Books

Enter Manhattan 1899

Posted on May 8, 2010. Filed under: Books, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Romance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Let’s talk books, let’s talk stories, let’s talk what works and what doesn’t! Because I’m lazy and not in the mood to write the official review I’ll put on my PC, I’m going to write a second review of two books I’ve read for my research.

Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe series has four novels in it total. They are: The Luxe, Rumors, Envy, and Splendor. I’ve read the first two books of the series and finished reading the second one today. Because I’m enjoying it, I picked up the third at Borders after I got off work at Book Gallery (don’t tell my boss!) and started reading it over dinner.

The Luxe

The Luxe introduces readers to Manhattan’s top society members in rollicking good style. Swathed in multiple, juicy tidbits straight from the columns of only the best newspapers that harken the beginning of each new chapter, the book tells the story of the Holland sisters.

Elizabeth Holland is the oldest daughter of the Holland family and has just returned from an extended trip abroad. The trip was one of the means she used to forget the horrible details of her father’s recent death. Now that she’s back, though, things are beginning to fall apart. Her family is in financial trouble, and all her mother’s hopes are resting on Elizabeth… and a wedding that could change everything.

In the meantime, the youngest of the Holland’s, Diana, is enjoying finding her kicks where she will, in the dark coatrooms where clandestine meetings for kisses are not so easily noticed and in servant hallways that are infrequently traveled. The more risque of the sisters, Diana sees no need to appear with decorum when her older and more accomplished sister can do so for her, but in a strange twist of fate, the younger sister finds that love can come from unexpected places and at horribly wrong times. Now she has only one problem: telling her family.

With an intriguing cast of characters, I have to give Godbersen credit. I fell in love with the Holland sisters and felt nothing but disgust for some of the more important side characters, such as the indomitable Penelope Hayes, the sneaky Lina Broud, and the irritating Isabella Schoonmaker. Godbersen’s characterization is fabulous, and I am enjoying getting to know her characters and hoping I’ll find something good and worthwhile in some of the more cruel of the women.

Her plots are elaborate and twisted. I’ve been impressed by the intrigue behind the movements of the Holland sisters and the plots of Penelope Hayes. And even little Lina Broud strikes me as much more intense and devious than I would have expected given her characterization in the first book. And with the winding, often snakelike paths the story takes, I expect I’ll be just as surprised in the third and fourth novels as I was in the first two, a definite plus in my book.

So what makes this series so intriguing, especially to the teen readers? Well, let’s start by examining the cover. Most women I know have a fascination for the fashions from the past, especially those ball gowns that are featured so heavily on Godbersen’s covers. Second the titles are ripe with intrigue. They offer visions of brightly lit ballrooms, women wearing precious gems and delicate outfits, men in smoking rooms, and any number of rich debaucheries. It’s the stuff of legend and the stuff we simply can’t get enough of.

Now I’ll admit, I was angry at the end of the first book. I was also furious at the end of the second book because, quite frankly, I didn’t want it to end the way it did. I hate it when authors don’t offer me a happy ending. However I have two more books to read, and unfortunately the fourth book hasn’t been released in paperback yet. Once I finish the third one, I’m afraid I’m a bit up a creek until the paperback fourth book gets released.

The big problem for me is that I’m a sucker for fairy tale, happily ever after endings. And as such, I’m determined to read to the end of the series and hopefully find that Godbersen has offered both happy endings to the characters I like and trials to the ones I don’t like. If she doesn’t do that, I might be a little miffed.

So far, the series has been solidly developed, excellently written, and hard to put down. I think that makes it a good series to use in my YA research, don’t you?

If you’re looking for a new read and don’t mind something that’s technically written for a younger audience, check it out. Godbersen’s style is subtle and well-played in the scenes she writes. The characters are deliciously entertaining. The settings are the perfect foils for the antics of her main characters. It’s simply a fascinating series of (somewhat) unfortunate events.

Let me know if you pick it up. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And while we’re at it, feel free to let me know what books you’re reading now. I love hearing about new books, you know. 😉

-Rae-

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Why Haven’t I Seen These Before?

Posted on April 26, 2010. Filed under: Books, Children's, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

The title might be a bit misleading, so I’ll explain. I’m referring to books on tape or CD. It’s not to say I haven’t seen them before, but in all my years of being a book aficionado, I’ve never enjoyed a book on tape or CD before today.

Why did I listen to a book on CD? Well, I was coming home from a weekend away. I went to my best friend’s apartment for the weekend to get away from all the craziness of home. It’s going to be the last splurge I can really make till August when I go to Indiana, but that’s another topic altogether, and I’m certain to bore you with all those details closer to time.

