would hook it up for us.  Which he did, so the chessboard is magic and Jerry Myers is a gentleman and a scholar.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about your book?

Most people who have read Gypsy Knights say the first few chapters are a touch slow and then by page 50 they can’t put it down.  This puzzles us, since there is a double murder in Chapter 1 and an arrest for treason in Chapter 2.  But we’ve heard the comment, so the sequel (GK2) will start with a bang.  So if you pick up Gypsy Knights, give it 50 pages.  If you get to the end and don’t like it, we’ll give you your money back.

What new projects are you working on or are excited about right now?

We have a few pretty cool projects in the hopper.  First and foremost, we’re hard at work on GK2.  Duri and Dilia will be back!  Lafe is finishing his detective novel “River Bottom Church of the Damned”.  And Rhett is polishing up one of the most futuristic sci-fi short stories ever written.

Two Brothers Metz Bio:

The Two Brothers Metz are happily settled in the rolling valleys of Western Pennsylvania – where they are hard at work on the second installment of The Gypsy Knights Saga.

Twitter: @twobrothersmetz

Book Review: Gypsy Knights by Two Brothers Metz

BookGypsy Knights (The Gypsy Knights Saga) by Two Brothers Metz, LoudCloud Publishing, 2011, ebook, young adult.

Source:  From the author via Bewitching Book Tours.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Fourteen-year-old Durriken Brishen has lost his parents, his grandfather, and though he doesn't know it, his Gypsy culture's dangerous gift.

Taken in and raised on the rails by the first woman to pilot a freight train, Durriken has one remaining connection to his Romani roots: a small wooden box that hangs from the hammer loop of his overalls.

The last gift he received from his grandfather, the box contains the world's first chess set. But a piece is missing: the Red Queen. According to Durriken’s family lore, the complete set awakens the power of Tărie, a mercurial gift that confers unique abilities on each new Master.

When a suspicious fire erupts in the Chicago rail yard, Durriken's escape produces an uneasy alliance, though not without its silver lining. Dilia is a few inches taller, several degrees cleverer, and oh yes – very pretty. While Durriken is uneasy allying with a girl whose parents were convicted of sedition, there's no doubt she is a powerful partner. And while it's not immediately clear to either, her own Guatemalan culture and family history are deeply entwined with the ancient Romani mystery.

Jumping box cars, escaping riverboats, deciphering clues, crossing swords with the brilliant madman Radu Pinch – with great American cities as its backdrop – Gypsy Knights is the page-turning saga of Durriken Brishen and his quest to rediscover his past.

My Thoughts:
Gypsy Knights is different from other books I have read lately, and it was fun to read.  I loved the sense of adventure, the mystery and intrigue, the Gypsy culture and the chess.

When I first picked up this book, however, I was confused by it.  The first 50 pages or so, while action packed, were tough to pin down.  The book jumped around from past to present and to different characters and I had a tough time following, even though the authors kindly put dates at the top of each chapter.  I also had trouble getting a sense of the book during this time and figuring out whether it was middle grade, young adult or adult audience. 

After the initial 50 pages, though, the book does settle down and I raced right through the rest.  I loved the resourcefulness of the main characters, Durriken and Dilia, and the adventure of jumping on trains to travel the country.  Most of the action took place in the 1960's and this came across really well.  The characters at all of the train stations were great and really added to the whole train culture of the book.

I liked Durriken, or Duri, and really felt for him.  He is independent and quick thinking.  Losing his family was really dealt with well, and though he had moved on, I could still feel his loss all these years later.  His relationship with Casey, his foster mother, was also touching and unwavering.  Casey is great, a very protective mother and train engineer who could strike fear and respect into the hearts of her male counterparts.

Dilia has quite a different background from Duri, but also finds herself separated from her parents and on her own.  She is sweet and smart, quick thinking and passionate, but there is also something a little reserved about her whole character and this is embodied in how she doesn't share her knowledge of the red queen with Duri. 

The bit of romance between Durriken and Dilia was sweet and provided some great light hearted relief in the tension of the story.

Then there is the paranormal aspect to the book with the Tarie and the mysterious chess pieces.  I love this paranormal edge and how it combined with the intricate chess moves to tie the book together and create something interesting on its own.

I think those looking for a different young adult book, yet one filled with mystery, suspense and action will enjoy this book.

