Monthly Archives: August 2013

How Time Passes Between Blog Posts

Ahem.

My cursor bobs up and down and I stare at it, trying to think of something intelligent to say. I always have something to say. Surely I can find something to write about!

Passions. I will write about my passions.

I begin to type in the title. Why I Love Korean Dramas.

Pause.

No, no, no. Backspace, backspace, backspace.

Why I Love Korean Dram

Why I Love Korean Dra

Why I Love Korean Dr

Why I Love Korean D

Why I Love Korean Pop Culture.

Better, much more professional sounding. Now, to somehow enlighten my readers and somehow convey deep intelligence on the subject without coming across crazy.

No, no, no, no. I’m going to come across sounding crazy. Better not write about Korean pop culture yet. Better not write about pop culture at all unless it is something profound.

Why I Love Korean…

Why I Love…

Why I…

Why…

The cursor bops up and down again. I’m back to square one.

Well, I like reading! How about covering one of my favorite authors?

Blog title: Georgette Heyer

So far so good. Now to write something deep.

I first started reading…

No, no, no. Much too boring. How about….

Georgette Heyer is my guilty reading pleasure.

Oh gosh. I’m going to have to admit I like reading her novels and they are romances! Clean romances, though. Nope, can’t do it. So judging myself right now.

Why am I judging myself? I could write a blog post examining my motivation for feeling sheepish about admitting my love of Korean dramas and Georgette Heyer’s romances!

Wow, that would be boring. And I don’t particularly feel like being that deep today. And who really cares?

Better not. How about hobbies? What do I do?

Politics. Yes, I could write an inspired blog post on the current political situation.

….

Thirty seconds of browsing later and I understand the general political apathy besetting our country.

Better not write about the political situation.

I could write about Generation Joshua, Goodreads, or my excitement at studying at Oxford University!

However, by now I’m so tired of trying to think of something deep to say that I’m done with the whole thing and have decided to go watch a drama. I’ll write something tomorrow. Probably.

And that is how the entire month of July went by without a single blog post.

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Literary Fernweh

Literary – having to do with books

Fernweh – a longing for distant places

The feeling hits me at least once a year, usually around February. One minute I will be happily going about my daily life, minding my own business, and the next thing I know nothing is right with the world. I have a burning, deep, desperate desire….to go to Narnia. I don’t mean I suddenly want to re-read the Narnia books or that I have the urge to put myself through Fox’s rendition of Voyage of the Dawn Treader again. I mean I seriously, physically want to be in Narnia. I want to touch the cold metal of the lamp-post and see the breathtaking view of Cair Paravel as the sun rises in the East. I want to eat apples as I walk among the ruins of old buildings and I want to converse with chivalrous, talking mice. I want to see the Stone Table and sail on the Dawn Treader.  I want to follow the footsteps of King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy…or better yet, join them for dinner at the Beaver’s dam. I want to go to Narnia.

Now, obviously I have never been to Narnia. No one but perhaps Mr. Lewis ever has. Yet I still feel the burning desire to go. That is the mystery and the beauty and the oddity of fernweh.  I can long for a place I have never been. I can yearn to roam the moors in Scotland or walk among the crowds of India having never visited either place. I can wish for the road. However, the essence and emotion of fernweh is not limited to actual, physical places. It is a desire deep inside for someplace. That someplace may manifest in an actual location, but more often fernweh is for a place never seen or known. One of the most powerful yet overlooked aspects of fernweh is the feeling a reader has for places in books. I’m calling it literary fernweh.

Narnia, Hogwarts, Pemberley. There is something about each word that evokes longing in a bookworm’s heart. I want to go to….

The Shire.

I dream of….

221b Baker Street

If only I could be at….

You fill it in.

Books bind us together. They become common ground and unite new friends like old acquaintances. A good story isn’t contained between the covers of a book. It becomes part of the essence and dreams of the reader. And so as readers, we long for those places. With a burning desire for far off places we dream of worlds that will only exist in the imagination. It is those kind of worlds that can be the most powerful. They are what draws us to fairy tales. What leads us to reread favorite stories. They push us to dream and imagine and never let go of that childlike faith that there is meaning in life. Such worlds teach us to believe in wonder. We were not created to be robots. We were designed to respond. We taste that response when we long for worlds that have never been and never physically will be and yet are so real. We visit the childhood homes of favored authors and flock to the movies even though it won’t be as good as the book because  they are tangible parts of that world. And so we form nerdoms and become fangirls and spend hours learning Sarati, Tengwar, and Cirth (the Elvish languages of Tolkien).