That said, my best friend lives about three hours away from me, so I had plenty of time on the drive to get about halfway through a book. Normally I would have said it would be better to read the book before I listen to it on tape. Why? Because I’m weird that way. But this was not a book I’d read before. It was, however, a book I’d seen in the movie form, and I’m pleased to report that screenwriters still deviate from book’s plots.

I listened to the book How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. This book is billed for children ages 9 to 12, but I figure it’s okay to listen to a book like this since I watched the movie. Besides, I got copies of the CDs from a coworker after we discussed the differences between the books and movie one night.

To begin, I’ll admit that this is definitely the right kind of audiobook for me. First of all, it’s a children’s book, so the reading is very expressive. In fact, the person they got to read the book is David Tennant, who I’ve heard is on the popular TV show Dr. Who. I’ve never seen Dr. Who, so I had no idea who David Tennant was until I looked him up; apparently I know him as Barty Crouch Jr. from the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It’s good to know who he is because I absolutely love this man’s voice!

What’s great about this audiobook is that Tennant does a fabulous job making the characters come alive. I’m not sure if Tennant himself is British, but he does have a lovely, pleasant accent that makes me smile. And he switches things up when going from Hiccup’s quiet voice to Gober’s booming one.

I honestly didn’t think I’d like something that was all spoken. I’m more of a reader than a listener, but this made me feel like I was a part of the story as I drove down the interstate. It was nice to grab some breakfast from McDonald’s, pop the first CD into the player, and adjust the volume accordingly. I drove for a good 2.5 hours listening to the first two CDs.

The only downside to audiobooks? Not being in the car long enough to finish the story. I realized I was back in town when the second CD ended, and I still had two left! So I haven’t finished listening to the story.

That said, I think I’m a newly converted fan of audiobooks. It’s heresy, I know, but I’m allowed an indulgence every once in a while. What about you? Are you a fan of audiobooks or not? Let me know!

-Rae-

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On Research

Posted on April 17, 2010. Filed under: Books, Historical Fiction, Teen Fiction | Tags: , , , , |

I’m reading a few books recently that I picked up for the sole purpose of doing research. I’ll be honest. These are books that interest me on a simple reading level, but they’re also books that are apparently by authors who do very well in the Young Adult audience.

So what books am I reading? Well I’ll tell you.

I’ve finished reading two of the four that I have. The first book I picked up was titled The Luxe by Anna Godbersen. I have plans to do a separate post about this book because I want to analyze it a little more thoroughly. Godbersen’s series has four books, all of which detail life in early 20th century, rich Manhattan. Her characters are mainly young women whose lives seem charmed on the surface, but of course, there are facets to these women that can only be explored by reading the rest of the story.

Godbersen is touted as being on the New York Times bestseller list for her works, so I was looking forward to a treat. I wasn’t disappointed. With my love of historical fiction, hers was a perfect YA series to get into.

The second author I looked into was Sarah Dessen, another popular YA writer. I picked up two of her books and finished reading Just Listen a few days ago. Dessen writes contemporary fiction about girls who have problems. Simple enough, but Dessen’s writing style and the stories she weaves are full of controversy and intrigue enough to make even the youngest of readers sink their teeth into the novels.

I’ve actually really enjoyed Dessen’s stories even if I’m not in the target audience for them. She’s an excellent author.

So why do I tell you this?

Because I’m doing research for my own story. No, I didn’t pick up my genre. No, I’m not planning to find a good fantasy story for young adults to read anytime soon. The reason I’m not doing that is because I want to get a feel for my audience and not my genre.

I know it sounds weird, but bear with me. My purpose is simply to find out what it is young adults are reading. I want to see how writers to this audience change their tones or POVs to appeal to their readers. I want to read between the lines of the story and see the development of plot, the style, and the language that makes these books bestsellers.

If I were to pick up a YA fantasy novel, I know I’d end up focusing on the fantasy aspects and not on the language and other items that brand the story as targeted to younger readers. So I thought this would be a step in the right direction for me. I also picked up a how-to book on writing young adult fiction that sells.

What do you think? Overkill or heading in the right direction? I’m actually learning quite a bit as I enjoy these stories. It’s been an interesting journey in research.

All right, well, I’ve got to get ready for work now, so I’ll have to end this. I hope you’re all doing well, and I have news to report before I finish: I didn’t get the Target job. I’m still up in the air on Amazon, and I heard back about a South Korean ESL teaching position that would, in theory, begin on May 10. I’m not entirely sure how that’s going to work, but I’ll keep you updated!

