Tuesday, March 23, 2010

OTSP Secret Sister Sheet!

I backdated this to the early days of when my blog began because I doubt anyone will be rooting around this far back. Only you will see this, OTSP Secret Sister! (I just tagged this OTSP if going to my tags will make this page easier to come back to for you!!!)

I can't wait to meet you and interact with you!


Name: Bonnie Wagner
Mailing Address:

See form!
Is the above address a residence/PO Box/Condo/place of employment: House
Email Address: abackwardsstory@gmail.com
Twitter Name: @abackwardsstory
Did you participate in one of the prior rounds of the Secret Sister Project? If yes, which round? This past round!
If yes, please provide us with the names of your former sisters (those you gave to, and received from – it is okay if you don’t yet know who is sending to you this round): I sent to Jana at @artsyreadergirl this past round, and received from @verilyfranklin!
How much are you willing to contribute to the project monthly? Choose one (NOTE: this is just a range, you can of course go over the limit but please keep the pen pal aspect in mind, and please remember that is about cheer and not just gifts.) REMINDER: International participants are to fill out THIS google form only, do not fill out one provided below.
  • $25+ (The sky’s the limit here, we just ask that you remember to reign it in a bit and remember the goal of this project is for cheer, and joy and forging positive relationships, not excessive gifts. Send those heartfelt letters!!) *IF YOU ARE CHOOSING THE $25+ TIER THEN CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT YOUR GOOGLE FORM
Your OTSPSecretSister “buddy’s” Twitter or email: Kelly at bookcrushin@gmail.com (Twitter @bookcrushin) She's a blogger, and she's also in my local book club, so she can get questions to me easily if she doesn't already know the answer! 
Goodreads Profile (*so that they can access your wishlists! Make sure to turn off the privacy setting & try and keep it updated!): https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4663521-bonnie-a-backwards-story

But...that's just my Goodreads in general--though it will tell you a lot about my interests! I'm not so organized as to mark it by what I own/don't own/etc.
Goodreads/Amazon bookish wishlist: I'm going to post it here: 
Because I don't really like Amazon and I don't know how to make a Goodreads List that only one person can see, especially if it's blind! Let me know if this isn't okay!

And I'll try to update with new items throughout the next six months to keep it fresh!

  • RISE OF FIRE by Sophie Jordan (hardcover)
  • BRIGHT SMOKE, COLD FIRE by Rosamund Hodge (hardcover)
  • STRANGE THE DREAMER by Laini Taylor  (hardcover)
  • MARKED by Jenny Martin (hardcover)
  • FANFARE by Renee Ahdieh (I just found out this existed!! I had no clue!! I'd love an ebook of this, since it's easier to find than an OOP physical copy!!)
  • TRINITY: THE FALSE PRINCE by Sophie Masson (nook book)
  • TIGER'S QUEST by Colleen Houck (I just picked up 1, 3, and 4 on clearance in paperback, but they didn't have a paperback of #2!!!)
  • DANCING ON KNIVES by Kate Forsyth (This is a book that's likely too hard to find and just a pipedream. It's Australian. I got her previous books when they imported to the UK/Canada, but I haven't seen this one import yet, and it's the one I want most, grr!!)
  • DAWN STUDY by Maria Snyder (US trade PB)
  • KING'S CAGE by Victoria Aveyard (hardcover)
  • THE LIBRARY OF FATES by Aditi Khorana (hardcover)
  • THE DARK DAYS CLUB by Alison Goodman (paperback)
  •  SHADES OF EARTH by Beth Revis (hardcover)
  • THE SHADOW HOUR by Melissa Grey (hardcover)
  • THE SAVAGE DAWN by Melissa Grey (hardcover)
  • UNGODLY by Kendare Blake (hardcover)
  • I  recently discovered Sherwood Smith (Crown's Duel duology) and Sharon Shinn (Elemental Blessings series), and would love to read more books by both authors if you have anything to recommend! I've heard they both have some truly amazing books that people love, but haven't sat down to make a list of titles yet!

Um, this is my Nook Book Wishlist. I've been checking to see if these ever go on sale because I've bought other books in these series on sale. I'm slowly whittling it down! I do try to remember to update this list when I find a sale! It's mostly contemporary titles b/c I don't really buy a lot of physical copies of those, lol!

If a book isn't on my TBR but you think I'd love it, feel free to introduce it to me! I also don't own ALL the books on my TBR. Kelly can help you if you have some questions about that!!

“Other” wishlist: (*Keep these within reason for prices, etc! Please do not include pricey things, this is more for places like Etsy or for cheap DVDs on Amazon, and so on!)