Where to get this book:
Barnes and Noble

Monday, 19 September 2011

Book Review: The Circle of Gold by Guillaume Prevost

BookThe Circle of Gold (The Book of Time #3) by Guillaume Prevost, Authur A. Levine Books, 2009, 304 pages.

Source:  library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Sam rescued his father from Dracula's castle, but that doesn't mean their troubles are over. Now Allan Faulkner lies in a coma in the Sainte-Mary hospital, tossing about and muttering aloud about saving Sam's late mother. Sam has no choice but to go back in Time to see her. His inability to control his destination, however, means he journeys to ancient China, Renaissance Rome, and even 2025 -- where he sees his own grave! Can Sam prevent this grisly ending and save his mother once and for all? 

My Thoughts:
This is a great conclusion to the series, and I found that I just tore through it.  Again, I thought that the time traveling was great, well thought out and authentic feeling.  Prevost manages that nice balance between giving information and description and keeping the plot moving.

Sam has grown in this book and has become an experienced time traveler.  I really felt for him, watching his father in a coma and trying to figure out how to save both him and his mother.  Alicia is more of a character in this one and creates a romantic interest for Sam.  Sam's cousin, Lily, is hardly in this one, however, which was disappointing because I really like her.

There are some fun twists and turns in this book, which really kept me interested.  The bad guy is finally revealed in a great plot twist.  All of the loose ends are tied up and I like how some of the different elements come together.  The ending is pretty neat and tidy and should be satisfying to a lot of kids.

I think this series will appeal to kids who like adventure stories and history.  The time traveling really breaks up the narrative so that there are almost stories within the overall story, which may be easier for some kids to read.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Chapter Two: The Prophesy of Ilverzah

Here is Chapter Two of my middle school fantasy, The Prophesy of Ilverzah.  You can read Chapter One here.  I welcome feedback, good and bad, and would love to read your comments about this chapter.

Chapter Two

Suddenly, Homer started to bark and Mara jumped up, disoriented and stunned. She could hear someone trampling through the dried leaves.

“Rats!” she heard a familiar voice call out, “I thought I could sneak up on you and scare you, but I forgot about that fierce guard dog of yours.” Jason came around the corner, walked over to Homer and scratched him under the chin affectionately. Jason was tall and gangly, like a big puppy himself, not too sure of his size. Mara, still dazed, looked up to see a girl following Jason through the trees. She was pretty with a woollen hat over her dark, frizzy hair, dressed in a long warm coat and an outrageous purple scarf that Mara recognized.

“Hi there,” she said, “I hope we didn't disturb you. You looked lost in your own little world, sitting there. Were you doing the energy thing we learned in class today?” Mara now recognized the girl, Rose. Not feeling quite able to speak yet, Mara simply smiled weakly as Rose came over to pet Homer too.

“You remember Rose from school, Mara, she just transferred in last week,” Jason explained. “She's my cousin, and she's just moved here from the country. My mom wants me to show her around.”

“Hi,” Mara managed to say. “I didn't know you were cousins. This is my dog, Homer.”

“Ohhh, I just love animals,” Rose bent down and giggled as Homer gave her a big, sloppy kiss. Mara tried to stop him, but Rose protested, “I don't mind, he's a sweetheart. Homer, as in Simpson?”

“No,” said Mara hesitantly, “as in the poet. I love mythology.” She didn't know why she said that, no one ever understood. Maybe the ground would swallow her up if she looked at it intently enough.

“Really? Me too!” Rose crooned at Homer. “He's such a gentle dog. I like a good legend myself. Nothing like the Trojan War to keep me up all night.”

“You read Homer?” Mara could not believe it. She didn't know anyone who read mythology for fun or who kept themselves up at night reading.

“Yup,” Rose replied. “Those ancient Greeks sure knew how to tell a tale. What do you like better, the Iliad or the Odyssey?”

Mara opened her mouth to answer when Jason rolled his eyes and interrupted, “Ugh!! I can't stand it! I knew you two would get along, you both like all that same weird stuff. Can't we talk about something else? I get enough of this at school.”

“All right,” both Mara and Rose laughed. Mara was intrigued, though, by this girl who seemed to have the same interests as her.

“Speaking of school, what were you doing out here, Mara, it was that energy experiment from Science class today, wasn't it?” Rose asked.