I hope you all have wonderful Saturdays, and I am going to go out tonight and enjoy some well-deserved sushi with a coworker. What are your weekend plans?

-Rae-

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History of the Author Part 5

Posted on March 30, 2010. Filed under: About Me, Books, My Writing | Tags: , , |

Here it is, the story you’ve all been waiting for!

History of an Author:

As it’s the last Tuesday in March, I’ll be posting today about how I got into the world of long, original fiction. Obviously you’ve read about my start in poetry, my love of books, my foray into fanfics, and my short stories. Now I have to admit the truth.

All of that was just the path I took to novel-length fiction. It’s true. I’ve always wanted to be a novel writer ever since my first look into a Lori Wick novel. Even as a little kid, I knew I had what it took to be a novelist.

I admit that I’ve taken a rather circuitous route thus far to achieving my goals. A lot of that is due to my grandparents who always made a point of telling me what I could and (more frustratingly) could not do. I’ve always been easily influenced by the opinions of those closest to me, and knowing that my grandparents thought I would not make it in an artistic field has shaped a lot of my choices.

Thus I earned a Bachelors of Science instead of a Bachelors of Arts. I majored in business and am now qualified to run your business as a manager, and I’m sure I’d do a darn good job of it. I know the ins and outs, have taken the financial classes, the logistics courses, and the information technology classes to give me the edge. I’ve made presentation after presentation and learned business communication techniques to make me formidable in the office.

But my heart isn’t in business, and it never will be. Give me pen and paper, and I’m at home. Offer me a computer and word processor and I’ll be happy as a clam.

That’s why I am where I am now: lack of confidence due to family opinion. But I’m getting to the point that I believe in my own writing, and I’m willing to pursue it.

With that in mind, let me tell you a little about how I started writing my first novel.

It was through NaNoWriMo, as you might have already guessed. I had some harsh circumstances hit me in the middle of fall 2008, and I’d dared two friends to do NaNoWriMo with me. I figured they would back out and I wouldn’t have to do it. They didn’t back out, though, so I was stuck on November 2 trying to sign up for the event and figure out a plot.

I needed some catharsis after some personal trauma, so I started writing my story. I changed names to protect the innocent and wrote in the style of a diary entry. The story wasn’t completely autobiographical, but it was definitely heavily influenced by my circumstances and relationships at the time. And as it was supposed to be a novel, I came up with a title for what I was considering “Chick Lit” in the genre category. So what did I call it? Insert Witty Title Here. Yeah, it was a cop-out, but I actually like that title and think it would be great for a book someday.

During NaNo2008, I managed to write about 34,000 words before life happened again and I quit. To be fair, the two friends who were writing with me also quit that year, too. It didn’t bother me either considering it wasn’t a novel I believed in.

By the early fall of 2009, I was in a much better place. Lots of things had finally come together for me, including a graduation date from the school I hated. And I dug out some old notebooks while cleaning that led me to my notes on a fantasy novel I wanted to write. I even had my friend come up with symbols and character sketched for me. Two of my friends had created characters for the book, and I had the basis for a pretty involved story.

I started looking at my notes and realized I wanted to write this story. It wasn’t just for myself, but my own selfish pride was definitely a big part of why I wanted to write it. I already had a number of characters mapped out, and my only problem was figuring out a plot. I’m sure when I first started brainstorming for this story a year or two ago I had a great plot idea. Unfortunately I never wrote it down, so I began brainstorming again and came up with a number of different ideas that were pretty viable with the world I’d created.

I titled my story Fire and Ice Bound, and I made plans to write it during NaNo2009. By the end of October 2009, I had a blog dedicated to the story to keep me motivated, several friends agreeing to participate with me, parents who wanted to see how the story would play out, and the piece de resistance: a 12-page Word document full of outline, plot, character, and miscellaneous notes. I also typed up a separate character profiles page as well as various other related sets of notes. I had the whole story outlined in my mind, and it was enough information to comprise three different and distinct books.

***

The forum banner I made for my novel - I'm obsessed; yes, I am.

Synopsis of Fire and Ice Bound:

Brenn Redoix is a 19-year-old fire-bonded living in Devalt, Ezer Kenegdo. She’s been attending Devalt’s elite preparatory academy since she was 7 and is preparing to graduate with a number of her peers. All that’s left for these exceptional element bonded students is to take their legitimacy exams. Once they’ve received the legitimacy certification, they’ll be eligible for government service.