I had wanted this this fun decal last year for my brand-new, first ever Mac (13"), but didn't get it for my birthday. So I put it on my OTSP list. And I didn't ask for it for Christmas when my mom asked if I till wanted it because my OTSP asked my Buddy for my laptop information within the first month, and I thought she might send it. But this year, I'm going to ask for it for my birthday in July, so if you do pick this as an item, please send it before the July box! ^.~!

Important Dates to Remember (*This can be anything and everything! Your birthday, the day you are expecting your baby, the day you are leaving for your next vacation, your anniversary with your partner, a big test you have coming up, the first day at your new job, the anniversary of the day you quit smoking, even a sad anniversary that you would like to be cheered up on!):

*I'm going to NYC for a weekend March 25-26 for the Teen Author Festival and to see a couple of Broadway shows. (Definitely Dear Evan Hansen. Then, likely either The Great Comet or, if it's open yet, possibly Amelie!

*May 30th or 31st (not sure yet) until June 4th, I'm going to be in NYC for the Book Expo! And I'll be seeing Anastasia on Broadway!!! (And possibly whichever show I don't see in March!). So if you tend to send packages toward the end of the month, you may want to send it a little early this month, or I won't receive it until after June 4th! I'm sorry!!

*July 26: My birthday!! ^_^
Your favorite items under $5: (things like stationary, nail polish, fav candy etc.)

Oh, some cute stationary to write to my OTP Secret Sister might be fun!!

My favorite candy is Take 5 and Reese's, especially the special king size holiday-shaped ones with the extra peanut butter, like the trees and hearts and eggs!

Hmm, nail polish that is under $5? I've recently fallen for the Jessie's Girl polishes they sell at Rite-Aid because they last forever! I have two of the textures (Blue and orange ones) and a few of their metallics, and they last forever!

I really love cute hair barrettes that hold up well. I've gotten a lot of them at cheap costume jewelry places I pass in NYC and they always break easily. I also pick up the pretty ones when they get something new at Rite-Aid/CVS/Walgeens/etc., but that isn't super frequent.

I also like pretty claws, but the springs break easily, too. I think my dad has both my favorites right now to fix, grr...

My hair is really thick and pretty long, so the clasp can't be shallow, like the kid-size ones, but the longer style. My hair also doesn't stay put in whispy things like barrettes or hairpins!

Here are a few! My gold one just broke, as you can see! ;_;

I love finding out about new, limited edition flavors of Eos and Soft Lips Cubes, but have most of the core line flavors/scents. I'm not a huge fan of the knock-off brands like Revo because they feel waxy, not moisturizing, but I'm always willing to try something new and interesting that hydrates and smells good and isn't super glossy/messy. I just discovered Disney Lip Smacker Balls and can't wait to try them out! I also just bought two by Blistex that I need to try out...but I took this picture before I found them!!

Ohh, and I'm not sure of the price because I received it as a gift with purchase at Ulta once, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I go to Ulta, I look for this OPI retractable file. It's my favorite, and I want a second one to leave at work!!!

Also, even though they're cheap, I actually DON'T really like blind boxes. I always think the faces look strange. The only blind box/bag things I've EVER enjoyed and collected have been Disney Princess Keychains. Hot Topic just came out with Wave 7, and so far, I only have Mulan!!! I really want a lot of these keychains (Especially Cinderella with the broom and Rapunzel!!!) My Hot Topic is always sold out of them, though! So if you are looking for cheap blind bag-ish things, I like this line:

**I'm only looking for this wave, really! I love them all, but especially
Rapunzel, Cinderella, Ariel,...!
Here's most of what I have....Mulan and Elsa somehow escaped the photograph!!!

Food Allergies: Coconut!
Fandoms: Ummm. I used to read a lot of Sailor Moon and Zutara fanfic, but haven't in a long time.

OH! But I would say that I love collecting fairy tale related things! And I love Disney! And I'm super obsessed with everything Broadway!!!
Your Likes (*Give us an array of things here! Types of snacks, TV shows, movies, bands/types of music, art):
I love buying quirky fairy tale related knick-knacks, though they can be hard to find. Or I'll buy nail polish like the Sinful "Snow Me White" even though I know it will be gunky and not a great white, just because of the name, lol! I'm totally that girl.

(Here's a couple of fairy tale things I grabbed really fast lying around!)

I also love things that contain interesting typography or unusual, quirky design. I'm likelier to pick up a mug/shirt/etc if the font is gorgeous. For example, it's why I bought this awesome Mickey mug!