Jason looked up from petting Homer, “Yeah, is that what you were doing? Neat experiment, eh? At first I thought that McNulty was off her rocker when she explained what we were going to do, but then I really did feel something. I'm still not sure I understand what it was, though. How about you two?”

Mara looked at both Jason and Rose, feeling apprehensive. She was not sure what exactly to tell them about what she had been doing. She was not even sure herself about what she had seen. Rose interrupted her thoughts, almost as if she could sense Mara's unease, “I felt something today in class too.”

Mara nodded. “I was just sitting here, watching the water and thought I would see if I could do it again. It's an interesting feeling.”

“And did you?” Jason asked. “Did you manage to create that energy again?”

“Yes,” was all that Mara replied. She could not tell them about the tingling, the colours, the trance like feeling, or about the butterfly or faerie or whatever it was. After all, it was probably just her imagination playing tricks on her. She would have to think about it later, not now. She did not want Rose and Jason thinking she was some kind of weirdo, especially not now that she had met someone who she had so many things in common with. Besides, neither Rose nor Jason had mentioned anything other than the energy field, the rest must be all in her head.

“I really liked the feeling,” Jason confided, almost whispering. “I know the other kids were making fun of it, but I really felt something today. I would like to understand it more. I hope McNulty explains it tomorrow.”

Mara laughed, partly to break the tension she felt and partly because of Jason. “What, you are actually looking forward to school tomorrow? That's a first!”

Jason smiled, “I know, hard to believe, right?” He looked out at the river. “But there is something to that energy.” Homer whimpered and Jason resumed petting him, then turned to Rose. “We had better be going,” he said. “I told my mom we would be home on time for dinner. She hates it when I'm late.”

Rose nodded, “All right, but maybe we can all meet up for lunch tomorrow at school? Science is right before lunch, isn't it? We can talk about this more then.” Mara sensed that Rose knew she was bursting to say more but was holding back.

“Okay, see you then,” Mara said. She put the leash back on Homer for the walk home, all the while thinking to herself that it could not possibly be dinner time already. How long had she sat there? She could have sworn it had only been a few minutes, but it must have been at least an hour.

“See you then,” Rose echoed.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Book Review: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Book:  The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner #2) by James Dashner, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010, 360 pages, young adult dystopian.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

My Thoughts:
This is quite a book, so full of action and crazy horrible situations that it doesn't let you relax for a second.  I kept thinking that Dashner has created a diabolical dystopian Lord of the Flies scenario, filled with tension and mystery as well as brutal situations of survival.   

The Scorch Trials takes place immediately where The Maze Runner left off; however, this time, Teresa has been taken away and replaced with another boy, named Aris, who explains that he was in an opposite Maze situation - all girls and he was the only boy.  The Gladers quickly realize that their trials are not over, as they thought when they escaped from the Maze.  They are told by a mysterious man that they have another trial to endure, they have to make their way over 100 miles of scorched earth, passed Cranks, who are people who have gone crazy from being infected with the Flare, a disease that they have been told that they are infected with.  If they do not make it to the appointed spot in 2 weeks, they will be left to succumb to the disease.

This book is full of excitement and the horror of the boys battling the elements, trying to save their friends, fighting thirst and starvation, and fighting the Cranks.  The Cranks turn out to be fairly intelligent, zombie like beings and definitely add to the element of terror.  Then there are killer thunder and lightening storms, scorching heat, and the constant threat of starvation.

Dashner does a great job of building a chaotic, brutal and dying world in this book.  The characters are confused and in the dark about what is going on, and the readers are only slightly more knowledgeable.  It is so difficult to imagine in what kind of world creating a scenario where kids are killed off by monsters in order to collect data is a good idea.  Even with more knowledge than the characters, as a reader I felt their betrayal, fear and frustration.

I really enjoyed Thomas in this book.  He is so passionate and wanting to help his friends that I can' t help but like him.  I could feel for him in his confusion about Teresa and then Brenda and his flashbacks and dreams give him an interesting dimension.  I was also happy to see some of my favorite Gladers back as I am enjoying the dynamic between the boys.