In Ezer Kenegdo, the government is ruled by a number of ‘old’ families, including the family of Brenn’s best friend Levi Devalt. Brenn and Levi, however, have always entertained the notion that the government is slowly tightening its grip on the rest of the country. Policies concerning inter-element marriages and laws declaring a person can only bond to one element have solidified the two friends’ stance on their government, and while neither particularly wants to work with the shady electorate, they have no choice now.

As the legitimacy exam draws nearer, strange things begin to happen. A negotiator from Ezer Kenegdo is killed by neighboring Pridemos Nald. A state of heightened alert is sounded throughout the city, and the electorate begins discussing changes to the legitimacy exam. When Brenn and her 13 classmates hear from their instructor that the exam had been changed to a more practical version, she and Levi know something’s amiss.

That’s when Levi overhears a conversation between his father and Devalt’s representative: the exam has been changed in order to oust a student they believe is multi-bonded, or bonded to more than one element.

Now in even more dangerous territory than before, Brenn and Levi begin training doubly hard for their mysterious exam. But what is it? A harrowing trek through Centrale Foraois, a no-man’s volcanic wasteland in the center of three bordering countries. The students are divided into two teams on a competition to answer a set of clues, but what they encounter in the forest is more deadly than any of them expected.

***

Because I’m still trying to pin down a good synopsis, that’s what you get. 😛 I figured some of you might be interested in hearing what my novel was about. Ezer Kenegdo is a world of 10 elements. There are a lot of technical terms that I didn’t use in the synopsis because it makes more sense to simply read the story.

This first book is more of a coming-of-age tale. It’s tragic and dark, and my main character, Brenn, learns more than she expected. But it’s also the lead in to the sequel: Water Based. That book will be even darker with mentions of warfare and runaways, dangerous chases and deadly enemies. I’m not sure when I’ll write it at this point, but I want to give Brenn her due in Water Based because there’s a lot I didn’t cover in F&IB.

With that said, now you know where I’ve come from. My stories are all rather odd, and my background is fun. I don’t know how interesting a book like Fire and Ice Bound would be to the mass market, but I like the concept. It’s been fun to write, too, and if I never sell it, I’ll still be glad I wrote it. After all, this was a labor of love for myself, not for anyone else.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? What do you think of the synopsis? Let me know!

-Rae-

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The Hepburn Look

Posted on March 27, 2010. Filed under: Books, Historical Fiction, Musings, Teen Fiction | Tags: , , , |

I know it’s not very writing related, but I thought I’d share two pictures from today. As I mentioned yesterday, I went out with my mother and her friends today. It was, as usual, inspired. Everything my mother and her friends do is enough to make me laugh.

But let me say that my dress wasn’t quite the same as Audrey Hepburn’s. Hers was the famous boatneck, floor-length gown that made the little black dress a household item for women of all ages. My hair also wasn’t quite the same as dear Audrey’s either. Though I did try.

For what it’s worth, I made do with what I had. I’ll let you decide if the outfit made me Hepburn-esque enough to pass muster or not.

The Real Audrey Hepburn

My Version of Audrey Hepburn

She was beautiful, wasn’t she? I love the little touches, from the diamond tiara to the extravagant necklace to the cigarette holder. It’s the height of class, elegance, and grace.

Perhaps one of the best parts of her attire was her ability to accentuate the right assets. I know I’ve ranted about modesty before, but I have to admit that Audrey Hepburn puts most of the mavens of today’s underdressed, anorexic society to shame. And she exudes mystery to boot.

I’m biased, but I think she’s beautiful.

So in comparison, we have my version of the Hepburn do. I had my mother help with my hair, and while it has the annoying tendency of not staying in place, today it did quite well.

You’ll notice I even got the black elbow-length gloves and the classic large sunglasses; though I already had that pair.

I had a lot of fun putting together my Audrey Hepburn look, and Lucille was thrilled with the effect. I did get told that I was only hanging out with my mother’s friends because they made me look good, but it was all in good fun.

My Hepburn Impression

So what do you think? Do I make a passable imitation of the classic?

Ah, and I also wanted to mention that I’m doing research for my novel. (This does tie-in, I promise.) I picked my way through Borders the other evening and found myself in the YA section. It’s a little appalling how many vampire fiction stories are out there now. I blame Stephenie Meyer.

Even so, I did find a bit of historical fiction that was too much to resist. It’s a series by an author I haven’t heard of, and it starts with the novel The Luxe. Anna Godbersen’s first novel is a tale of 1899 high society ladies and the intrigue their affairs spark. I’d seen it before but didn’t think much of it till I started to look at it again the other day. My love of historical fiction is simply too much to resist sometimes, so I purchased the first novel.