And in our hearts we promise, like Peter Pan, to never, ever grow up.

Why is it that “growing up” seems to mean putting such longing behind us? Why is it childish to dream of Narnia? What makes bills more noble than Sherwood Forest? Reality so much greater than Rivendale? Why must maturity mean the disappearance of talking dolls and Winnie the Pooh? It is acceptable to love Jane Austen if you are a middle age woman hunting for Mr. Darcy. It is perhaps appropriate to read a great deal if you work in a library. Otherwise, the world of fairy tales and fantasy must give way to “real life”. We’re to seek the American dream, #MoneySuccessGoodLife. Or, perhaps, take the British outlook and pessimistically declare that you’ve got to make the best of a bad situation and shuffle through it. It being life of course.

Yet somewhere, amidst networking and polished resumes and shaking our heads over how bad the government is getting, there is a tiny voice that says… ‘Forget this bother, I’m going to Narnia!’

That is a small part of literary fernweh.

We recognize there has to be something more.


For Kermit, From Amelia

So I was all like…..

And Hope was all like….

Then I was like….

So Hope was like….

So I go….

Then Hope says…

So I respond…

So she says….

And I’m like…

And Hope says…

So I say…

Hope says…

So of course I have to reply with…

And she’s all like…

And I say…

And she goes…

AND SO FINALLY I GO…

AND SHE GOES….

AND THAT IS WHY WE ARE BEST FRIENDS!!!!

HAPPY 20th BIRTHDAY HOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

We’ve made it from…..

to


The Blue Sword

There are some books you absolutely love as a child and later try re-reading because you remember how much you loved them. Except, something changes. You begin to notice things like plot flaws and grammar problems. A plotline that seemed totally original and creative to a 9….10…12 year old is utterly familiar and even a tad boring for 17…18…24 year old. And you kind of wonder, what happened?

In 2011 I wrote a glowing review of one of my favorite books, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. I’m going to include the review below. It tells a lot about me, or at least who I was. I was very proud of that review. Except only a year later I came home from college and re-read The Blue Sword and realized…it was nowhere near as good as I remembered it. In fact, it contained a lot of magic and plot elements that I disliked and even criticized in other fantasy stories. Yet somehow, I had totally missed them in this book. Missed? How do you miss obvious things like that? I am not really sure. I read it, of course, many times and certainly was aware of a certain lacking in the plot but it didn’t matter. I was caught up in my favorite parts of the story. I wasn’t going to nit-pick. Maybe it is because of that this book holds a special place in my heart, flaws and all. It was a consistent friend through the hazardous days of high school (…and high school is very hazardous, be you home-teached or public schooled.)

So here is the review I initially wrote, and here are my thoughts now….a little older and (theoretically) a little (teensy-weensy) bit wiser.

2.2.2011

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here – was it only three months ago? – with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day…

How do I explain the feeling I get when I read those words, the beginning sentences of this book? It is like a shiver goes down my back. Like I just bit into one of those oranges…and it is sweeter and juicier then I expected. Suddenly I feel like I am everywhere and nowhere. A part of me is already with Harry in Istan, drinking orange juice and attempting to be pleased, but another part of me is back to where I’ve stood so many times, behind the last bookshelf at the library, consuming the magical words I’ve dawdled in and played with time and time again. Because that has become as much a part of the memory, too…catching a few words of a favorite book in my favorite way to escape the stresses of school and life…
The Blue Sword is probably my favorite book by Robin McKinley. It holds its own in that precious list of books I can’t even put words to, books I’ll read and re-read and probably re-read again. Maybe someday I’ll try and make it a shelf, but I’ve tried before, and failed. 