I also like grabbing mugs/travel mugs with fun sayings like:

I don't know that I actually NEED more mugs, but when they're cute, I can't resist!!! I like thermos to go mugs, too, but so many of them break or spill easily!!! I'm always looking for a really good one.

I'm also a Disney fiend. I can't tell you how much Disney stuff I have, lol. Figurines, Pops, mugs, the list is crazy. Belle and Ariel are my favorite girls, though I also love a good Mulan piece! I especially like when there's an "artsy" look, such as when Disney does Designer Doll stationary/mugs/clothing/etc or Art of Ariel/Jasmine/etc. designs. Love the artsy look! 

I love pens to write with, especially ones that write nicely like the uniball signo...gel ink is always so pretty, but doesn't always dry fast, lol! I probably will need some colorful pens for all the letters I'll be writing!

I also collect little ocean-inspired things for my writing office, such as these:

Hmm, I love painting my nails. I don't know that I need anything, though, because I tend to buy colors as the new seasons release before the store sells out, and polish breaks easily in the mail, too. And I don't really do jamberries, though I love doing nail art and am getting into stamping!

For music, let's see...I listen to Broadway A LOT. Like a lot a lot. I will watch shows like Galavant and Crazy Ex Girlfriend just to get my Broadway fix. I try to go to a couple of Broadway shows a year. My favorite shows are Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, The Last 5 Years, Aida, Hairspray, Hamilton, Rent , Les Mis, Jekyll and Hyde..........

Um, TV. Gosh, I don't watch a lot of TV. I'd rather read! I think the only two shows I'm currently caught up on are Once Upon a Time and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and that's because I watch them when I visit my dad and it's what we do together! I'm slowly making my way through The 100 and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix right now...and I might start re-watching Buffy and Gilmore Girls soon... I used to be SO obsessed with them both... I'm just afraid to try new things because I'm really squeamish. Shows like The 100 and S.H.I.E.L.D. are already gross enough!

Movies...I feel like such a kid. I'll blind-buy all of the Disney movies. Sometimes I'll see them in the theater. Hmm, I also like to buy the superhero movies--mostly Marvel stuff like X-Men and the various Avengers titles and the Spider-man movies. And I love movies that are retellings or musicals, of course!!! I don't normally go to the theater a lot, but I feel I was there a lot last year. I've seen The Huntsman, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana and La La Land. That's a lot of theater trips for me!!! So far this year, I know I want to see Beauty and the Beast. And maybe Ballerina/Leap?

For snacks, I love things with peanut butter or cheese! Cheez-Its, Take 5, Nacho Doritos, Reese's, etc.

My favorite colors are purple and silver/gray. I also love blue and green (and aqua!) and the cooler tones of brown (taupes and chocolates, and purpley-browns, etc.)

For costume jewelry, I like fun, quirky fandom type things, as well as cute, pretty things. I buy a lot of my rings and stuff at Kohl's, and a lot of Disney stuff at Hot Topic. For rings, I like adjustable or Size 7. I also prefer silver to gold!
Your Dislikes (*Example: chocolate covered cherries, anything cinnamon flavored, the color brown):

-I don't like tomatoes at all. 
-My phobias are spiders and gore.
-My least favorite colors are the warm tones, like the yellowy-browns and golds, the fire colors (though red/yellow/orange do look pretty TOGETHER), a lot of pink hues, etc.
-I'm not really a fan of horror or scary stuff, lol!
-I'm not really a tea or soda person. I mostly drink coffee or juice or water!
-I don't really enjoy white chocolate. Or peppermint! Or any candy with coconut, since I'm allergic!
-I'm not a fan of blind boxes! I think they often look weird and I don't display them. 
Do you have a favorite store?:

I probably buy most of my stuff at Barnes and Noble or Best Buy/Target.
Are you okay receiving a gift card? If so, to where?

Sure! Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, AMC Theater. I get a lot of gift cards for places like Ulta, Sally's Beauty, Bath and Body, but I sometimes struggle to find things I like because I just have so much!! 
Would you be comfortable receiving baked goods of some kind?

I do like home-baked cookies, especially chocolate chip or peanut butter!
What Do You Splurge On?:

Nail polish and books!! And trips to NYC are definitely a splurge that I can only do once or twice a year, lol!, but Broadway is very worth it to me! (And sometimes I go for author signings, too, lol. Broadway and Books...)
Favorite Flowers:

I adore cherry blossoms!!!! They smell good and they are SO pretty and they remind me of when I lived in Japan and would sit in a park during hanami season and write while taking in the sakura trees!!!