I love high society even if I’m not a part of it. And The Luxe is full of all the things I’ve always been fascinated by: high class women marrying for money and prestige, young girls finding their way into shady situations with even seedier men, old biddies gossiping about the young whipper-snappers, and of course, the affairs these ladies have with men of all ages, classes, and backgrounds. So far it’s been an enjoyable read, and I’m already embroiled in the conflict of the main characters.

I said there was a tie-in. It’s vague, but it’s there. Audrey Hepburn is my definition of high class. She would have easily fit in as one of New York’s old-school debutantes. Perhaps she really was one; I don’t know.

Either way, that’s the post for the day. Let me know what you think about my Hepburn looks. I had a lot of fun today. What did you do for your Saturday?

-Rae-

P.S. If you want to see the full-size images of my Hepburn looks, click on the photos and then click on them again when the link pops up.

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Margins and Remainders

Posted on March 25, 2010. Filed under: Books, Musings, Publishing | Tags: , , , |

I have a job offer. Yes, that’s the subject of the post today because I’ve been busy with all sorts of craziness going on with interviews and the like. And today I did an interview, and the store owner told me I could start next Wednesday.

What makes this at all writing and/or reading related? The nature of the beast–er, job,–of course.

I have to call the owner back and let him know I’m interested, but it’s a job I’ve always wanted to do. The position is as a part-time bookseller in the Book Gallery Outlet here in town. It’s one of a group of bookstores that sell on remainder, which means, in essence that they resell books.

Now I know this isn’t a full-time position, but in this economy, a job’s a job whether it’s full-time or part-time or freelance or contract. Let me add: I’ve done contract work, and I don’t like it. If the tax obligations of the contracted employee aren’t bad enough, the health insurance issues are worse. So I’m pleased to have a potential position in a job where I’d be an actual employee, taxes deducted from my paycheck and all. Who knows? I might even get one of those coveted refunds next year in taxes…

For now, though, I can live with a part-time job where I’ll be making money. And since I’ve always wanted to work for a bookstore, I’m pretty pleased about the opportunities this will give me.

Now I did work for an online bookstore that’s run similarly to Amazon on a much smaller scale for a while, but it’s definitely not the same as being able to walk around and pick up books to peruse while maintaining the store.

The other fun thing about today’s interview? I got a lesson in book selling. Book Gallery Outlet sells on remainder. So what does that mean? Here’s the example the owner gave me.

Say author Rae Reneau’s new book comes out. It retails at $15.99. Of course, wholesalers were able to sell copies to the Borders and Barnes & Noble’s of the world for $10.99, which turned into the $5.00 markup for the bookstores. So Borders purchased 100,000 copies of Rae Reneau’s book because she’s obviously going to become a bestseller. When Borders only sold 60,000 and needed to free up room for new inventory, they estimated that they could sell another 10,000 copies in the next month. The remaining 30,000 copies were promptly shipped back to the publisher in exchange for credits towards new purchases.

The publisher doesn’t really want to keep all that excess inventory and can’t resell it as new material since it’s already been stickered by Borders. Instead, the books are sold to resell wholesalers at $1.99 per book. The wholesalers charge stores like Book Gallery Outlet $2.99 per book, and Book Gallery Outlet sells to customers for $4.99.

So Rae Reneau’s bestseller goes out in still-new copies from Book Gallery Outlet for $4.99 instead of the retail price of $15.99. And that, my friends, is selling on remainder. It’s a pretty simple lesson, and I understand how it could be profitable for those bookstores that want to get cheaper books and still make a profit.

Perhaps its my business education coming forward, but I think it’s all very fascinating how this business works. And even if I am doing part-time work, I was told if I do well I’d have the opportunity to do things like attend book fairs and trade shows where I could sell books. I imagine that would be a lot of fun for a book junkie like me.

So hopefully I’ll call the owner back and tell him I’m thrilled and excited to be starting work with him next week. The great thing is this particular job allows a lot of freedom, initiative and creativity, so I’m not going to be forced into a corporate box.

And I might learn something about starting my own bookstore one of these days…

Anyway, I thought you all might enjoy the business lesson and the fun news from my end. It’s always nice to have good news, isn’t it? Does anyone else have good news? Let me know!

-Rae-

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History of the Author Part 4 – I think

Posted on March 23, 2010. Filed under: Books, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, My Writing | Tags: , , , |

It’s been a good day so far. Things are finally winding down a bit, and I am happy to say my mom is definitely on the road to recovery. It’s a good feeling, and my family is happy she doesn’t look nearly as pale or in pain as she did.