The plot of The Blue Sword…
Harry Crewe’s Father dies and sent to live with her soldier brother in the wild, untamed Istan, almost a combination of the unsettled United States colonies during the early 1700’s and colonial India in the early 1900’s. I could be wrong there, but that is the imaging I’ve always gotten. She tries to please Sir Charles and Lady Amelia, the kind couple who took her in, but settling down to the relaxed, lazy life of Istan drives her crazy. She loves the desert though…the mysterious wasteland hovering tantalizingly just outside the settlement. No Homelander lives there; it is the land of the mysterious old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk. Rumor has it they possess strange powers, and many a man would give his life for the opportunity to ride once upon their beautiful, powerful horses. 
When Corlath, the King of the Hilkfold, comes to Istan with a warning and the offer of an alliance, he only half thinks they’ll believe him. It was a desperate move, but these were desperate times. The tall, blond haired young woman he saw as he stormed out should have been only another face…but unfortunately, it is one that won’t go away. His Gift, the trait passed through the Royal bloodline, won’t let him forget it. In fact, it will drive him to do the unthinkable…
Kidnap the Homelander Girl.

When I first picked up this book…I did so because I felt somehow like I had read it before. I have never been able to figure out why. But oh! I am so glad I did. At the risk of repeating myself, this is the book that, frustrated with the junk our library called teen books, I’d rush over and pick up off the shelf. And I’d re-read those first few sentences, and maybe if my day had gone particularly bad, I’d allow myself to sink into a nearby chair and just keep reading. The first sentence.
Then a paragraph. 
Then a page…
You know how some little kids have blankies? Well, I have books.
And this was one of them. 
But enough about that, what makes this book good? 
Well, Harry Crewe for one. She’s an amazing character. She grows, changes…finds purpose. She has emotions, but they’re not irritating. You don’t feel like beheading the heroine after she spends pages whining about her everything and everyone in her life. But she isn’t annoyingly perfect. She’s human, yet strong and believable . Most of all, what I think makes readers appreciate her…and what makes girls of all ages feel like they can relate to her…is simply because of who she is. Especially when we first find her, longing for something. Hunting for purpose. What teenage girl would argue they’ve never felt that way? Felt like running off into the wild unknown, daydreaming about handsome kings and horses and destiny. I sure have. And Harry…well, she kind of does too. But most of all, we look at her and see a somewhat forgotten girl. Someone who lives each day kind of bored, strong and beautiful, yet surprisingly unaware of it…and unaware of the gift she holds (oooh…yeah, I’m not giving anything away 😉 ) And then one day…BAM! She learns who she is and there is adventure and romance and, frankly, awesomeness. 
And if you like horses? There are some wicked-awesome horses in this book.
But there is also a bit of everything. It’s a fantastic plot. It weaves fantasy at some of its best, with actual struggles and memorable, good characters and interesting elements. Of adventure and romance and a hint of mystery and suspense. 
I know what you’re thinking now…after all this rambling, why did I give it four stars?
That is a bit trickier to answer, but in all fairness it must be done.
1. The writing. Oh it is good! Very good, but not amazing. It needs just a little more maturing to be worth five stars.
2. I have a confession…I didn’t adore (positively, head-over-heels) adore the Corlath. I know! Shocking. Horrifying. But I didn’t. I liked him a great deal…but he wasn’t a five star guy.
3. Well…I guess simply, I love the book, but it isn’t a five star story. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer was five stars. Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris is five stars. This is four stars.

If you love adventure, romance, or even ever felt like running away and finding a purpose…this book is for you. It is passionate and adventure filled and truly one of those forgotten books that proves how stupid modern teen writing is. Compare it to a “modern” fantasy novel, Graceling or Mistwood … The Blue Sword just blows them out of the water. There is no comparison. 
So, if you have made it to the end of this tiresomely long review of how much I love this book…congratulations. 
Really, if you are a teenage girl (like at all!) who has ever struggled with feeling forgotten, longed for a purpose, or simply just wanted to chuck life and head for the hills…you’ll love this book. 
I know I do.
To complete in the line I began with…
But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it – to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity… 

On a very far-off side note, while I recommend this book, I do not recommend its sequel… The Hero and The Sword. Many of the reviewers on here mention how much they love it. Splendid. I found it had all the things that made this book lose a star…and three more. 

8.8.2013

“[Harry] had always suffered from a vague restlessness, a longing for adventure that she told herself severely was the result of reading too many novels when she was a small child.” 