I also love roses thanks to Beauty and the Beast and Sailor Moon, lol! Sunflowers. Daisies. Tiger lilies. A lot of flowers are pretty!
Favorite Color?:

Favorite (or least favorite) smells: (*for things such as candles, soaps, bath bombs/bubbles, perfumes)

I like vanilla a lot! And that spicy aroma that comes from some of the fall harvest smells such as pumpkin and gingerbread.

I'm not a huge fan of flowery scents, though I do love Japanese Cherry Blossom. I'm also not a fan of those summer scents from Bath and Body Works that smell like suntan lotion.
Do You Collect Anything?:

Mm, mostly Disney figurines--and mostly Ariel/Belle, but the fancier looking ones like Jim Shore, Enesco, Precious Moments...not swap type stuff! Though I find some cute cheap ones from time to time. But I hate when the faces are weird, lol.

I collect anything that's fairy tale-ish!

I also like cute mermaid things, lol.
Do You Drink Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate?:

Coffee!! Sometimes hot chocolate. Not really a tea girl!
Do You Have an E-reader?:

I have a nook! I read more indie titles and cheap on-sale titles, though, and tend to pick up new releases in hardcover unless there was a previous e-book sale and I have them all that way. I like my books to match. All hardcover, paperback, or ebook, it doesn't matter, so long as they MATCH. ^^;;
Would you be okay being gifted an ebook? If so, please provide the email associated with your e-reader:

Yes. abackwardsstory@gmail.com

I do have a list of some books I'm waiting to see fall in price on my nook. I'll try to add some indie titles I've been eying as well! 

Nooks are nice because if there is a Barnes and Noble near you, you can go to the store and tell them what book you want at the register and get a redemption code! You can even email it to yourself, then send the code separately so the person doesn't know it's coming!
List some of your favorite genres or authors:

FANTASY!!! I LOVE fantasy. If a book is blurbed for fans of Tamora Pierce or Kristin Cashore, I am 100% in. I've discovered authors I love such as Rae Carson and Sherry Thomas this way. High fantasy is definitely my favorite.

I also love books with elemental magic, as well as fairy tales/mythology/other retellings.

Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, Robin LaFevers, Rick Riordan, Juliet Marillier, and Shannon Hale are also among my favorites.

My favorite novels are MY SISTER'S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult, KEEPING FAITH by Jodi Picoult, ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine, THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, and GRACELING by Kristin Cashore. Some series I love include Narnia, Philip Pullman's Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Tamora Pierce's quartets featuring Alanna, Daine, and Kel.
Are there any authors or genres that you won’t read?

I won't read authors who started off writing fanfiction, even if they're popular, such as Cassandra Clare and E.L. James. 

I'm not a huge paranormal fan and tend to not read books with vampires/werewolves/ghosts/etc. The only exception is mermaids. I loooove mermaids! 

I'm not really into horror, either. If a series is older and incomplete, I probably won't read it or buy it until all the books are out. This is mostly for adult fantasy, for series such as A Song of Ice and Fire, The Name of the Wind, Green Rider, Locke Lamora, etc. Because I can't wait 100 million years and then re-read a bunch of long books to remember them every time a new release finally happens.
T-shirt size:

Ummmm, it depends on fit. Usually a L or XL, unless it runs small. I have a larger-than-average bust and need extra fabric. For example, Hot Topic runs small, so I have to buy 2x, their largest size. It's a little snug in the shoulder bust at times, but mostly fits. If I were to go to Hot Topic's plus size store, Torrid, I would get a 0-1 and it would fit nicely, but they don't have a lot of the fun Disney shirts, lol. Places like Kohls and Macy's tend to be L or XL. I also tend to wear a lot of scoop necks because it makes my cleavage seem a little smaller, but I'm not crafty enough to turn a shirt into a scoop neck like the Pinterest people do, and I'm never sure of size, so I'm always afraid to buy online!

Apparently I'm also a 2x at Disney Store now for their tees. I could keep the XL Beauty and the Beast cotton long sleeve, but their tees run a size small. I just bought these for my birthday! Well, I returned Mickey and Minnie for a STUNNING sequined Ariel. But yeah!!

(I totally bought too many since I can't wear them at work, but it was such a good sale, and they were SO cute, and I have very little "ordinary vacation day" clothing, lol!)
Hogwarts House: Um, I don't know? We're doing a team challenge at work with four groups and they have me in Hufflepuff? The last time we did a HP challenge, I was also in Hufflepuff, lol!
Favorite Disney movie and/or princess: My favorite Disney movies are Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan. My favorite princesses are Belle and Ariel!
Any magazine that you wish you had a subscription to?