That said, I’m going through some weird stuff. I’ve been having three headaches a week on average and been extremely queasy and dizzy lately. Not to mention tired. I’m not sure what to make of it besides the fact I need more sleep. Ah well, that’s life, isn’t it?

Onto more exciting things!

History of an Author:

I figured today I’d talk a little about how I decided writing long fiction was for me. And that begins with a wonderful trip down memory lane. Full steam ahead from high school newspaper work, take a left at the manga, follow the s-curve to the little camouflaged sign reading “Fan Fiction” and hang a right. See it?

Yep, I started writing fan fiction. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I started writing fanfics in high school. For anyone who doesn’t know the term, fan fiction refers to stories written about published, licensed, copyrighted, or other works of fiction, such as plays, movies, TV shows, novels, anime, and manga.

Guess where I started…

That’s right: I started writing fanfics for one of my favorite animes. It’s called Rurouni Kenshin, and I wrote several fanfics for the series before attempting my first big fic. It was probably around 30,000 words long all told, and I had fun writing it.

But I ended up wiping out all the information on my FanFiction.net account and going away for a long time. When I came back, I started writing for a new series. It started out small and simple. I began writing a story for the manga Ouran High School Host Club. That quickly grew into several different stories that went from only a few thousand words to more than 80,000 words.

The one that I like the most? It’s a story I titled “Htelobbihs: Can You Say It?” The story is all about a kidnapping, and it’s not just any kidnapping. By the end of the second chapter, it’s revealed that the kidnappers have managed to nab 7 people total, and our unlikely heroes are forced to follow the clues to find the people one by one, in a particular order.

One slip up, and the last person on the list goes missing forever. Of course, this just happens to be the most important person to our group of heroes. In addition, the kidnapper isn’t exactly the sanest person in the world.

What I like about fanfics is the ability of the author to gain feedback. You can learn a lot about your writing style and how it will be received by posting fanfics. Develop a solid fan base, and they’ll give you tips, catch grammatical errors, and cheer you on as your write more of the stories they fall in love with.

I think “Htelobbihs” had over 100 reviews by the time I posted the last chapter. And it was a joy to see how people reacted when I revealed the clues that led to the conclusion. I also tend to be a bit of a devious author, too; I like to write things that leave you wanting more. Cliffhangers are my friends.

In any event, I developed a lot of story ideas from my fanfic days that never finished. One of my favorite ideas is one I had for a fandom practically everyone will know something about: Harry Potter.

Did you feel cheated at Sirius’s death? I know I did. So I came up with an idea that would meld the Harry Potter world with a bit of fancy and classical writing.

The story, which I began writing but did not finish, followed Harry, Ron, and Hermione through their sixth year. Sirius, of course, is dead, and Harry is grieving as it’s still summer at Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Hermione is reading every book she can get her hands on, including a fascinating classic titled The Picture of Dorian Gray. But this book leads her on a whirlwind adventure that she never expected.

Tucked behind a large book in the bookshelves, Hermione finds the diary of one Lord Henry Wotton, who, she comes to find out, was a wizard. Lord Henry’s diary tells the story of his encounter with a muggle named Dorian Gray and how he chanced to create a spell that went awry, changing Dorian’s portrait to age while allowing Dorian to stay forever young.

The results of Henry’s research? Grief, murder, pain, betrayal, and loss. But not all is hopeless, as Hermione discovers. Lord Henry and his friends were researching potions and spells to return the dead to life, but there are several catches.

Can you guess where the story’s going? I actually did a lot of research on it, and I wrote about 7 chapters before I stopped writing. It was quite fun if I do say so myself.

In any event, my experience writing fanfics was positive enough that I grew confident enough to venture into the murky depths of original fiction. And that is where I’ll continue next week!

Thoughts? Comments? Snide remarks? Let me know!

-Rae-

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Favorites – The Asian Edition

Posted on March 22, 2010. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , |

I thought today would be a fun day to talk about one of my more eccentric passions. I have a habit of finding things I like almost anywhere. The result is that I end up with somewhat conflicting points of interest, but at least it makes me fun to talk to!

So for today, I’m going to introduce you to a few things I read…

A Few of My Favorite Things:

Hana Kimi – I’ll start by saying that this is the first full series of manga that I ever collected. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, manga is the Japanese word for (in a very rough Rae translation) graphic novels. Most manga are in the range of 100+ pages and are divided into two categories: shoujo (for girls) or shonen (for guys). That’s my quick and easy explanation.

This particular manga features Mizuki, a happy-go-lucky, determined Japanese girl from America who dreams of going to the same school as her idol, Sano. Sano is a Japanese guy who has broken many track records with his performances, and Mizuki fell in love with him during a very depressing time of her life. As a result, she works on getting into his school as a new student.

