I Dislike Writing, But I Could Read All Day

My crowded bookcase

I had all the best intentions. I just didn’t do very well on following through this time. School ended and I breathed a sigh of relief, a sigh that has apparently lasted months. I stopped writing because I no longer had a grade riding on it. I didn’t stop reading, that has always been my favorite pastime, something I do even when it might affect my grades. Good thing grades aren’t an issue anymore.

Some of the books I read in the past few months are not within the genre of this blog. Yet I am a creature of habit, I still tend to gravitate towards the young adult section. I don’t think it is something I will ever grow out of. In the past four months I have read at least 30 young adult books. With that many qualifying for review it can be daunting to think of catching up. It is a little too much for me to do especially since I continue to read more eligible books.

Truth be told, I don’t like writing as much as I used to. Stifle yours gasps, I know it is appalling to find an English major that doesn’t like writing. Something fell out of place during my second year of school. At the time I was writing in an online RPG, taking full time classes with plenty of writing and I still managed to pump out a poem or two when the mood hit. Whack! Suddenly my slight aversion to excessive writing became a full fledged dislike of all writing. I quit the RPG, I turned in the minimum pages and my poetry inspiration seemed to run dry. I’m still not sure how I made it through my last four semesters of school, I was taking all English classes and the writing never seemed to end.

Finally in December I wrote my last undergraduate paper and took my last test. All I wanted to do was take a break, a brain break, where I could turn off deep thinking for awhile and enjoy some serious vegging. It has been nice,  but I let the break continue for much longer than it should have. As scientists say, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same goes for an object at rest. When I’m going I tend to go a million miles a minute, when I am resting the resting can go to the other extreme. I’m working on breaking the cycle, bear with me as I work it out.

So this is me, saying sorry for the wait. I hope I can write more reviews to help you choose good books for you and the young adults in your life.

Book Therapy: Another Forbidden Shopping Spree

From left: The Healer's Apprentice, by Melanie Dickerson; The Diamond Secret, by Suzanne Weyn; Wild Orchid and The World Above, both by Cameron Dokey.

 It’s finals week, my FINAL finals week as an undergraduate. Stress is high, sleep low and functionality declining. The light at the end of the tunnel is graduation, but even that is daunting. What will I do next? I don’t have a job lined up; I haven’t really had time to search during school. I’m the first of my parent’s children to graduate from college and that has its own pressures.

What does one do when so much pressure is weighing down on them? Go book shopping, of course. There is something about shopping therapy that just lifts the mood. Now I have more books to entertain me while I search for a job.

After my first final this morning I was killing time until my next one and decided to visit the campus book store. They have a pretty good young adult section and their prices aren’t too bad. I also successfully put off doing homework for a good twenty minutes.

Obviously I am not going to read all four books in the next five hours or even the next five days. It just relieves a little stress to know some books are waiting for me to read.

I’m going to share a little secret; I judge books by their cover; more by their spine actually. If the spine, or title, interests me I will pick it up and read the back or the flap. If that interests me I will consider buying or checking out the book. I love color, fun type and illustrations. Some designers I would caution though, if I can’t read the title, that shows bad taste on your part. Cursive is fun, super curvy cursive people can’t read is not. The books I chose today had interesting fonts, colors and just a hint of the front illustrations, bringing my interest in and keeping it with the summary of the work. I also keep an eye out for authors I have read before.

 The school library has a counter to my spine judging tendencies, they re-cover beat up books with horrible colored hard back binding and take away all summaries that were included in the old cover. Then I just have to rely on the title, and sometimes that just isn’t enough. Note to libraries: people need a summary to tell them why they should read the book. That’s why they put them on books in the first place.

Once upon a time, people bought books because friends recommended it or they liked the title. They had nothing more to go on. Today we are a visually driven people; sight must be appeased before a book is even picked up. It is true of almost every book I pick up. With so many books being made into movies, many teenagers find it hard to get interested in book. Why read when you can watch?

I myself read books by imagining them being made into a movie or being played out in real life. No cartoons run through my head, I want to think of real people saying the words, doing the actions and feeling the feelings. If I didn’t have a healthy imagination, I would probably stick to movies too.

Bring out the design elements, the bright colors and fun fonts. Bring out the eye catching elements to capture a young reader’s attention. Too many youth these days put down the books in favor of movies and TV. How do we bring them back?

We need to stimulate the imagination, from the spine, to the cover, to the summary and finally to the words written in the book. Once they are hooked, they are hooked. If there is anything I would advocate getting addicted to, it would be reading. Moderation in all things of course, but reading is something worth overindulging in every once and a while.