Not really a big magazine reader!
Anything else we should know about you? (*Be thorough here! There is no such thing as “saying too much,” the more your “secret sister” knows, the easier it is to spoil you!)

Wow, I feel like you probably already know my life story! This list was incredibly thorough. I can add more here as I think of stuff, or questions can be asked to Kelly! I like stuff I don't even know I like, lol. 

Um....I like peacocks and foxes and dolphins and butterflies. I like things with an Asian flare because I lived in Japan for two years. Er...a lot of my interests are on Pinterest? *hides*

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Book of Heroes" by Miyuki Miyabe

Every now and then, it's good to break away from the mold and try something different. I don't often read adult sci-fi/fantasy, but walking through the aisle one day, Miyuki Miyabe's The Book of Heroes caught my eye. The novel's concept intrigued me. Plus, it had something else going for it from the get-go: I always enjoy a good hero story.

Eleven-year-old Yuriko Morisaki is an ordinary fifth-grade student until her older brother Hiroki does the unthinkable. After a bad altercation at school results in his disappearance, Yuriko embarks on a journey to save him. The most interesting thing that drew me into the story was this: the "hero" is not as good and virtuous as our society allows us to believe. Only one part is. No matter how magnificent the hero, there is always a darker side that we overlook. The hero has two sides to him, and the darker side of the coin is often referred to in the novel as the King in Yellow. It's hard to explain the concept, but for example, think about Hercules. He performed a lot of heroic deeds, but also did some pretty vile stuff that would seem more like what a villain might do. This dual look at heroism was interesting to me, especially since it's something I've been studying in order to flesh out my own characters. I love the concept that there's more to a hero than what meets the eye. Things aren't always black and white.

The part of the hero that is the King in Yellow likes to wreak havoc on our world as much as the hero likes to save it. He needs vessels to break out of The Book of Heroes, where he has been imprisoned in the Nameless Land where all stories are born. Yuriko's brother Hiroki finds The Book of Elem and uses it to unknowingly become the last vessel and release the King in Yellow from imprisonment. Taking on the role of Allcaste, Yuriko finds herself faced with an impossible quest to save not only her brother, but the entire world.

The Book of Heroes was really unique and refreshing. I'd never read a book quite like it before and after turning the last page, I wondered if Miyabe would write another book in her world. I also went back and re-read the poem at the novel's beginning in addition to perusing the prologue once more, which gave me an even fuller understanding of the story. I also took a more in-depth look at the cover and understood why the artist created the image they did (much as I did after finishing Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me earlier this year). It made sense in a way it wouldn't have before I started reading the book.

It was also interesting to read a Japanese novel after having lived in Japan. I could visualize Yuriko's world much better than I would have had I never been there, though I don't feel the lack of knowledge would detract a reader from the story. It just made things like school life, teacher/police/parent/student/etc. responses, etc. make more sense. There were a couple of "monster" fights that were uniquely Japanese. If I hadn't seen the Hayao Miyazaki movie Spirited Away, it would have been harder to imagine black-tentacle monsters with dangling faces because I've never been one for Japanese horror/monster stuff. However, by envisioning No-Face or No-Name or whatever the character's name was, it gave me an idea of what the author was referring to. It was really interesting to see what constituted a "traditional" Japanese novel. Before Miyabe, the only other Japanese author I'd ever read was Haruki Murakami, and that was before I'd been to Japan. Back then, I just remember thinking that the Japanese have a very different outlook on life from us Westerners, and after having lived there, it definitely reaffirms that thought (albeit in a good way).

If you're looking for something interesting and are open to something a little different from what you're used to, The Book of Heroes might be a good choice for you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"The Looking Glass Wars" by Frank Beddor

I wasn’t going to post a review for The Looking Glass Wars until I’d read all three books in Frank Beddor’s trilogy (and possibly even the two available books in his Hatter M. prequel trilogy), but I’ve changed my mind since it might be a while until I get that far and I’m already starting to forget the novel’s quirks, so here it is. :)

Wanting to be “Alice-Compliant” in time for the new Tim Burton movie, I started Book One of The Looking Glass Wars after re-reading the original work (and sequel) by Lewis Carroll (which I won’t blog about because it’s been reviewed to death). I was glad to have read this before seeing the movie because a lot of people complained that the movie was much darker than the original book. This is true, but since The Looking Glass Wars is a very dark tale and was fresh in my mind, I embraced the movie and wasn’t bothered by this factor.