Sounds simple enough, right? Mizuki’s parents allow her to travel to Japan and enroll at Sano’s high school, knowing this is what she wants. What they don’t know, however, is that Sano attends an all-male high school, and Mizuki has enrolled as a male student there. For the 23 volumes of this series, we watch Mizuki attempt to keep her identity under wraps as she lives in the boy’s dorm in Sano’s room and goes about life as a student at this prestigious high school. It’s hilarious and quite entertaining, a very good read.

The Wallflower – This manga is still coming out, but it features Sunako, a very gothic girl who moves into her aunt’s massive mansion where she’ll be taking care of four gorgeous guys. Said gorgeous guys are not entirely sure that they want to deal with this dark and depressing girl whose very presence seems to make lights go out until their landlady (Sunako’s aunt) promises they can live there rent free if they will do one simple task. The task? Turn Sunako into a lady.

The series follows the adventures of the guys as they try to figure out why Sunako turned into such a dark person in the first place, convince her she’s worthwhile, and somehow turn her into a lady before the landlady starts charging full rent. Sunako, on the other hand, just wants peace and quiet while she enjoys the horror movies she’s so fond of.

W. Juliet – This 14 volume series tells the story of tomboy Ito Miura, famous at her high school for her acting abilities, and the school newcomer Makoto Amano, the ultra-feminine girl whose acting seems to outshine Ito’s. The two become friends when Ito protects Makoto from the advances of some of the other male students, and their friendship is only strengthened when Ito finds out Makoto’s secret.

Makoto is a boy cross-dressing as a girl because of his father’s command. In order to not be forced into taking ownership of the family dojo, Makoto has to live as a girl and go to school without having his identity compromised for the entirety of his senior year. If he can graduate high school as a girl, his father won’t force him into being the dojo master and Makoto can do what he loves: act.

So Ito teams up with Makoto to keep his secret. It’s a sweet story full of cute moments and amusing adventures where Makoto’s identity is almost discovered.

I’ll probably do a post later talking about some of my favorite shonen stories as well, but that’s really all I have for today. I’ve got a lot to get done and little time to do it.

Do you have any unusual stories you like? Things that are contrary to what you normally read? Let me know!

-Rae-

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The Melancholy of Alice

Posted on March 20, 2010. Filed under: Books, Children's, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , |

I keep posting later and later, but it’s only because things have been busy taking care of the house and my mother. In any event, I won’t harp on it. Today I wanted to review Alice I Have Been as I finished reading it last night.

Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been is a haunting book. Perhaps my view on it won’t be the same as those who have read it, but it just seemed a very tragic story. I read the author’s notes on the book, and Benjamin explains that while it is only a novel she did use as much of the remaining documented materials of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life to reconstruct this tale.

Looking at it from that point of view, I almost pity poor Alice.

That’s not to say, however, that the story was poorly written. Benjamin’s book is a delight to read, full of witty repartee and turns of phrase common to the Victorian era when Alice was born. The pacing is excellent, and the story draws the reader in with little effort and keeps you gripped in the questions it presents throughout.

The tale starts with a portrait of an aged Alice, famous for her experience in Wonderland and virtually unknown for her more scandalous exploits. At 81, she’s growing older and tired of being known as Alice in Wonderland. It’s been years since she has spoken to anyone who was even familiar with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man the rest of the world knows as Lewis Carroll. And no one even remembers the circumstances under which 11-year-old Alice was forced to part with Charles Dodgson. Even Alice herself is quite fuzzy on the scandal.

As she rereads a particular letter from her deceased older sister Ina, Alice’s memories flood her mind–and the book’s pages–as she begins to relive those formative younger years. What’s so fascinating is not the story of Alice in Wonderland as so many believe but rather the background of this woman who survived many of her family to live out her days, widowed with only one, somewhat irresponsible, son for comfort.

But Alice I Have Been reveals the shocking and scandalous events of Alice Liddell’s life in a splash of vibrant fiction. From the recollection of Dodgson’s photo of her as a ‘gypsy girl’ clothed in rags to the events leading to a dangerous kiss on a train, Alice retraces her childhood, recalling how boldly she took what she wanted–from Ina, her mother, and Mr. Dodgson himself.

The book is divided into three parts, and the story of Alice and Dodgson ends with the first part. In the second, we read of her romance with Prince Leopold, son to Queen Victoria. Leopold, or Leo as we know Alice addresses him, is infatuated with the Alice from Lewis Carroll’s tales, which by now have sold well in Britain. Pursuing the second daughter of the Liddell family, he wins her heart and brings in help in the form of old Liddell family friends to try and persuade the queen to approve the match.