Christmas break will be a time of family, fun, relaxation and reading. I hope you get to enjoy all of those things too. I will be breathing a huge sigh of relief and enjoying the holidays.

Being Rich can be a Dangerous Occupation

Book Stats: The Pale Assassin

Author: Patricia Elliott

Age group: 14-17

Best Place to Buy: Barnesandnoble.com

Length: 336 pages

Rating: 7 out of 10

I read this book over the summer and while I was in the campus bookstore today I saw it again. I decided to write a post about it. We have all heard of the French Revolution but we rarely get to see it from the point of view of a teenage girl. At least, this is the first time I have read a book from this perspective.

Summary: Eugenie de Boncoeur is a spoiled young aristocrat in living in Paris. She is looked over by her guardian and her older brother, Armand. Months before her sixteenth birthday she finds out she has been betrothed to Le Fantome, a creepy man, and will marry him after her birthday. Little does she know that she will be marrying the man who killed her father years before.

Her upcoming marriage is small beans compared to the unrest among the Paris proletariat (service people). It isn’t long before one protest turns into a government overthrow. The poor French are angry at anyone that represents wealth. Aristocrats, whether guilty or not, are soon the target of radical revolutionists. It becomes unsafe for Eugenie to stay in Paris as herself.

For a short time her brother finds her places to hide, with kind friends who take her in. She is often confined to the homes of these people and soon her adventurous spirit brings her to escape. In the meantime La Fantome has grown worried that his bargain for Eugenie will not be honored. When Eugenie goes out one of his spies sees her and reports back to him. It is not long before it becomes clear that if La Fantome cannot have her, now, no one will, ever.

Not only does Eugenie fear for her life from the French revolutionaries, growing more dangerous every day, she now has to worry about staying out of the hands of La Fantome. This is a story of danger, intrigue, revolution and even a little romance. Eugenie has to deal, not only with the normal pressures of teen years but also political unrest and avoiding an unwanted, and persistent, suitor.

Reason for the rating: While I enjoyed this book to some degree, I found it hard to connect to the pompous Eugenie. I felt more connected with the people who took her in than to her. I felt for her, of course, but I didn’t get as into the book as I usually do. The plot is potentially suspenseful but often disappoints.

This is the first book I have read by Patricia Elliott and I am reserving judgment on her writing until I read more. I will probably read the sequel to this book but I might not buy it. Her other books appear to be more in the realm of fantasy than historic fiction. Once I have read some of that I will see if I think she should stick to one genre. It can be hard to go outside your comfort zone.

Recommendation: I would still recommend this book, but it might be a good idea to read it before deciding whether or not to buy it. This may be a good way to help teens get interested in the French Revolution and the events that led up to it.

Author Spotlight: Tamora Pierce

Author Spotlight: Tamora Pierce

Books: Song of the Lioness quartet: Alanna: the First Adventure, In the Hands of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant; The Immortals quartet: Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, and The Realms of the Gods; Protector of the Small quartet: First Test, Page, Squire and Lady Knight; Daughter of the Lioness duo: Trickster’s Choice, and Tricksters Queen; The Legend of Beka Cooper trilogy: Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff (2011); Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales; Circle of Magic quartet: Sandry’s Book, Tris’s Book, Daja’s Book, and Briar’s Book; The Circle Opens quartet: Magic Steps, Street Magic, Cold Fire, and Shatterglass; The Will of The Empress; Melting Stones; and other books written in collaboration with other authors.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster and Random House

Age group: 14-18

Where to find her books: Amazon.com

Website: www.tamora-pierce.com

Eon set me thinking about one of my favorite authors as a teenager, Tamora Pierce. I first read her Immortals series when I was about 13. I was hooked and made a point of reading every book she had written, and wrote thereafter.

I loved her strong female characters, living in times when women were supposed to sit in the castle and embroider. They broke the rules of their society and carved a path for others to follow. I loved how she mixed elements of timeless teenage problems with magic and medieval culture.

As The Ordinary Princess was my introduction the independent woman, Wild Magic was my introduction to the fighting woman with more than a back bone but a fierce spirit as well. There was no sitting in a tower waiting for rescue, these women took life into their hands and pursued their dreams. For some their dreams were to become knights, for other they just wanted to learn how to control their magic.

Add to the mix some meddling gods; much like those of Greek and Roman times, and you had a compelling story sure to catch the attention of a teenage girl. It definitely caught mine.

Pierce has been writing for a living since the early 80’s, beginning with the Song of the Lioness books; whose main character was the fierce and daring Alanna. Alanna was originally one rather large adult book but she was convinced to separate it into four books and tone it down for a young adult audience. It was still a little racy for my taste, but I don’t like reading about those things personally. I haven’t read them in a few years so my opinion may have changed, depending on how she used those themes. There is a time and place for them and if used inappropriately, they might as well be left out.