I would place The Looking Glass Wars in a genre I like to call “Fractured Fairytales” (which I talked about recently in my review of Heart’s Blood). Sure, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland isn’t a “fairytale.” Neither is The Wizard of Oz, but I put Gregory Maguire’s Wicked into this category as well. I generalize, so let’s move on. :)

The story opens with young Alyss Heart, Princess of Wonderland. It’s Alyss’ birthday and Aunt Redd is planning the ultimate surprise for her young niece: A bloody coup to seize the throne and gain control of Wonderland. Her mother, Queen Genevieve’s, dying wish is for her Millinery (Wonderland Military) bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, to escape and protect Alyss. Alyss and Hatter manage to escape to “our world” through The Pool of Tears, which was a really imaginative way of joining the story to reality. Upon reaching Victorian England, however, Alyss and Hatter are separated, destined to remain apart for the next thirteen years (a time which is, supposedly, chronicled in the Hatter M. prequel graphic novel series). Alyss winds up telling her tragic tale to Charles Dodgson (pseudonym Lewis Carroll), and he gets it all wrong, resulting in the less violent version of Wonderland we all know and love today. Anyway, to make a long story short without giving the best bits away, Alyss returns to her world and must join a resistance coalition in order to overthrow her aunt, restore Wonderland, and retake her throne.

Something I really liked about the novel was the fact that Beddor still kept the spirit of Wonderland despite changing so much about it. He has a very descriptive way of writing that lets the characters form in my mind. I really like the way he took things from the original work and turned them into things from his own reality while still maintaining the illusion of the reality being Wonderland.

Two early examples I loved that described the playing cards and the soldiers occurred on pages 26 and 27. He used phrases such as “Speckled across the tranquil landscape, looking harmless, and partly camouflaged by the day’s lengthening shadows, were Redd’s undealt card soldiers, lying flat one on top of another, each deck fifty-two soldiers thick, awaiting orders. ‘Redd’s decks are stacked.’...an unseen deck hidden in nearby underbrush fanned out and surrounded the king and his men...”

There was also a great line with Queen Redd that had me laughing despite the severity of the context:
“‘If there be any doubters among you, any who are unsure of their willingness to die for my cause, let them step forward now. They will be excused from this day’s battle until they are ready to fight, and they can enjoy a nice cup of tea.’”
I love this nuance of her character, because people in the book really do believe the delightful promises she makes them and never realize the sever truth hidden in her marks alluding at what is to come should she not be obeyed.

And can I just say I love The Cat? As Queen Redd’s prized assassin, he’s a far cry from the Cheshire Cat and not at all what I was expecting, but he’s an amazing character. I loved his development. He also found unique uses for the Jabberwocky that intrigued me. Ultimately, I felt that Beddor did a good job looking at characters and enhancing them. I also loved the way he incorporated artwork into the pages of the book. I read an interview (Part 1 and Part 2) where he hired an artist to create his characters for him so he could refer back to the images and flesh out his writing more. As a fellow writer, I really appreciate that and I love the fact that he chose to share such visuals with us. Considering the fact that Beddor was a movie producer before he was a writer (his most famous work was There's Something About Mary), I look forward to the movie(s) he has mentioned doing for his trilogy. If they're as vivid as his novels, then hopefully they'll do well and bring more readers to his so-far excellent work.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians" by Rick Riordan ( + movie review)

This week, a lot of my friends have asked me what I thought of the movie Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief because they know how much I adore the books. I hope not to inundate everyone with movie reviews on my *book review* blog, but Percy Jackson is special. I’ve championed the series ever since picking it up in the winter of 2008. I remember first hearing about the series in October (I think it was October; it was whatever month Cornelia Funke’s Inkdeath came out) while standing in line waiting for Funke’s autograph after attending her lecture. I was discussing books with someone standing near me and they mentioned The Lightning Thief. It sounded interesting, but I soon forgot about it. Later that month, I started working seasonally at my local Barnes and Noble and kept seeing the book on display on an endcap near the break room. The book came back to haunt me again one day at the library, so I decided to check it out. I wound up tearing through it and buying all three paperbacks, then running around looking for the fourth book, which was still in hardback. The funny thing is that I waited until April when book four came out in paperback to decide that I wanted to own all of the books in hardback. >.<

Working in the Children's Department, I've handsold the series to a lot of people and watched as it went from something semi-obscure to a huge success. Because I loved the series so much, I was asked to lead and prepare a special bi-weekly discussion group for our summer reading program as well as a special one-night event last month the night before the movie came out.