I think this book will really appeal to teens who like thriller and horror books, as well as books of survival.  Some of the scenes are quite vivid and gruesome.  The third in this trilogy, The Death Cure, is due out October 11 of this year.  I can hardly wait to get my hands on it!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wordless Wednessday: "Moon Beach"

Hello, it is Wordless Wednesday.  You can click on the link to get a list of the participants.

These are pictures of a beach that we call "Moon Beach" on Hornby Island, BC.

(c) Coreena McBurnie, 2011.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Book Review: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Book:  Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari, Scholastic, 2011, 344 pages, young adult dystopian.

Source: Library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.

Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

My Thoughts:
This was an intersting book, the premise is topical - a dystopian future based on global environmental crisis such as earthquakes, floods, tsunami and disease.  This is global warming taken to the extreme, but there is a certain plausibility here and it drew me in.

Ashes, Ashes begins with sixteen year old Lucy surviving alone in Central Park in a dystopian future.  This horrifying scenerio with its heronine bent on survival drew me in right away.  Lucy is strong, and not accidentally strong, she has to work at it and she sometimes makes mistakes, but she soldiers on and does what she needs to survive.  I love strong female characters, ones who know how to take care of themselves and don't save the day accidentally with some skill or power that they don't quite understand.  Lucy is not like this.  She wants to live, figures out how to hide herself away from the Sweepers (who pick people up and they are never heard from again) and how to hunt and gather food.  She uses her knife, makes herself a spear and gets on with things.

Most of the other characters in the book were not as well developed.  Aidan is fun and a bit mysterious, the obvious love interest, and there are some great turns in his characterization.  Grammalie Rose, the matriarch who oversees everything, is a good addition and helps to round out the story.  Henry and Del and many of the others are good, but are a bit stereotypical.  The rivalry between Lucy and Del is shallow.

After Lucy goes to live in the community, things change and the story becomes more about avoiding and fighting the Sweepers and for Lucy to figure out what is so special about her - why do the Sweepers want her so badly.  Here there is more adventure and less survival, as well as the crazy love triangle (which involves 5 people). 

For the most part, I did enjoy Treggiari's writing, but there were times that I felt it was unnecessarily overly detailed.  Perhaps this was done to build tension, but I found it a bit tedious.  Thankfully, this only happened in a few places and not in the whole book.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and found it to be a quick read.  Those who like young adult dystopian novels will probably enjoy this one too.  There is a good amount of tension and excitement, some fun twists in the story, and some good social commentary.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Chapter One of My Novel

Today, with great fear and trepidation, I thought I would post the first chapter of the novel that I am in the process of editing. This is a middle grade fantasy called The Prophesy of Ilverzah, where four kids go to a magical parallel universe.  However, they cannot leave - it seems that they are being kept there because they are the key to resolving a generation long civil war.  I originally wrote this novel during the 2009 National Novel Writing Month challenge (write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November).  I have edited this novel several times already and hope I am nearly done.  I would appreciate any comments, reactions, suggestions, or advice from anyone who is willing to read this chapter.  
Thanks so much, Coreena.

Chapter One of The Prophesy of Ilverzah

Energy. Their teacher wanted them to explore their personal energy fields. Mara usually enjoyed the grade 8 Science class, but this sounded a little flaky, even for Ms McNulty. Their teacher was new this year, young and enthusiastic, and believed in a hands-on approach which meant the class was always involved in some sort of experiment. Ms McNulty loved science and her love was contagious in the classroom. 

“Okay, everyone, close your text books,” Ms McNulty announced. “Today we are going to try something different, something on the cutting edge of science, but also something tremendously simple.” Mara stared expectantly at her teacher. “We are going to explore energy and Quantum Physics. Does anyone have any idea what Quantum Physics means?”

The kids in the class looked around; Mara didn't know what Ms McNulty was talking about, but anything called Quantum Physics had to be confusing. Finally, Rose, the new girl in class, who stood out in her bright yellow sweater set off with a conflicting purple scarf wrapped around her neck, half put up her hand, “I think it has something to do with New Age psychology?”

Ms McNulty nodded. “It has been associated with that, but it's been around for a long time. In a nutshell it describes energy and its behaviour at the atomic and subatomic levels. We know that everything is energy and today we are going to explore our individual energy fields.”

Mara could see her confusion mirrored in the dazed looks on the faces of her classmates. 