Her recent writing has not gripped me as Wild Magic did. Her Beka Cooper books are set in the same land of Tortall, but hundreds of years before the Song of the Lioness and Immortals series are said to take place. Beka Cooper shows some of the spunk of Daine and Alanna but the writing feels forced and much too descriptive. The pace of the plot is like trudging through mud. You have to read a billion descriptions to get to something that moves the plot along.

I rarely put a book down without finishing it but by the second Beka Cooper book I couldn’t take it anymore. The books were too long, too wordy and too slow moving. I didn’t have time to take weeks to finish a book that I didn’t really enjoy. I do know people that loved them though; so it may be more personal preference than anything else.

I still love the Immortals series and would even read Song of the Lioness again but I don’t think I will finish Beka Cooper. I like many aspects of Pierce’s writing, the interwoven stories, the balanced descriptions and exciting plots. She has had and will have a demanding schedule; maybe she needs some rest to get her balance back.

Either way, I suggest you take the time to get to know her earlier writings and maybe even some of her new. Individual taste varies of course. I would recommend her for older teens though; there are some mature parts in her books that would be better suited to a more mature audience.

She is one author worth checking out.

Harnessing the Dragon Within

Book Stats: Eon

Author: Alison Goodman

Age group: 15-19

Best place to buy: Barnesandnoble.com

Length: 544 pages

Rating: 9 out of 10

So, I lied, I finished one last book before finals week really started. I couldn’t help it, it was impossible to put down. It was all I could think about and I knew I had to finish it before I got any real work done. I can hardly wait for the sequel to come out in April.

Summary: Eon by Alison Goodman is a long book, but a fast read. Eon is a candidate to become a Dragoneye apprentice and eventually a Dragoneye. Dragoneyes have a connection to the twelve energy dragons that control their own point of the compass and each have their own year of increased power. The energy dragons help to keep balance in the land and bring good fortune to the people. Candidates are boys born in the year of the dragon they hope to connect with. They undergo training before the New Year celebration, during which the dragon chooses the next apprentice.

Eon is unlike the other candidates, not just because of a crippled hip. Eon is really Eona, a sixteen year old girl masquerading as a boy because girls are not allowed to use dragon magic, something she already shows an affinity for. Her master, a former Dragoneye, has placed all his fortune and hope on her being chosen by the Rat Dragon.

Eon must struggle to hide her secret; if found it would result in her death. This becomes harder as she is thrown into a fight for the empire, the Dragoneye way of life and her identity. Will she have the bravery to own her true identity? Pick up this must read to find out.

Reasons for the rating: As I mentioned earlier, I found this book hard to put down. From page one I was hooked and wanted to know more about this girl desperately trying to make it in a man’s field, as a man. I think one reason I liked this book was how it reminded me of Tamora Pierce’s series, Song of the Lioness. The main character in that series starts out taking her brother’s place in training to become a knight, hiding her feminine identity. It also interested me to see a quote from Pierce, saying how much she liked it, on the front of the book. I really enjoyed Pierce’s books when I was younger and I was interested to see a book endorsed so enthusiastically by her. Eon has a voice reminiscent of Pierce’s earlier books while still holding its own.

This book has elements very reminiscent of Chinese culture. Where Pierce bases her books in the time of knights in the medieval period; Goodman bases hers in the dynasty age of ancient China.  Goodman takes the Chinese calendar and uses the concept of the twelve animals to represent the energy dragons of the story. The empire and palace are quite like something one would find in the dynasty age of China, complete with a guarded harem, eunuchs and extravagant design. It is obvious a great deal of research went into this book but she finds a balance between description and plot movement.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to older teens and young adults. There are some mature parts in the book that I know most moms wouldn’t want their 12-year-old reading. Also, given the length, older teens tend to have a slightly longer attention span. This is a great way to learn a little more about an ancient culture (of course much is fictional) and enjoy a great plot at the same time. Fans of Tamora Pierce and new readers alike will love this book. I can see myself reading more by Alison Goodman and going back to my favorites of Tamora Pierce.

*Note: This book is apparently known under three other names; Eon: Dragoneye Reborn; Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye and The Two Pearls of Wisdom

Elizabethan England with a Magical Twist

Book Stats: Snow White and Rose Red

Author: Patricia Wrede

Age group: 15-17

Best place to buy: BarnesandNoble.com ($8.09)

Length: 288

Rating: 8 out of 10

Duh Duh Da! I read book number 4. Actually I finished it last week but this week is the week before finals, when all the big projects are due. I’ve been focusing on that, but now it’s crunch time because I still need to have 20 posts by next Thursday. Sorry, but next time we will be back to books I read before this semester until after finals when I will have time to read again. We’ll get through this together.