For those who still haven't read/discovered Percy Jackson, I'll give a brief synopsis here, though warn you that there are some spoilers in the movie discussion below. For those of you just wanting my opinion on the movie, you can skip this next paragraph. ^.~

In brief, the series is an action/adventure journey that places mythological characters, places, and monsters in today's world. As the focus of culture shifted from Greece to the Western Hemisphere, the Greek Gods moved too. For example, today, Mt. Olympus is on top of the Empire State Building, Cyclops can be found by journeying through the mysterious Bermuda Triangle, etc. The gods are still having relationships with mortal beings much as they did in the past, siring offspring that come to be known as "demigods." Percy Jackson is one of these half-human, half-god hybrid children, finding himself in mortal danger because the Greek monsters can "smell" demigods and think they're mighty tasty morsels for them to enjoy. Percy manages to escape to Camp Half-Blood, a place with others like himself. There, he finds out that his father was a Greek Olympian and is framed for stealing the master lightning bolt belonging to Zeus. He goes on a quest with a satyr named Grover and a demigod named Annabeth (daughter of Athena), hoping to find the true lightning thief before a war breaks out on Mt. Olympus. I won't get into the overarching story that connects all five books since it's involved and spoilery, but it's definitely worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of mythology.

Okay, now what you've all been waiting for: What were my thoughts on the movie? Ultimately, this movie has been a wonderful thing for the book series and its author, Rick Riordan. It has become so much more popular and so many more kids have discovered a love of reading thanks to these books. For that alone, Riordan is amazing. Between PJ and the other series he created, The 39 Clues (he only wrote the first one, but fully outlined all ten in the series), he has the Second and Third bestselling series for children in the department (behind only Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, also about to be a movie), which is sort of amazing. I even have my eighth-grade neighbor with Asperger's who hates reading in love with this series, and that's a feat in and of itself.

As for the movie itself, I thought it was good. Yes, there are parts that disappointed or annoyed me, but overall, the movie was pretty decent. Much better than some of the trainwrecks that were once good books. I won't even see the movie of my favorite novel, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, because they changed something fundamental that makes the book *matter.* My favorite children's book (and #5 on my All-Time Top Five list), Ella Enchanted, is another one that's very hard to watch because it's so different from its source material. The Lightning Thief as a movie, on the other hand, still holds the essence of the book it came from. You don't walk away feeling fundamentally different things about the story itself.

Yes, the secret surrounding the identity of Percy's father takes up a lot of the book and doesn't exist in the movie, but I can sort of understand why they did that. After all, you have two hours to make a movie. If we want to see more of later parts of the story, this part has to go, sad as it is to say. Yes, Clarisse and Ares and Thalia aren't mentioned in the movie and Luke's character hasn't been explored thoroughly or properly. We have to remember that when the movie was being filmed, the book series was still semi-obscure. It didn't explode in popularity until last summer. If the movie tanked, there would be no sequel, so for this movie, there could be no loose ends. Look at the way Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy was handled. Only The Golden Compass ever saw the light of day. With the second Percy Jackson movie (based on The Sea of Monsters) now scheduled for release, I can see them working in more backstory. Plus, maybe the next movie will be a little longer a la Harry Potter or something. If they don't, the rest of the movies will be too different from the books and I may not be as lenient as I am now, lol.

A lot of people were annoyed by the fact that Luke gave Percy and Co. a map that lead to three pearls they needed on the way to their encounter with Hades. In the book, a sea nymph gave them the pearls and there was no map. Each of the places the group wound up was just a rest stop, etc. (and there were more than three in the book). To tell you the truth, it had been a while since I had re-read the book and I ddin't remember the pearls or how they wound up at each stop. It sound wrong, but plausible, so I tried to recall and went in and re-read the book again, so it didn't really bother me. Plus, again, the movie was two hours long. You need a reason to go from Point A to Point B to Point C. The spirit of the books was there and they DID make pit stops.

Personally, what annoyed me the most about the movie was the age of the actors. When I first saw the trailer, I went, "Wow, Percy looks older than he should." I found a really informative article (that I luckily bookmarked at the time!) talking about why Chris Columbus chose to use older kids based on his experience with younger actors in the Harry Potter titles he directed. I wish he hadn't done this because age is really important in the series and all of the actors are already older than they are in the final book (around sixteen), and they're only going to age further as the movies continue.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I had fun. They did a good job with it. Granted, they could have done an even better job with it and made the movie fabulous, but with the two hours they had to work with, I was relatively satisfied with the movie. Coming from me, that's a lot; a lot of people often say I'm too harsh. If you haven't read the books, I still encourage you to do so because they're pretty amazing, but also check out the movie. It's visually spectacular and does the spirit of the book justice.