“I know it sounds complicated,” continued Ms McNulty, “but really, it's not. Everything is ultimately made up of energy and everything relates to everything else energetically. We can actually feel this energy with an easy experiment.” Ms McNulty rubbed her hands together, and the class watched her. Mara was engrossed with her words. “Everyone try it, rub your hands together and feel the heat of them, then gently pull your hands apart, concentrating on feeling the energy between them. Be aware of the invisible pull as you separate your hands.”

The class was clearly sceptical, but Mara copied Ms McNulty and before long, everyone was rubbing their hands together. Mara's field of energy became more intense and she could sense the power in her hands, a kind of warm, gentle tingling along with an invisible bungy chord which kept her hands from separating too far. There really was something there, and it was quite strong too. As Mara continued, her mind burst with questions. This was incredible! Why had she never heard of this before? 

The murmuring and comments from the class got louder and louder. Excitement filled the air as some of the kids started goofing around, pretending that they were Luke Skywalker, using the Force to wield invisible lightsabers and move objects around the room. Realization hit Mara like a baseball bat to the head, she had first hand experience of how people always make fun of anything different. Just like how the other kids tease her sometimes because she likes reading books better than playing sports. In fact, Mara could overhear some of the other kids whispering and pointing at her. She dropped her hands and stopped the experiment; feigning disinterest usually got people off her back, and she did not want anyone to know how interested she was in this energy. 

Not everyone was making fun, though, and Mara could see that a few of the other kids were really into the experiment. Rose, the girl who seemed to know about New Age psychology, was the most absorbed in what she was doing. Mara could almost see the sparks flying between Rose's fingers. And then there was Jason, good looking, athletic Jason, one of the kids who never got bugged, he seemed to be fascinated by the energy pulling at his hands.

Mara watched them experiment for a few minutes, until Ms McNulty spoke and pulled her out of her trance. The teacher continued her lesson, explaining about Quantum Physics, but it was clear that most of the class thought she had finally gone over the deep end. After class, the kids were still laughing and pretending they were using energy to knock each other out. All Mara wanted to do was to get away and think about what she had learned that day. She could tell it was important, but wasn't sure how.

In the hall, on her way to her locker, a group of girls from her class stopped Mara.

“You sure seemed interested in McNulty's nutty lesson today,” said Laura, a cheerleader with long blond hair.
“It was okay,” shrugged Mara, as if she wasn't that interested.

“Didn't seem that way to us,” countered Laura, grinning at her friends. “It looked like you and that flake Rose were really into it. As if New Age psychology has anything to do with real science! But, you would like that kind of thing, now wouldn't you? Anything weird.” Laura's friends agreed and the group walked off.
Mara sighed and continued to her locker. What was wrong with thinking that something different was interesting?

* * *

As soon as Mara got home, her dog, Homer, came bounding out the front door to meet her. The largish sized brown mutt was always glad to see her. Mara's family had rescued him from the local pound a few years ago after he had been found wandering the streets and no one had come to claim him. Mara's mother had a soft spot for strays and runaways, and, ever since her father had been killed in a car accident a few years ago, their house seemed to be the favourite of every cat in the neighbourhood who was in search of food. Her mother simply could not turn them away. Mara had inherited this sympathetic trait from her mother and seemed to relate better to her dog than to other people. 

“Hey, boy,” said Mara, as she bent over to pet Homer. “Just a minute, let me put my stuff away and get a snack, then I'll take you for a walk.” 

The dog seemed to understand and followed Mara to the kitchen. There was a note on the fridge from her mom: Tom has soccer after school and I'll be home around 5:00. Love ya! Mom. Mara was on her own for the afternoon, as usual. She grabbed a couple of cookies and the dog leash. Before long, Mara and Homer were out walking by the river near their house. 

The days were getting cooler and the leaves on the trees were changing. It was one of those amazing, brisk autumn days where Mara would come in from outside with rosy red cheeks, feeling exhilarated. After she threw a stick for Homer a dozen times, she sat down on a rock to watch the blue-grey water of the river rush by. Homer lay down next to her, chewing on his stick. Mara could feel the warm sun and a gentle breeze on her face as she pulled her sweater around herself more tightly. 