Summary: Snow White and Rose Red, written by Patricia Wrede, is another classic fairy-tale retold in an imaginative way. The widow and her two daughters live outside their village at the edge of the woods. The widow is an herbalist and she uses her daughters, Blanche and Rosamunde to gather the herbs.

Within the woods lies the border of Fairy, the magical world where fairies dwell.  The Fairy Queen’s two sons, John and Hugh, are half mortal but John feels more connection with the mortal world than Hugh. The daughters gather some herbs from Fairy for their special properties.

Two local wizards use All Hallows Eve to conduct a spell on fairy, affecting one of the fairy brothers. The other brother searches desperately for a cure for the spell that turned his brother into a bear and stole his fairy powers.

The Bear, forgetting his new form, comes to the door of the widow’s cabin. With their experience with Fairy, the widow and her daughters allow the strangely intelligent bear to spend the evenings in their home, warm while winter swarms outside.

The Widow reveals that she knows some witchcraft, the benevolent kind, spurring her and her daughters to work to find a cure for the bear themselves. They unknowingly pit themselves against the wizards who cast the original spell.

Finding a cure turns out to be too much for this humble witch and her daughters. They must face failure, unexpected collaborations and even fairy interference. Will they ever help the bear return to his original form and find their way to the fairy-tale ending? You will have to read it to find out.

Reasons for the Rating: This book was a good escape for me from homework into a land of fantasy. It was interesting to have this tale set in Elizabethan England, a time that usually reminds me of Shakespeare. Patricia Wrede definitely did her homework about the time period, even using period dialog.

The story is imaginative and detailed, down to the herbs used for the spells. That may be a hindrance in some ways, making the plot move slowly and taking more time to read. Once I edited a manuscript with a scene that included desert snakes in a pit. Little detail was given, yet when I verified the facts, the writer was right on. In other words, writers should do the research but they don’t have to share every little detail with the reader.

Outside of that flaw I enjoyed the book. I tend to enjoy Patricia Wrede and her writing style. We all go overboard sometimes, right? One small problem does not ruin a book. Besides, I might just be a bit impatient.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to both young adult readers and even some older ones. I think everyone can enjoy a good fairy tale once and a while. So, go out, read a fairy tale, escape the world, and enjoy a happy ending. Maybe it will melt some of the stress away.

Assassins, Betrayal and a Splash of Romance

Book Stats: Aurelia

Author: Anne Osterlund

Age group: 14-18

Where to buy: Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com

Length: 246

Rating: 7 out of 10

My third choice of book was inspired by a viewing of a fairy tale movie that came out in theaters this last week. I wanted a princess story and lucky for me I had already bought one in my shopping spree.

Aurelia is the willful and outspoken crown princess of Tyralt. While she worries about an itchy ankle at her sister’s coming out party something much more sinister goes on behind the scenes. The body of Aurelia’s taster is quietly taken away, another assassination attempt kept from the princess.

The next day the son of the king’s former spy master returns to the palace to investigate the attempts on her life. Robert once went to school with Aurelia in the palace and easily renews their friendship. Most importantly he is determined to protect her and discover who is behind the plot on her life.

Soon he is forced to tell her of the danger just to get her to stop foolishly putting her life in danger. Yet even with her help will he be able to discover the culprit before it is too late?

Betrayal comes from the most unexpected places in Anne Osterlund’s first novel. The plot will keep you guessing even as a tentative romance develops between Aurelia and Robert.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. Osterlund shows her story telling abilities well in this novel, weaving a mystery that does not reveal itself until the last moment. The romance felt a bit forced to me and the changing perspectives between Robert and Aurelia was sometimes confusing.

The part that probably bothered me the most was Aurelia’s habit of running away when something bothered her. Everything from an unintentional insult to an unexpected kiss sends her running. I wished to see her grow up a bit more in the course of the book.

Thank goodness Osterlund wrote a sequel, to come out in April of next year. Otherwise I would want to toss the book at a wall for the way it left so many questions unanswered.

It is an interesting coming of age story with a good mix of mystery, intrigue and romance. Aurelia sees more and more in the story how she would like to lead her country and how tradition can sometimes stand in the way of progress. She grows some but I am interested to see how she will grow in the sequel to come. I’ll have to let you know how I feel after I have a chance to read it.

Until then I would still recommend this book. I think many young readers can enjoy the writing style of Osterlund and her development of the plot. By April I hope to not be the only person awaiting the publication of the sequel: Exile.