"Heart's Blood" by Juliet Marillier

I recently finished one of the most captivating novels I’ve read in a long time. Have you ever had that experience where, upon picking up a novel, you find yourself reading it during every spare moment? Before work, on your lunch break, afterwards; on and on until you’ve turned the last page and your eyes are weeping while your head is throbbing, but the story was just so entrancing you just didn’t care? It’s a feeling that doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s magic. For me, the enchantment came in the form of Juliet Mariller’s latest novel, Heart’s Blood, which, interestingly enough, is at its core the essence of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.

Readers, I loved this book so much, I married it. No, no, just kidding. But in all seriousness, the book is now my favorite interpretation of B&B, which is saying a lot. I grew up enraptured with Robin McKinley’s Beauty. In fact, McKinley helped launch me on the path leading to the fairytale genre or, as I like to call such works, “fractured fairytales.” McKinley is somewhat of a B&B expert, having written not one, but two interpretations of the classic tale. In addition to those, her latest novel, Chalice, has traces of the B&B story in it (and, imo, it’s a fabulous book that I’m hoping to re-read again soonish). I’ve never had something I’ve held close to my heart for a long time usurped so completely by a new, shinier toy. My favorites list usually remains pretty stagnant. I mean, in my Top Five for both books and movies, nothing new has hit the list for either since 2006 (and it’s weird to have a new item on both lists in one year, but that’s another story). Everything else has been cherished above all else for quite a long time, some of it even dating back to junior high. I’m not trying to imply that Heart’s Blood made it to my Top Five list because it didn’t (neither did McKinley, though another fractured fairytale author, Gail Carson Levine, has the honor of having written the only children’s book to make it onto my Top Five list for Ella Enchanted, which was the aforementioned jhs favorite that never let go), but it did leapfrog over McKinley and is one of my favorite books in the “fractured fairytale” genre right now.

I’m still reeling from this read. I didn’t pick up another book for about a week after reading this one because Marillier’s characters were still so vivid in my mind’s eye and it took me even longer to be able to articulate a semi-coherent review (though I’m still gushing, aren’t I?). Believe it or not, this was my first time reading one of Marillier’s novels. I first heard about both her and Shannon Hale last year on a forum discussing fairytale authors worth reading. I bought a couple of books written by each author, but started Hale’s catalogue of titles first (which was good at the time because I got to meet her twice last year thanks to the National Book Festival in DC and a local stop on her tour). I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to start reading her novels! What have I been waiting for? Now my only qualm is the fact that I probably won’t have time to read another one before April or May due to obligations, new eagerly-awaited releases coming this month, and ARCs I’d actually like to read ahead of time for once. I mean, this week alone I’m supposed to finish the rest of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars before the new Alice in Wonderland movie comes out, not to mention starting The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron for the Barnes & Noble Forums First Look Club because I’m already behind. I even have to put off reading my favorite author, Jodi Picoult’s, latest book that hit stands today (House Rules), but that’s neither here nor there, so those books will come in other posts.

Anyway, enough blather about nothing. What you really want to know is what made this book so good that it turned me into a drooling idiot, right?

As much as I love the world of fairytales, I appreciate it even more when an author does something new and innovative within the story’s framework. It’s one reason I prefer using the term “fratured” and love such versions of a tale above more straight-forward retellings of a classic story. What I like about Heart’s Blood is that while the story’s core is B&B, it’s also so much more. The main character, Caitrin (a name I love, btw), is running away from a dark secret after the death of her beloved father and finds herself seeking sanctuary at Whistling Tor, the estate of Irish chieftain Anluan. She is able to work as a scribe and is there voluntarily, not a prisoner or part of a deal. Even Anluan, our “beast” character, is significantly different from the traditional portrayal of a monstrous, spoiled brat. He wasn’t transformed by a magical spell/curse. Instead, he victim to a childhood illness that caused his face to be sort of lopsided and the right side of his body to malfunction. The problems Caitrin and Anluan face are unique as well as Marillier intertwines Irish history and the coming of the Normans into the story. Even the “curse” is something realistic that doesn’t seem too far removed from reality. In fact, it has nothing to do with bringing the “beauty” and the “beast” together, but is part of a different, larger plot that encompasses the bulk of the story in a refreshing way.

I really love what Juliet Marillier did with Heart’s Blood and hope you will as well. It was one of the most thrilling books I’ve read in the past year and truly kept me engaged as a reader.

[EDIT: On a design note, I loved the way the “t” looked in the cover title, though the font itself was a little too rough around the edges for me. I much prefered the font used at the beginning of each chapter (and the “t” was, again, especially unique). I’d really love to find out more about the chapter font.]