How can you not smile reading that line? That’s genius.

In order to give an accurate analysis of this book, I decided to read some of the reviews on Goodreads. And…I see a pattern. I wasn’t the only 16-year-old girl to find reassurance in the strange, fantasy world of Istan. People relate.  It may not be the most stunning writing and Harry may not be the most challenged of heroines, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for a quiet bookworm in the back corner of a library, sometimes what you need isn’t a heroine that takes out an armada after defeating all her demons. Sometimes you just need a heroine who finds herself plunged into a fantasy world where she feels like she belongs and because of that is able to – for no explainable reason – harness a magic strong enough to take out an army.

Skimming through some of the one and two star reviews, it really struck me that though this book may stand or fall from a purely analytical nature, that isn’t what is important. It really doesn’t matter if it is predictable. It doesn’t matter if the heroine is like “all other heroines” with her ability to learn how to fight within weeks when she has no previous training or that she has a cool horse or an amazing sword and “all fantasy heroines must have that”. That’s part of the appeal. Because this doesn’t have to be a teaching manual for original, creative stories. This doesn’t have to be a book that entertains adults. This doesn’t have to have flowing, beautiful prose. There are plenty of books out there that are “original” and “well written” and totally stink. There are hundreds of books that may fit every criteria for excellence and yet have never encouraged a single reader.

The Blue Sword may actually be the first book I would unhesitatingly characterize as “Young Adult.” The themes are a little too complicated for Grade school and Middle school. The plot is a little too predictable for adult readers. But for those magical, tumultuous, confusing, and hassling years of high school…this is a book in its element. One of the one star reviewers complained that the heroine “marries her abductor” and how that was undermining strong womanhood, etc. etc. Well, guess what? That’s romantic in this story. It’s not morbid. It’s fun. It’s the idea of adventure and romance and finding yourself in a situation so unlike your own you shine. That’s what the young bookworm in the corner dreams of. You can’t try and be “rational”. Allow her to dream.

The Blue Sword may not be a book I continue to re-read and re-read for some remarkable plot line or terrific characterizations or great life lesson. It is the sort of book I will have on my shelves someday, however. It is the sort of book I will put in the hands of my daughters someday when they become teenagers. It is the sort of book I recommend, not for its greatness, but for its simple spirit. Ultimately it is the fulfillment Neil Gaiman’s misquote G.K. Chesterton:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

 


A Murder For Her Majesty

Why did I pick up A Murder For Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner originally? I can’t remember. It wasn’t because of Battle of the Books – I was the who recommended it. It wasn’t because it was a Sonlight reader, the book was a favorite of mine long before it was a school read aloud for my family. It wasn’t read as a backlash for all the inappropriate and horrible books I was finding in the Young Adult section either. I read it even before that.

It was probably the title that drew me in, or the promise of a historical mystery. It could have been the binding, or the smell, or any number of things. Possibly it was simply those first few words. Why was a young girl wandering around lost and hungry? Would she find the cathedral? Who was the scamp that knocked her over? And so on and so on as the story drew me. I realize now what talented writing that is, to immediately draw the reader in and tug on their sympathy for a character. That is the sign of a good writer. It is the sign of a good book.

Plot

11-year-old Alice Tuckfield witnessed her Father’s murder. It was done in the name of the queen. Fearful for her life and expecting no justice, she flees to Yorkshire in the hopes of finding a protector but her Father’s old friend is gone. Instead, she meets up with a group of mischievous choirboys who decide to disguise her as a boy and sneak her into the choir. With a beautiful voice and good nature, young “Allister” quickly becomes a favorite but it also makes her a target. Her Father’s murderers are also in Yorkshire and their mission is to find and silence the daughter that got away.

Literary Love

Ooooh, I love this book. I have often heard people say they envy someone reading a particularly favorite book ‘for the first time’ but I definitely don’t feel that way with A Murder For Her Majesty. I loved it for the characters and story when I was younger. I love it more now because, like an old friend, it has been around for awhile and my appreciation expands with every interaction. It is when you have a healthy appreciation for what bad is that you can fully appreciate good.

And A Murder For Her Majesty is good.