When the queen receives word of the scandal with Mr. Dodgson, however, she’s most displeased. In one of the greatest tragedies of her life, Alice loses the two people closest to her. Concluding the second portion of the novel, we read in the third about her marriage to Reginald Hargreaves, who, according to Alice, has plucked her after she ripened too much and fell off the tree. It’s a poor description to be sure, and Alice spares little love for the husband she wouldn’t have chosen for herself.

What I find most interesting in this novel is how Alice is portrayed. Certainly there are other authors out there who have documented her life, and Benjamin’s work is only fiction after all. But the Alice in the story is such a dramatic contrast from the Alice in Carroll’s work. Instead of being the constant, logical, happy-go-lucky child, Alice is a tired, broken-hearted, depressed woman whose life has simply passed her by.

It’s truly haunting because of the opportunities she seemed to miss, either through her own doing or by the actions and interference of others. I both sympathized with and chastised Alice as she made decisions and tried to accomplish things that were beyond her reach. I wonder if Benjamin’s tale is accurate enough to fill in the blanks of this remarkable woman’s life.

Overall, this is definitely a keeper. I really enjoyed the story. Alice enthralled and entertained me, but she also challenged and intrigued me. I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be a joy to sit down with her (were that possible) and hear her story from her own lips.

But the intriguing thing about Alice? Of those few possessions remaining, none truly tell her story. What remains, then? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And as Benjamin suggests in the end of the book: that might be exactly as Alice Liddell Hargreaves intended it.

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A Few Of My Favorite Things Kiddie Style

Posted on March 15, 2010. Filed under: Books, Children's | Tags: , , |

I’m feeling rather sentimental today. It’s been such a long day, really. My mom’s surgery went very well, and I really appreciate everyone’s comments! It was such an encouragement to me.

So I thought today’s theme would be childhood. It only seems fitting after feeling very young as I saw my mother lying in the hospital bed and after reading the Alice tales. It’s always a good idea to remember those things that brought us joy in childhood, don’t you think? For some reason, as children, we’re pleased by the simplest things.

The same is true for books.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Today’s favorites will be a run down of some of my favorite childhood books.

We’ll begin with one of my all time favorites.

The Monkey and the Crocodile was one of the most adorable stories I read as a kid. Unlike the fable of the same title, this particular book was much longer, had it’s own morals to teach, and featured two fabulous main characters.

The story begins with the king of the jungle, a goodhearted lion, gathering all his kingdom together to pay their taxes. From the greatest to the least, they gathered where he lounged with his lionesses to pay their dues. It’s there that we meet the monkey, a sweet, curious, sneaky, cute little thing who brings two coins and manages to drop one between the king’s toes.

“Oopsie, your Majesty, I woopsied on your tootsie,” cries the monkey in a high-pitched voice. It was always one of my favorite lines. The monkey is a rather loud and talkative sort, you know.

We also meet the crocodile, a nasty sort who sneers at everyone. “Naddle-addle-addle-argh,” he grumbles to anyone who will listen as he tells the king he hasn’t got the money to pay his taxes. The king, a generous sort, offers him time to get the money together.

Being a cunning sort of creature, the crocodile goes directly to the monkey, who happens to owe him money. He demands the monkey pay immediately, which, of course, the monkey cannot due to having just paid his own taxes. After a dangerous ride on the creepy crocodile’s back, the monkey determines the best course of action would be to trick the cruel croc.

It’s really a delightful story, and as the monkey sings at the end of the day (when the crocodile has been rightfully put in prison), the moral to the story is simple: “Forgive and forget, forget and forgive, it’s the best way to love, it’s the best way to live.”

Aside from that story, I also fell in love with Adventures in the Big Thicket by Ken Gire, a book about a group of animals in the big thicket of Texas. It featured some awesome characters, including Hamhock the wild cat and The Bean, a small field mouse of great wisdom.

The book was divided into different stories featuring the various characters, and each story had a Proverb at the end to illustrate the moral. It’s a Christian book, but you can easily lose track of that by the adventures the animals get into.

I remember using this particular book as a speech in high school. We were required to memorize a short story or speech to recite in class. I’m not sure what that taught us about public speaking to be honest as I’ve been memorizing lines to plays and whatnot for years, but either way, I chose one of the tales out of Big Thicket. It was a lot of fun.

Anyway, I’m pretty zonked. I got almost no sleep last night, so while this has been a rather unsatisfying post, I did try.

What enduring children’s tales make your favorites lists?

-Rae-

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