Mara needed time to think about what had happened that day at school, and what this new type of energy could mean. She could not get it out of her mind. As she sat there, Mara rubbed her hands together, at first to warm them, then she felt the energy surge up from her body, radiating through her arms, and tickling its way down into her hands and fingers. She started to pull her hands apart, feeling the gentle pull of the energy, listening to the quiet, lulling roar of the river and the leaves rustling in the cool breeze. 

Mara concentrated and could feel the energy getting stronger and stronger, her mind instinctively stopped its internal chattering, leaving only the river, the trees and the energy, her energy, as it grew in intensity and even took on an electrical brightness against the backdrop of the dark, running water. Colours emerged slowly from the darkness, vague at first, then more vivid, an impossible miniature Northern Lights in the palms of her hands. 

What is this? Mara's mind drew her deeper into the energy and the world around her stopped. The river halted, all noise ceased, the birds' chattering disappeared, and even the breeze was gone. Homer whimpered, making the same kind of noise he made when he chased squirrels, but Mara didn't hear. There was nothing but the glorious, comforting, tingly aliveness of the energy. 

Sparks crackled, then indistinct, fluttering shapes formed deeper in the energy field. How pretty, they must be some sort of butterflies, Mara thought. Her curiosity piqued, she focused her mind to see the shapes more clearly. With a gasp, Mara's mind reeled back from what she saw because it simply could not be real. In disbelief, she shook her hands as if they were covered in spiders. The energy shattered and dissolved into the air as if it had never existed at all. Time and the outside world came crashing back like a thunder clap. That just cannot be real, Mara told herself, I could have sworn I saw a faerie, or at least a little person with butterfly wings, and that it stared back at me, waving its arms, looking worried. 

(c) Coreena McBurnie, 2011. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Book Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Book I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies #1) by Pittacus Lore, HarperCollins, 2010, 440 pages, young adult science fiction.

Source:  library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now.

The Nine had to separate and go into hiding. The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.

I Am Number Four is the thrilling launch of a series about an exceptional group of teens as they struggle to outrun their past, discover their future—and live a normal life on Earth.


My Thoughts: 
I enjoyed reading I Am Number Four - it is a different, entertaining story.  There was excitement, interesting storytelling, and romance.  That being said, I also felt like something was lacking, that the book had a potential that it didn't quite live up to.

I thought the premise was fun and intriguing - John is number four of nine aliens from the planet Lorien who arrive on earth about ten years ago with their caregivers fleeing from the Mogadorian invasion that decimates their planet.  These nine are entrusted with the responsibility of survival and eventual rebuilding of their planet and culture.  The Mogadorians, however, have tracked them to earth an are killing them, but, because of a charm placed on them, they must be killed in order.  One, two and three have been killed and John is next on the list.  Then, it turns out, more may even be at stake, as the Mogadorians may be trying to take over the Earth as well.

The writing in the book was, at times, amazing and beautiful, and at other times repetitive.  There were also a number of sentence fragments which stopped me in my tracks.  Mostly I found the beginning and the ending interesting, with it dragging in the middle a bit.  There are also a few things that didn't make sense, for example, his dog.  John is supposed to be hypersensitive to anything strange going on in his life and he doesn't think it strange that his dog takes off into the woods and appears in an impossible location several seconds later?

The story is told in first person present from John's point of view, something which is very popular these days.  This is the first book of this type, with this amount of romance told from a boy's point of view that I have read, so that was different.

Out of all the characters, I found John's friend, Sam, to be the most interesting.  He is quirky and nerdy, but develops a great deal in the book.  I really felt for him and the loss of his dad.  It looks like he will be in the next book, for which I am grateful.

I Am Number Four is the first in a planned series of six.  The second book, The Power of Six, has recently been released.  I am quite anxious to see where this story goes next.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Back to The Books Giveaway Hop Winners!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the Back to the Books Giveaway Hop.  I had almost 300 entries - unbelievable.

The winners have been chosen!  Mfay2 has won the $15 CDN from The Book Depository, and Sarah Bibi Setar has won Janet Whitehead's 5 creativity workbooks.  Congratulations to you both, I have sent you an email, and you have 48 hours to respond and confirm your prizes.

By the way, Janet, who runs Musings and Mud Studios, has just put out her new schedule for her fall workshops.  For any of you who read her interview (click here), she has some great offerings, many of them via the internet and email so are available internationally.  I highly recommend her if you want to explore your creative side or just need a boost.  Click here for her list of offerings.