If there is one thing I gained in perspective beginning this review, it is an even healthier respect for the writing. It blends. It beats. It draws the reader in, tugs their heart. We sense Alice’s fears but aren’t drowned in them. All the characters have fairly well rounded personalities and quirks that make them memorable and likable…..or despicable if it is a villain. There is a good contrast between the Bad Guys and the Good Guys.

It is hard to find a good role model for girls in books today. I am not saying it’s impossible. But it is hard. Especially once you get to the Young Adult section of a library. In fact, at that point it is almost impossible. For mothers trying to find wholesome heroines for their middle school daughters, you can’t really go wrong with Alice Tuckfield. She’s believable, mischievous, and experiences character growth. She doesn’t disguise herself as a boy to prove to the world that guys and girls are equal or anything. She’s just an 11-year-old girl and her natural, comfortable relationship with the choir boys is a great buddy story. No love triangles, inappropriate language, or scenes to put a young reader to the blush. However, it is also not a childish mystery. Alice really is in danger.The setting is historical. This isn’t Nancy Drew and the Missing Tennis Shoes. However, it is a far cry from the usual “teenage” fare. What I mean is this, for young readers who want more than the Juvenile Fiction but aren’t ready to brave the Teen Section quite yet, this is a good read.

The characters are, appealing, fun, and creative. They are well developed. They immediately become a young reader’s best friends. I say that because I about to introduce to you possibly one of my favorite literary characters of all time: Geoffrey Fisher.

He’s the one who comes up with the idea originally to sneak Alice into the choir. He’s hilarious, mischievous, and loyal to the core. He’s very colorful. I got in trouble in school one time because every time I had to write a character bio for class I’d write it on him. Finally after I turned in my third character sketch of Geoffrey Fisher my Mom decided enough was enough and I was banned from using him again!

I just discovered this blog post on him and you should read it. It’s amazing. http://www.notebooksisters.com/2013/06/a-murder-for-her-majesty-why-geoffrey.html It also sums up something really true. It’s hard to precisely pinpoint what makes Geoffrey so awesome. I mean, he’s funny and loyal but it isn’t back-story that makes him brilliant. It isn’t some super-power or extreme act. He’s a side character. A side character in one novel. It’s not like you follow him for a series (oh how awesome that would be!) The key, though, is that he is an individual. You never doubt it for a moment. That scene where he does the Highland Fling is probably one of my all time favorites in literary history. It’s not a great battle or amazing stunt. It’s Geoffrey in a nutshell. A perfectly random and yet warm gesture of awesomeness.

Character development, plot line, writing…it’s a good mix in this book. This isn’t To Kill A Mockingbird or some other profound classic. It does not have to be. Being a bookworm who loves reading, this is simply  that. A good book that remains faithfully enjoyable even as I get older. I seem to use the word wholesome a lot but I like it. So many books are trashy that a novel with development and good characters is a treat.


The Genius of High Quality Stores

I have a theory, peoples. Why are high quality stores so great? Is it because they use better material or know how to fit odd shapes or have really helpful store clerks who tell you you look fabulous even if the skirt makes you look fat?

Nope. (Well, the store clerks might have something to do with it.)

What makes them brilliant is how they size things. After spending hours trudging through the mall, going into department stores with racks and racks of dresses and coming up with nothing, you finally give in and go to that high end, expensive store. According to Wal Mart sizing you are a Large. Most of the department stores up till this point have labeled you at least a 6 with wary glances at those hips. And then! Oh so beautiful, you enter that nice, polished store. You browse the sales rack. Miss Bubbly Employee comes over and whisks you away to a dressing room. Suddenly there are skirts and dresses and sweaters and belts and necklaces and even shoes appearing from nowhere to complete looks you hadn’t even considered before.

And they are all Extra Smalls and Size Zeroes.

Suddenly that price tag seems totally worth it. Who doesn’t want to feel fabulous and what makes you feel more fabulous than a tiny dress size?

Nothing, that’s what.

It also gives you a certain mindset. Next time you have to go to a formal event, you skip over those cocktail dresses that can pass at prom in the big department stores and go straight to the nice, inviting world where you are a Size 0 and there is a belt for just $45 that exactly matches.

Capitalism, people. It’s brilliant.